Jimmy Barrett – At the Beat Shop
Written by Liam Sweeny on January 23, 2019
Jimmy Barrett is a man of many talents; business owner, musician and radio host, and I’m sure there’s a few things I’m unaware of. I met him in the River Street Beat Shop, a magical place, not just a stop on a musical destination, but a destination itself. It’s launched several bands that have found love in the 518.
In fair and full disclosure, Jimmy does a show on RadioRadioX called “Kaleidoscope” that airs on Mondays from 8 pm to 10 pm. But don’t worry; the questions are still right down the pipe.
I sit down with Jimmy on a blustery cold day and ask, ‘How’s tricks?’
RRX: Jimmy, I love the Beat Shop, and I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t love it. But it’s more than the offerings; it’s a conversation, between you and your customers, and between the customers and each other. For you, is it purely the musical passion, or is it also the chance to connect with people generally?
Oh, it’s absolutely both. I mean music drove me; I’ve always been a music maniac since I was a kid. When I was four years old, I had a crystal radio set. So the music has always been big. But I also like people. I’m not a distant person. I don’t keep my distance, I enjoy engaging in conversation with customers and particularly musicians who spend a lot of time in here. And they’re very hip to the kids too, the younger music lovers, these guys and ladies talk to these kids and have a lot of fun, invite them to their shows, and say “pick up my record” … it’s pretty intriguing, a lot has changed for the better.
RRX: A lot of bands have gotten their starts the Beat Shop and have played in there. So the Beat Shop is really a spot on the scene. I’m all about hearing stories, and you’re all about telling them, so do you have a funny story about a band that got their start in the Beat Shop?
Well I’m not so sure “funny” but we’ve had some disasters, we’ve had some bands that weren’t quite as advertised that were like a train wreck, but were fun… Basically, for the longest time we would let anybody come in that wanted a crack at playing, anybody that put a CD out got the opportunity to play. Then we had some bands that became really popular, like Big Frank and the Bargain Bingers just got so, they are so good now. And the Mysteios, who morphed into… Johnny’s band now is called the Va Va Voodoos (Johnny changes his name quite often.) And personal pride in Off The Record, who are more of a theatrical rock band than they are a rock band – they’re a show; it’s like a theater presentation. So we’ve had so many wonderful people, Sarah Pedinotti and Sean Rowe, and so many great people have played here.
But to me just as much fun are the ones who put a cassette or CD out and didn’t do much but they got to play live with their friends and they had fun and they still have fond memories. It doesn’t matter to me who makes it or who’s doing really well, it matters to me who’s having fun and still getting the fact that playing music live is a real blast. So, a little of both.
RRX: And what interview would be complete without a question about vinyl? You carry a lot of it. And talk is there’s a resurgence. Other talk is that it’s a hipster fad and it won’t sustain a market. What do you think can sustain a resurgence in vinyl that wouldn’t be true for, say, cassette tapes? What goes beyond the fad of it?
I don’t think it’s a fad at all. I think it’s been going on for five or six years. It’s at a recent all time-, a large portion of our sales are vinyl, to be honest with you. And the kids are really hip to vinyl. But they’re not faddists; these kids are all in. This isn’t flavor of the month; I’m not getting that at all. The older fans are coming in because they’re replacing their favorite records of all time, and they’re talking to these younger music fans.
They’re really interested – I think they’re tired of America shoving this crap down their throats and convincing them they have to buy this or that, or they have to get mp3s or other sources. And by the way, there’s a resurgence in CDs also because the stores pretty much decided no one wants CDs. Well, we know better, we know people do want CDs. If you’re someone in your sixties, and you’ve been collecting CDs for years, you’re not going to stop. So if they don’t want to sell them, there’s another avenue open for sales. We take pride in having a lot of rock and roll, blues, jazz, punk, reggae – we have all that stuff available here, and very cheaply on CD. So there’s a whole new market. And they love coming in and going through. They’re surprised that we think this way, but it’s common sense. I’m not a rocket scientist. I have my ear to the ground; if you listen to your customers it’s not that hard to figure out that good things are happening in music.
That said, it’s a lot of work; it’s nor for everybody. You have to be willing to sit here on a day like today with nobody out, and hope somebody comes through the door, and other days, there’s a deluge, so… it’s not for the timid. You gotta be a believer, and I’m a believer and my son’s a believer. So we know that hard work always pays off.
Not to mention that the online service is really the way to go. We get a lot of great records here, but some of those we sell online to pay our bills. That opportunity is there.
