Corrections or additions?

Author: Richard Skelly. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February

16, 2000. All rights reserved.

Paul Plumeri, Plugging Along

The liner notes to guitarist and singer Paul Plumeri’s

most recent CD, "The Bishop of the Blues," indicate where

this musician’s head is at: lengthy specifications on the equipment

he uses on various tracks.

. . . a 1964 Fender Stratocaster, a 1965 Stratocaster, 1966

vintage "blackfaced" Fender Bassman [amp] modified by George

Allessandro through two Mesa Boogie single 12" speaker cabinets with

80 watt Celestian speakers. Fill-ins played through an early 1960s

Ampeg Jet Amp. Picture on the cover is a 1959 tweed Bassman amp.

Clearly this is no ordinary bluesman playing the local shot

and beer joints. One part technician, one part poet, and one part

guitar craftsman, Paul Plumeri (would be pronounced plum-err-ee,

"but

Trenton made it plum-a-rye") has been playing his own style of

blues in and around Trenton and eastern Pennsylvania clubs for more

than three decades. He’s been up and he’s been down, but like any

good bluesman, Plumeri, now 45 — and still young by blues

standards

— perseveres and is hopeful about the future.

Paul Plumeri, third son of the well-known, longtime Trenton-area

politician

and civil servant Sam Plumeri — the man who brought us the Trenton

Thunder minor league baseball team — said his late father, who

died in 1998, and his mother gave him nothing but wholehearted support

over the years. He says that’s the major reason he never gave up on

his music.

"I would say because of the support from my father and my mother,

I am what I am today," he says over coffee at a restaurant on

Route 33 in Hamilton Square. "He was a guy you’d never expect

to see in a joint, and yet, he’d come in dressed to the nines, and

he’d welcome everybody with open arms that was coming to see me play.

"To this day, people come up to tell me how they loved it when

my mother and father would come into these places. He would act

fatherly

and my mother would be motherly to all these hippies reeking of pot

smoke and walking around with bulging eyes," he recalls. "They

didn’t discriminate against anyone, and it was a beautiful thing."

Plumeri said longtime Trenton-area guitarist Joe Zucharello —

better known as Joe Zook — "lived at my house for a year when

he wasn’t getting along with his father, after his father threw him

out. And he was parked at our house and gettin’ fed like a son. And

that’s why when my dad passed it was such an emotional thing for

so

many people."

Just as Sam Plumeri held out hope ’till the day he died in September,

1998, that Trenton would one day come back and be the great, bustling

city it once was, so, too, does Paul hold out hope that he may again

be able to make a living from his music artistry.

Plumeri, of Hamilton Township, began playing guitar when he was seven

years old. Now a divorced father raising a 17-year-old son, he has

a mortgage and a respectable job with the New Jersey Office of the

Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly. "I feel good about

my job, because I’m seeing a difference from my actions," he says,

"and it’s a nice karma thing to be involved with."

By day he’s on the road, checking up on health and

safety

issues at nursing homes around the state. But on weekend nights, he’s

out playing the blues with his trio.

"When we were kids, we would play any place they would listen,

from my parents’ living room, when my brother would bring his friends

over, to church things to battles-of-the-bands to backyards,"

he recalls. "I played with a drummer back then who was like four

feet tall and very flashy, and his father was the type of guy who

had him playing in bars."

"I got to know the ins and outs of show business pretty early.

As a seventh grader, I found myself going into dark Philadelphia clubs

opening for bands like the Circle."

Paul’s brother, Sam Plumeri Jr., is the Mercer County Sheriff. His

older brother Joseph Plumeri is a vice-president at the financial

services firm, Primerica Corp.

"My dad, as busy as he was with local politics, would make it

a point to bring me around to clubs when I was a kid," he says.

Sam Sr.’s brother, Don (also deceased), was a jazz booking agent and

manager who worked with saxophonist Arthur "Red" Prysock,

organist Richard "Groove" Holmes, and drummers Gene Krupa

and Buddy Rich. He has early memories of sitting three feet from

Prysock

and Grant Green in the Fantasy Lounge in Trenton on Sunday afternoons.

He recalls how thrilled he was to get up and play guitar alongside

Hammond B-3 organist Richard "Groove" Holmes as a young teen.

Asked about influences once he got interested in playing guitar,

Plumeri

says his absolute first influence was Trenton disc-jockey George

Bannister.

"He played all the heavy R&B and blues stuff from my earliest

recollection, the late 1950s and early ’60s. His opening song would

be Bill Doggett’s `Honky Tonk,’ and from there I was hooked. He’d

play Sam and Dave, B.B. King, and he’d play all the black

instrumentals.

