Monthly Archives: December 2012

Great Scott! Ralph’s Show Features Music of Huck, Childhood, and Pistol Whipped

by Matt Robert/ photo by Louie Despres

Originally appeared in the December 27, 2012, Worcester Magazine.

“The main concept of this was that it isn’t really a memorial, it’s a celebration of music,” says Paul Dagnello, bassist with late local legend Scott Ricciuti’s longest running band, Huck, about the show Saturday night at Ralph’s that will bring together three of Ricciuti’s most enduring musical projects: Childhood, Huck, and Pistol Whipped. “The focus is on the music. The memorials were very visual for people. This is going to be the audio portion of that.”

Ricciuti’s untimely death in a car accident in April devastated a massive fan base that included among the most ardent fans a sizable core of local musicians, artists and club owners, and left a gaping hole in a scene in which Ricciuti played an outsized role, performing most nights of the week in one ensemble or another, or appearing solo. Numerous emotionally charged memorials were held – the most notable at Vincent’s – and a variety of tributes have occurred since, but none to this scale.

“We could have done a week’s worth of events,” says Dagnello. “He was involved in so many different things…[but we] kind of just whittled it down to those three bands.” The choice to feature Huck, Childhood and Pistol Whipped (and not Friday Farewells, A Pony for My Birthday, or Preacher Roe), Paul says, is that “those were probably the ones he was in the longest,” recalling that Childhood was together for about 10 years, and Huck for 17 or 18 years. Finally, Dagnello says, “It’s a good representation of his different types of songwriting, plus a decision just had to be made on what was possible to do for a night where it wouldn’t get too out of control.”

This event—sponsored by longtime Scott Ricciuti patron, Orcaphat Records owner, and executive producer of Huck and Pistol Whipped’s CDs, Colin Butler (“He was there in the studio with us every single day,” says Dagnello), and organized by Ricciuti’s friend and collaborator, Bee’s Knees (and Friday Farewells) guitarist Michael Thibodeau — faced several obstacles.

“I know, for me, and I think for Danny [Lucas, drummer with Childhood and Huck, and Ricciuti’s longest running collaborator], it’s the first time we’re going to play since…in a club or live. We all have a very hard time doing this, says Dagnello, further citing less obvious and more pragmatic difficulties, some of the material is simply hard to recreate.

“Childhood [is] kind of figuring out how to do Childhood with just the surviving members,” he says, “whereas Duncan [Arsenault], Jeff [Burch], and Scott were the core members of [Pistol Whipped]. And then with Huck [as with Pistol Whipped], we lost our lead singer, our guitar player and our front man, so I know it’s been difficult — beyond just the emotional — dealing with that: How do we actually play a show without a third of our band.”

“We were gonna need help,” he says.

“For this show,” Dagnello says, “Huck is going to have nine members. We have two guitar players playing the whole night, and then we have a couple people filling in vocal duties, and then I’m probably going to do a couple songs up on vocals.”

Additionally, the show will feature (including the numerous Huck extras) several special guests from Ricciuti’s rather large circle of peers, though organizers are loath to reveal them.

“In some ways we want it to be a surprise,” says Dagnello, “because we don’t want it to be part of the promotion for the event…because, as far as we’re concerned, on that night they’re in Huck…. The people that are involved are doing it because of their love for Scott and their love for his music, their friendship. As far as Huck is concerned, all those people are in the band that night, they’re part of the band that night.”

Recreating the original sounds, even with a roster of talented fill-ins, many of whom were familiar and even devoted to Ricciuti’s music, or intricately linked with its production, also proved a challenge.

“We kept everything as close as we could [to] Scott. He had a specific way of playing guitar; he had a specific way of singing and that’s hard to replicate, but the guys working on this are definitely trying their hardest to emulate that, because it’s part of our sound,” Dagnello explains. “Not having Scott there playing guitar, it’s not going to sound just like Huck. It’s going to sound close, but it’s still not going to sound like it.”

“[Ricciuti’s] vocal range, and the power behind it, was tough for people,” Dagnello says. “Danny and I and someone like Roger [Lavallee, who, as engineer at Tremolo Lounge Studios, produced most of Ricciuti’s career output] and somebody like Colin Butler, we’ve sat with these songs for hundreds of hours—recording, playing and everything. And it’s kind of like bringing these people into this world that they’re brand new to. So, they get to see more of Scott than the prior four got to see.”

