I was up there for a holiday visit & went by Scorgies to take a photo for posterity. I don’t know how long it’s been since it closed for the last time, but the 2nd floor windows are broken out. I shot a couple of panoramic photos & decided to post them as a bookend to the reunion show. Sort of a reality check. I’m sure everyone will recall that the further door on the left was the original entrance to the upstairs bar, and the nearer door on the right led to the restaurant side as well as the stairs down to the live room. Those who were in bands will also recognize the alleyway side entrance where they would load in.
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It’s hard to pin the best way to keep in touch with folks these days. Hardly anyone I know writes letters or sends postcards anymore. Pretty much everyone (except Duane and Paul & Peggi) relies on their cellphones and either doesn’t have a land line or barely uses it. Email is old school; and Instant messaging is passe.
Having said that, I set out this past August to connect with Scorgies alumni using Web 2.0 resources and social networking and was able to contact a wide variety of Scorgies alum (like Rock and Roll Joel).
Working on a tip from a blog comment, I discovered that Meegan Voss (of the Antoinettes) continues to create and perform music in NYC with her husband Steve Jordan (of Late Nite Band and Xpensivve Winos fame). Their band is The Verbs. Great music, neat stuff. I can envision a Verbs/Atmomic Swindlers/Velveteen Fox show right now! It would rock, totally!
I was able to contact Meegan through the Verbs MySpace page and we exhanged smoe pleasantries. Here’s a message Meegan sent prior to the reunion:
You know Stan, I wanted to say “thank you” to Don because he was always supportive to The Antoinettes and gave us such great gigs. Our first was opening for Marianne Faithful at Scorgies! I was trying to send a post to Scorgies but wasn’t able to get in. I also wanted to say that The Gun Club and Jim Carroll gigs were some of the best that I’ve seen still to this day. It was such a great stage to play and the room lent itself to comment from the audience. It was always a happening. I don’t remember a dull show, do you? It’s an absolute crime the place isn’t still open and rocking. There was a club in Syracuse called Jabberwocky that should never have closed as well. Do you know how lucky we were to see these incredible national acts just breeze through our small city? Steve, my husband, never ceases to be amazed that I’ve seen pretty much anyone who was anybody play in a small club with a small audience. I would love to be at the reunion but I’m in rehearsal. Our new album is about to be released so there is a lot of work to be done.
Thank you for contacting me about it. I hope you have a blast at the reunion.
p.s. tell the kid that worked at the record store that that was me and I say hi! I walked out when they wanted us to display all of John Lennon’s music the moment he was shot.
From the Jan 18th 2004 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s Living Section; official reprint available at http://www.democratandchronicle.com/
REUNITED: Haunting light
If continents can drift 20 centimeters farther from each other over 20 years, imagine how a volatile rock band can scatter in that time. The drummer to San Francisco. The bassist to Maine. The guitarist to Seattle. The lead singer to Ithaca.
Twenty years ago, those four pieces were Absolute Grey, one of the best, most happening bands that Rochester has had to offer to the music world.
It was beyond music, even.
“It was multimedia in its earliest, roughest form. That’s how pretentious we were back then,” recalls bassist Mitch Rasor of a show at the Pyramid Arts Center.
“We had a big crowd, and on all of the walls and the ceiling we were showing these films we had made, and our friends who were filmmakers had made, to go along with the music. It was complete immersion, it was everywhere, and I was standing in the middle of it all, almost forgetting I was playing.”
Twenty years later, folks who weren’t at Scorgie’s – the center of the local rock universe, but now a shut-down, silent club on Andrews Street – probably don’t know what the fuss was all about. “There was a buzz going on about this particular band,” says Dave Anderson. “There seemed to be something exciting about them….”
Now the album that Anderson recorded hi his attic studio, the Absolute Grey debut, Greenhouse, has just been re-issued. It’s accompanied by a live recording of the band playing at Scorgie’s, speaking from an era when groups such as R.E.M. could emerge from the world of independent, underground music to become stars, their noncommercial integrity still intact.
Greenhouse is Exhibit No. 1 that Absolute Grey had the goods. And the fact that the band still has fans to
this day – such as R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, who’s quoted on a sticker on the new CD jewel box claiming “I still have the original LPs” – is Exhibit No. 2 that Absolute Grey is more than a passing moment.
