Scorgies

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It’s been almost thirty years since the Rain Parade played Scorgies. That was an incredible night, of course. Absolute Grey was the opener, and Mark Theobald was behind the mixing board. The band at the gig featured Matt Piucci, Steven Roback, John Thoman, Will Glenn & Eddie Kalwa. Years later, Lynne and I seized the opportunity to catch up with Matt, Steven & John at their reunion gig in Atlanta at the Earl on January 19th, 2103.  They were reuniting that night as part of a fund raiser for Bobby Sutliff (of Windbreakers fame) who had been in a horrible car accident in June of 2012.

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Here’s a brief but good Scorgies story.

First just a bit o’ history:  In the late ’70s and early ’80s I was a regular at Scorgies and saw many great shows there. (Good thing the drinking age was 18). It was the center of my friends and my music universe, to be sure. Myself and my college crowd considered ourselves “New Wavers” or at least aficionados of the latest music. We shopped at Record Archive and listened to WUWU, the great Buffalo alternative station, and wore CBGB T-shirts that we bought at House of Guitars.   We saw all the bands; Press tones, New Math (freakin’ trancendental!), Personal Effects (Peggy Fornier had been my high-school Spanish teacher), Chesterfield Kings, etc. I remember a number of times trading insults with the Country Music Rednecks that were going to the Country Warehouse (which shared the same parking area). Oh how they hated us leather-clad kids with mod haircuts and cigs hanging from our lips.

I was even in a very short-lived band with Beth Brown before she was in Absolute Grey. We were called “Seizure Salad”!

As always, I digress. On to the story…

So, one night in early ’82 I was hanging at Scorgies with my friend Lisa Button, and as often happened we were there until they pushed us out the door at two-ish. The bands were finished, and as we were guzzling last-call, a track came on the sound system. It was this mesmerizing, driving song with this great, drony guitar riff. It immediately caught my ear. I said “Wow! Who is this band?”

Lisa replied, “Oh, it’s this new band from England called… (wait for it)…..U2.”

That’s right, she said England.

The song was “I Will Follow.”

I went to Record Archive to find their LP the very next day. That was a lucky twist in-and-of-itself because Island Records US distribution was on strike, and I had to buy “Boy” as an import. $20!!! The import version had completely different cover-art  and was a much nicer package than the US version. It even had one different song. I still have it, and I think it’s worth a few bucks now.

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From the Jan 18th 2004 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s Living Section; official reprint available at http://www.democratandchronicle.com/
Absolute Grey

Absolute Grey

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.

Absolute Grey "Warhol" Show

Absolute Grey

“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

Greenhouse LP

Greenhouse LP

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.

Pat Thomas

Pat Thomas

“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

MAtt, Mitch, Pat and Beth

Matt, Mitch, Pat and Beth

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.

Mitch Rasor

Mitch Rasor

“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.

Absolute Grey Record Release Party

Absolute Grey Record Release Party

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.’

“Until recently.”

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.”

JSPEVAK@DemocratandChronicle.com

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From the March 17th 1995 issue of City Magazine, we have Luke’s Obit. I don’t have a credit for the author of this piece (H.B. Ward?), perhaps Chuck or Pat could fill in the rest of the details.

Luke Warm

Luke Warm

IN MEMORIAM

Andrew L. Ogrodowski, a lifelong local rocker known mainly as Luke Warm to his friends (and a few enemies), died on Friday, March 17, in his bedroom in his mother’s home in Greece. It was a warm spring evening and he’d been listening to the radio. He was 35.

His sudden death forces us to press the details of his life into some sort of comprehensible whole. Two years ago, when he was he was 33, Luke laughed, saying, “I’m just a guy who was saved by glitter and glam rock in the ’70’s,” as he tended bar downtown at the Abyss. As Luke perceived his life and tried – as he often did, to understand what it meant – that was no exaggeration at all.

The guy just wasn’t made to be normal. He invented and adopted the name Luke Warm around 1972, as a 12-year-old boy, to complete the elaborate stage persona he had conceived for his first rock band. After an early introduction to NYC glam rockers like T Rex, Luke gradually became the premier collector of rare T Rex records and memorabilia in the US.

Early in life. Luke stopped trying to fit in. “I remember a Red Wings game in the ’70’s,” recalled Luke’s friend and fellow musician Pat Lowerey on the phone recently. “There’s Luke walking down the stairs of Silver Stadium in a cape and full New York Dolls makeup in broad daylight. To him it was normal.”

Luke’s sense of style gave his rebellious energy an outlet and helped him find an identity. But unlike so many fashion bags, he never confused style with basic human grace. Lowerey, once the drummer for Luke’s best-known band, SLT, recalls a defining moment in Luke’s life. At one of SLT’s club dates, a band of hard core, head-shaved punks had been slated to open for them. Listening to them as SLT waited to go on, Luke appreciated the opening band’s energy at first, but then noticed that their lyrics were full of Anti-Semitic, homophobic and racist slurs. “These guys are skinheads!” he said to Lowerey.

