Friday, December 30, 2005

Saxon Studios

The first and arguably most popular LP by the Colorblind James Experience was a veritable patchwork of recordings from different studios, in different states, with different line-ups.

Why'd the Boy Throw the Clock Out the Window? was Chuck's last recording project at Peter Miller Studios before he and Jan moved back east to Rochester, NY. First Day of Spring and Considering a Move to Memphis were used from the Dwight Glodell sessions. The remaining tracks, The German Girls, A Different Bob, Walking My Camel Home, Gravel Road, Fledgling Circus, Dance Critters and Great Northwest were all recorded at Dave Anderson's Saxon Studios.

Throughout the 80's, Saxon Studios was the recording studio for the burgeoning underground scene in Rochester. Far from being the first group to work there, the roster of bands that had walked up the stairs to Dave's attic-top studio included The Ferrets, Lotus STP, The Projectiles, The Chincillas, The Locusts, The Rumbles, Absolute Grey, The Raunchettes, The Young Idea, Static Cling, and The Fadeaways. Saxon Studios, to this day, remains very active and for the curious, the website is worth perusing.

On Dance Critters , you can hear Dave's dog bark during one of the chorus'. It either wanted in..or out. During the opening chorus of Fledgling Circus, the audible squeaks are from the drummer's throne Chuck was gently rocking on. The German Girls originally featured G. Elwyn Meixner on lead vocal. After he quit the band, Chuck went in a sang a new vocal track. G. Elwyn's guitar tracks were left intact however.

Although a version of Dance Critters had been recorded at Dwight Glodell's, it was in fact redone at Dave Anderson's. The sound of the Dwight Glodell recording was superior, but for some reason Chuck felt the performance itself wasn't quite right.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Dwight Glodell and the First Demo Tape, 1986

Dwight Glodell, who had previously worked with Personal Effects, had a studio in the Village Gate Square. He had co-produced and engineered the Effects 1983 Cachalot Ep that had garnered the band some national attention.

When it came time for the band to invest its earnings ($200) in a demo tape, Paul & Peggi not only recommended Dwight but got him to "do us a favor" with a professionally recorded live performance for next to nothing. The band that entered the studio was the first Rochester incarnation of the band that featured Bernie Heveron, Jimmy McAvaney and G. Elwyn Meixner.

Dwight was fairly reserved to the point of being a bit stand-offish to us. It seemed like he neither a) particualarly liked the band nor b) liked working for next to nothing. The songs we ended up recording there, I'm Considering a Move to Memphis, Dance Critters and First Day of Spring, all ended up on our debut LP and each received a lot of airplay on BBC1.

Dwight used some left over 1/4 inch tape and towards the end of First Day of Spring the spool ran out..fwwp, fwwp, fwwp. Moments before the tape ran out, my high E string broke during what was to be the fade-out guitar solo. Anyone familiar with a Stratocaster-style guitar knows the bridge/tremolo bar is attached to springs. When one string breaks, the springs stretch out and the remaining strings go out of tune. Of course I wanted to do it over but Dwight would have nothing to do with that. For two-hundred bucks, we got what we got. He mixed a fade-out that ended a split second before the tape ran out, with the sound of my guitar going completely bonkers.

Considering a Move to Memphis went on to make John Peel's Festive 50 for the year 1987. Dance Critters was chosen to be remixed and released as 12" dance single (what were they thinking?). It's always been a humorous point to me that our brush with success was linked to a three hour demo tape session.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sometime in '84

1984 was a big year in many ways. It arrived without real fanfare. If Big Brother was real he looked and sounded like Ronald Reagan. Yuppies ran to and fro in power suits and shoulder pads that made otherwise attractive women look like linebackers. Joe Montana brought the '49ers to their third NFC championship electrifying and energizing the Bay Area once again. Each week millions of viewers tuned in to see Dr. Huxtabold's latest horrifying oversized and gaudy sweater he would parade around in.

Also, making nary a blip on the cultural radar, the good, young and thoroughly naive employees of the Holmes Book Co., located at 3rd and Market, were ordered out on strike as contract negotiations finally collapsed. "Scabs" were brought in and the employees, including yours truly, carried picket signs, marched back and forth, and stirred up either the support or ire of the various regular patrons.

"The Holmes Book Company, 274 14th Street, Oakland; 893-6860. Open 9:30 to 5:30 Mondays through Saturdays, 11 to 5 Sundays. Founded in San Francisco in 1894, Holmes moved across the Bay after the earthquake and landed in its present home in the 1920s. It continues today as one of California's largest bookstores. Books on California and the West are but a portion of the stock, but an important portion. Some can be found on the first floor; rare and scholarly books are coddled in the carpeted sanctum of the third floor's California Room. There's a good selection of ephemera and county histories."

I don't know when the above was tossed into cyberspace, but it looks as though Holmes Book Co. is no more. The strike was approved and supported by none other than retired secretary-treasurer of the Department Store Employees Union, Local 1100, Walter Johnson. He set the striking employees up with weekly strike pay as well as a tab at the Ticker Tape Bar & Grill directly across the street.

As I had no ambition to actually work, and since I made enough in strike pay to live my hip meager pseudo-punk existence, I did minimum amount of picketing I could get away with and spent the rest of the time practicing guitar, drinking, tripping and visiting my girlfriend Shelley in Cupertino.

That I would climb aboard the train with my guitar hanging from my shoulders from a rope only added to my delusion as a self-styled Woodie Guthrie rambling and riding the blinds. I used my almost weekly trips successfully to get out of jury duty. When I was asked by the judge if there was any reason why I couldn't serve on the jury, I responded "because I'd like to go down and visit my girlfriend in Cupertino!" She graciously opted out of forcing me to participate in my civic duty and allowed me to go. I jumped up, let out a "Yahoo!" and ran from the courtroom to the sound of everyone's laughter.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


As I mentioned awhile back, Susan Plunkett's Jazzberry's on Monroe Avenue played an integral role in the early Rochester days of the Colorblind James Experience. When she moved uptown to open Jazzberry's Uptown, she retained the great food and eclectic mix of local and national acts while perhaps losing some of the funky down-home charm of the Monroe location.