They loved ‘em in Germany, where a two-CD retrospective was released 10 years ago. They adored ‘em in England, where a review of Greenhouse that is to appear in today’s London Sunday Times reads, “Squint a little and Greenhouse is stupendous….” The Scorgie’s tracks secure “Greenhouse its own little space on the lost classics shelf.”
This of a band that released only four albums in its brief lifetime, the last two on a label in Greece. We’re talking Greece the country, not Greece the Rochester suburb.
So what happened?
Rasor and Matt Kitchen, the guitarist, were students at Pittsford Sutherland High School. They went off to college. End of band, it seems.
“Beth and I tried to convince them that it was obvious we had something going on,” says Pat Thomas, the drummer; Beth was Beth Brown, the band’s incandescent lead singer, a torch shining through her band mates’ darkness. “And one more year might have been all we needed to bring it up to the next level.”
As it turned out, it’s been 20 years to bring it up to the next level. There are 10 more songs, worked on intermittently over the years, now almost ready for a new Absolute Grey release. That appears to be inevitable; the energetic Thomas will make it happen.
Perhaps the band’s premature end was also inevitable. After graduating from Sutherland, Brown was working as a clerk at Record Archive when Greenhouse was released. She was 23 and Thomas, who had moved here from Corning, was 24. But Kitchen was only 16, and Rasor 15. Yet they were already perfect rock stars. “I was too radical,” Rasor says of being kicked out of art class. As sophomores, he and Kitchen took charge of the school yearbook and used Kafka’s Metamorphosis, the story of a man who awakens to find he’s been turned into a cockroach, as the theme. “It was all gray, with pictures of, like, the chess club over decomposing leaves,” Rasor says. “The total opposite of what a yearbook is supposed to be. The seniors were furious.”
The members of Absolute Grey saved their fury for the band: “We fought like cats and dogs.” Brown and Rasor both use that phrase.
“We were so pretentious, we’d fight over poetry,” Rasor says. “We took ourselves so seriously. We were so spoiled. It’s like I wrote in the liner notes hi the CD that was released in Germany: ‘Somehow we managed to
overcome all the advantages we were handed in life to start this great band.’”
Anderson agrees with Rasor on that point.
“The guitarist and bass player were from Pittsford, and I think Beth was, too,” he says. “They had an air of arrogance about them, I must say. Matt had a very condescending tone, especially for a young kid, I thought. He was very serious; he was very intellectual about everything.
“He was the main songwriter. They were very moody, atmospheric tunes. It was kind of a downer trip, overall. But in a good way. The name says it all. Absolute Grey.”
They could see nothing but gray. Anderson recalls being in the attic studio during Greenhouse. Brown was in the basement, recording some vocals; something about the acoustics, or her needing to be alone. And he could hear her crying as she was singing her part.
“You know how they say the light in the south of France is best for painting?” Rasor says of the fuel of collaboration. “Well, being in a band… it’s the best. Being able to take ideas and turn them into songs the next day is a great, especiall in high school, when you’re filled with all of this teen angst.” Absolute Grey plunged into the Scorgie’s scene, dominated by local bands such as Personal Effects. Paul Dodd, that band’s drummer, ran Earring Records, a small label that had already released music by the Wilderness Family, the Essentials and the first Colorblind James Experience album. He agreed to release Greenhouse as well. “I remember Pat,” Dodd recalls. “He was a real hustler.”
Hustler, as in aggressive. Among the many talents of Absolute Grey was professional focus. “There was no money attached, no contract. It was just a name. A co-op. A commune. A collective,” recalls Peggi Dodd of Earring’s relaxed business ethos; she was Peggi Fournier then, a keyboardist in Personal Effects. And she was a teacher at Sutherland. Rasor and Brown had been among her Spanish students. They even recruited her to play keyboards on two Greenhouse songs. “I’d come see the band,” she says, recalling the music as “somewhat dark.”
Conceived in an attic, Greenhouse was born in the basement of Scorgie’s in the winter of ‘84. “There was a huge blizzard, and I was so worried that people wouldn’t come because the weather was so’horrible,” Brown says of the record-release show. “But the place was packed, everybody was partying, and I was so gratified.”
Less than a year later, Rasor was a student at Oberlin College in northeastern Ohio when he heard that the college radio station – which didn’t even know that the guitarist from Absolute Grey was on campus – had selected Greenhouse as its indie album of the year, over the likes of R.E.M.’s Murmur.
