When Bumpy Peterson started playing live music in the 1950s, he and his band had one microphone and two amplifiers. Venues would charge music fans a $1 cover on live music nights.
"That's when you could buy a beer for 75 cents too," said Peterson, who started playing guitar at age 13 with his brothers in the Rhythm Rangers. The band played country music in the Jamestown, Warren and Dunkirk areas in the 1950s.
By the 1960s, the one-microphone, two-amplifier days had come and gone.
Fans enjoy a performance at the Blue Heron Festival in Sherman. The local music scene has undergone many changes over the decades, but one thing remains the same: if bands work hard, people will want to hear them play.
P-J file photo
"You were playing louder music," Peterson said. "You needed bigger amps."
As the frontman of Bumpy and the Jaguars, Peterson played rock 'n' roll five nights a week at the Golden Gloves, taking Mondays and Tuesdays off.
He quit playing in 1965, but started back up 10 years later, when he played rock music before switching back to country in a band called "Bumpy and Sawmill Run."
The band would play at the Frewsburg Hotel every Friday and Saturday night. Peterson and his band mates would rehearse at the venue on Wednesdays, leaving their equipment there week after week.
"We were kind of lucky to be able to do that," Peterson said. "We'd have to move our equipment to play a wedding occasionally, but other than that, we'd just leave it there."
Back then, each band had its own niche, according to Peterson, who said the other popular acts of the time included Billy Quad and the Ravens, Junie Schenk, and Richie Leeper.
"You were kind of all competing, but we had as much work as we wanted," Peterson said.
Peterson would play harder country with louder drums and a heavier beat. Other bands played rock 'n' roll or mellower country.
The musicians he played with and the other local acts were the best of the best, Peterson said.
"I'd rate them about as good as you could get," he said.
Peterson even tried to make a living off of playing locally for a short while in the 1960s.
"It was tough," he said. "I got a little slim."
He quit playing a couple of times here and there, but always returned to the stage. Peterson played out in public as recently as last summer, when he performed with Slim Griffin and the Country Gentlemen at the Celoron Legion on Friday nights. He still gets together with local musicians for the legion's Bluegrass Jam on occasion.
"I enjoyed the good people who came to listen," Peterson said. "It's a good area. The people, they support you. They used to at least."
The quality of the local music scene has come and gone over the years, according to local musician Bill Ward. However, he believes it's in a pretty good place right now.
"I think people have a lot of opportunities to hear younger and older musicians who are really good right now," Ward said. "I see a lot of similarities right now for the area music scene to the 1970s and 1980s. It's become important to the bars and coffeehouse owners to bring in a lot of live music and a variety of it."
Many venue owners have become more agreeable to original musicians, and the quality of local music has reached a peak level, Ward said.
DOING IT BECAUSE IT'S FUN
Steve Gustafson saved his money and bought records while growing up. The social scene was active. The bars were the places to be.
"That's where you networked with other people," he said. "You went to bars. Gasoline was cheap. There was a lot of driving around in a car, listening to music, going to see bands."
Music was active on First Street in the Broadhead Mills, where John Lombardo and his band, The Mills, and several others rented out practice space.
"These guys were playing underground music that wasn't on the radio, except at the college, where we were playing it," said Gustafson, who helped start the JCC radio station.
He and Dennis Drew wanted to find a fun way to make money. Starting a band seemed like the right idea. They soon had a band without boundaries.
"We didn't even know all of our scales," Gustafson said. "We were just kind of making noise with rhythm and hoping to get a date. It was complete and utter madness. We were kind of like a car wreck. People couldn't not look. It was very strange with Natalie (Merchant) spinning around like a top and screaming into the microphone. It was wonderful, utter chaos."
The band didn't have a whole lot of gear when it started out. It all fit into their cars. When the musicians couldn't get a gig, they would travel to a local group home and play instead of rehearsing.
"We just did it to play out," Gustafson said.
In hopes of finding gigs, Gustafson and his band mates decided a change of scenery was needed. They moved to Atlanta.
"We were all willing to quit school, quit jobs, or leave girlfriends or boyfriends and pull up roots," Gustafson said.
It wasn't easy, but the band made connections in the music industry which would later help it along. The musicians slept on floors, and raked leaves and sold their plasma so they could eat.
"We were close to homeless," Gustafson said. "We were making rent, but we didn't have any furniture. We were eating pasta every night sort of living in this communal house."
After hitting the road again, the band started gaining college radio play and met their agent, Frank Reilly. 10,000 Maniacs would later become the most famous band from Jamestown.
"We found a way to make it work," Gustafson said. "It was a complete and utter wonderful mistake. We wanted to be successful. I don't think we were delusional about it. We just wanted to take it as far as we could, and it just kept going."
According to Gustafson, there weren't many bands in 1981 willing to buy a van and drive to Atlanta because someone said they could get a gig there. Today, it might be even harder to make it big.
"You have to really throw yourself into it with reckless abandon," Gustafson said. "Embrace it. You've got to grab it and go after it. It's probably harder than it ever was to make a living as a musician. On the other hand, it's easier to reach people than it ever has been as a musician because of social networking."
Songwriting abilities and the willingness to play out for little or no money separate one band from the next, said Gustafson, who also teaches a business and music class at JCC.
Drew said there isn't necessarily a success formula. Lots of talented area acts don't make it.
"It's about the singer," he said. "It's about the sound. It's got to be different, but not too different. A lot of bands in Jamestown hated us because we didn't play anything they recognized. You've sort of got to be ahead of your time. You've got to put yourself in enough places enough times to get lucky. If people don't (mess) their pants when they hear you play, you're not going to make it."
Musicians who treat music as a hobby will probably continue to do so, Drew said. It's hard for part-time performers to reach national prominence.
"We put everything we had into it," he said. "We knew this is what we wanted to do. We didn't try to work day jobs. We realized if we wanted to do this, we had to do it."