While other clubs like Scorgie's, Shnozz's and Shatzee's seemed to tolerate us as long as we brought a crowd in, Susan Plunkett loved the band. She loved all of us. She gave us a regular last-saturday-of-every-month gig and in return for the favor, we rarely disappointed her with a slow night. And if and when that was the case, she never took it out on the band.

Susan's policy was to give everybody a chance, no matter how far off the beaten path they were. She featured spoken word, classical music, folk singers, oddball poetry bands like Health & Beauty, rock bands such as Lotus STP, The Rumbles, The Fadeaways, The Essentials and a lot more. She didn't force the bands to treat their show like a showcase gig. Showcase gigs, as you're probably well aware, are the norm nowadays. At least 3 bands and often up to 5 or 6. You've got 30 minutes in which to throw your equipment on stage, play your "greatest hit" and get off before the stage manager starts throwing a hissy fit. We got to play from 10:30 until 2 in the morning, usually 3 sets worth with 20-30 minute breaks. If we wanted, we could have an opening band or not.

Not until late into the new location on East Avenue, close to East Main, did Susan ever ask for a percentage of the door. She took the food and wine money and the band took 100% of the cover charge. Almost unheard of today.

Jazzberry's was the sort of place musicians liked to hang out even when they weren't playing that night. Her food was and still is, as her URL indicates, fabulous. Please take a moment and add your own memories of both Jazzberry's and Jazzberry's Uptown.

Thanks for everything, Susan!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Fall of '82: Peter Miller Studios and Dave Fisher

We returned to San Francisco a trio: Chuck, Kevin and me. By this point, we had been living there for almost two years and had experienced nothing but fits and starts. We were determined to make a record, however, and were looking very seriously at Peter Miller Studios.

At this point, I was pretty well versed on the band scene in San Francisco and I had basically pledged my allegiance to a handful of bands that were Le Disque regulars. They included Elements of Style, the Subterraneans and my favorite of all, Exposure. Chuck never really understood my appreciation for Exposure and had little to say about their odd-meter songs and overly-cryptic lyrics:

"Comin' to the rescue! Movin' real slo-ooh-ow...Comin' to the rescue! Movin' real slo-ooh-ow!"

But I was thrilled when their 45rpm single hit the local stores. I had befriended Mark Westburg and Jay Altobelli, the guitarist and singer respectively, and they hipped me to Peter's studio on Union Street where they had recorded.

Peter Miller is known to fans of mid to late 60s psychedelia as Big Boy Pete . At the time, he had just recorded and released his Pre C.B.S. LP on his own .22 records under his own name. Pete was always a good humored and modest individual who never spent time making sure you knew his rock n roll credentials. It would come out here and there: touring with the Beatles, the one-hit-wonder status of "Can-Can '62" by Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers, the joint interview with Keith Richards on guitars and rock n roll.

His studio was small and modest and by the time we hooked up with him, he had just upgraded to a 24-track, 2" analog set-up. The studio was in the basement of his house which itself was set far back off Union Street. A cement walkway ushered you past a small boutique, through an iron gate and into his front yard. The entrance into the studio was essentially through a storm door into the basement. You entered right into the main recording area. The back of the basement was divided into control room and drum room. There were closets for amplifiers in both rooms.

In order to set foot into the studio, the band needed two things: a bassist and money. For the former, we landed on the guy that became the San Francisco bass player for the band, Dave Fisher. Dave was older than us (I believe he was all of 30 at the time) and was far and away the most solid player and most mature person we had had to date. When he hooked up with us it was initially just to help out with the recordings. By the time we were done, however, he decided to join the family officially.

The seven songs we recorded at Peter Miller Studios in the Fall of 1982 were Talk To Me, I Think I Gotta Lie Down, Aunt Rollo's Pad, A Style Of Your Own, Kojak Chair, Solid! Behind The Times and I'm Too Tired To Bark. What is apparent from these recordings is that our San Francisco sound was governed by two elements in particular: my white Les Paul through a Music Man 4X10 and Kevin's continued worship of John "Bonzo" Bonham. My dubious claim to fame was Peter telling me that I held the title as "loudest guitar player" in his studio.

Hopefully the recordings will surface someday. By the time I reached Rochester, my approach was more as a team player rather than guitar hero. For myself, I'm glad that the pinnacle of my rock flash period is preserved on the historic Peter Miller sessions.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

August, 1982

The turning point for the San Francisco line-up was our two week East Coast tour in August of 1982. The band had been living and essentially spinning its wheels in San Francisco for a little over a year and half. We had made no real in-roads with the club scene and no allies to speak of among the thousands of bands poised for stardom.

We weren’t punk, we weren’t arty, we had no sartorial sense and none of us had any use for hair care products. This was at a time when men were finding it essential to have perms, use mousse and, as I was to find out, lots of Aqua Net Extra Super Hold.

Our ‘manager’, for lack of a better term, was an English bloke named William who rented rehearsal space to us. He befriended the band and felt close enough to introduce us to his girlfriend, Bluh. Her name, I suppose, was actually Blair, but with his southern English accent it always came out something like “Bluh”. The introduction went something like this:
“Yes, and I’d like you to meet Bluh.”
“No, Bluh!”
and back and forth it went until we gave up. She had died-black hair hiding her eyes and was incapable of speech, so I guess it didn’t matter.