That made him mad. “You know how some bands are too cool, like, ‘Don’t approach me?'” said Lowery. “Well, Luke wasn’t like that at all. As soon as he got on stage he just ripped into that band: ‘I Love Jews! I love fags! I live with a black chick!’ He was pointing at the skinheads and yelling into the mike, ‘We got a bunch of fuckin’ Nazis opening our show?'”

Like no one else in Rochester, Luke loved and devoted himself to the local rock scene. In the ’80’s he worked as a DJ and bartender (notably at Scorgies). But a career at the perimeter of the slam pit just wasn’t involved enough for him. His consuming love of music led him to moonlight as the music editor of Downtown magazine. Luke’s prose was as inflamed and confrontational as the music he loved. In an excerpt from the opening of one of his concert reviews (of a local band called “The Bulus“) in 1983, Luke demonstrated his fierce allegiance to Rochester Rockers.

“In this day and age when words mean nothing and dance means everything, it’s nice to see there are bands around to confront this idiotic way of thinking with an iron fist and the Bulus are that type of band. There is nothing wrong with mindless pop, rather fun its dumb way, but there should always be an imaginative, agressive edge to rock and roll to keep it on its often wobbly feet.”

Luke played guitar back then, too, but not, as most remember it, very well. Then, sometime in the summer of ’90, Luke disappeared from Rochester’s nightclub world. For 18 months, he spent his free time practicing by playing along with his collection of blues records. When he re-emerged, in early ’92, he was ready to form SLT – a band whose combination of power, intelligence, and expertise came close to what Luke had been grasping at for most of his life.

The band lasted little more than a year. But SLT is now legendary among Rochester rockers and Luke’s vision, infectious energy, and confidence in the band (“We’re the best rock and roll band in the world,” he used to shout) had everything to do with the legacy SLT left in its wake. Lowerey put it simply: “He wanted to combine the passion of music with intelligent lyrics and play it with such force.”

Luke’s death on March 17 cast a sad and sentimental pall over a crowd of Rochesterians known for dispassionate cool. His wake packed the Miller Funeral Home on Monroe Avenue with hundreds of black-leather rock and roll rebels. The line of tattooed, pierced and crying mourners strung itself through four rooms, heads shaking.

Luke’s mother, Helen Ogrodowski, welcomed every downcast punk who’d knelt before his closed coffin with a warm, appreciative hug. The phrase “He was a sweet guy, wasn’t he” was repeated over and over.

“He was crazy,” said Lowerey. “You could just call him up and he would do anything. If I needed him to do cartwheels naked down Monroe Avenue because I didn’t feel good, he’d do it immediately.”

“He was a great friend.”

[audio:http://thepresstones.com/mp3/luke.mp3]
audio clip courtesy Simon Ribas of the Presstones, see comments for details

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I thought I’d make a quick mention for now about the period when Scorgies became Yuk-Yuks, then Hiccups. It was a time when stand-up comedy was red-hot on a national basis…and for then, Scorgies bands were on the wane. I had mixed feelings about the switch-over from a cool club (after The Ramones were the last major band to play there) to a painted-black and chilly downstairs place for a few years. I used to supply music cassette tapes for the d-j, and interviewed comedians from Saturday Night Live that used to swing by there (like Rich Hall, David Spade, and Colin Quinn).  Many local comedians became nationally known like Brother Wease, Joel Lindley, Eric Nusbaum, Dan Liberto, Ralph Tetta, Mike D’Ambra, Spilt Milk (with Eric Haessler, Mark Cooper, and Duncan Kennedy). Some of us stand-up comics (local guys) were also given the chance to write ideas for the then-popular Joan Rivers Show (prior to becoming The Arsenio Hall Show). Some of the comedians performed later when the place was Token Joe’s upstairs. I’m sure that I can write a lot more about those times…but that’ll fill yet another web site. Of course, stand-up comedy also waned and a newer Scorgies (albeit temporary) did come back again! – Del Rivers

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I played a gig in Albany, NY last night and ran into Kevin Maul(?). Some may remember Kevin as the WCMF DJ that went on before Uncle Roger or you maybe remember him as the steel guitar player guy.

I mentioned the Scorgies reunion to him knowing he also was once a Rochester guy!

He said that he was in the 1st “band” to play Scorgies! He said the Dady Brothers were the 1st band to play there!

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Three of the Hi-Techs, Martin Edic, Peggi Fournier and Paul Dodd, before going on stage at Scorgies in 1980

Three of the Hi-Techs, Martin Edic, Peggi Fournier and Paul Dodd, before going on stage at Scorgies in 1980

Robert Slide, New Math’s original bass player, sent took these photos

no images were found

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Johnny Thunders at Scorgies - Photo by J. Laben

Johnny Thunders at Scorgies - Photo by J. Laben

I remember The Heartbreakers show at Scorgies.

Richard Hell and Walter Luhr had dropped out for that one.

I really wanted the Bowery Boys to open one of the 2 shows but we were’nt part of the clique that had started and were more or less getting squeezed out of the scene we helped create.                                         Egomania was’nt my thing so I layed low. Most of the new people made me sick, they weren’t even musicians, but scenesters with instruments.

