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.

5 comments:

Michael said...

This sounds like a different Oswego from the town I saw about 15 years later. Of course I was just driving through on my way to a friend's wedding in Malone, but what I saw from Rt. 104 confirmed Oswego's rep as the only SUNY town that drinks harder than my alma mater, Brockport. I just couldn't believe how many bars there were...

Clem said...

I don't know if it is still true, but in the late 70's Oswego had more bars per capita than any city in New York State.

Phillip Henry Marshall said...

But without Broadwell's it just ain't the same!

Michael said...

OK, so I guess the number of bars has been a long-standing state of affairs, but it sounds like Oswego was a lot more fun back then--like it had the ingredients in place for someone like Chuck to actually do creative things. If it's anything like Brockport now (and I gather it is) it's an altogether more dull and desperate place.

David D. McIntire said...

Remember that back in the late '70s and early '80s the drinking age in New York State was 18. This had a huge impact on college towns especially, and when the age limit was raised, a lot of those funky places that catered to college students had to close or turn into something else. That aside, there's no question that the character of places like Oswego has changed dramatically, usually evolving into a far less unique locale.