Once at a gig at Le Disque, at the end of Haight Street, William angrily pulled me over to a full length mirror and had me take a good look at myself. I was wearing white jeans that were perhaps too short at the cuff, red low top sneakers that, God forbid, were not Chuck Taylor’s, an un-ironed shirt under some crappy secondhand vest. My hair was over my ears (faux pas in the early 80s) and without discernable style. Then came the lecture:

“What are you trying to say, Phil? Look at yourself! Is this how a self-respecting rock star dresses? Bluh, come and take a look at this man! You’ve got to learn how to dress yourself! It’s a disgrace!”

By the time we arrived in Oswego in the summer of ’82, I was sporting a wicked brush cut, skin tight black twills and crisp ironed t-shirts in yellow, red and of course, black. I wore Converse hi-tops in red, purple, black and was cool enough to wear one color on one foot and a different color on the other. I felt I was returning to my hometown with full San Francisco New Wave creds. I had also learned how to thrash about and jump onto pool tables, jukeboxes, any nearby furniture with the best of them. After all, I had been taking in a steady diet of four bands, five shots of bourbon and one pack of Camel non-filters per night, Wednesday through Saturday each week. This was school…I had to learn something!

The two weeks in Oswego were magical, despite my superficial transformation into new wave icon being on display. Chuck and my sister, Jan, decided to get married. Edward, who had been more or less estranged from the family for several years, came for the occasion. He and I performed Aura Lee, a traditional English ballad that was the source material for Elvis' “Love Me Tender”. It was the first of two duets we ever played together.

We played exactly three gigs on our whirlwind "Upstate New York Tour 1982": Old City Hall in Oswego, followed by the Firehouse in Syracuse, and last, the Water Street Music Hall, right next door to the Old City Hall.

During the gig at WSMH, I accompanied Edward on “Old Man River”. By the time we did the number, the crowd was rowdy and drunk. At first, when Edward, who had positively no stage presence whatsoever, started singing in his low trained basso profundo, there were audible jeers and cat-calls from the audience. If it bothered him, it only made him bare down that much harder. By the time he unleashed his crushing forte on the final “but Old Man River, he just keeps rolling…aaaaAAAAAAA-LONG!” the crowd was going berserk. The applause was deafening. It was the one time our mutually exclusive worlds of classical and pop music converged and it was beautiful.

For me, that August brought back the past in the form of an old flame named Diana. I hadn’t seen her since I had left Oswego and there was a part of me that had hoped I never would. Our relationship was messy and about as painful as it could get, starting innocently enough with letters back and forth while I was in Paris in ’79. But there she was, among the small crowd at the Firehouse. During a break I approached her and we began to talk amiably although cautiously. By the time I left we had exchanged phone numbers.

I had a vivid dream that night that I saw her standing alone in the middle of a street in the strange twilight that always accompanies my dreams. I walked up to her and said “I willed you back into my existence” and pulled her face off. Behind her face was a black hole. Thus began the second chapter of what was to be, yet again, an ultimately excruciating and sorrowful connection.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Version 1: The San Francisco Line-Ups

There were essentially 4 different versions of the Experience, each one spanning a distinct period in the history of the group. There was the San Francisco version, the Rochester version pre-UK tour, the Rochester touring period and then the post-touring period.
The SF version began with Chuck, Kevin, Gene Tighe and me. Gene Tighe traveled out west us ostensibly to play bass. He had been a member of the original Water Street Boys, Oswego’s first official jugband that also included Chuck, Scott “Kid” Regan, Dirty Jim Sherpa, and Rush Tattered.
Gene had never played bass put he possessed a voice that sent chills down the spine. Chuck, in true 70’s punk fashion, thought Gene would simply learn the bass once we arrived out west. Trouble was, Gene had absolutely no instinct for the bass. His approach was like that of his guitar with the WSBs: he would lock his fingers in a pentatonic scale pattern and just start wandering up and down.
In all fairness, Gene’s heart was not in it. Gene had loved playing with the Water St. boys and he loved playing jugband music in general. He had traveled to New Orleans dozens of times, crashing in pad above the original Tipitina’s and playing on the streets with other jugband musicians. As of this writing, the Water Street Boys still play from time to time and Gene is still providing his Sam Cooke-style tenor and his wandering acoustic lead guitar.
He and I lived together in a house on Potrero Hill for a very brief time during which he booked to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras and remained out-of-touch for a couple of months. By the time he returned to SF, he had been replaced with Oswego native and a high school pal of mine, Thad Iorizzo.
Thaddeus was and is a completely original character and one of the few people capable of pissing you off and leaving you in stitches at the same time. He deserves and will receive his own chapter.
After Thad left the band for the 2nd time, he was replaced by another Oswego native, Danny O’Donnell. Danny stayed with the band until our Upstate New York tour in August of 1982, whereupon he decided to stay east while the group returned to SF.
The final San Francisco version included Dave Fisher on bass and a wild pot-head ‘bone player from Keuka, Iowa named Scott Young. This was the line-up that recorded “Why’d the Boy Throw the Clock Out the Window?” at Peter Miller’s studio. On that recording, the band was also joined by Peter Strauss on alto saxophone. Peter played with the band only for a few months but was present at the legendary Banaan Street Art Gallery gig on March 24th, 1984.
In later years, Chuck referred to the gig often when speaking about genesis of the sound and vibe of the Rochester version. The band included horn players, as he always wanted, and the audience was filled with local artists, poets and kooks who did not display the customary arms-folded stone-faced “prove-yourself” look that we had come to expect with SF club-goers. The people paid attention to the words and the songs and responded with smiles, laughs and dancing. It was really the only gig in SF that felt even remotely like a White Caps gig.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Chuck, the Lord and Me

