Channeling

Buildings outside Abilene at night
Buildings outside Abilene at night

Chuck was an old soul in high school. At an age when most of us were turning our backs on our families he shared his deep connections with city relatives who made doughy pizza for his friends. He has been dead for twenty years now but his stature remains legendary. Former bandmates, what some would call the classic, core line-up, the band that played the John Peel session, performed two sold-out shows this weekend at Abilene. Chuck’s son, Mark, sang and strummed guitar like a chip off the old block. Chuck’s wife, Jan, said he “was channelling his father.”

My brother, Mark, Chuck’s bf in HS, planned to meet us at the show. Driving up from New Jersey, he texted to say his ETA was 9:36. A counselor in Newark he got hung up helping a kid and we didn’t see him until 2:30. Mark was one of three people to have witnessed Gary Bennett’s recording of Chuck’s songs, “Live at Rising Place,” in 1976. My brother is credited with “background inspiration.”

Colorblind James performing “Copernicus” from “Live At Rising Place,” 1976

The shows were moved inside due to the weather and no-one was drinking beer with their mask on. We are holding our breadth that it wasn’t a super-spreader. We listened to a good bit of the second set out back. It always sounds better out there. You can hear the bass notes and the mix becomes comfortable rather than harsh. The seven piece band sounded great as they knocked off two, twenty song sets in muscular fashion. Chuck would have loved it and he would have been so proud of Mark.

After the Rising Place cassette the next thing we heard from Chuck was when he played a date it the Red Creek in 1980 with The White Caps, his band from Oswego. We came home with a 45, “America, America.” Chuck’s songs were sing songs catchy but out of time somehow. He had a band on the west coast which we never heard and then near the tail end of the Scorgie days he moved back to Rochester. His brother-in-law, Phil, was playing guitar and he was looking to form a band here. Bernie had just left Personal Effects so he joined on bass.

Chuck’s music, which he liked to describe as “circus rock,” was out of step with punk and new wave. He favored the polka-like, two-beat. The melodies had an old world feel, a sound track for traveling street performers, His brilliant, wryly delivered lyrics read like modern day liturature, the Bible and poetry.

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VU

Peggi Fournier, Dale Mincey, and Robert Marsella at Dale's apartment in Rochester, New York
Peggi Fournier, Dale Mincey, and Robert Marsella at Dale’s apartment in Rochester, New York

The coolest thing about “The Velvet Underground,” Todd Haynes new documentary on the seminal band’ is seeing people dancing to their music in the fabulous old clips of the band performing live. They worked enough for Jonathan Richmond to estimate that he saw the band sixty times but they never caught on or made any money. They were too arty and that aspect is the second coolest thing about this movie.

Plenty of foundational footage establishes the VU links to Lamont Young’s drones, Tony Conrad’s noise, John Cage’s minimalism and Allen Ginsburg’s poetry. John Cale’s rich European musical roots and Lou Reed’s dirty street smarts, pop sensibility and lyrics that read as poetry was a match made in heaven. Moe. Could any other drummer have bridged that gap so well. The movie sets the record straight on Warhol’s involvement. Nico was a brilliant addition and the songs she sings will live forever. Sterling Morrison and then Doug Yule completed the picture. The best rock band of all time!

I was so lucky that Tom Campbell, a year older so much hipper (before Viet Nam did a number on him), talked me into buying the first record at Midtown Records. That original pressing had the upside down guy on back, before he sued the band for using his image. I played that lp to death, lost the banana skin and gave the lp to my nephew, Eli Enis.

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Noisemaker

Noisemaker along Lakeshore Boulevard near Zoo Road
Noisemaker along Lakeshore Boulevard near Zoo Road

The instrument above comes with a reflector so you can find it in the dark. The others, on the same chunk of guard rail, stand straight up but this one has been clobbered. I use the reflector as a lever to push down on as we walk by. Peggi recorded the sound on her phone.

