tend to stick with the genre, in all its forms, and never
stray that much from the idiom they were most passionate
about in the first place. Just ask Paul Plumeri, the area
blues master who will be playing New Year’s Eve at the
Alchemist & Barrister in Princeton.
Plumeri, who turned 61 this month, started playing guitar as
an 8-year-old, and once he discovered real blues as a young
teenager, he never changed stylistic direction.
The Trenton native — now Hamilton resident — says he got his
first awareness of blues and rock ‘n’ roll in the late 1950s
and early 1960s, seeing Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, James
Burton, and Chuck Berry on television.
“Trenton also had an R&B radio show,” he says. “A guy named
George Luther Bannister, and he played classic R&B and
blues. The theme song was (Bill Doggett’s) ‘Honky Tonk.’
That was my first exposure to black music, on WBUD-AM. Back
then, I remember it being very much a Trenton-centered show,
and he was real animated. It was real old time radio and
just overflowing with great stuff — Sam and Dave, James
Brown. He played blues too, and I was attracted to every bit
Attracted so much to the music he wanted to be part of it.
“In early grammar school I told my parents I would like to
take lessons, and they said if you keep your grades up we’ll
let you. I ended up taking (guitar) lessons. It was about a
year before the Beatles came out, so there could not have
been a better time to learn,” he says. “It went from
everybody playing the accordion to everybody playing guitar.
Guitar became ‘the’ instrument, and it just wiped everything
Plumeri formed his first band, the Coachmen, when he was 13.
Their first paying gig was a wedding. “We played Ventures
music and whatever else we could figure out at that point,”
he says, adding that out of all the members he is the only
one to keep playing.
Plumeri says his career was helped by having supportive
parents who embraced both the new and often loud music and
the changes occurring in the 1960s and early 1970s. “My dad
and my mom were likely to be at all the various gigs I was
at, with Duke Williams and the Extremes, with Hoochie Cooch,
and with my trios. (My parents) weren’t prejudiced against
long-haired people in any way. I think they were just amused
by the whole scene,” he says, recalling the long hair he and
fellow Trenton guitar titan Joe Zook sported in the early
About his father, Samuel, Plumeri says, “My father was a
realtor for years before he got involved in politics. Then
he was a city commissioner in the late 1950s and remained
active politically into the 1960s and ’70s. He was involved
in Democratic politics and kind of a civic leader, even when
he didn’t hold office anymore.”
The older Plumeri also had a wish: to bring minor league
baseball to Trenton as a way to encourage a more favorable
business climate. “He picked up my grandfather’s mantle
because he was involved with a team, the Trenton Giants, and
Willie Mays played on the team my grandfather was involved
with. So my father always wanted to bring baseball back to
Trenton,” he says.
Plumeri’s father saw that wish come to fruition with the
construction of the Route 29 waterfront baseball park. His
hopes are enshrined in the Samuel J. Plumeri, Sr., statue at
the stadium’s entrance.
Plumeri is the youngest of three brothers. Joseph, the
oldest, is a successful investment banker, former CEO of the
London-based Willis Group, and now works with Henry Kravis
and has just written a book, “The Power of Being Yourself.”
The second, Samuel, is a former Mercer County sheriff and
currently vice chairman of the New Jersey State Parole
Board. And Paul, known in blues circles as far away as
Arizona, Washington state, and parts of Canada, works as an
investigator with the state Office of Ombudsman for the
Institutionalized Elderly — what he calls “a good karma
Again thinking about his father and mother, who died
respectively in 1998 and 2012, Plumeri says, “I know they
would have preferred if I had continued my college
education. They didn’t have anything against music, but they
saw the kind of reliability it provided.”
Plumeri completed a year at Mercer County Community College
but the lure of easy money, a thousand dollars a week and
more, playing five and six nights a week in Trenton and
Shore-area clubs, proved too much a lure for him in the
“Once they saw that music was my passion, and to some
extent, calling, they just got behind it,” he says of a
music career that involved touring the East Coast in the
1970s and playing with Capricorn Record-signed group Duke
Williams and the Extremes into the early 1980s.
For much of the last 33 years, Plumeri has found the kind of
blues and blues-rock he likes to play works best with a
trio, so each musician has plenty of chances to stretch out
“I look for guys who are very in sync with each other and
can lay down a foundation for me to solo off of. They have
to be locked in with each other. If they are, then it’s
going to work for me,” he said.
Indeed, proof that the trio format works for Plumeri can be
found on “Live in Seattle,” an album he recorded at an old,
wood-paneled, thousand seat theater in that city. Seattle
was a second home for Plumeri for a number of years thanks
to a friendly owner there who invited him out at least once
a year for several nights of music.
Plumeri’s other recordings, available through his website
and in the few local record stores left in the area, include
his 1995 debut, “The Bishop of the Blues”; “Blues in
Disguise” released a few years back with harmonica player
T.J. Nix; and “Live in Seattle,” released in 2001.
Looking back at the Trenton-area music scene, Plumeri
recalls meeting fellow area blues guitarist, bandleader, and
singer-songwriter Joe Zook, who also left college at Trenton
State to play in the clubs.
“Once I found Joe Zook and realized he was a kindred spirit,
I spent a lot of time at his house and he spent a lot of
time at my house,” he says. “My father knew his parents
before I did. My father knew everybody in Trenton in those
Looking at the coming year, Plumeri says, “The guys I have
now have been with me five years, and I’m really happy with
them. They’re great guys and great players,” referring to
bassist-vocalist Jerry Monk and drummer Marty Paglione.
Other musicians frequently joining him include veteran
Trenton-area tenor sax player Angelo DeBraccio.
Area blues fans will meet some of them on New Year’s Eve at
the Alchemist & Barrister, where the session will include a
healthy dose of Plumeri’s originals — or co-writes with
Trenton-native now Las Vegas-based singer-songwriter Tom
Marolda — and “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight.
Through nearly 50 years now of playing blues and blues-rock,
the appeal of the music remains the same. More importantly,
Plumeri’s enthusiasm for playing the music has diminished
“I always liked the raw emotion of blues, you could tell
there was something serious behind this music, these guys
meant business,” he says. “As much as I loved the Beatles,
and still do, you’d hear Buddy Guy and B.B. King and
realize, these guys are the grown-ups.”
New Year’s Eve with Paul Plumeri, Alchemist & Barrister, 28
Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Thursday, December 31, 10
p.m. to midnight. No one under 21 admitted unless
accompanied by a parent or guardian. 609-924-5555 or www.theaandb.com.