Spiritually, I don’t call myself anything anymore. For a three year stretch, however, I was a born-again Christian. I “received Christ” when I was 17 and officially “fell away” while I was studying in France at the age of 20. Nothing like a little Parisian existentialism, and the hope of carnal rapture, to steer a kid away from Bible-thumping Christianity.
In other words, though, I was a born-again Christian during the same period I first met and began to play with Chuck the summer of 1978. Chuck was always open about his beliefs and his take on Christianity. He never put me down for my association with Gospel Outreach, the charismatic fellowship I involved myself with.
Chuck recounted how he had been involved with Bible study groups when he was young. He had ultimately been asked to leave when the group leader found out he had written a blasphemous piece of literature entitled “the Book of Oswald”. Chuck always maintained that he counted the Bible, along with Moby Dick, among his favorite books.
While Chuck freely called himself an atheist, he consistently drew upon his Catholic heritage and the Bible for inspiration. Among his songs are “Wedding at Canaan”, “Jonah & the Whale”, “Three of Them and One of Us”, “If Nobody Loves You in Heaven”, “The Four Horseman” and countless others.
Although Chuck referred to himself as an atheist, spirit was very real to him. Spirit was what you saw in a person that made you connect with that person. Spirit was what people displayed in the frenetic dancing at White Caps and Experience gigs. What Chuck once said to me was that he believed “life is God”. I believe that what turned him off about Christianity was its insistence that God and Life were separate and that the former created the latter.
What attracted Chuck to me more than anything was my absolute obsession with the guitar. This was a period where, like a lot of young musicians, I had both the drive and the freedom to practice from sun up to sun down. Chuck always liked weirdoes and outsiders and I think I fit the bill. I think he liked the fact that although I claimed to be a Bible-reading Jesus-loving born-again Christian, anyone could see I loved my guitar more.
The semester before I left for Paris, Fall 1978, was one of huge contradictions and conflicts for me. I studied the works of Camus, Sartre, Genet, Ionesco and others in Dr. Smirnoff’s French Literature class. I lifted up my arms to praise Jesus and attempted to speak in tongues within the fellowship of Gospel Outreach. I drank beer with the Water Street regulars, staggered home drunk and missed class the next day. I smoked pot whenever it was available and I played guitar as often as possible. I prayed on my prayer rug, read verses and spoke in tongues in the privacy of my home. And I really wanted to get laid.
Even the music I played and practiced displayed big contradictions. I was freeing my love of Chuck Berry, BB King and George Harrison with Chuck’s music while at home I was trying to learn to speed through dorian and myxolydian modes faster than Al DiMeola. I would listen to Elvis Presley’s Sun Sessions and then Romantic Warrior by Return to Forever. Except for some of Phil Keaggy’s work, I was having a hard time finding any Christian music that was listenable. But I had cut-out LPs by Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters that were rawer and harsher than anything I had heard before and I was growing more fond of them with each listening.
Chuck had discovered the punk music and pub rock that was coming out of New York and London right around 1975/76. Because of his collection, I started listening to the Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Graham Parker & the Rumour, Ian Dury & the Blockheads and others. Chuck was the first person I ever met who literally had a floor to ceiling wall of record albums.
Chuck’s favorite, and soon to be mine, was Elvis Costello. Chuck had bought 10 copies of “My Aim is True” when it was released and gave them away to his friends. He hitchhiked through a blizzard in '77 to Utica to see Elvis play in a small club where local heroes "the Frogs" opened up for him. Most of the club-goers that evening were there to see the Frogs. "After playing under the glare of bright white lights, Elvis left the stage and on his way out of the club turned to Chuck (or so legend has it) and asked "How was it?"" (quoted from -anonymous)

One evening I made a critical decision to go to a Gospel Outreach prayer meeting instead of a party where everyone would play music together. As Chuck and I were unofficially band-mates, he was furious with me for opting prayer over music: one an exercise in pointless and false fellowship and the other an opportunity to do what you were put on this earth to do. My sister revealed to me some time later that Chuck’s response was an absolute “I’ll never play music with Phil again.” It was not the last time Chuck would speak in absolutes.
For the time being the Lord had won. I played briefly with a Gospel Outreach group that called itself Vessel. With all due respect, the music was as horrible as anything I had heard on 100% Christian vinyl.
My time in Paris the following semester would prove to be the end of my fundamentalist period and the beginning of a time in my life every bit as tumultuous and unsettled, if not more so.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Meanwhile, Back in San Francisco...

One afternoon in San Francisco, during a period when the band was “on hiatus”, Chuck invited me down to his basement, our rehearsal room, to preview a piece he had been working on. He had been fairly obsessed with first his set of bells and later with his vibraphone which he had purchased from Tower of Power’s David Garibaldi.
Up to that point, it had never been like Chuck to actually practice an instrument. His guitar had always served a utilitarian function once Chuck had a few chords together and his famous double time strumming pattern. “My guitar’s a drum with strings” he said often enough. But the vibes were different and Chuck worked out melodies and arpeggios that he practiced over and over.
Once we were based out of San Francisco, the first big change in Chuck’s songwriting was the frequent use of composed riffs. Prior to that, G. Elwyn would often plug in Chuck Berry-style licks that Chuck would soon regard as integral to the song.
The first song I remember Chuck writing with a composed riff was called “Go Away, Marie” which exists on a very early demo tape somewhere. That was soon followed by a pair of classic songs “Kojak Chair” and “Talk to Me”. Kojak Chair was also the first instance where Chuck devoted a portion of the song to spoken words.
He expanded on that with the song “Solid! Behind the Times”. Having come up with the guitar riff based on Chuck’s glottal-stop vocal suggestions, “Solid!” was the only instance where Chuck gave me co-writing credit. “Solid!” included a reference to “cream-of-the-only-hat-that-ever-fit-me soup” which came from an exchange Chuck had had with Brad Fox. At the time, Brad was never seen without this ugly brown knitted cap of his. One day Chuck snatched it off his head and refused to give it back.
Brad: Hey! That’s the only hat that ever fit me!
Chuck: I’m gonna make cream-of-the-only-hat-that-ever-fit-me soup out of it…
Back in the basement, Chuck began to play a funny riff over and over on the vibes. He explained that the riff was the entire song and that everyone would play it. Over it, he would recite pages of words. The song was called “I’m Considering a Move to Memphis”. The first time Chuck was able to get everyone together to play the song, he received less than unanimous support from his bandmates. We all thought he was crazy. This had to be just some odd ball phase of his.
Little did we know this would be the song that roughly five years later would catch the ear of John Peel on BBC1 and begin our three tour relationship with the England.