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Shoot Your Shot

Wreckless Eric performing at the Bop Shop in Rochester, New York 2021
Wreckless Eric performing at the Bop Shop in Rochester, New York 2021

We got to the Bop Shop an hour before the show, just enough time to rifle through a few boxes of used 45s. I came up with Sir Douglas Quintet “It Didn’t Even Bring Me Down,” Jr. Walker & The All Stars “Shoot Your Shot,” Ray Price “Make The World Go Away” and yet another Sly & The Family Stone single, “Hot Fun In The Summertime.”

My brother-in-law had it exactly right in his IG post when he said “Wreckless Eric is a treasure.” We have seen him seven or eight times now and his show last week was the best yet. Performing solo with acoustic and electric guitars he had a sense of urgency as he segued autobiographic songs with poetic lyrics into a focused, musical soundscape. We were transfixed. Knowing full well that he had a bad case of Covid I would say the  pandemic was good for him. 

His “Whole Wide World” is an anthem. How could he show up in your town and not perform it? Better yet, after all these years, how could he do the best version of that song you have ever heard? I don’t know, but he pulled it off.

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Oh Yeah!

Ed Buscemi painting in Pete and Gloria's bathroom
Ed Buscemi painting in Pete and Gloria’s bathroom

We stopped in Canaltown to pick our usual order, ten pounds of Rochester Choice whole bean. We ordered two lattes while we talked to Pete about business and retirement. He’s sixty now and toying with not being in the shop seven days a week. While we talked a customer came in and ordered a cold brew. It was sitting on the counter in a large glass jar with a spigut. I asked Pete if he brewed it in that container and he started to explain his 18 hour process. While he talked the cold brew was overflowing and I felt bad for having distracted him.

Over at the Co-Op they were playing a satellite radio station with early disco and things like Blondie’s “Dreamin” mixed in. Last time I heard that was in Home Depot.

NYT had a nice obit for Pee Wee Ellis, Jame’s Brown’s musical director and co-writer of “Cold Sweat” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Pee Wee spent his formative years in Rochester, played with Cheryl Laurro‘s father and every jazz band in town. The story had a great photo from that period taken by Rochester’s Paul Hoeffler at the Python Room when he was playing with Ron Carter.

The scooter below brought Bob Martin into town from Chicago. He’ll be joining us at the Little Theatre Café on Wednesday.

"Oh Yeah" by Margaret Explosion. Recorded live at the Little Theatre Café on 11.13.19. Peggi Fournier - sax, Ken Frank - bass, Phil Marshall - guitar, Paul Dodd - drums.
“Oh Yeah” by Margaret Explosion. Recorded live at the Little Theatre Café on 11.13.19. Peggi Fournier – sax, Ken Frank – bass, Phil Marshall – guitar, Paul Dodd – drums.
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Floating At The Bug Jar

Margaret Explosion played a weekly happy hour gig at the Bug Jar for a few years in the late nineties and I occasionally brought my camera. I took a series of mugshots there one night. Almost everyone who was there that evening agreed to sit for one. I printed them out large and had a show there with them in 1998. I recently searched my computer for “BugJar” jpegs and created this movie with them relying heavily on the Ken Burns tool in iMovie to animate the stills.

The song is one we recorded a few years later in 2003 called “Floating at the Bug Jar.” We recorded it in the basement of our home in the city. Peggi Fournier plays sax. Jack Schaefer plays guitar. Greg Slack plays bass. Pete LaBonne plays Yamaha electronic piano and Farfisa organ and I played percussion.

At least five of our friends, pictured here from that period, have moved on. RIP Bug Jar Bob (the creative force and one of the three original owners), Bill Jones, Chuck Cuminale, Ted Williams, Janet Williams, Michael Barone and Shalonda Simpson.

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Goodbye Playground Tavern

As hard as it is to believe, the new owners of the Playground Tavern, located across the street from School 33’s playground, are changing the name to “Jackie-Ray’s Tavern.” I always thought that was a killer name for a bar.

