When singer-songwriter-vocalist-guitarist-harmonicist Larry Archer and others started the regionally known band Blind Lemmon Pie as a side project from their main group, PLC (Principles of Literary Criticism), they had little notion that they’d still be performing more than 25 years later.
That was 1987. Now the band — featuring Archer and usually Joe Kramer (guitar), Chuck Calcese (vocals and drums), Vince Civale (vocals, bass, guitar, piano, organ, keyboards, trumpet and trombone), and frequent guest Jack Maiuro (keyboards and vocals) — has been together for more than a quarter century.
The group will also be busy with a Wednesday, March 4, Open Jam at the HOB Tavern in Bordentown; a Friday, March 6, show at Pete’s Steakhouse, Hamilton; and the Saturday, March 7, “All Beatles Night” at the Ivy Tavern in Hamilton.
During a recent interview, the Bordentown-based Archer talks about the group’s longtime presence in the area and what it means to him and audiences. “Music keeps me going. It gives me self-worth — the feeling of being alive and happy, a moment of not being so average,” Archer says. “And it’s a good feeling to be well-liked, because I always felt that I was given a talent to be shared with others. To be able to take whoever is in the room to another place so that they may forget their troubles for the time being is a good thing. I’ve always believed that music can heal.”
Archer describes the monthly First Wednesday open jams at the HOB Tavern in Bordentown. “They walk in, set their guitar down, or use an acoustic guitar that we provide, and let us know they want to get up for a song or two. We seem to be getting younger players, in their 20s and 30s. It’s Americana music. And with the acoustic guitar, it’s somewhat folksy. What surprises me sometimes is to be hearing them play an old song from the past that you would think they wouldn’t know. I think they like entertaining their friends first, and then whoever is listening.”
He also has an observation. “I think the younger players are getting back to learning to strum with more chords involved, and less heavy metal bar chords. I think the one thing that is missing with the young musicians, is singing. I always say to the young guys, ‘You’ll get more work if you sing and play. You’ll be wanted for hire with bands, along with being a good asset to them.’”
Then there are the audiences that come to hear the band perform. “We have regulars who come see the band whenever they can — if they can find a babysitter. We also have the curious who have heard about us. And they come back to see us again and again. That lets us know we’re doing something right. I’ve noticed that people tend to want to see the band playing where they want to see you play. If they like the place, they’ll come see you there. People don’t tend to follow the bands as much these days. And I think we appeal to an older crowd, so they would like to travel less to see the band. I’m glad we have the internet. My music can travel further than the band, into people’s homes if they choose to click,”
Archer says that Blind Lemmon Pie was founded as a release from the pop music and Beatles tunes bands were playing in the late 1980s. The name was inspired by the character Blind Lemon Pye in the movie “All You Need Is Cash,” a spoof on the Beatles by former Monty Python comedy troupe members (appearing as the band the Rutles).
Now the Beatles music and association are welcome. “I’ve always been a Beatles freak, and people say I kind of remind them of Lennon, so I put the extra ‘m’ in Lemon to look like Lennon.”
But the original influence on the music was something else. “I always loved psychedelic music and blues-rock and Cream, which is why we started this group,” says Archer, adding that back in the early and mid-’80s PLC opened for the Ramones at City Gardens and Gary U.S. Bonds at the Barn, “somewhere in Bucks County.”
Archer, who turned 51 last autumn, has long ties to the region. He was raised in Fieldsboro, in between Bordentown and Florence townships, and met his current bass player in eighth grade.
The youngest of three siblings raised by a plumber and pipe fitter father and a Bordentown municipal clerk mother, Archer says, “Nobody in my family was a musician. I was the only one with the talent, who ended up playing and singing. I’m probably the one who hasn’t grown up as well.” He has no family of his own.
Archer graduated from Bordentown Regional High School in 1982 and skipped college because, he says, there were vibrant club scenes in those days in Trenton, New Brunswick, HOBoken, and “down the shore.”
As a guitarist he is mainly self-taught, starting at age nine, and says, “My mother tried to get me to take lessons when I was a kid. I wanted this guitar and she said, ‘Okay, I’ll buy you this guitar if you’ll take lessons.’ And the guy at the guitar store said I was too advanced. I already knew chord playing. What I needed to know was how to read notes.”
About his instruments, Archer says, “I’ve got a few guitars. Love them all for one reason or another. I don’t use my Fenders or Tellies when playing anymore. I think the bar lights and the neon signs cause them to buzz too much. So I’ve been using my Gibson ES-335 or Greatch and Epiphone. Right now, I’m using my Rickenbacker for my Beatles tribute band, Beetle Pie. I also use an Ovation Elite for my acoustic playing.”
While Archer says there were a lot of things going on in the band’s early days, nowadays Blind Lemmon Pie relies on private parties and organizations like the Trenton and Hamilton Elks Clubs. “We’re a working band and we have a camaraderie because we love the music we play,” Archer says, noting he’s released several albums of his own, like “When Rock Was Young,” and “It’s Not Toast Until It’s Toasted,” that he sells from the bandstand at gigs.
“None of us are really pushing the gigs like we used to when we were younger, but it’s better than getting burnt out by playing too much. So typically the band does two or three gigs a month.”
Archer notes the money paid to bar bands is about the same as it was in the late 1980s and says, “Very little money is made, but most of these bars are trying to keep their own heads above the water as well, so I can’t ask for more.”
To keep his own cash flow healthy, Archer does some office cleaning on week nights. In addition to be willing to “go anywhere to play music,” he says that other artistic outlets include painting with watercolors and oils.
Among the challenges in maintaining a band today Archer cites rehearsal space. “There’s always something that can be a problem. Upstairs loft? Not enough room, No heat in the winter, and too hot in the summer. The garage? You have the neighbors, the weather, and mosquitoes to contend with. Not only that, but the acoustics of the rooms, with the drums’ volume being a little much. So I learned to adapt. I guess discipline has been achieved because of those environments. You end up finding out what musicians play well with your band in those situations. Last but not least, finding the time that everyone in your band is available. That has been more of a problem as we’ve gotten older with more responsibilities in life adding up.”
Yet the appeal in playing lies in the fun he and his bandmates have on stage, trading guitar and keyboard solos and harmonizing on vocals together. “There is something about a good live band that helps keep night clubs alive,” he says, “what I always say to other musicians is, ‘Make sure you’re having a good time on stage. Because if we’re having a good time, the audience is having a good time too.’ ”
Blind Lemmon Pie Open Jam, HOB Tavern, 146 2nd Street, Bordentown. Wednesdays, March 4 and April 1.
Pete’s Steakhouse, 523 Whitehorse Avenue, Hamilton, Saturday, Friday, March 6.
All Beatles Night, Ivy Tavern, 3108 South Broad Street, Hamilton Saturday, March 7.
St. Patrick’s Day Party, Hamilton Elks, Saturday, March 14. www.blindlemmonpie.com.