Monday, August 08, 2005

A Modest Reunion

Uncle Phil, Jimmy Mac & Ken, Saturday, August 6, 2005 at the Daily Perks Coffee House. Photo courtesy of Kracke Photography.

Reims, France 1966-1968: Cum'on, Let's Go Back...

In the early 80’s, while everyone was listening to the likes of the Police, Flock of Seagulls, Public Image, Talking Heads, etc. I, under the tutelage of one Chuck Cuminale, was discovering and absorbing records by the Band, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Graham Parker, Patti Smith and a host of other 60’s, 70’s and early new wave/punk bands. During the 70’s, while I was growing up in Oswego, my listening comprised primarily of the Beatles, their solo LPs, Chuck Berry, B.B. King and John Mayall. I bought John Mayall albums because a) it was blues and b) they were mostly .99c cut-outs. But whether I indulged myself in Wishbone Ash, discovered Randy Newman while watching a tribute to Jim Croce on the Midnight Special or tried to learn “I’m Going Home” by Ten Years After note-for-note, the Beatles remained unshakeable at the top of my tower of song.
Like a lot of people my age I remember watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964. I was 6. I watched with my brother Ted, my sister Jan, my parents as well as my maternal grandparents, Grampy and Nana. I don’t recall everyone else’s reactions but as for me, I’ve spent the rest of my life coming to terms with that moment. Suddenly the world was a more exciting place to be; a place where you could choose to do that sort of thing. To be more precise, the world of grown-ups was more interesting. Up to that point, grown-ups fed me, clothed me, taught me, got after me, told me stories and sang lullabies. No grown-up had ever instructed me to “twist and shout” or yelled “yeah! Yeah! YEAH!” or made such a loud racket. I don’t think I’d ever seen so many electric guitars at once.
But the path musicians take isn’t solely dependent on the music listened to. There have always been people along the way who have helped bring the path into focus. Seeing the Beatles on TV was a planting of the seed perhaps, but the water for the fertile soil came from an unexpected source: a student of my father’s by the name of Norman Pearlman.
My father is a retired French professor who, from 1952 to 1969, taught at the University of Oregon in Eugene, my birth city. By the time I was 6 I had been to France twice as well as the U.K. and other parts of Europe. Through contacts made at a conference in New York City, my father was offered a chance to head the Queen’s College program in France. When I was 7, in the summer of 1966, my family sailed out of New York on a tiny ship, the Aurelia, bound for Le Havre on what would be a two-year stay in the city of Reims, the capitol of the Champagne region.
The Aurelia was a retired U-boat supply ship from World War II whose final trip to the scrapyard was delayed when it was transformed into a “less expensive” ocean liner. It was no Queen Elizabeth. I remember vividly looking out our porthole and seeing the hull of a lifeboat the ropes of which secured it to the boat were painted securely onto the their respective pulleys.
It was packed with college students from the program and the ship offered music and dancing in the evenings. I had made friends with a kid named Bernard and our parents would let us stay up until 10pm (!) at the little nightclub where we would watch and listen, drink coke and imagine upending boxes of marbles onto the dance floor. The one song I clearly remember hearing the band play was “Love is Blue” which I thought had a pretty cool melody. The little keyboard hook in-between verses was very catchy too.
Once we got established in Reims, my parents often had parties with students and faculty over at our place. Quite a few students felt very comfortable coming over just to hang out. This was especially true the second year when we had an apartment on La Cour L’Anglais. This was where one student, Norman Pearlman, who took notice of my interest in music, began to bring over stacks of English and American rock’n’roll singles for me listen to. Each week he would bring over a new stack and take back the last one.
In all fairness to my father, the reason Norman new of my interest in music was due to my father’s long standing friendship with Bernard Durant and his family. Monsieur Durand had a little “tabac” in Paris where, along with the daily papers, cigarettes and what-not, he sold the latest singles and EP’s by the French pop stars of the day. On his trips to Paris, my father would stop at the tabac and always leave with a stack of records for us.
When I was 8-years-old my music idols were Claude Francois, Adamo, Hugues Aufrais, Sheila, Jacques Dutronc, Antoine, a very bad-ass Johnny Hallyday and the underrated Michelle Polnareff. For a year this was the music I knew and listened to. It would be years before I realized that “J’Attendrais” by Claude Francois was a re-written “I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops…and not the other way around! I imagine when Norman heard what I was listening to, he took pity and decided to take it upon himself to school Ted, Jan and me in rock’n’roll. And with all due respect to Ted and Jan, I was the one for whom this stuff mattered the most.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Rochester, NY 1985