I heard it and was enamored with it. And he was also a friend of my

Dad’s, like most people in Trenton were."

Plumeri recalls standing as a youngster near the bands at political

events his parents took him to, as well as seeing Chuck Berry on

television

with his flashy red Gibson guitar.

After leading a succession of blues and rock bands through high

school,

he attended Mercer County Community College in the early 1970s. At

that time, the Trenton-area and New Jersey’s clubs scene was still

flourishing. Plumeri studied business at MCCC but later dropped out,

a decision he knew would upset his parents.

"You couldn’t make a tremendous living, but you could make a

living

playing in clubs back then," he says recalling some months where

he made $1,000 a week. "Dumb as dropping out of college seems

now, it was just something that you felt you had to do to legitimize

what you were doing back then."

Yet after he left college, he says his parents continued to support

him and let him know they didn’t hold a grudge against him for his

decision.

Through the early and mid-1970s, Plumeri founded and led a band called

Hoochie Cooch (from the Muddy Waters’ song, "Hoochie Coochie

Man")

and played with fellow guitarist Joe Zook in that band until 1976,

when he joined keyboardist and guitarist Duke Williams and his band,

the Extremes, a band that was signed to Capricorn Records, home of

the Allman Brothers and countless other Southern roots-rock and blues

acts. Plumeri welcomed the chance to get out of Trenton and on the

road with Williams and the Extremes and looks back fondly on those

days. He toured the East Coast and Canada from 1976 until the end

of 1980. The money was good, often more than $1,000 a week, but the

band burned itself out by the end of 1980.

The first Paul Plumeri Blues Band made its debut on a Sunday night

in 1982 at City Gardens in Trenton, the night Plumeri’s son was born.

After his son was born, with a mortgage to pay and the need for health

benefits, he decided to change gears. He worked as a housing inspector

for the city of Trenton. He still played blues at night and on

weekends

around the Trenton and New Hope areas, including shows for the Bucks

County Blues Society.

"To this day, I still don’t trust music completely to provide

a steady income. It’s not that I have anything against music, it’s

just the music business that I have some issues with, like every

musician

probably does."

For guitar players, everything is about tone, and Plumeri figures

he started developing his own tone, and style, when he was still in

high school.

"Somebody dug out tapes of me from the late 1960s from one of

these cellar jams that were happening all the time, and this guy said,

`You know Paul, you can listen to that now and you can still tell

it’s you.’ But my whole style developed because I was not a

note-for-note

copier. At the time, it was very frustrating, ’cause I wanted to play

the whole solo on `Crossroads’ exactly as it was played. I would

stylize

it, I could sound like the player somewhat, but just couldn’t do the

note-for-note thing. That turned out to be my biggest asset, ’cause

I didn’t rely on that for my vocabulary. I absorbed these people,"

he says, referring to guitar "gods" like Eric Clapton and

Duane Allman, "but I would not mimic them to a T," he adds.

Plumeri has been associated with the blues in the Garden State for

more than 30 years, and it’s an affiliation he’s not willing to let

go of.

"What I wasn’t willing to do was leave my association of being

a blues musician. I never became associated with some other trendy

thing, I did not play top 40 music," he explains of his career,

such as it was, in the 1980s when clubs were dropping like flies with

the advent of tougher drunk driving laws.

At the Nassau Inn this Friday, February 18, and at Havana in New Hope

on February 19, Plumeri will be accompanied by Gerry Guida, keyboards,

and Ronnie Hand, drums. Both are veterans of the studio and club

scene.

Guida lived and worked with Jimi Hendrix for several months before

the legendary guitarist died in a London hotel room in 1970.

Yet Plumeri remains hopeful he’ll have the chance to record for

Rounder

Records, Blind Pig, or any one of the two dozen independent blues

and roots music labels around the U.S. and Canada.

"You’re not going to become a multi-millionaire in this

business,"

he says, "but, you’ll be doing your thing." Bruce Iglauer,

the founder of the very successful blues label, Alligator Records

of Chicago, has been aware of him for years, he points out. Plumeri

knows Iglauer loved his playing but "he may not have been as taken

with my singing."

"As long as you’re alive, there’s hope, and it all comes down

to that," he says. Meanwhile he and his current band are simply

pressing on. "Like my father always said, whatever you do, do

it the best you can, and don’t take it if you’re not willing to commit

to it. If you’re gonna be a garbageman, do that as well as you

can,"

says Plumeri. "And that’s an ethic that I’ve always believed

in."

— Richard J. Skelly

Paul Plumeri Blues Band, Nassau Inn, Palmer Square,

609-921-7500,

Friday, February 18.

Also at Havana, South Main Street, New Hope, 215-862-9897,

Saturday, February 19.


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