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.
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.
and beer joints. One part technician, one part poet, and one part
guitar craftsman, Paul Plumeri (would be pronounced plum-err-ee,
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
— perseveres and is hopeful about the future.
Paul Plumeri, third son of the well-known, longtime Trenton-area
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
"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
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
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
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
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,
says his absolute first influence was Trenton disc-jockey George
"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
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
with his flashy red Gibson guitar.
After leading a succession of blues and rock bands through high
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
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
Through the early and mid-1970s, Plumeri founded and led a band called
Hoochie Cooch (from the Muddy Waters’ song, "Hoochie Coochie
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
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
For guitar players, everything is about tone, and Plumeri figures
he started developing his own tone, and style, when he was still in
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
says Plumeri. "And that’s an ethic that I’ve always believed
— Richard J. Skelly
Friday, February 18.
Saturday, February 19.
Corrections or additions?
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