When I arrived in Rochester, NY in February of ’85, the Colorblind James Experience had already begun to establish itself on the local music scene. Chuck phoned me several times from Rochester to tell me how excited he was about the line-up: Jim MacAvaney on drums, Bernie Heveron on upright bass and G. Elwyn Meixner, formerly of the White Caps, back on guitar. Several times he would say that if and when I moved back east I would have a guaranteed place in the band.
The Rochester scene was exciting in 1985. The club scene featured Scorgie’s on Andrews St., Shatzee’s on Richmond St. (now called Richmond’s, cleverly enough), Shnozz's in the Village Gate Square, Snake Sister’s at 666 South Ave. (now Lux) and most importantly for the band, Jazzberry’s on Monroe Ave.
At the top of the band scene was Personal Effects (whose members are currently found playing in the morphine haze film-noir soundtrack ensemble Margaret Explosion). Personal Effects routinely packed Scorgie’s offering their fans sophisticated and moody stage lighting and tight, danceable sets. They looked and sounded very current with throbbing rhythm from drummer Paul Dodd and bassist Robin Mills and metal crunch from guitarist Bob Martin. The most unique element of the band, however, was the sheer presence, mysterious voice and ethereal saxophone of Peggy Fournier. To this day, Peggy’s haunting saxophone is one of my favorite sounds in music. I strongly suggest a visit to them at and never mind that I’m featured on their first CD “Happy Hour”.
Personal Effects helped Colorblind James Experience immensely. First off, Paul and Chuck had known each other since childhood, both families living on the same street in Webster. Secondly, before Robin, Bernie Heveron was PE’s bassist. For about a year, Robin was my housemate over on Hamilton St in the South Wedge. There was a time when the bands were very tight and familial. One Saturday night, in fact, Colorblind James was playing at Jazzberry’s and PE was playing at Scorgie’s. We decided without hesitation to be each other’s opening bands! The shows started at 10:30 and right around 11:30 or so both bands raced across town to headline their own gig!
There is a tape floating around that Susan Plunkett of Jazzberry’s financed called Live at Jazzberry’s which features Personal Effects on one side and the Colorblind James Experience on the other.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Arrriving in SF, 1980

Night had fallen by the time our van began crossing the 4.35 miles of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The traffic was fast and crowded. The whole time across I kept thinking “Please, God, not another blowout”. Kevin had manfully maneuvered the van off the road each harrowing time we had gotten a blowout. With these conditions, it would certainly have been disastrous.
The city was lit up, though, and it looked spectacular, electric and inviting. Kevin got the van to the other side without incident except that a) we were on E and b) we had no idea how to get to Chuck and Jan’s place. We took the first exit we could off the bridge and wound up somewhere in the Mission District.
The Mission is fine but if it’s your first time there and it’s dark outside and you’re lost, it can seem pretty intimidating. But we managed to find a gas station and a phone booth. Soon Jan was giving us directions to their apartment on Walter Street off of Duboce Park.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Drive West, 1980

I made the trek out west with drummer Kevin McDevitt, his girlfriend Caroline and a ’71 Chevy Beauville with all the band’s equipment. We left Oswego, NY on Saturday, November 22nd, 1980 and spent the first night near a garage in Toledo, Ohio having suffered the first of three blowouts. By the time we reached San Francisco I was certain we would call ourselves Colorblind James and the Blowouts. Fortunately, the choice was quickly rejected.
From Toledo we made started heading southwest through St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Phoenix, and then Albuquerque. We hit Albuquerque on Thanksgiving eve and started looking for a place to park and sleep. We couldn’t afford hotels so the three of us hunkered down in the van each night, usually me in the front seat and Kevin and Caroline in the back. By the time we hit New Mexico we were smelling up the joint something awful. Someone in a gas station suggested we pull around back for the night and maybe later they’d stop by and party with us. As young and as stupid as we were, there was something wrong with the deal so we kept on driving. We wound up on the west side of Albuquerque high up on a hill overlooking the city.
It was the Angel’s View truck stop. When night fell we knew why it was called that. Albuquerque lit up like the mothership in Close Encounters. It was absolutely beautiful. We smoked Kevin’s Marlboro’s long into the evening before turning in. There was something about the evening that was magical even though nothing extraordinary happened. We were all just feeling upbeat and recharged about our move west. We were filled with hope and my head played the same fantasy over and over of our quick rise to the top of the San Francisco scene.
The following day within minutes of waking up we all began to choke on the stench. I remember windows being rolled down quickly and random socks and underwear being tossed from the van. Kevin took his seat behind the wheel, lit a cigarette and we were off once again.
Within an hour we had our second blowout of the trip. Shortly before nightfall and just outside Kingman, Arizona we had our third. We managed to get into Kingman and get the van going again but it was Thanksgiving and we were frazzled. I was the only one who had any kind of money with me so I treated Kevin and Caroline to a Thanksgiving dinner at the local Sambo’s. Compared to the exhilaration we all felt the night before, there was something sad and lonely about being at a crummy restaurant in Kingman on Thanksgiving Day.
I wasn’t that savvy about old rocknroll hits at the time so I couldn’t even savor the fact that we were tracing all the cities laid out in Route 66. Old Route 66 was pretty much abandoned by that point but the interstate stayed true to the lyric. And yes, the following day we went through Barstow and San Bernardino before making our way up to Frisco.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

October 17th, 1988

On October 17th, 1988 the Colorblind James Experience landed at Heathrow Airport outside London, England ready to begin their first of three European tours. We were met by our tour manager, Kevin Hunter, holding up a loose-leaf sheet of paper with the band's name written in ballpoint pen. Right out of Spinal Tap.
The band was Chuck, John Ebert on trombone, Ken Frank on bass, Jimmy Mac on drums, Dave McIntire on sax and clarinet, and me. We were joined by fellow Rochesterian Carl Goedt who although hired as a soundman, acted also as roadie, stage manager and muscle.
He was well over 6 feet tall and 300lbs and for all the world look like he belonged with a chapter of the Hell's Angels. I met him for the first time at the airport in Toronto and I remember either thinking or at least feeling "OK. This is serious. We're a real band and this is really happening..."
Carl has to be one of the kindest souls I ever met and one of the most hard working. For the duration of the tour, he voiced his affection and concern for his 70+ mother back in Rochester. She was often responsible for putting together crews for Carl when big acts came through town (he put together the stages, the scaffolding and whatnot) His mother would be busy overhauling a Harley while he was gone.
What I remember about the flight was how we taped together three Fender guitar cases with duct tape so it could be checked as one item. Also, Ken was playing an amazing Ernie Ball acoustic bass that was the size of a Pinto. He had a case custom built for it that someday may suit me for a coffin.
We were ragtag, completely unprepared for what was to transpire, but so ready at the same time. For me it was complete vertigo: exhilaration and fear, all at once.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Colorblind James Trio, part I