Our band was in the middle of a month of Wednesday night gigs when the pandemic hit. We have not been back since and the only gig we have had since was in the theater in front of a blank movie screen with masked people sitting in in pairs separated by police yellow tape. The gig was so nerve-wracking for me I unplugged the recorder before writing the nights’ music to disc. I’m hoping tomorrow nights return to the café will be a return to form for Margaret Explosion.

Margaret Explosion poster for September 15 2021 gig at Little Theatre Café

Peggi and have been warming up  for the gig by listening to a minute of so of songs recorded at the café in the last few years and then playing duo versions of the themes. “Sonata,” originally performed with Jack Schaefer on bass clarinet, “World’s Fair” and even the dark brooding “Witness.”

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Why They Invented Punk Rock

Colorblind James poster for 2021 gigs
Colorblind James poster for 2021 gigs

Chuck was my brother’s best friend in high school. We shared friends back then so he was one of mine. Always curious and always with an opinion, he was like a magnet. Baptized James he was also colorblind. He was Colorblind James, with and without a band.

His longtime band members including Phil Marshall (who doubled as his brother-in-law), Ken Frank and Chuck’s son, Mark will be performing his songs for two nights in October at the downtown honky tonk, Abilene. They asked me to design a poster for the event, one with some of Chuck’s funky spirit.

I hardly have any fonts on my computer anymore. So many of the ones I was using back when we were churning out graphics are incompatible. I found what I was looking for on a cd we had filed away and I completed the mission without stomping on his grave.

I was thinking about Chuck while I worked. I remember him coming by with a mock up of the first album on Earring. He and his wife, Janet, had created a classic. We mostly helped by getting out of the way. Chuck was working a circus theme on the second lp and he came to us to realize it. I was left with distinct feeling that he could have done a distinctly better, personal touch, version himself and I told him as much. Professional execution does not make it better. That’s why they invented punk rock.

Chuck was also a poet.

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Theater 5

Peggi sound checking drums at Little Theatre 5
Peggi sound checking drums at Little Theatre 5

People were ready to go out and it felt good in a giddy sort of way. We kept our masks on in the Little Theater but removed them when we played. The patrons, sitting in one half the available Theater 5 seats, the ones without yellow caution tape on them, did the same. The pattern, pairs of seats side by side with empty pairs between, kept people apart enough to change the vibe. The chatter, the squeaky chairs, the espresso machine, the laughter was all missing and missed. The band which typically slips into that atmospheric milieu was now the uncomfortable focus.

I read an article in the Times about some live Can recordings that Mute Records is releasing. They quoted Irmin Schmidt, the founder, as saying, “When we went onstage, we didn’t know beforehand what we would play. We just reacted to the atmosphere, to the acoustics, to the public, to the whole environment spontaneously, and started playing something, which we had never played before,”

Phil and Ken were in the cafe while Peggi and I were setting up the recording equipment. Peggi pounded my drums while I set the levels. There wasn’t enough light in the theater to get a proper photo. We had not played together since March of 2020 and we should have at least done a sound check in this new venue but instead we just dove in, in front of a rapt audience. I found it sort of nerve wracking. I forgot to stop the recording at the end of the night so it never wrote to disc before we unplugged the extension cord and we lost whatever it was that we played. But we did it. We emerged from the pandemic.

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Ready Or Not

Margaret Explosion poster for Little Theatre 5 gig on Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Margaret Explosion poster for Little Theatre 5 gig on Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The café at the Little Theatre is not hosting live music yet. We were in the middle of a month of Wednesdays when they pulled the plug. Fifteen months later we have our first live gig, this on in one of the theaters, Little Theatre 5, the Jack Garner theater. When Jack was alive and working at the D&C he wrote this description of the band.

