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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v13n20 (05/15/2014) » Music Feature: In Memoriam

The Mayor of East Mohawk Street: Pete Perrone (1943 - 2014)

You’d find him there night after night. With his perfectly combed-back coif and almost always a warm smile fixed just below his signature mustache. He stood hunched with a fist of bills just under the dim lights in the doorframe at 47 East Mohawk. He started out a guy who just wanted to own a simple neighborhood gin mill but ended up an unlikely and reluctant savior of underground music in Western New York.

He was Pete Perrone. Following a long illness, Pete passed away this past week in his winter home in Greenville, South Carolina.

A lifelong Buffalonian, the young Perrone was caught up like so many of the post World War II generation in fast cars and the burgeoning sounds of rock-and-roll. He joined the Air Force in the mid 1960s and served in Vietnam. After making a career in the military over 25 years—along the way marrying his wife, Denise, and raising two children, James and Lucy—his retirement plan was taking over a building that housed a beat-up, 100-year-old tavern under a former rooming house in downtown Buffalo, in the shadow of some of the city’s best known landmarks.

Surprisingly, Perrone’s little bar, Mohawk Place, would itself become a landmark burning brightly over a two-decade run during which it became the Queen City’s ground zero for both local music and emerging national and international acts. And that wasn’t happenstance. It was largely due to Perrone’s unique blend of easy-going charm and genuine warmth, his willingness to take chances, and his belief in the passions of others, He also had a knack for keeping the beer cold.

While Pete loved classic cars and trucks, vintage motorcycles, and old rock-and-roll records, he never collected these things. What he did collect was underdogs. These underdogs were a colorful mix of what former Mohawk Place bartender/manager Mikel Doktor calls “nerds, rockers, bikers, bums, and you name it,” almost all with a passion for music. Some of them he gave jobs. Others he gave the chance to live out varying levels of their rock-and-roll fantasies. He made friends with all of them and at least in some way changed their lives.

Here are some of their stories:

Mikel Doktor, Mohawk Place bartender and manager, guitarist with Dollywatchers and Bobo: I loved watching Pete be the true patriarch to the Buffalo music community. He welcomed every walk of life into his dream. I met him the summer of 1998 and he was the person I learned the most life lessons from. I spent countless hours with him over the next 10-plus years, both as employee and friend. Pete and I would often be at “the Hawk” well before anyone would step foot inside. We’d finish a pack of cigarettes each while discussing life, music, the business, and family. He was a great family man. Pete was always there for me. Always. And with advice when I needed it…even when I didn’t think I needed it. He is, without doubt, the best friend I ever had.

Tim Saracki, Mohawk Place bartender: I first came across Pete after a Thursday at the Square the first year he was open in 1990. Standing in front was this guy wearing tight jeans and a wry mustache telling passersby to come on in and check it out, almost like those guys you see trying to get you to enter a strip club, which is what the place reminded me of. It was my first encounter with Pete. Of course we went in. I liked it right from the get-go. There was some bad blues band playing but it didn’t matter. He came in with us and started talking to us, telling us his plans with the place, and throwing us a free beer. We saw a couple numbers then left, but the place and Pete made a definite immediate impact.

Buck Quigley, guitarist/singer with the Steam Donkeys and Americanarama founder: After the Club Utica closed, the Steam Donkeys started picking up gigs at the Mohawk Place. Pete became a real good friend to us. He was especially supportive of those Americanarama Music Festivals that we put on there in the late 1990s, early 2000s, which featured hundreds of bands over the years. One night I saw him sizing up a bunch of drunken, obnoxious frat boys walking toward the bar. He flashed his big hangdog eyes at me and with his mustache spreading into a grin, he diagnosed them: “State of arrested development.” He was so cool and hilarious.

Rene Roberts, Mohawk Place sound engineer and drummer with Palomar Sky Survey and Puma: Ted Leo—who I loved—happened to be playing a show at Mohawk the day after my birthday and I was running sound for the show. Pete convinced him to surprise me with a birthday cake onstage. He knew that I would be embarrassed yet love the fact that Ted would have the whole audience singing happy birthday to me. Well, it worked. Ted called me onstage right before he played the first note and out of the side door came Bill Nehill with his thumb deeply embedded into a cake. The crowd sang, ate cake, and I was truly embarrassed. To this day, it is one of my favorite memories of working at Mohawk. The man treated me like a daughter. He gave me advice when often needed, guided me in directions I might not have taken, and irritated me just like my real father would.

Dave Gutierrez, singer/guitarist with the Irving Klaws and a Mohawk Place fixture: Many years ago myself and then Irving Klaws drummer Wheeze had an abrupt falling out. I called Pete to let him know we would be unable to play a big show coming up that weekend with the Cynics because of a complete communication breakdown. Pete somehow became a band mediator. He did not take sides in the band squabble and very articulately conveyed what he thought the problems were. He managed to get us to a place where the gig happened. Granted, he was unable to save the original lineup, but the point of this story is that he actually cared about us as people, as friends, as colleagues, to even take the time to intervene in a pathetic band drama.