Lastly, players had to grapple with a notebook of deeply personal lyrics whose genesis was the intimate bonds forged over decades of intensive, and mostly glamourless, work and play in clubs, rehearsal rooms, vans, studios – friendship, love, loss, mistakes, and hopes.

Dagnello notes the particular challenge faced by those who “are going to have to sing the songs. I think the hardest part was all of us all having to sit down and read all of these lyrics….To actually sit back and take these groups of songs, read the lyric and tell the story of the lyric definitely hit a lot of us…as pretty tough. Scott was definitely a magic worker with words. So, that was a real tough part with everybody.”

Even the venue has significance, though, this choice, too, proved hard, as Ricciuti, over the years, could have had his number retired in just about every music room in central Massachusetts. Organizers ultimately chose Ralph’s, though, because, as Dagnello says, “as far as Huck…and Childhood…was concerned, Ralph’s was one of our homes. I think [Huck] played Ralph’s more than any other club. There’s a connection with Vincent [Hemmeter, owner of Ralph’s, Vincent’s, and Nick’s]. He was good friends with Scott. Erick [Godin, owner] from the Lucky Dog was good friends with Scott [too].”

The $10 event will feature Pistol Whipped at 9:30 p.m., Childhood at 10:30 p.m., and Huck at 11:30 p.m., as well as a rolling soundtrack between sets of Ricciuti’s prodigious recorded output.

“We’re going to be playing all of the other stuff that Scott has been included on, like the Pony for My Birthday stuff and the Preacher Roe stuff…Huck songs we’re not playing that night, Childhood songs…and possibly unreleased Pistol Whipped material.”

While no CDs will be made available at the event, those wishing to purchase Ricciuti’s music can visit “Scott’s website where they can go song by song and pick and buy whatever they like,” says Paul. “Everything is online.” Scottricciuti.com.

Catch the celebration of Scott Ricciuti music on Saturday, Dec. 29 at Ralph’s Diner, 148 Grove St. at 8 p.m. Tickets $10.

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A Nice Little Bar Turns 15: Vincent’s, Worcester, Celebrates 15 Years in Business

“It was a really ugly place, but I knew it had a lot of potential,” says Vincent Hemmeter of his eponymous bar, which this week celebrates 15 years.

“We’re just going to celebrate on that day,” he says of the milestone that falls this Sunday on Christmas Eve Eve. The show, featuring local electric blues act Big Eyed Rabbit, begins at 7 p.m. “Jon [Short – solo bluesman and front man for Big Eyed Rabbit] plays every Sunday, so it’s kind of cool to have Jon’s band play there. We’ll have some special things going on. We’ll have some giveaways. We’ll have some food.”

The neighborhood bar, tucked up on Grafton Hill past the CSX rail yard on Suffolk Street, enjoys a quiet popularity with a certain offbeat, musically inclined crowd – many of the same who patronize Hemmeter’s other bars, Ralph’s Diner and Nick’s. They like homegrown music and Hemmeter has given it to them.

“I pretty much stuck to what I liked,” he says. Over 15 years, in fact, Vincent’s has cultivated an excellent reputation for live music. The current schedule has delta blues with Jon Short on Sunday nights, where he’s been in residence for over 11 years; Zack Slick, playing old-timey and folk on Wednesdays; and crooner Cara Brindisi with the Feather Merchants on Thursdays; plus a rotating slate of talent from around the state on Fridays and Saturdays, except on the second Saturday of each month, when The RoadKill Orchestra appears.

A high-quality stable has been the hallmark at Vincent’s since the beginning. “Dennis Brennan used to play every Wednesday with Duke Levine and Kevin Barry,” says Hemmeter, “and Troy Gonyea played every Thursday. [Michael Thibodeau, John Donovan, and Scott Ricciuti] played every Tuesday. Night Train – Jeff Berg and Troy. Yeah, I was lucky to have a lot of good music.”

Fittingly “the first person that played was Scott Ricciuti,” says Hemmeter. “We were close friends. Since the place is so small, I said, ‘You’re going to play acoustic,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m playing acoustic.’ So, acoustic, to me, meant you sit down in the corner with an acoustic guitar and it’s not amplified. Well, he came in with his amp and all this stuff, and we had a big laugh about it.”

Though it’s hard to think of Hemmeter today as anything but a bar owner – THE bar owner – in Worcester, his journey has been long. “When I started working at Ralph’s [in 1986] I didn’t even drink,” he says. “I never worked in a bar before, I didn’t bartend, so I pretty much learned everything [from Ralph Moberly]. I learned a lot from Carol [Moberly], too. I ended up taking over the booking there, and I pretty much did all the hiring and fi ring and took care of all the money.”

