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Junkyard Genius & The Common Ground interview with Sal Pauciello & Peter Minde

Sal worked out a good share of his originals on the six-string acoustic. Here he's in mid-1993 when he did demos that led to the Wiretap CD.

Sal Pauciello has been playing guitar for many years, starting in the early '70s. He was always interested in experimenting and improvising, that reflects in projects like Junkyard Genius and bluesy Common Ground. In the '80s he recorded with The Lefthands, which appeared in famous CBGB club. Here's a brief interview with Pauciello and Minde (also member of The Lefthands). 

Where were you born? What influenced you to become a musician?

Sal: I was born in Orange, New Jersey on August 23, 1952. I began playing music at the age of 7, first briefly on the piano, and then on the accordion. By my mid-to late teenage years I started on six-string guitar, bass-guitar, and keyboards. My future brother-in-law, Rich Porlides was and is an accomplished Drummer, whom I played with first in 1980 with a group called Laughen Bone's (and occasionally in 1984). He married my sister several years later. My influences were British Invasion, some Jazz, and both European & American Psychedelic Music! The local scene from 1974 (when I started a band called GROK) till the early to mid-Eighties with The Bones and the Lefthands, when we had recorded original music,was 'punky', and alternative, in many ways. 

Sal at 22 years old in a pre-Lefhands band named GROK back in 1974.

Tell us about one of your first bands Lefthands?

Sal: We played CBGB's, then (famous) Dirt Club in Bloomfield, NJ, and many other New York, NJ venues. The first band that (deliberately and officially) recorded in studio was the Lefthands in 1983. Tapes do exist of earlier bands that I started (even as far back as the early seventies) including Grok,  The Pencils (1979), etc. but this was mostly cover stuff. My bandmate Peter Minde, who I still hang out with may be able to add some more info. 

Taking a "nature - break", mid-1984 after playing New York gigs that included the famous CBGB's.

Peter, before you formed Lefthands, there was a band called The Premonitions.

Peter: The Premonitions were the band where Sal Pauciello and I first met. I had hooked up with vocalist Jim Jezzler and the drummer Tim Asher, and Sal joined the Premonitions after leaving the Laughen Bones. The music was all covers, we played Yardbirds tunes, some Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Ramones, and the Kinks. Among others. We even sang an a capella version of “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. The Premonitions lasted around 18 months, breaking up over musical differences. Sal had a bunch of original tunes he wanted to play, and the vocalist wasn’t into that. So Sal and I moved on.


And what influenced you, Peter?

Peter: Many different musicians influenced me as a guitar player. B.B. King, Otis Rush, Frank Zappa, the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, the Yardbirds, Allman Brothers Band, King Crimson, John Coltrane, Joe Pass, Clifford Brown. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

It took me many years to become a decent musician. At one point I was ready to give up the guitar, because I just couldn’t play as well as my heroes. Only when I recognized the fact that would never play as fast or as well as John McLaughlin, Robert Fripp or Joe Pass (not that playing fast indicates good musicianship), did I begin to develop a style of my own.

From the Lefthands to Wiretap and Dr. Funghoul’s Magic Medicine Cabinet and beyond, two principles bind our music.
The first is, "There are no passengers on the bus."  The drummer is not there just to keep time and the bass player doesn’t just play the root note of the chords while the guitarist plays a solo. Whoever is in the band at that moment, all should be ready to drive the music forward, on stage as well as in the studio.
The second principle is the idea of "effortless cosmic." This is how we referred to the music of the great 1972-1974 incarnation of King Crimson, and John Coltrane – especially his later music. It seemed like they were playing music from the heavens, and we aspired to that ethos, especially in the improvisational pieces like "Last Exit to Topeka." It doesn’t happen every time you play, but when it does, it’s magical.

What can you say about being in The Lefhands.

Doc Luisi, Sal Pauciello, Peter Minde (Fall 1982 original lineup)

Peter: Although the Lefthands played covers, many of Sal’s originals, and one of mine, formed the basis of the Lefthands repertoire. I’ll admit, songwriting is not easy!
The single I mentioned earlier, "Office Girl" backed by "Consumer Tumor", was recorded by the original Lefthands. That would be Sal on bass and lead vocals, Doc Luisi on drums, and myself on guitar and backing vocals.


Unbeknownst to us, Doc had a substance abuse issue that became progressively worse after we released the single. Showing up hours late for rehearsals etc. Sal and I decided he had to go. It’s a shame, because Doc was a fabulous musician. We both felt very bad about it, but one needs to be on time for rehearsals and for gigs. "If you’re not early, you’re late." We lost touch with him, and we hope he’s done OK in the intervening years.
As we were auditioning drummers, we thought about expanding the Lefthands sound and began auditioning other guitar players. One of them was Jeff Rabin, who eventually joined the band. Then I began to think, Oh my God, we have to start from the beginning, teaching new guys all the songs. And I couldn’t face it, and I told Sal I needed a break.
Jeff was a very capable musician and brought original songs of his own to the Lefthands. At one point after I left, the Lefthands were a 5-piece band with a lead vocalist and 2 guitar players. But for most of their lifetime, the Lefthands were a trio. They/we played all the major clubs in the New York-New Jersey area, including the Dirt Club and the legendary CBGB. 