Chuck was more than excited to hear that not only did I play guitar, I had a housemate who played upright bass. Thad was more than happy to join in, and the first rehearsal took place in the living room of Chuck & Jan's cold-water flat. I think what struck me most about the first batch of songs I heard was the levity, the fun of the music and the lyrics: their deceptive simplicity that made me smile a worried smile. As quite a few people who consider themselves songwriters have believed, I too thought the songs were easy, fun and I could just as well write like that. The first song Chuck taught me was Purple & Gold:

Purple & Gold, Purple & Gold
I got the blues for my baby wearin' Purple & Gold
Purple & Gold, Purple & Gold
She never liked no colors 'cept for Purple & Gold

The song is a fast polka in vein similar to Chuck Berry's car songs: Maybellene, Jaguar & Thunderbird, You Can't Catch Me, etc. The heroine's car in this fable was "a '57 Chevy with the 4-on-the-floor" and it was painted purple & gold. By the middle of the song, like the great tragedy songs of the early 60's, things took a deadly turn:

Drivin' on a Sunday, she was drivin' too fast
The car pulled off the highway, it flipped over and crashed
Purple & Gold, Purple & Gold
Everywhere was scattered bits of Purple & Gold

that's followed by the funeral (which appears in more than a few of Chuck's songs):

The day of the funeral it was rainy and cold
The people at the service wore purple and gold...

Finally, the flowers for the grave:

I'm goin' to the store where the flowers are sold
I'm buyin' one dozen roses, six purple six gold
Purple & Gold, Purple & Gold
She never liked no colors 'cept for Purple and Gold.

It would be years before I would put together a lyric that, matched with the appropriate rhythm, would even approach the wit, irony and pathos of Purple & Gold.

From the start, Chuck's vision was to have fast, danceable music that embraced lyrics that dealt with pain & suffering. Pain & suffering were the realities of life, the music was hope. The hope was seen in the reckless abandon with which the fans would dance to songs of sadness, loneliness, about common folk who got dealt a bad hand. Reckless abandon was spirit, and spirit, to Chuck, was bigger than pain & suffering.

I discovered much later in life the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. I didn't realize at the time that Chuck was attempting to transform his own sorrow & suffering into joy & happiness through his writing.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The first meeting: 1978

Before the trip out west, before the Appletons or the White Caps, there was an odd little trio named appropriately the Colorblind James Rock 'n' Roll Trio. Before the RnR Trio there was the Water Street Boys and going back further still, Mike Goldstein's Cold Water Revue. The WSBs can still be heard to this day with most of the original members intact.
However, my own history with CbJ began in the summer of 1978. I was 19 and had just returned home from SUNY @ Buffalo where I had finished my sophomore year. I was transferring to SUNY @ Oswego because Buffalo was too big, too unfriendly and I really didn't know what I was trying to do majoring in music there.
My sister, Janet, had been traveling out west for the past 6 months with some mysterious guy. My brother, Edward, was also living in San Francisco, killing himself handing out communist propaganda and chauffeuring big shot party leaders while he lived in filth, ate in soup kitchens, and struggled to incorporate his only other passion into this all consuming political life. My brother was a singer and his passion was opera.
Meanwhile, my parents were once again in France (Paris, to be exact) where my father was heading an exchange program. My plan was to go abroad in the spring of '79 and study at the Sorbonne. In the meantime, however, I was without family in Oswego and feeling, as I said before, directionless.
I was living in a house kitty-corner from OHS, Oswego High School, with my longtime friend Thad Iorizzo and some guy who never stopped jumping rope. Really. His quest was to get every American jumping rope. He tried to get me jumping rope but I found it much easier to simply walk.
I had known Thad since my first drunk the eve before my 13th birthday at David Sterlicht's bar mitzvah. Along with being one of the funniest guys I've ever known he was also astonishingly mediocre on both electric and upright bass. In all fairness, I was positively mediocre myself.
When Jan arrived back in Rochester, she called me up and invited me over to the cold-water flat she moved into with her, at this point, very serious boyfriend. When I got there, I was greeted at the door by a dark-eyed, curly haired man with a huge black beard that engulfed most of his face. I remember my initial thought was “who the hell are you and why are you answering the door to my sister’s apartment?” He introduced himself as Chuck and invited me in. Little did I know that within 48 hours Chuck, Thad and I would play our first gig together at the now expanded Lowlife CafĂ©.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Colorblind James and the...Appletons?

In 1980, at the height of the White Caps popularity, Chuck and his girlfriend, my sister, decided to move west to San Francisco. As I usually tell it, he invited the members of the White Caps to join them and initially everyone declined.
Oswego, for a lot of folks, mostly young, was a very odd sort of mecca. Some found paradise on the little street that ran next to the river, off of Bridge St. That was Water Street, memorialized in Chuck's song "Water Street Stomp":

Tell all the troops up in the hills
Tell the folks down in the swamp
We're gonna meet on Water Street
So we can do that Water Street Stomp

If your crossing the bridge heading east, Water Street is the first right before East 1st Street. No more than an alley, it was initially home to the Ferris Wheel, an old sailors bar that became an old college student's hangout and more than likely remains a college bar to this day. More importantly, though, in terms of Oswego's musical heritage and the history of CbJ, across the street and closer to the corner opened a new hangout, the Lowlife Cafe. Gone now, this was one of the first places where Chuck started to perform under the name Colorblind James.