But that was really the beginning of the end.
“I think I can speak for Matt,” Rasor says. “We both knew we wanted more of an academic career, an arts career. Absolute Grey was about to go somewhere, but it was not quite the train we wanted to be on for all that time. I’m a little more comfortable in a library than onstage.”
Absolute Grey proved to be a springboard for Rasor and Thomas in music. Rasor has found a way to combine his interests in architecture, landscaping, graphic design, writing and music – he’s working on his 23rd album, some of which are solo efforts – with a company called MRLD, just north of Portland, Maine.
Thomas lived in Denmark for a year, then used his Absolute Grey connections for a move to California, where many of the survivors of the ’80s psychedelic-rock revival lived. He now runs a San Francisco label, DBK Works, that re-issues classic records on vinyl. And new works as well, including his own solo records and, obviously, Greenhouse.
Kitchen spiraled off into a different orbit, setting down his guitar in favor of a fiddle and a civil-service job, a wife and a daughter in Seattle. The other three members of the band describe him as ambivalent about Absolute Grey,
Brown? The band’s star, with her blend of folk-rock and wailing-punk vocals, has taken the oddest – most frustrating, even – road of them all. “I’m disappointed and angry,” Thomas says, “that she never went on to do anything without us.”
Brown moved to Boston, enrolled in art school, drifted to Ithaca and started a sign-painting business, then moved to the Berk-shires and opened an art gallery. By then, she had a daughter – Indiana – with a German immigrant named Knut Schmitt.
Now she’s back in Ithaca. She and Schmitt went their separate ways years ago. Yet in a strange twist, she’s not only caring for their daughter but also the 54-year-old Schmitt, who now is battling early-onset Parkinson’s disease.
Interestingly, the 20-year-old Greenhouse has been an instrument of healing for Thomas, Rasor and Brown. It’s as though they’re seeing Absolute Grey with the clarity of the light of the south of France.
“Right now, we’re enjoying a period of love,” Thomas says of his relationship with Rasor. “But we’ve certainly had a love-hate relationship over the years. He and I have kissed and made up in a really big way.”
“And I think putting this out has made Beth realize, it’s now or never for her solo career. I sent her an e-mail recently and told her, ‘You’re probably 10 times more talented than me, but you never did anything with it.’
Indeed, recently Brown has been writing songs. She will be on the new Absolute Grey release. But her focus is on recording her own music, probably with Anderson’s Saxon Recording, and will return to Rochester this year to find some like-minded musicians to help.
It took 20 years for Brown to take the next step after Absolute Grey. “I didn’t want to do music for a while,” she says; the guitar was packed away. “You know how 2-year-olds are. They mess with stuff.”
Now Indiana is 8. The guitar is out again. Brown, who always collaborated, has discovered she can write songs on her own. “This is going to be a powerful record,” she says. “I can’t wait to do it.”
“You really need to leave that guitar out on the stand. So you can just pick it up. Anytime.”
(Article mostly Re-printed from Shindig & Freetime Magazines in the 1990’s – by Del Rivers)
I still can remember standing in The Mason Jar (a local bar known for serving beer in canning jars)…as well as Scorgies…listening to Luther and The BBB’s. What we heard was a mixture of 1960’s Retro-Rock combined with early 1980’s Power-Pop. The BBB’s were stand-outs among Rochester bands like The Bowery Boys (w/Geoff Wilson), The Insiders (w/Walt O’Brien), and The Chesterfield Kings (w/Greg Prevost). Of these die-hard followers of The Kinks, The Monkees, The Byrds, and The Who; Luther and The BBB’s stood out like a set of new Goodyear Tires instead of some cheapo retreads. The snappy Pop tunes created were on par with Syracuse, NY’s Flashcubes (w/Gary Frenay) or with any other Power Pop band that was on Bomp! or Voxx Records in the early 1980’s. Luther and his boys have progressed to that arena (musically, at times) that includes Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, or early Squeeze.