“I learned right away that I enjoyed doing that,” he says. “I like old bars. So, I just traveled around and took ideas from a lot of other bars and made a place that I would want to hang around at, the same way Ralph did.”

“I thought that [it] was a nice little bar and it had a lot of potential. It was in rough shape and it needed to have a big facelift. It had a dropped ceiling and paneling, and it didn’t have a back bar. I had just closed on [the building], and I had a lot of renovations to do, so we were working pretty much around the clock. I had a lot of help from a lot of my friends.”

“I had bought a back bar from Ralph’s years before – the bar that was in Bowlers [the short-lived, cavernous club co-owned by Ralph’s and the original owners of the Dive Bar]. Ralph had bought that out of an old hotel in Connecticut that was probably from the ’40s.”

“The bar that you sit at…was brick. I bought this paneled room out of a mansion off south Main Street – a beautiful oak-paneled room from the 1800s. So, I covered over the brick, and did over the top of the bar [with the infamous lacquer-coated pulp-fiction paperback covers]. But the back bar, all it had were a couple of shelves, a bunch of knickknacks and a few bottles.”

“[The walls were] all covered up with some paneling. I ended up buying a whole room of tongue and groove from the guy that was the postman for that area, right around the corner on Norfolk Street. So, I had to go into his place and take it all down.”

But he did it, and opening day was December 23, 1997. “We were working around the clock just to try to get it open, because David Clark, the company across the street, would always shut down [for the holiday] and they would have their employees go over to that bar…and they wanted to still do that. So that was my rationale for working hard to get it open as fast as I could.”

Weekends, he says, were “pretty busy right away,” though “it took a while to get the weeknights busier. “I worked at Ralph’s and Ralph’s was a really popular bar…so I had a pretty strong clientele of regulars who came to see me at Ralph’s. I had the opportunity that they’d at least come down and see me once to look at the place and try it out, and, if they liked it, they’d come back hopefully. Lucky for me, they did.”

Hemmeter’s winning formula, evident at all three of his bars, is to know (and be a part of) your crowd, to know your way around a bar, and to know music and understand and respect musicians, all things Vincent’s does well. Because of this, musicians want to play there. Stu Esty, whose RoadKill Orchestra plays monthly at Vincent’s, says, “There are always great folks on both sides of the bar, an amazing menu, [and] a fourseason smoking lounge. All this and a photo booth combined with bizarre taxidermy? What’s not to like?”

Longtime bartender and Vincent’s fixture, Frank Inangelo, who says that he “started working there about five months after they opened,” says that “it started as a couple of shifts bar backing, and 10 years later I’m bartending five nights a week and booking some of the area’s most talented performers.” Frank says that he loves “the diversity of the crowd” and that “it’s like a company that runs three shifts: you have the afternoon crowd; then, around 4 p.m., the after-work crowd comes in; and, finally, around 9 p.m. the night shift is ready to have fun.”

Though Frank expresses great regard for all of Vincent’s live acts, he remembers most fondly “Dennis Brennan playing Wednesday nights about 10 years ago with Duke Levine, Bill MacGillivray and Kevin Barry. It would be jam-packed just to hear those great tunes and amazing players” and “the great nights with Scott Ricciuti, whether it was with Huck or his weekly Tuesday gig with Michael and John, or Pistol Whipped.” Of the current crop, he notes the Feather Merchants on Thursday, which he says “are the latest to impress me every week. Cara, Mike, Chelsea and Chris have been able strike a balance of great musicianship with broad appeal.”

Way back when, bartending at Ralph’s, Hemmeter was saving his money and “looking for the right place.” Thankfully for us, he seems to have found it.

Stop by Sunday night to continue the tradition of great music in a warm environment and to congratulate Vincent Hemmeter.

Vincent’s, 49 Suffolk St., Worcester.

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I’ll Be Homely for Christmas: Dickens’ Punch, Campy Caroling, and Naughty Santa at Nick’s, Thursday, December 13th, 2012

by Matt Robert

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go. There’s a tree in the Worcester Motel, and one on the common, as well.

And there’s a trailer park at Nick’s.

“It’s definitely a departure from the general look of Nick’s,” laughs Nicole Watson as Vincent Hemmeter toils away behind her building—a replica mobile home on the Nick’s stage, usually a demure, warmly lit home for area performers of cabaret jazz, American standards, and assorted other roots music and curiosities. The temporary remodel, which might surprise Nick’s regulars, includes “lots of plastic light-up decorations and things you would never normally see on the Nick’s stage.”