As for stories….

When the Lefthands recorded the single "Office Girl" backed with "Consumer Tumor" in New Jersey’s Homegrown Studio, we had 10 hours to record two songs. That seems like plenty of time, until you’re actually in the studio. The recording went well until it was time for the guitar solo on "Office Girl". I must have done 13 or 14 takes of the solo. I just couldn’t get a complete, good pass all the way through. In some takes the first half was good, and the second half was weak. Sometimes it was the other way around. In the end, we spliced two halves together for one good solo. I’m still proud of that record.

There were a lot of gigs, and you can’t remember them all.  But some of them stand out for especially great moments and crazy stuff that happened. Following the release of Hell Toupee, Wiretap played at a coffeehouse in New York City’s Bowery called The Cup of Coffee. Imaginative name, eh? The coffeehouse turned out to be in an abandoned house where squatters lived. They build a crude stage on the first floor and had bands in to raise money to pay the utilities and so forth. In the stairwell, squatters had written on the wall, "Electric bill next month, everyone needs to come up with $20.00." One paid one’s admission with a few dollars into a jar. The patrons weren’t necessarily the best and brightest:  During the first set, one drunk guy swiped someone else’s bottle of vodka to guzzle. During the second set, we were joined by a two guest musicians, a synthesizer player and another guitarist. I don’t remember who invited them. They seemed more interested in playing loud and showing off than trying to improvise as a unit with 6 musicians. I turned my guitar’s volume on all the way off for 10 measures, and no one noticed. Later, we learned the keyboardist had dropped acid before he came onstage; perhaps that accounted for his playing. It took us a couple of songs to get on track. I don’t remember if we taped that gig, but I’d like to get back to listen to it!

Tape: The Lefthands (1st Trio) Recorded between August 1982 and April 1983. Released May 15, 1983
Tape "Segue" The Lefthands / Released in early 1983 (Early Studio Mixes) & "Electric Rock for the '80s'. The Lefthands (2nd Trio) Recorded between August 1984 and March 1985.

And although I wasn’t a member any more, I kept in touch with Sal, and we got back together after the Lefthands broke up. We developed original, structured songs with a hook, verses, chorus, and guitar solo. Sal wrote most of them, and I contributed a few.  
And we also played a lot more improvisational, free music. One of us would start something, and the other would follow. And in the middle, one of us might drive the piece in a different direction. This refers to what I wrote earlier about "no passengers on the bus." Whatever other musicians sat in with us, they were encouraged to also drive the bus, so to speak, rather than be a passenger. When playing this way, there’s a fine line between real collaboration and 100 decibel anarchy. It demands listening intently to one’s bandmates.

This is my original artwork that was an illustration of our song "Guess What I Found in the Cave?" It was intended to make a small color booklet for the Hell Toupee Wiretap CD, but ran out of money, so they settled for an insert.

Another story:

OK, so the Lefthands drummer, Doc Luisi. He was a quite talented musician. In fact, in that trio - Sal, Doc and  myself - I considered myself the weak link insofar as talent and musicianship. An event happened that compelled Sal and I to ask him to leave, regarding the substance abuse I mentioned earlier.
Doc had begun showing up late to rehearsals and gigs. One night, he showed up 3 hours late for rehearsal. No exaggeration. We helped him unload his drum kit from his car - he had a huge drum kit, including a marching band bass drum. He set it up. He spent a good 30 minutes tuning the snare drum. "How’s that sound?  How’s that sound?" Well, we told him he had a great sound in the first 5 minutes but kept messing around.
When Doc finally got the snare drum sound to his satisfaction, he was like, "OK, just a minute." He proceeded to lay out lines of cocaine on the snare drum and snort them up. Then he played every drum as loud as he could for 30 seconds, and he said, "OK, I’m ready."

That was it.  He had to go.

When The Lefhands disbanded you started Wiretrap, which included Peter Minde on guitar and Greg McGhee on percussion and poetry. This was early 90s, right?


Sal: The Lefthands went from November 1981 thru May/June 1985. When the Lefthands disbanded, I worked on and completed my comic magazine "Spinal Cord Comics" (also the name of my home studio,) in 1986. I continued to compose between 1987-1989 and on my own recorded songs such as "Ground Zero," "WinterTheme," "Incunabula Mechanisme," which appear on a solo/demo CD entiled Decopus by yours truly, Sal Robert Pauciello. Songs received some radio airplay. Between 1988-1992, Peter Minde & I also did what we refer to as the SPEB SESSIONS. Long original progressive/psychedelic improvisations, which we have yet to release, but may be out and available next year. Some wild compositions such as "Last Exit to Topeka" and "Irvington Green," are included in this period.

Sal's original Comic Book he published in 1986. Spinal Cord Comics was available and sold in the NY-NJ Head-shops of the mid-Eighties.