As time goes around, BBB members have followed different routes…Doug Cox, who briefly formed NYC’s Tonebenders, is now climbing telephone poles; Mike Abrams, now a family man, played a roll in both The Projectiles and The Infants; Judd Williams (known as a “legend” in Boston) plays with The Lyres, Riviera Playboys, and now tours with The Amazing Royal Crowns; and finally Jeff “Luther” Holtzman carried The BBB’s flagship through the ’80’s and ’90’s. (The BBB’s briefly changed to The 3-B’s as well). Many future members included ex-Insiders Walt O’Brien and Bob Janneck; It’s My Party/Housecats/Shakin’ Bones members Ken Peters and Hank “Blast” Karuth. In the lean years, Luther worked as a D-J for local bars and co-wrote songs that ended-up as releases from myself and/or McFadden’s Parachute.
Aside from my usual “namedroppings”, a good listen to the CD (Volume One) speaks for itself. Utilizing rare vintage instruments; Luther has created an array of cool, original Rock’n'Roll as well as some updated cover songs in the bonus set. Check out the Rockabilly-influenced “The Echo”, the yearly Christmas standard “Are You Ready For Christmas”, the Psychedelic “Knee Wash”, and aggressive Power-Pop songs like “Rest Of Your Love” and “In My Mind” – all guaranteed to become repeat listeners. (On Whole Lotta Shakin’ – we usually played his “Credit Card Christmas” which isn’t on the CD).
Despite the choking cigarette smoke, and overwhelming odor of urinals (at The Mason Jar – not Scorgies!); that time was a worthy Rock’n'Roll memory and the music is still vital today. I can’t wait ’til Volume Two comes along without the ’smells’ attached to the memories!! Hail to the Great Rickenbacker!!
(Note: Since this article was written, Luther has retired from performing but has recorded about four other unreleased volumes of music with and without Dave Anderson from Saxon Recording. His former band mates now play as Shakin’ Bones). – Del.
I just wrote a Scorgies recollection with homage to Personal Effects on my own blog. I must say that the many nights that I spent at Scorgies were quite unique and will never be forgotten, even if they are hazy memories.
I hope that it is ok that I cross-post it here. If not, that’s cool, I will cease and desist!
Scorgies was the best room in the city for live bands. They had no chairs in the place. The drinking age was still 18 so the crowd was alive. Mark Nuj had the best sound system in place down there. You could stand right in front of the band or watch from three sides.
Click photo to advance. (from The Refrigerator.)
From September of 1981 to the very last day in February 1986, I lived in Rochester, NY and I loved every minute of it. It was a crazy time in my life.
When other contemporaries of mine were busy settling down, focusing on careers, procuring advanced degrees, getting married and starting families, nothing was further from my mind than any of that.
I wanted to live and to live very loudly. And so I did.
At that time I had no idea of the depths of my sad past, but I knew I wanted to be happy. Frankly, I wasn’t happy, but one must think of how the water cuts through the rock to form the canyon or how the sea pounds the rocks to create the sand. I was happy in process I suppose.
So while others were doing some of the aforementioned life living, I spent my free time slinking around all manner of unsavory nightspots, drinking, dancing and whiling the nights away. It was not unheard of for me in those days to be out until 2am, fall into bed in my tiny studio apartment on trendy Park Avenue and be up at and work by 8am the next morning. Oh to be 25!
This place was a scene unto itself and was also the venue for many a great band both local and national, international. Eventually it became my number one night spot.
This meant sauntering in and trying to look cool. I can’t imagine I ever pulled this off, but I did my best. One had big hair and wore lots of black, I think that was key. That and looking almost bored, as if you just happened to walk in unexpectedly.
I would usually be with my friend MG. My friend MG and I are no longer friends and I must say that of all my lost friendships, I mourn this one most profoundly. MG was the single funniest person I have ever known in my life. We were friends from December of 1982 until early in 2002 and I do not think the wound of loss will ever fully close.
Anyway, M and I would get into my one of our cars and head off to see what the night held for us. Generally from 1983-1986, that meant first stop was Scorgies.
After entering the smokey bar space, courage would be mustered to go to the bar. Why courage? The bartender never really liked us. Maybe he was that way with everyone, but total disdain was his usual response. Even when the place was empty, he’d generally ignore us until he had no choice. He was a real local character and he has left this mortal coil. He went by the name of Luke Warm and you can about him and his passing here. I hope that Luke is resting in peace.
Once some drinks were consumed and if it were a show night, one would stumble down the stairs to the very dark and even more smokey show space in the basement. Low ceiling, black walls (to my recollection) and always the spot to experience some great music.
