Rolling Over For The New Wave

This article was published June 19, 1983 in the Democrat & Chronicle. Bob Martin’s father kept the clipping.

Don Scorgie in Scorgie's Window

Don Scorgie in Scorgie's Window "I liked it when 60 people were in the bar and I knew 59 of them." - Photo by Burr Lewis

By Andy Smith Democrat and Chronicle

Don Scorgie smiles as he recalls the time he threw Elvis Costello out of Scorgie’s Saloon. As Scorgie tells the story, the English rocker came to Scorgie’s, at 148 Andrews St. downtown, after his first Rochester concert at the Auditorium Theater in 1979, and demanded to be treated like a star. (According to some witnesses, Costello snapped at Scorgie to get him a cigarette.)

“That obnoxious little – – – ,” says Scorgie. “I don’t take that sort of thing from anyone, I don’t care who they are. I just sent him right out the door. This business gives you plenty of reasons to lose your temper – and plenty of ways to release your frustrations.”

For the 35-year-old Irish native, business has meant owning the city’s leading showcase for New Wave rock – a style that evolved from the more violent punk rock and is characterized by experimentation, rebellion and emotional intensity. It’s an odd position for a man whose own musical tastes run to Neil Diamond, the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison.

Somewhere along the way, Scorgie’s developed a reputation as a tough bar, although Scorgie is quick to tell you it isn’t true, adding that he hasn’t seen any customers with pins through their cheeks – a punk fashion in several years.

There have been some memorable incidents, though. There was the time in 1981 a punk band called The Cramps played Scorgie’s, and their lead singer, one Lux Interior, began pulling down chunks of the ceiling tiles.

“I don’t think they realized I hung that ceiling myself,” says Scorgie. 441 got on stage, kicked their drums around and threw them off.”

Shaun Irons, manager for the local band Personal Effects, was in the audience that night. Irons doesn’t remember actually kicking drums around, but he does recall the club owner’s climbing onto the stage to halt any possibility of the band’s doing an encore.

When Scorgie isn’t throwing bands off the stage, he is occasionally up there dancing with them. Scorgie has become a fan of reggae, the rhythmic music of Jamaica, and has been known to get up on his stage and dance with reggae bands like the I-Tals. (He hasn’t danced lately. Scorgie says – he has a bad knee.) Scorgie, who sports a reddish beard and a bit of a paunch, lives in a house he is renovating near Kodak Park. He was married last year; he has no children.

Scorgie is the kind of bar owner who likes to know his customers. I liked the early days at Scorgie’s,” he says. -If there were 60 people in thebar, I knew who 59 of them were. Now that’s all changed.”

ON THE STAGE in Scorgie’s basement music room audiences have seen everything from Jamaican poets to obscure New Wave bands from England and Los Angeles. The Go-Go’s played at Scorgie’s before thev made it big; so did an LA band called X that has since made a name for itself in New Wave circles. The music room at Scorgie’s. which holds 200, has a fine sound system and a certain primitive, exposed-brick ambiance that makes it appropriate for rock music.

And Scorgie’s became a home base for a series of local bands interested in New Wave rock, such as New Math, the Press Tones, Personal Effects and the Cliches.

IT ALL HAPPENED pretty much by accident. Scorgie himself, when he goes home and listens to music, puts on soft rock or country music – he never set out to be a musical innovator.

Scorgie was born in Ireland and moved here with his family in 1957, when he was 10. He worked construction jobs and was a bartender around town before opening Scorgie’s with two partners, Gary Ludwig and Earl Cupo, in 1977.

The building was an abandoned plumbing warehouse, Scorgie says, adding with some pride that he was one of the first new tenants to move into the St. Paul-Andrews Street area. “I figured there would be people here and that the neighborhood was on the way up,” Scorgie says.

Scorgie opened the downstairs music room in 1979. Initially, he says, he booked everything from blues (including a performance by John Lee Hooker) to folk music to rock. The club became a home for the local New Wave for several rea-sons. One was that several of the bartenders at Scorgie’s were connected with area bands – Jeff Lavin of the Cliches, Scott Wakeman of the Press Tones, John Kralles of Passenger.

WHAT’S MORE, many of the bands had their practice lofts near Scorgie’s. So musicians naturally hung out there, and it seemed a logical step for them to start playing at Scorgie’s. “In 1981 we decided to concentrate on New Wave music,’ says Scorgie. “‘We wanted to differentiate ourselves musicaby from the rest of the city. I started to like the music, too, although I didn’t know enough about it to bring the groups in myself.”

Danny Deutsch, now an account executive for Freetime magtlzine, was one of Scorgie’s bartenders and helped him book many of the bands that have given Scorgie’s its musical identity. “We were able to try things you couldn’t do elsewhere,” says Deutsch. “Scorgie’s has provided a place for a lot of bands that otherwise would never httve had a place to play. I think Scorgie might have been taken aback (by the music) a little at first, but now he’s enjoying it a lot more.”

THE MUSIC ITSELF has not been a money-maker for Scorgie”s, although once people are inside, the bar can make its profit on drinks. “We don’t make a penny at the door,” Scorgie says. “Either we lose or we break even. We’re just trying to bring in the people. All in all, we might not get rich, but we’re doing OK.”

Paradoxically, as the New Wave sound – and the area bands who create it – grow more acceptable, it does not help Scorgie’s. As the bands grow more succesful, they can get bookings at clubs with larger capacities, such as the Red Creek Inn, that can afford to pay more than Scorgie’s.

But Scorgie notes that there is more to the Scorgie”s Saloon than music. The upstairs bar, done in a quasi-nautical decor with pictures of ships on the walls and fishnets hanging from the ceiling, does a thriving lunch business among people who work in the area.

There is also a crowd that stops in at the upstairs bar for a drink or two after work, Scorgie says, that is totally different from the people who come to listen to music on weekend nights.

And Scorgie takes pains to point out that even on those nights, his bar is not a rough place inhabited solely by punks wearing black leather and safety pins through their ears.

“We have a much worse reputation than we deserve,” Scorgie says. “We’re still the punk bar in the city, and we haven’t had a punk here for three years. The day of the punk rocker is gone anyway – I haven’t seen anyone with a pin stuck through their cheek in a long time.”

Scorgie say’s the fact that the upstairs bar and the downstairs music area, which has its own bar, are separate helps keep the peace at Scorgie’s – ‘Me drinkers stay up at the bar, the people who want music go downstairs and everyone is happy.”

  1. JLaben’s avatar

    Great article…except for spelling everyone’s name wrong! I still have a copy of this article at home…in the closet…with the stack of all of the other goodies collected during the “Scorgies era”, 1979-1983.

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