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.