There was a local band that played there a lot and to this day I love love love them and their music. Oh it is very dated and very 80’s, but ahhhhhh- I can never get enough. So many memories are tied around Personal effects and their music. You can read more about them right here as well as listen to some of their songs and see some videos. (I will have one for you at the end of this post – the song “Nothing Lasts Forever.” My favorite song of theirs is “So So Hard” but no vid for that one, but here is the audio.)
I recall some of the shows I went to at Scorgies but sadly many of them are faded due to what had to be too much beer and not enough sleep.
Except that I was getting older and in 1985 when I got to hear Alex Chilton in February and The Replacements in August I was 27 and nearing the bend to 28 years old. And my recollection of either show is shaky at best.
There were other nightspots – Idols opened in 1985 I think. While Scorgies was more of a punk place, Idols was definitely a true 80’s dance club, although it had its own punky edge.
I once went on a date there with a guy that I met through work, he was so knowledgeable about music! While we were there a song came on and he said “This song always makes me think of being at such and such.” The such and such indicated he was a young teen when the song came out.
I asked him, “How old are you?” and he looked at me and said “21!” WTF? “How old are you?” he asked in return? “27.” Ohhhhh…. We remained friends but that was that. (We each thought we were around 23 or 24.)
Another place that I spent a lot of time at in that last year was right across the street from Idols, it was called The Liberty and it was a very chic gay bar. My friend MG and I would traipse back and forth between the two – going from one environment to the other.
Such was my life in those days. If I wanted to live out loud was definitely doing so, but sadly in ways that were not healthy for me.
That said, I can’t imagine I would change too much. What happens in the past is what makes you who you are when you finally start to pay attention. Which is how I have come to see things as a 51 year old theology student, church secretary, stepmother and suburban resident.
Nothing lasts forever, as the song says. Enjoy.
Stan mentioned a “Where are they now” section so I thought I would write this!
I left Rochester in 1994 and moved to Albany, NY
I got a job selling drums at the big music store here Drome Sound. Within 2 weeks of moving here I was drumming in 1313 Mockingbird Lane Albany’s garage band! While in 1313 we released 2 45’s both of which I got to sing lead on the B-side! 1 45 even had a song I had written!!!
My son was born in 1996 and I did the stay at home dad thing! Susan from Susan & The Surftones had just moved to Albany & was out the last 1313 show. She approached me and asked if I wanted to join the band. We did a few CD’s for the German Gee Dee label & a 45 for a Belgian label. We also did 3 tours of Europe while I was in the band.
The 1st was in 1997. It was 8 shows in 10 days and was only Germany.
The next tour was 2000 and was a 1 month tour that took me to Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and the next tour in 2001 was also 1 month and was some of the same but also adding Denmark.
(Thank god I have an understanding wife!!!)
After those tours I try to make it to Germany at least once every 3 years. This year I went & also visited Prague, CZ.
Now I run the mail order dept. at the local record store Last Vestige ( www.lastvestige.com ).
Most of my time is spent selling records to the Russian!!!
I started Thee UMMmm… a 60’s garage band & also Das Schmucks a 3 pc Turbonegro cover band.
I also play drums and sing with The Knyghts Of Fuzz, & Big Kombo and I do a Russian WW2 re-enacting thing www.3rdriflediv.org & http://www.myspace.com/3rdriflebrigade
Looking forward to A Projectiles reunion! The Last attempt was on a day when Rochester decided to have a MAJOR snow storm!!!
Cousin Brian Goodman
Buttons seemed to be a cheap and easy way to promote bands and causes back in the day, and here’s a few from the collection. The top left is from WITR and reads “Rock N Roll Party,” although I can’t remember if that was a show, or just a promo button from the station. To the right of that is a Backseat Sally button, though the colors seem to have faded over the years. In the center is a Press Tones button, a personal favorite, as I always like the deco style text. I would have worn it to the reunion, but I just uncovered it the other day. Bottom left is a Delroy Rebop button, with an image of a microphone. Last time I saw Del was in NYC many moons ago. Finally there is a Cappy and the Frenchmen button, and though it didn’t scan too well, it reads “Th – Th – Th – There’s a Thing” across the top, a reference to a song of the same name, with “And It’s Called Rock’N Roll” across the bottom. Just to the right of the WITR logo on the button you can make out “89.7 fm”, and at the end of the word “Frenchmen” is a picture of the Eiffel Tower.