The set will provide the backdrop for Nick’s Very Merry Camped-up Christmas Show, at 9 p.m., on Thursday night, December 13, at Nick’s Bar and Restaurant, 124 Millbury Street in Worcester.

The event, what Watson calls “sort of a John Waters Christmas,” is a holiday revue done Nick’s style. “We just want it really campy and really cheesy, kind of cheap,” she says. “It’ll be a lot of fun.” Besides campy mayhem, the show will feature the usual roster of high quality talent Nick’s is known for. Watson says there will be “countless performers,” including the likes of Clayton Willoughby, Geoffrey Watson-Oehling, Aimee Kewley, Jen Antkowiak, Joan Cleary, Michael Gondeck, Monica Hamilton and Patrice Peris, along with musical directors, singers Lisa Hall and pianist Tom LaMark interspersed with short comedy sets by Shaun Connolly. Watson herself has “a few songs [she’ll] perform with Tom LaMark,” as well.

“We have an overly ambitious schedule for this,” she says of the event, which is more than just an ambitious send-up of Christmas cheer. “We also have a Santa who will be visiting – people can have their pictures taken. He’s a little irreverent. Santa will be handing out some gifts, as well.”

But that’s not all, folks! “There’s going to be some trivia, and we have prizes for the trivia,” she adds.

Prior to the party, Nick’s fixture Cocktail Bob will host a 7 p.m. presentation of a flaming punch, cherished by Charles Dickens and famous during the Victorian era.

“Cocktail Bob has done a couple different presentations for us. What he’s doing right now is a flaming Dickens punch to celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens,” says Watson. “He’s going to do a little demonstration, give the history of it, talk about Dickens for a few minutes and then have a tasting. It’s a 200-year-old – or even older – recipe for Dickens’ favorite punch. That’ll be what the sampling is.”

Once revelers get a little of this in the belly for warmth, “that leads to caroling, which will be at 8 o’clock” on the Nick’s patio.

“I’ve got some singers that I know that are going to get things started,” says Watson. “We’re going to give free cocoa and cookies to carolers out there and that’ll be probably about 45 minutes long. And that’s free to the public. Children could be involved in that, unlike the punch thing and the naughty Christmas show.”

“9 p.m. is when the Camped-up Christmas Show begins,” she says.

“Lisa will be the host” and “she’s performing,” as well, says Watson. The cabaret singer, she says, “sings on a fairly regular basis at Nick’s,” is “sort of a Nick’s favorite and…has a lot of charisma.”

“So, I went to her and asked her if she was interested in sort of organizing the performers and being the host.” The result, says Watson, is that “she’s been doing a lot of the hard work, getting the musical acts together, while I sit around wrapping the presents.”

This year’s event is a first, Watson says, though it has its roots in last year’s Christmas celebration. “Last year when we had a Christmas show, it was just remarkable to me how many people wanted to be involved and sing along. We had a variety show that was similar last year, but not to this epic proportion.”

“I was really encouraged by it, because I wasn’t really sure how well a holiday show would go over,” she says. “You know, during the holiday season people can get kind of burned out, but people seemed to really enjoy it. I think the laid-back, campy theme will be pretty hilarious. I can say this honestly as we’re building a trailer that’s going to live onstage right now.”

According to Watson, they’ve been working on the show for a couple of months. “We’ve been meeting pretty much every week, discussing ideas, what the set lists are, what the songs are.”

And what exactly can we expect to hear at a Nick’s Christmas show? “Anything from ‘Santa Baby’ to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ to pretty much everything in between,” says Watson. “One of the performers is going to be doing ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.’ Clayton Willoughby has a fantastic set of Hawaiian Christmas songs that he’ll be doing.”

“I think a lot of them will be pretty familiar, but there will be some interesting stuff thrown in there as well,” she says. “For example, the Hawaiian songs and some other stuff out of the American songbook – more winter songs are being performed as well,” Watson says, to assure that it won’t, as she says, “necessarily all [be] Christmas songs,” adding, “we’re not [going to] drive everyone crazy with a constant barrage of Christmas music.”

“It’s definitely more of a party atmosphere. It’s not scripted. Obviously the musical numbers are all worked out, but people can sing along.”

“We’re looking forward to it,” says Watson. “Tom LaMark is such a great pianist, and some of the silly and more suggestive numbers – it definitely won’t be like a walk in the mall.”

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