Chuck had been writing his oddball folk songs for a few years and as he used to tell it, he wanted a name that sounded like his old country blues heros from the late 20s and early 30s like Blind Willie McTell (who remained Chuck's favorite), Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, etc. Chuck was in fact colorblind and his first name was actually James, James Charles Cuminale. So, thinking it a humorous tribute, he became Colorblind James.

The summer of 1980, making preparations to leave for San Francisco in the fall, Chuck began to search for a new line-up. I had just graduated from SUNY@Oswego with a BA in music (later to become an issue) and I had no idea what I was going to do. Being a good guitarist as well as his girlfriend's brother and a fan of the music, I asked him if he wanted me to join him out west and he agreed.

Chuck, now needing a drummer and a bassist, called his friend Brad (living in SF at the time) and asked if he would be interested in playing with the band. Brad jumped at the chance. Next, Chuck did the punk thing and told a guy named Gene, a fair guitarist and really good singer, to get a bass and join the trip. Gene, too, agreed. With the new line-up determined, the first hitch occurred when White Caps drummer Kevin McDevitt decided he wanted to go. Let's just say that while Brad remained friends with Chuck, I don't believe he ever really forgave him for pulling him off the drummer's throne. Chuck suggested Brad stay on as a marimba player (did Brad know anything about marimba?) but Brad declined.

Now the line-up was Chuck on rhythm guitar, Gene on bass, Kevin on drums and me on lead guitar. Chuck, always one to dig in his heels as a blue-collar spokesman, was always amused with his girlfriend's English heritage and mannerisms (afternoon tea is still important at my sister's) and our family's embrace of French culture, due in large part to my father's francophilia. Basically, Chuck was from a large Italian-American working class family and he viewed us, the Marshalls, as, well, comical in our own non-blue-collar ways. Long story short, before heading out west, Chuck began to kick around names for the new band. Inspired by one of my story's about my grandfather, he thought that he could dress in worn-out overalls while the rest of the band dressed up as English butlers. In this guise, we would become Colorblind James and the Appletons.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Colorblind James and the White Caps, Circa '78

When the White Caps first came into being, a typical night's songlist boasted a great smattering of covers such as Little Sheila, Be Bop a Lula, Ready Teddy, Money, All By Myself, Good Rockin' Tonight, Great Balls of Fire, Jambalaya, Iko-Iko, Little Queenie, Sea Cruise, etc. Along with that were Chuck's jugband songs like Do Women Have Souls?, Can't Stop Doing What I'm Doing, Blue Dog and If I Could Play the Tuba as well as his new rocknroll/rockabilly songs such as Sophisticated, I'm Still Dancing, After the Fox, Purple and Gold, Please Please Please, Don't You Believe in Me?, Crazy-O, Pay Up, You Need Somebody on Your Side, Water Street Stomp, Blind Girl and of course America, America. More comprehensive lists of covers and originals will appear later. For now, that's certainly enough. During a six-hour gig, the band might have played at the most two or three slow songs. The best of these was Chuck's ultra-spiritual pre-lounge-craze foxtrot "Diamond Mine":

Went to the diamond mine
And I grabbed a few
I grabbed a couple for me
I grabbed a couple for you
I grabbed a couple for me
I grabbed a couple for you
And don't you feel like a king
When you're visiting the Diamond Mine?

Chuck said he had written it while sitting on the steps of the Water Street Music Hall at about 3am. It was one of those songs that simply fell into his lap as he strummed his acoustic guitar. Chuck was a night owl and the staying up to the dreamy hours of early morning, he always felt more open to the grabbing songs from the cosmos. Each song was a diamond plucked from the diamond mine. And each song made him feel like a king with a place and purpose in the infinite cosmos.

Colorblind James

A musician, songwriter, poet and brother-in-law by the name of Chuck, aka Colorblind James, formed a band years ago called Colorblind James and the White Caps in Oswego, New York. They were as scrappy an outfit as you could imagine: among the five members, only one had any previous experience in a rocknroll band.

Kevin McDevitt, RIP, was the self-taught Bonzo-influenced, big time drinking drummer who ultimately discovered the beat Chuck had been looking for: the polka 2-beat. Terry O'Neil stared at his shoes and held the chaos together with his hollowbody electric bass. G. Elwyn Meixner slashed away at his vintage Telecaster locked on the treble pick-up. Colorblind James scrubbed the heavy guage strings of his 1960 Guild T-50 guitar like a hopped-up tenor banjo player in a 30's jugband. And Rush Tattered shimmied and swaggered and yelped his way through songs that Chuck had specifically written for him: "Sophisticated", "Too Hip to Praise the Port City" and "If I Could Play the Tuba".

The music was fast, fast, fast. The sets were neverending. The gigs sometimes started at midnight and ended around breakfast. Whoever was still at the club would join the band for eggs and coffee at Wade's diner as the sun would rise over Oswego, the Port City itself.

The music and the dancing was inspired by the punk/rockabilly movement of the mid/late 70's but it went beyond that, way beyond that. Looking cool was for NYC. The band and the dancers didn't give a rats ass how they looked. The playing was hard and intense and the dancers were tireless and drenched in sweat. It was absolutely awesome to experience or just to watch from the sidelines.

I would sit in periodically but my time was mostly spent with my sloppy, speed happy fusion band called the Generics: plain-label fusion music. No matter what I played, I knew I wanted to be a part of that crazy intensity that, to this day, no band has ever equalled.

Colorblind James and the White Caps put out one 45rpm record: America, America/Blind Girl. The songs were great. The recording? Awful! Chuck was ready to take all the copies and dump them into Lake Ontario. Fortunately he never did. They turn up every now and then. Ya gotta be pretty die-hard to want one, though.