“One of the most original and unusual bands in Rochester; a five-piece ensemble exploring all sorts of musical dimensions linked to free jazz, Third World melodies, exotic instrumentation and a spacey, enveloping sort of music. The Explosion plays with a single-minded purpose and organic oneness that’s most impressive.” 

Tickets for the Wednesday performance are available at the www.thelittle.org

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Digital Media

Utility company artwork on sidewalk
Utility company artwork on sidewalk

We probably won’t be able to watch as much television when this pandemic is over and that is probably a good thing. Maybe we can trim our programing bill. We’re finding some dynamite stuff on HBO. “Olive Kitterridge ” is the best thing we have seen since Breaking Bad. Our bass player, Ken Frank, turned us on to that one. Frances McDormand kills it and Richard Jenkins, who plays her husband, is sensational.

A few years back we rationalized getting an Apple Music subscription by looking at the monthly costs as the price of buying one album. Yesterday we streamed Pharaoh Sanders new one, his first in twenty years, and Archie Shepp’s duo with Jason Moran. It was the early seventies all over again and it felt good.

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Fun While It Lasted

Peggi Fournier of Personal Effects performing live Scorgie's in Rochester, New York
Peggi Fournier of Personal Effects performing live Scorgie’s in Rochester, New York

I love this photo because it features Peggi. She was the star and wrote most of the songs. I wish I knew who took the photo. They deserve credit. It may’ve been Gary Brandt or his friend Al. And even more credit should go to Duane Sherwood for the dramatic lighting.

Frank De Blase at City News wrote a piece on Personal Effects that went online this morning. “In the ’80s, it seemed that the bigger the show and the bigger the venue, the bigger the band sounded. It manifested itself through the keyboards and lone sax. The rhythm section swung mightily and dreamy along with the ethereal guitar. It was as if they were playing to the walls and threatening the roof.”

Nothing lasts forever.

Personal Effects – “Nothing Lasts Forever”
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If Sun Ra Can Die Anyone Can

Sometime after Sun Ra died in 1993 we saw Marshal Allen’s Arkestra at Milestones, that place on the corner of East and Chestnut that keeps changing hands. It was sad without the maestro and that is the last word I ever would have used to describe a Sun Ra performance. Maybe I was still in mourning.

Marshall Allen, at 96!, has kept the band together with three former members and I read an intriguing review of their newest recording. I ordered the vinyl and the first side is amazing. “Swirling,” the lp title, is apt. The new arrangements of three familiar Sun Ra songs don’t tear the roof off like Sun Ra would have but they do get the room swirling.

Peggi and I saw Sun Ra on five occasions. There is so much info online now that I was able to track down the exact dates.

November 11, 1979 Soundscape NYC
I had a few Sun Ra albums at the time but other than the Art Ensemble at the Eastman I had never seen anything as theatrically immersive. In costume the band paraded around the fifth floor loft space in Manhattan’s West 50s while chanting, dancing and playing their instruments. The show didn’t start until after midnight and the sun was coming up when we left. My brother, Mark, who was living on West 43rd with Charlie Coco, came along with us. The show was released on cd, “Live from Soundscape.”

August 11, 1986 Red Creek Rochester, NY
Sun Ra was traveling with three drummers and they couldn’t possibly fit on the stage so one set up on the floor. The violinist, Billy Bang, was in the band and two of the horn players staged a theatrical, circus-like, wrestling match with their horns as they circled each other on the dance floor. I hung on to the ticket. Someone recently posted a recording of this show on YouTube.

Sun Ra autographed record
Sun Ra autographed record

I bought two lps, “Outer Reach Intensity-Energy (Stars That Shine Darkly, Vol. 2)” and “Hiroshima” from the band after the show. Both were in a white liner sleeves without covers. The label was blank on one side of each lp. They were five bucks a piece and I got Sun Ra to sign the the white label side of each.