And radio is basically no help at all, except, and I work for this place, but places like RadioRadioX push the heck out of local bands. Every hour those guys are playing local stuff, and the local bands love it. They get a chance to be heard. So major radio is dead. And a large radio station – awful, they have no imagination, and even college radio has gone to hell, Which used to be a hotbed for great news music. College stations are playing the same tripe you can get on an FM station. They’re following instead of leading – college radio are in big trouble. Stations like this are the new cornerstone of music. These are the people, like RadioRadioX, that will matter down the road if people will support them. It’s not easy to convince people that is the way to go, but it is.
RRX: You are a Lawn Sausage. You’re also in a band called “The Lawn Sausages.” What do you play, who are you fellow “fresh” Lawn Sausages, and what’s the Lawn Sausage flavor?
Well, I’m proud to be in the Lawn Sausages. It started out as a bet with one Tina Ward and her band, The Matter Babies, who said there was no place to play, and no one would support local. And Artie and I, and our friend Paul, and other, like-spirited individuals, said we could fill a club in two weeks, even write and make a CD at the same time, and the bet was a case of beer. So we made the bet, and we got a few friends in, and we bought keyboards and a couple microphones and a couple of speakers and we pretty much “make-shift” created a set of music.
Hilarious, and I thought it would be awful, but it was really crazy funny. And we played at this place called Billy’s on Broadway, and we filled the place. It was a total three-ring circus and people went nuts. We dressed in these outlandish outfits – we barely knew how to plug in let alone play – and something was going on, some zest, something we were doing was right because people were screaming and dancing and laughing, and we come out swinging. We just hit it right away, and we really haven’t changed that much through the years.
We tend not to play as often now, being a novelty band, we like to play three- or four times a year just to keep it fresh. But we do like to get together to practice a lot. We enjoy each other’s company, all of us. We’ve got great musicians, we got Rob Skane and Mark Emanation, Charlie Clifford who’s a monster drummer, Paul playing rhythm guitar, Johnny Mystery on bass, and Artie and I on “dog howling” (I’m the cat, he’s the dog.)
But it is a change, it’s fun. Our whole thing was to send up local music, because at the time, bands were taking themselves so seriously. And we’re not capable of taking ourselves that seriously. Our songs are raunchy and funny, and they’re just profane, but people laugh – we love it when we go to shows and people are singing along, they know all the words. Sophisticated people love trashy songs once in a while.
We’re having a blast. We’re playing some shows. We have a CD coming out called Appetite for Dysfunction, I think it’s gonna set people on their heels. I’ll say no more about it at this point. Artie’s handling that, but it’s quite remarkable. So yes, to answer your question, I am a Lawn Sausage. It will probably be on my tombstone.
RRX: Between the Beat Shop, the Lawn Sausages, and your long-standing radio program “Kaleidoscope,” you’re all-in on music, which is different from even some of the bands and players that you like? Do you think that musicians that are “all-in” bring something different to the art than people who are drawn to it as an escape from the nine-to-five?
I don’t agree with the question, Liam. I think if you’re in a band, you’re all-in anyway, cause you’re gonna work towards a goal of playing out and having fun. I think you’re talking about cover bands versus original bands, and in that particular scenario, I would always prefer the original band even if they fell flat on their face. I personally have more respect for a band that will go out and play all their own songs rather than the same Top 40 songs that everybody’s playing out there.
I prefer original bands, I think it takes a lot of guts, and sometimes they’re astounding. Sometimes these original bands are great. I don’t have a problem with an original band playing a few covers, that’s just common sense, as long as a big portion of their set is original. I’m happy, as a patron, to go support that. So, “all-in;” I think everybody’s all-in about playing. When you’re buying your gear and rehearsing and throwing it in a car, dragging it up a flight of stairs, play for twenty-five people in a Thursday night God-knows-where, then you’re all-in, and if you’re playing original, all the more power to you. So, I dig both, but I have a slight preference for original bands.
RRX: Art and music have so many applications in other areas of life, but it’s not always seen as a worthy pursuit. What do you, not only as an audiophile and musician, but also as a business owner, have to say to the parents of a talented bass player that says to him, in your shop, “there’s no money in it?”