Peter: Wiretap was in the early 1990s, comprising the late Raymond Franks on drums, Greg McGhee doing poetry, backing vocals and percussion, Sal on bass and vocals and myself on guitar. Wiretap was a reaction to the rising conservative turn in American politics. As evidenced by "Radical Class War." We’re quite pleased with that record. 


A few words about "Hell Toupee", album released as Wiretrap.


Sal: By 1993, after the Decopus CD, Wiretap was "born". The personnel on the CD you have was the original band. Pete-guitar, Raymond, Drums, Greg poetry & percussion, and myself on bass. Every song on Hell Toupee is original. Although there were some favorable reviews, we unfortunately only had two gigs with this band, unlike my other bands which gigged extensively, and little to modest airplay at best. 

Greg McGhee - poet, percussion, and all sorts was present on Wiretap and all three Junkyard Genius CD's. This is Greg circa 1997.

You and Ray joined with Rob David, keyboardist, and Ron Davis, guitarist, to form "Sixdee". I believe the name was soon changed to the Common Ground. What can you tell us about the start of The Common Ground?

Sal: Wiretap sort of evolved into Sixdee (out of the Bronx, New York), where Raymond and myself remained from the previous band and we recruited Ron Davis on guitar, and Rob David on Keys. Those was from late 1995 till mid 1996. In June of 1996 the Common Ground was formed with myself, Ray, Joe Malgeri on Guitar, and Rob David, on Keyboards.  

This was happening in the mid 90s and you released your first album titled "The Common Ground of David, Franks, Malgeri, and Pauciello" and just in about a year you released another album. This second album titled "Portal" was instrumental one...

Sal: This band cut one CD in 1996 (the one with Mr. Sunshine on the cover). All the CDs artwork are my original drawings and paintings. I'd guess you might call that a bit of Captain Beefheart influence. In 1997 we recorded and released Portal probably our most famous effort to date. We were a trio of Joe, Ray and myself. We did many gigs between SixDee and Common Ground from 1996 thru 1998.  

You played a lot of shows and then Joe left and Ray had some health problems....

Sal: In 1998 Joe dropped out of the band and Ray developed some health issues with his liver. Greg and I had just completed Dreaming of Atlantis, the first Junkyard Genius CD that we released in 1998. Ray was to be a part of that recording effort, but he was in and out of the hospital. At this point in time we are in the year 2000.

Joe Malgeri, Raymond Franks, Sal Pauciello. Live Show 1997 Rosella Park, NJ

Joe started his own solo work and so did you, Sal. You started a very interesting project called Junkyard Genius. Can you take us inside the project?

Sal: With Joe gone, and Ray quite ill, Greg and I (with the help of Brian Greenspan on a song or two) decided to collaborate and make The Diary of Dick Benito. This CD got some neat reviews and even contained among all the original songs, a Hawkwind cover of their "Opa-Loka." Some insight into each song can be seen on the Aural Innovations website by Jerry K. Joe Malgeri went on to do some solo work, including his 2-CD I Bid You Welcome, Part 2. I've seen some favorable reviews.


"The Diary of Dick Benito" is a tribute to member of The Common Ground, Raymond Franks, who sadly passed away. Would you like to share something about him or maybe some words about the album?

Sal: In very late 2002, I spoke with Raymond, who was not only my bandmate, but like Pete, a close personal friend. By January of 2003, he died from complications of liver cancer. He was surely one of the finest and dedicated musicians I've had the pleasure of playing and working with. Doug Walker, a musician who founded "Alien Planetscapes" and who Ray had briefly played with in the early 1980's contacted us after Ray passed. He expressed interest in doing the Junkyard Genius electronic/experimental thing, even if on a few cuts. Doug also passed away quite untimely, so that did not come to pass. 

What about albums like "Dr. Funghoul's Magic Medicine Cabinet"? Would you like to tell us about recording it?

Sal: Greg and I brought Pete back into the fold and the three of us recorded and released Dr.Funghoul's Magic Medicine Cabinet. We rehearsed over several months, quite a bit and tried to give the couple of covers on the album our own quirky twist. (listen to "Moonchild.")

Peter: On Dr. Funghoul’s Magic Medicine Cabinet, I sat in on a few songs where Sal thought it was appropriate, but I wasn’t involved in Dick Benito / Junkyard Genius.  

What are you currently working on?

Sal: Currently, I may remix the Improvs I did with Pete and a special CD issue (let's say sometime in 2015).  I've had a few offers to play (bass) in some jazz type bands that play some original and some standards, but haven't taken anyone up on this yet.  

What are your future plans?

Sal: It is possible that Pete and I may yet get together again and go into the studio to do new material, but nothing definite. I'm also considering releasing some artwork I've done (2005-2014) in the form of a book, along with some unreleased poetry.


Would you like to share anything else? We would appreciate message to our readers and to your fans?

Sal: Be yourself and express yourself - sometimes there will be successes and sometimes failures, but do not give up because the creative process is life-long and can take new and different directions with new doors opening.

Peter: Last and most important: although we’ve done stuff with other musicians over the years, Sal and I keep coming back together to collaborate because there’s something between us that sparks creativity.


Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014

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