The albums I bought did not sound like the Arkestra and only later did I learn they both featured live tracks from the Sun Ra All Stars European tour, a sensational line-up with Don Cherry, Clifford Jarvis, Lester Bowie, Don Moye, Philly Joe Jones, Richard Davis and Archie Shepp along with Marshall Allen, John Gilmore and Sun Ra!

September 5, 1987 Village Gate NYC
The Village Gate was no bigger than Red Creek in Rochester so this was an intimate show. It was Labor Day weekend and my brother Mark was having his wedding rehearsal dinner at the Chinese place near their apartment on 96th. I spotted a listing in the Village Voice for this show and we headed downtown after dinner. The band played two long sets and sounded better than ever.

July 25, 1991 Jazzberry’s Rochester, NY
Sun Ra had had a stroke and had to be helped onto the stage but once seated he and the band launched into an extended drum/percussion improvisation. We were sitting maybe six feet from the band. Sun Ra could only use one hand and I remember him soloing during that first song with set kit sound on a Yamaha keyboard. The band sounded great “The Theme of the Stargazers,” “Second Stop is Jupiter” and “We Travel the Spaceways.”

October 18, 1991 Jazzberry’s Rochester, NY

Sun Ra had regained the use of both hands and the band, Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, and June Tyson with Buster Smith on drums, sounded as good as ever.

Marshall Allen is also a huge Sun Ra fan. If you only had one Sun Ra lp you could not beat his hand picked collection of Sun Ra tunes, Marshall Allen Presents “In The Orbit Of Ra.”

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Two Pecks

Yellow  house with two swans
Yellow house with two swans

We each came home from Aman’s with a peck of apples in our backpack. Peggi had 20 Ouncers for apple sauce and I had Snap Dragons, our new favorite eating apple. I also had a six pack of Buffalo’s Big Ditch in mine and a quart of raw honey. It was a big shop and our packs were heavier than they have ever been.

We found a couple movies to stream on the Film Forum website and both were fantastic. “Gunda,” filmed entirely in Spain, featured no actors, only farm animals, mostly a pig family, and it was riveting. There was was no voice over either, just the animals’ voices.

Crock of Gold” features the great Shane MacGowan and Ireland and Irish culture, it’s history, the Catholic Church and the IRA. Johnny Depp put up some money so we have to put up with him but he is hardly there until the end. Sensational songs, mostly Shane’s, with a handful of traditional ones and at the end a short tribute to Shane with Bono and Nick Cave who only serve to point out how great MacGowan is. (He is still alive.)

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Fake Fans

Soccer ball on beach at Durand Eastman
Soccer ball on beach at Durand Eastman

This soccer ball was washed up on beach this morning. I was wondering whether it came across from Toronto, the wind comes from that direction, or whether it was just left on the beach by someone here in Rochester. It looked pretty beat up.

We watched El Classico yesterday, the Real Madrid Barcelona match. We love both those teams but lately we love Madrid more and they won 3-1. Today we watched Athetico beat Real Betis so we’re all caught up with our favorite teams. The games during Covid are a little strange. I spend a lot of time thinking about how they do the fake fans. Is it all green screen trickery? And I get distracted by the sound engineer mixing old crowd noises in, one channel for the chanting, one for the applause and one the stadium din. We sometimes watch with the sound off but it is always fun to hear the extremely excitable announcers in Spanish. Maybe we’ll check in on the World Series tonight.

I ripped the cds I wanted to hang on to years ago but I kept a few, mostly ones I needed to listen to to determine if they were worth the effort. Now I don’t even have a CD player but there is a small portable one out in the garage. I out there painting this afternoon and I put on an Ornette Coleman boot, a live thing from Paris in 1965 with David Izenson and Charles Moffett. Ornette plays violin, trumpet and sax and all three players solo or sit out. Ornette’s violin sounds like the Contortions and Izenson spends quite a bit of the night bowing. The performance knocked me out. I played it twice in a row. It had been a while since I’ve done that.