It’s funny though because the poster says “featuring Walter Luhr”. I don’t remember him being there.

I hung with them in the dressing room before the show and on the way to the stage, I asked Johnny to play “Can’t put your arms around a memory”  in the set. He did and dedicated it to Walter.

I remember hearing Johnny saying “This ones for Walltah”

As I recall, it was Johnny, Luigi, Big Tony, and Jerry Nolan.

They arrived early evening and I helped Jerry and Johnny score some naughty stuff and we spent about 20 minutes at my bands practice place.

While waiting for the man we jammed on some blues, Afterwards, Jerry said Johnny wants to know if I want to join there band. It was wierd because Johnny was standing there looking at me like  Jerry was his interpreter. I politely declined and explained I had a band already (and wasn’t into that naughty stuff that kills people). It was exciting hanging with them but the thought of joining a band of junkies was a real turnoff for me. I was battling depression and barely clinging on to life as it was. I was never into getting famous at all, but I sure like it when we made some bread playing rock and roll.

The landlord liked getting his rent as well.

Johnny gave me a, DON’T YOU KNOW WHO WE ARE, YOU STUPID ASS ? kind of look.

I didn’t care. I hung out with them again in the dressing room later that night but few words were exchanged. The contract had them going on about midnight and they rolled in at about 5 after One.  Scorgie was really pissed but they played a very hot set. There is a tape floating around somewhere of that show. I think Big Tony (bass) came into the upstairs dressing room first, followed by Luigi (2nd guitar).        I was freaked out by Luigi because he came in, sat down, put his feet on the coffe table, pulled out a switchblade and started cleaning his fingernails.

I thought to myself, maan, these New York dudes are pretty tough.

I recalled this to Luigi and he laughed, it is but a vague memory to him now but he remembers giving the knife to Angella Bowie as a gift.

(I remember my ex drummer Scott coming in the dressing room too and remarking on how he should have stayed on drums or something of that nature. He had jumped the Bowery ship to sing for the Prestones, and he was perfect for that band so it all worked out fine.)

So Jerry, Johnny, and Big Tony are dead now, and I have been playing a few shows with Luigi lately here in New York.  We live near each other in Alphabet City.

My latest band (The Bowery Boys) has played a few shows with Walter Luhr’s band The Waldo’s.            Walter is a very smooth rocker and a cool guy. He still plays songs by Johnny Blunders.                              (as he so endearingly refers to him)

I prefer to see musicians grow old gracefully rather than die too young, leaving so much left undone.

I hung with Johnny briefly about a month before he died, when he came to Rochester to play at Jazzberries and record with the Chesterfields. I gave him the mini statue of liberty pin off my leather jacket and he immediately put it on his leather jacket. He looked very empty in his eyes and I was sad for him when I left. He signed some albums for my girl (at the time) Diane. He spelled it DIE an.    I still have the albums.       Johnny died about 4 or 5 weeks later. I was shocked but not suprised.

The set he played at Jazzberries was stellar. A focused, mature, fairly sober Johnny Thunders and a great sax player (who also is passed on). There is a video circulating.

POP CULTURE IS A KILLER SOMETIMES.                                                                                                                 Children beware.                                                                                                                                                            Peace                                                                                                                                                                      {:->

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As mention else were on this site. I had a high school band called The Sonic Reducers. We parted ways with our singer and somehow we found ex-Presstones singer Jimmy Freeze! Jimmy re-named the band The Twisted Hearts and we practiced in the basement of my parents home in Brighton.  Jimmy shows up and sez we have a gig at Scorgies!!! It was opening for STIFF recording artists WIld Willy Barrett & John Otway.

We played the gig. As I remember there wasn’t a lot of people there but I really didn’t care. I was finally on the stage where I would see New Math, The Hi-techs, The Bowery Boys, Delroy Rebop and many more!!!

Please post your first Scorgies gig!!!

Brian Goodman

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It was fun going to band practice while New Math developed their sound and songs. First at a house off Park Ave. where Gary and Mark lived. Then they moved to their first practice space in the Cox Building and later to another there. I remember the first one was huge and cavernous. The second was better sound-wise and had windows that overlooked St. Paul and the side street where the Adult Bookstore resided. An easy walk down the street to Scorgies for a beer after practice. Somewhere along the way Michelle Ford, Sue Metro, Tim Dodd (Paul’s brother) and I started jamming in the closet of their practice space. We had a really long gestation period and had trouble coming up with a name (Rhonda’s Radio?) and the music ambled all over the place but we had fun (they later formed Targets). Then Paul decided to leave New Math and we joined up to form Hi-Techs with Martin and Ned. During this time, everyone lived and breathed music, whatever they were doing, and our lives are forever intertwined. So many of us from that time still are friends and share some common history. Personal Effects evolved out of Hi-Techs when Ned left the band and Bob joined us. That was in 1981. The PE story is in itself a long, involved one like any band’s. I’ll just say that we played together through the 80’s and then after a hiatus, formed Margaret Explosion which continues to play today as an improvisational, instrumental jazz band.

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