Editor’s Note: U.S. 1 continues its search for the band to perform at the second annual U.S. 1 Breakdown Party, Friday, October 6, the grand finale of the Greater Princeton Chamber of Commerce Trade Fair at the Westin Forrestal. The public is invited — save the date. We like to call it Princeton’s biggest cocktail party!
The Princeton Public Library is breaking the proverbial silence of the library at the end of every month with “Unquiet Fridays,” events designed to purposely break the studious silence that usually characterizes the library’s community room. The final Friday in July was particularly unquiet, when 77 Le Sabre plugged in.
Front man Jim Santora describes the sound of 77 Le Sabre (77LS) as the “meshing of classic and modern rock.” Its myspace.com site describes them as rock/ grunge/classic rock. A mixture of REM, Pearl Jam, ACDC, and others, the band is an amalgam of many influences, just like its members.
One might not expect the men of 77LS to play the kind of music they do. They are all family men in their late 30s with their own varied careers in everything from medical finance to IT to truck driving. One is a paid firefighter. Yet they still find time to rehearse once a week, working together to create their own unique brand of original music.
Unlike a lot of musicians, Santora, 37, did not grow up in a music-centered household. While his mother, who works for a car dealership, and his father, who was a New Jersey state employee, were not unsupportive, they encouraged him to pursue athletics. Instead, Santora dreamed of becoming a DJ and indeed started his own DJ/ karaoke business when he graduated from high school. Years later, he moved into a house that had a chicken coop-cum-recording studio in the back yard.
He began jamming with acoustic guitar player Jason Mento (later of the Glassboro act, Storm). 77LS now features five musicians: Santora (vocals), Kurt Dillon (guitar and vocals), Paul Pernice (bass and vocals), James “Billy” Holmes (drums), and Ed Hermann (guitars and vocals). (Hermann’s wife, Jamie, is program coordinator/ technology training librarian at the Princeton Public Library.) The group has played many local venues including the Bridgewater Pub and the Pirate’s Den.
The band cites many musical influences, from REO Speedwagon to Dream Theater, and Santora especially likes progressive rock like King’s X and Drivin N Cryin, especially for the way those groups write their music. For artists like these, in every song, and even over the course of a record, there is a storyline. This approach to song writing inspired Santora during the work on the group’s first album, “Ride.” He took some older songs and reworked them to create tracks that tell a story, a sort of grunge-gestalt approach to album making. “It’s hard to write like that,” says Santora, who writes most of band’s lyrics, “but I’m still inspired.”
Listening to his show at the library, it is easy to see that the band is inspired by the music that they play. As my companions and I enter the show, already in full swing, Santora takes the time to explain the message behind the song, “Yearbook.” The song is about understanding the mistakes of youth, and the band pours their hearts into the performance. The audience is small — Unquiet Fridays are new at the PPL and just catching on — but appreciative, and the most enthusiastic audience members were certainly the band members’ own children, who danced and thrashed around, very happy to hear their dads acting like real rockers.
As 77LS works through its set list, mostly originals with a few covers here and there, the music attracts a few late diners from the square outside the Witherspoon Grill. Apparently, a diverse crowd is usual for the group. Santora explains that the younger kids who come out to see their shows appreciate the flashy guitar solos and progressive influences. The older concertgoers like the music because they grew up listening to a similar style of music. Santora recalls playing a show where 77LS was placed in between two screamo bands, and the audience was just as receptive to their more melodic, deliberate sound.
77LS isn’t slowing down any time soon. Santora describes a heavy playing schedule for the fall as the band continues on with their current radio push. While he doesn’t exactly expect “Ride” to go platinum, “we’d really like to open up for [a national act] as they come through,” says Santora.
Finally, I know you’ve been wondering: The name 77 Le Sabre comes from Santora’s first car. He bought it from his aunt when he was only 15, and could do little but dream of driving it for a full two years before he could get his license. Over 20 years later, Santora is realizing another dream with the other four members of 77LS.
77 LeSabre, www.myspace.com/77lesabre. Upcoming gigs:
Wednesday, August 23: 77LeSabre live at the BoDog Battle of the Bands, North Star Bar, 27th and Poplar streets, Philadelphia. Ticketweb.com or 866-468-7619.
Thursday, August 24: House of Blues, opening for TESLA, 801 Boardwalk, Atlantic City. 609-236-2583.