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Lost Cat

"Lost Cat Call 911" sign on Horseshoe Road
“Lost Cat Call 911” sign on Horseshoe Road

We recently read a list vintage horror movies and added a bunch to queue. We had seen most but not in while. We’ve checked off Vincent Price in “House on Haunted Hill,” “The Haunting,” “Let’s Scare Jessica To Death” and Brian DePalma’s “Sisters” in the last week. Sisters was better than ever.

MX-80 Sound did a version of “Theme from Sisters” on their Ralph Records Crowd Control lp. That lp is out of print but I helped recreate the lp artwork for a new release, on that contains an additional track, “Theme from Halloween.” It’s on red vinyl at an incredibly low price and it too sounds better than ever. MX-80 is rumored to be in the studio now working on an all movie themed lp.

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Jimmy Carter Says Yes

Sea Breeze Volunteer Fire Association Inc. Rochester, New York
Sea Breeze Volunteer Fire Association Inc. Rochester, New York

Although the Little Theatre five screens are still closed they have been movies that would have been shown there as streams. The Little gets a cut but we still work about them. “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” seemed like a stretch of a concept but they pull it off. And on top of that it is a real feel good film. Imagine that considering the current occupant.

Present day Carter has a nice looking turntable. Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and the Allman Brothers are featured. I could never figure out the appeal of that last one but they were fellow Georgians. A glaring omission though was not featuring “Jimmy Carter Says Yes.”

I’m pretty sure it was Chris from the Squires of the Subterrain that first made us aware of those so-called song poems. I think he may have gotten a copy from Tom Ardolino, NRBQ’s drummer. Somehow we wound up with a cassette with that and other gems, “Do You Know the Difference Between Big Wood and Brush” and the sensational “Little Rug Bug.

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Basement Tapes

Personal Effects cassettes from the early 80s
Personal Effects cassettes from the early 80s

Went through the box in the basement a few months back and pulled this batch out. Still haven’t listened to them, not even sure my cassette deck works, but I’ve enjoyed looking at them. We usually had one one cover in our set and “Heartbeat,” from the black Peppermint Lounge tape, was one of my favorites. I put it on the Personal Effects website.

Heartbeat performed live by Personal Effects. Recorded at the Peppermint Lounge in 1985.
Heartbeat performed live by Personal Effects. Recorded at the Peppermint Lounge in 1985.

I got the cassettes out looking for a recording from Club Mirage where the video below came from. I found a Mirage tape but not this one.

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Forty Years Have Flown

Hi-Techs performing in the back room at Record Archive on Saturday May 31 1980
Hi-Techs performing in the back room at Record Archive on Saturday May 31 ,1980. Ned Hoskins on guitar, Peggi Fournier on sax and Martin Edic on bass.

Check out the sign behind the band in this photo. Forty years ago today Hi-Techs played the back room of the Record Archive on Mount Hope. I’m pretty sure Richard Edic took the photo. There’s more here.

Hi-Techs were only together for two years before morphing into Personal Effects. There is only one video of the band but there are three songs in the video. It was produced by Channel 31 TV for a show called “After Hours” and it was simulcast on WCMF in 1981. We played live in their studio but they added some wacky post production. There was another band on the show the same night – Ozzy Osbourne with Randy Rhoads!

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Sleep Of Reason

Video for Margaret Explosion song, “Sleep of Reason” by Stephen Black

I remember how easy it was to record the Margaret Explosion album, “Skyhigh.” Pete and Shelley were in town for a few days. I think Bob came over the night before and we set up the mics and recording equipment. Ken came over the next morning and we made a few pots of coffee. We recorded the album in the basement, just started playing, and we got five keepers that first day. “Sleep of Reason,” named after the Goya print, was one of them.

Just before the pandemic Steve Black was here with videos he shot in NYC the week before. He picked “Sleep of Reason” to accompany his butterfly footage. Easy.

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