Pat Shaughnessy, Mohawk Place bartender and drummer with Bobo and Doombuggy:One of the things I always got a kick out of was that the minute I started working there he called me “Patsy”; it was like his the Italian way of letting me know I was okay and a good guy…at least that’s how I took it. He always wanted to know how my family was doing, how my job was going, and he had that great fatherly/grandfatherly delivery that always seemed so sincere. One night, I was behind the bar and this out-of-town band was talking to Pete at the end of the bar, telling him how rough the tour had been up until this point, they had some canceled gigs, van issues, etc. I remember Pete sitting there listening for about 20 minutes and I figured that was just him lending a sympathetic ear, but he turns to me and says, “Patsy, grab me $50 out of the register and get the whole band a round of drinks on me.” The look on the kid’s face was great: Pete handed him the money and the kid was so grateful he thanked Pete profusely and gave him a hug.

Donny Kutzbach, Mohawk Place booker, concert promoter, singer/guitarist with Semi-Tough: Pete really gave everyone a chance. When we had no experience, he let our band come in and play our first gig. When we had no money, he let us practice upstairs and didn’t charge us. When I wanted to start booking shows, he gave me the room to do it. When I got laid off from the corporate concert company, he let me take over Mohawk booking and paid me what he could. It’s impossible to imagine that I’d be doing what I am without him. Hell, it’s impossible to imagine that Buffalo’s music scene would have evolved as it did without him. For some he was simply opening his door offering this joint to see good music and have a drink. For others he was opening this door to a whole other world where you could see an artist you never, ever thought you’d get to see. Or better still: be on the stage as an artist.

Mark Norris, singer/guitarist with Girlpope: Pete was definitely a father figure to me. Praise from him meant a lot and criticism could be really crushing. Luckily, he spared me too much of the latter. He not only gave people a stage to express themselves and a place to gather, he also gave them respect. I don’t think Pete was the kind who would reflect on why his club meant so much to people. He also wouldn’t accept any credit for it—I tried many times and know others did, too. He was unassuming about his role and always acknowledged the musicians, agents, writers, bartenders, and audiences first.

Marty Boratin, Mohawk Place booker and fixture: One thing about Pete’s Mohawk was how welcomed he made everybody feel. When Southern Culture on the Skids were playing in Buffalo last fall, singer/guitarist Rick Miller mentioned that they had stopped by Mohawk to say hi to Pete but was bummed to find out it was closed. I can remember other bands stopping by the joint to say hi as well.

Brent Best, singer/guitarist with Slobberbone and the Drams of Denton, Texas: Out of the hundreds of venues we played over the years—many of them great—only a few held the distinction of feeling like home on the road. What made Pete so special to me had everything to do with that. Walking out of the cold into the foyer at Mohawk Place after a grueling drive from Boston or wherever to be greeted by him waiting just inside with a handshake and his other hand squeezing your shoulder, saying, “Welcome back. Sit down and get something to eat, you can load in later.” There were others, of course, that contributed directly to the Mohawk meaning as much to us as it did: a collection of diehard music freaks that created something so special, and so improbable in other places. But Pete seemed to me the knowing facilitator, a calm custodian quietly keeping coal in the furnace, and it all made sense. I hope to shake his hand again sometime when we can both take a load off.

Matt Barber, drummer with the Missing Planes: When I moved to Buffalo in 1998, the Mohawk Place was literally my home away from home. I would be there at least three to four nights a week. This was when it was extremely rare to walk in and not see Pete. In the Missing Planes, we played about everywhere in town that would let us, but we mostly played at the Mohawk and, like many bands, thought of it as our home base. After we played our first show on the small front stage, I was talking to Pete, and he enthusiastically congratulated me on our set. It will never leave my memory or my heart, he said, “That was great, real high-energy stuff, that’s what I like.” I don’t know if Pete honestly liked the music the Missing Planes made, but his endorsement meant more to me and my bandmate Michele than any other compliment we could have received. He gave so many of us a chance to live our rock-and-roll dreams.

Michele Buono, singer/guitarist with the Missing Planes: Pete had a way of making everyone feel welcome and like you were part of a family. Conversations with him went beyond music and what bands were playing. Music was our outlet, it’s what brought us all together, and he gave that to us. He created a place where we could be ourselves and express ourselves in our own ways. It was an amazing gift and I don’t think Pete really understood how much it meant to so many of us. I also don’t think he realized just how much he was a part of that experience.

Eric Jensen, Mohawk Place house photographer: Pete treated everyone with respect and concern, whether you were a headliner, an unknown opening act or someone there to hear the show. It was Pete (and the staff) that made the Mohawk so special for everyone. Pete really made it comfortable.

Erik Roesser, Mohawk Place bartender and manager, guitarist with the Old Sweethearts, Semi-Tough and Orphans: For all of us he gave a sense of community that hasn’t been matched since he sold the bar. The countless lifelong friendships made, hilarious late-night stories, and amazing shows we all witnessed were all because of you, Pete! Also it was Bill who broke the mop bucket…

Bill Nehill, Mohawk Place bartender and booker, singer/songwriter with Barrel Harbor and TMMC: Pete Perrone was the reluctant savior of the Buffalo underground music scene. Who would think that a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who was unafraid to speak his conservative mind would not only tolerate us freaks and weirdos but also lovingly embrace us as well? Many have used the term “father figure” to describe him and that is very true. I am saddened that I didn’t get to have that last conversation with him and to thank him for being such a big part of my life. Although he will be truly missed, I can assure you that this evening at 10pm EST, Pete will be standing by heaven’s golden gate with a warm smile and wad of cash. As he stubs out his cigarette, he’ll greet each individual coming in with, “Tonight we’ve got three quarters of the Ramones playing. It’s five bucks. It goes to the band.”

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