Well, there is no money in it. That’s a fact. You gotta be so lucky to make a living – if you’re going to support yourself with music, you’re going to have to be available 24/7. You’re going to have to take on some whacky gigs. You’re going to have to be more than willing to swallow your pride sometimes and play a Legion dance and a Christmas party at one o’clock on a Sunday morning at the Elks, and if you’re going to do that, God bless ya’. But if you’re going to go out and have fun playing music, then you’re talking – that’s something.
So I would never discourage a person from being in a band, or doing it, but I would caution them that it’s not a great way to make a living. It’s clearly, for most, not. I can think of some exceptions, one being Mark Emanation. Mark Emanation has a terrific attitude. He has a great job in social justice, I have a lot of respect for Mark. I have a complete respect for his candor and his honesty about what he does, and that said, he raises a lot of money for fabulous causes. And he plays in three or four bands, he’s one of the area’s top musicians. He’s a first-class guitar player and a really accomplished singer-songwriter. He’s one of the exceptions that’s been able to do both. So he’s got a career and a music career. He does a lot of original stuff, so he’s kind of the top of the pyramid for me.
He’s where I think most in the area would want to end up, having a job, a nine-to-five that they like, that they’re getting something out of, and be a musician. More power to them for that. But there’s nothing wrong with playing music for a living, as long as you’re understanding and accepting that it’s going to be a rough road. If that’s what you want to do, it’s better than doing something that makes you miserable. It’s still better to be out playing and having fun.
I think it’s an age thing too. I think once you get around thirty, a little bit older maybe and you know, it’s just not gonna happen, then you gotta be sensible, maybe find a job, nine-to-five, get your truck driving license or something, and support your gang, and for your own sanity, still stick around the music scene. But bring home a salary. Be a working man or woman. Go out and earn your fair share and try to keep your career alive.
But don’t set your goals so high you can’t get there. You gotta be smart about it. Not easy – some of these kids are real dreamers. God bless them, we need that. Just don’t let yourself get too disappointed. A lot of sad things happen out there with these kids who believe. Not many make it, because not many of them are.
RRX: Last one is the family question. Not the dinner table family; the string-strumming, beat-blasting, horn blowing family. You, above many people, know who we should be looking out for locally. So, names, aliases, whatever you got; who should we BOLO?
See I don’t play favorites when it comes to bands and artists. What I believe in, Liam, is support the venues. If you support the venues, you are supporting the bands. And some regional things have been really happening lately.
River Street Pub has been putting on some great shows. For years, they just had cover bands, but now they’re bringing in a lot of original music, which is great. The Rustic Barn in Troy is doing terrific stuff. They just had a great benefit up there, Foodstock, that Mark Emanation ran for the food bank, which was terrific. Then you have places like the Hangar, which has become my favorite place. A part and parcel to the Ale House, where they bring in incredible original music, and national bands, The Blasters and The Fleshtones and The Supersuckers – they just bring it. Billy Joe Shaver, I mean, Joe Ely; it’s crazy what Brian Gilchrist and his daughter Molly have brought to the table.
Then you have places that are always supporting, like Brown’s has bands all the time. Cohoes Music Hall has been bringing in some great shows, a little more comfortable venue, brought in some great people this year. My God, they had Tower of Power, Rickie Lee Jones last year. Then you have places that you know you’re gonna hear something interesting, you just trust the management. For example, the Low Beat is great. Pauly’s Hotel, with Jay Crack bringing in all kinds of fun stuff. Sometimes you can go into either place, you pay one admission, you can go in both places.
Another thing I like is that there are some young promoters who are really getting busy. One, for example, is Sean Secor, who has this thing called ‘Hey Greasy’, and he kind of has an affection for country-based rock and surf stuff. He’s bringing a show to the Hangar the 31st of this month, with Daddy Longlegs, pretty much the most exciting band I’ve heard in years. Just an out-of-this-world jump blues band. And we’re modestly helping with that show with a little advertising. I just think, wow, this kid’s working. And there’s a lot of them; he’s far from the only one. He’s a personal favorite on this side of the river, we like this guy. He’s working hard.
And none of it gets done without places like RadioRadioX, who are huge on local. They don’t stop. And their support of local music is huge. And it’s critical to the success of these clubs. So I don’t support individual bands. I support the clubs that take care of everybody. Then your band will find a place to play. So throw your support behind local clubs. Go once a week, they’re affordable. You won’t go broke.
Be sure to stop in to the River Street Beat Shop, 197 River Street, Toy, for all your music needs, or just to say ‘Howdy.’ Support local music, and sure to sniff the ground for the Lawn Sausages next CD, Appetite for Dysfunction.