VETERAN AFFAIRS Janovitz (left) credits the unique chemistry among himself, bassist Chris Colbourn, and drummer Tom Maginnis for Buffalo Tom’s longevity.
I recall one night in the late '80s, standing in the crowd at T.T. the Bear's during one of the many Volcano Suns shows I had witnessed over my then-relatively-short club-going career — the commencement of nearly 30 years I'll never get back as a lounge lizard in rock clubs, bars, and pubs.
Buffalo Tom was on its way up. But back then, the farthest imaginable point "up" for a band like us was to be able to tour the States and Europe, maybe headlining places like the Channel or even, in our wildest dreams, the Orpheum. This was P.N. (pre-Nirvana), after all. We were beginning to see the more modest of these dreams come true, only maybe a year out from being able finally to headline T.T.'s — an honor which was only bestowed upon us after years of calling and begging T.T.'s owner Bonnie Bouley, and after headlining our own tour of similar-sized and larger clubs in Europe. Boston clubs back then were more plentiful, but there was also plenty of talent and the club scene was very competitive.
Nonetheless, I stood there watching Peter Prescott pummel his drums and sing/shout and thought, "Man, he's an old guy." He was only in his early 30s, of course. The Volcano Suns were a legendary band for those of us who gobbled up whichever records (few of us had exotic CD players at this point) on the Homestead, Taang!, SST, and Touch and Go labels. But they were more legendary than popular. The music was an angular and somewhat dissonant take on post-punk pop. Indeed, one editor here at the Phoenix recalled them fondly as "making a room-clearing racket." I would not go that far, though the less-than-ideal sound at the club back in those days could turn anything into a "racket." The Suns always got my blood stirring, beer spilling, and spittle flying.
There was something tribal about the Boston rock scene in the '80s. It was a relatively small cult, kicking against the pricks. Hair metal and pale Michael Jackson soundalikes populated the mainstream. Phil Collins — now so post-ironically revered by hipster indie-nerd kids nostalgic for their childhood — represented an insidious menace to those of us who actually liked music. This cult of club kids was full of diehards. We would most likely have been at all of those January shows and felt a true tribal spirit as we chanted the words to "Jak" and "White Elephant" over Peter's pounding tom toms.
Nevertheless I said aloud to whomever I was standing with, "If I am still playing T.T.'s when I am that old, shoot me."
"Just a kid acting smart," as Hank Williams sang. Peter Prescott was — and remains — a hero of mine. I felt that Volcano Suns should be giants. Peter and I have only had a few brief words over the years — I don't think he even likes Buffalo Tom, or ever has. But he was and is a rock star to me, and a true artist. He's also one of the most important figures in Boston rock and roll, from the seminal Mission of Burma, to the Suns, to Kustomized, to working the aisles at Mystery Train Records (and, famously, Copy Cop). There he was, living the life, playing music, creating and performing.