Comprehensive Box Set Pays Tribute to Legendary Local Singer-Songwriter Peter Laughner

Comprehensive Box Set Pays Tribute to Legendary Local Singer-Songwriter Peter Laughner
Mik Mellen
Former Clevelander Frank Mauceri founded Smog Veil, a record label that’s dedicated to issuing albums by old and new Cleveland punk bands, in the early ’90s. After the label reissued the Rocket from the Tombs retrospective, The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs, in 2002, Mauceri realized there was more to the story of the band’s late guitarist Peter Laughner, a local musician who also played in Pere Ubu.

At that point, Mauceri began thinking of issuing some kind of Laughner retrospective.

“When I released that Rocket from the Tombs record, I immediately realized there could be something bigger about Peter,” says Mauceri in a phone interview. “It was a matter of collecting all the material and finding the right people to license the project. I had no idea it would take so long. I didn’t realize how large an archive could be put together.”

The music came to Mauceri from a number of different sources. Local singer-songwriter Derek Deprator had a number of recordings that he sold through a website. He turned over all his material to Mauceri for the project.

“I’m really thankful he did that,” says Mauceri. “He had more than just recordings. He had some letters. He had original tapes as well, some of which we used. The archive grew exponentially after that, and the amount of recordings we discovered after he gave us his material easily swamps the stuff that he gave us.”

On Friday, the label will release Peter Laughner, a five LP/CD box set plus that includes massive liner notes and a bonus 7-inch single.

Focusing on the 1972 to 1977 period of Laughner’s career, the set features previously unreleased performances by Laughner’s bands Rocket From the Tombs, Fins, Cinderella Backstreet, Friction, Cinderella’s Revenge and the Original Wolverines as well as solo and collaborative efforts. It's available online and at local record stores such as Blue Arrow, My Mind's Eye and Square Records.

The set also includes “significant sonic upgrades” of material that was previously released on various out-of-print and bootleg compilations.

Sue Schmidt, who played with Laugher in Cinderella’s Revenge and Friction, had many recordings in her basement and local photographers such as Anastasia Pantsios and Janet Macoska contributed material as well.

Since most of the music that Mauceri obtained was recorded on cassette and some was on reel to reel, it all had to be re-mastered.

“We compiled all the recordings we had and made digital dubs to pick the tracks we wanted to use,” says Mauceri. “Once we picked the tracks, we went to Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice, who are Grammy-winning engineers, at Peerless Mastering. They applied all of their magic to these tracks to make them sound at the highest fidelity that will ever be available on a Peter Laughner compilation.”

The compilation chronicles how Laughner began by playing folk and blues and then gravitated toward noisier music.

“He was interested in what the popular styles of the day were,” says Mauceri. “From the materials in the box set, early on he was in a folk barroom style in the early ’70s that mimicked what was happening in rock ’n’ roll and in film. When punk had its emergence, he explored a louder electric style. Peter championed musicians he thought would be big stars. He was an early advocate for Bruce Springsteen and bands of that ilk. He thought strongly about what was popular and what would be big and how he could work in that setting.”

Deborah L. Cahan/Smith of the Akron band CHI-PIG played with Laughner in a variety of different bands. She says his ability to permeate the Cleveland scene really impressed her.

“Peter was a big personality with a tremendous amount of energy for whatever he was putting his attention on at the time, whether it was writing or music,” she says. “He was able to have such a far reach because he had so much energy and worked in so many different types of media. He had tremendous intention. He certainly had a lot of people who loved his music and appreciated him.”

Peter Laughner will also include a book featuring extensive previously unpublished images and a collection of Laughner’s writings, reviews, and poetry for publications such as Creem, Exit, Zeppelin and Star.

"The book presented a number of unique challenges," says Mauceri. "We had to license the reprints we used in the book, and most of the publications don’t exist any more. Scene and The Plain Dealer are the exceptions. Finding the rights holders presented a huge challenge to us. Finding enough engaging material was no problem. He was a prolific writer. He wanted to be a writer more than a musician. In his seven-page college entrance essay, he wrote about his desire to be a writer. Finding enough engaging material was very simple.”

Laughner’s musical career started in the mid-1960s and continued until he died at age 24 in 1977. Laughner played rock, folk, blues, punk, jug band, experimental and even jazz fusion. A bluesy tune such as “Solomon’s Mines,” for example, sounds like a cross between Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters.

“It was a fabulous time to play original music because there didn’t seem to be a lot of boundaries in terms of what you could try,” says Cahan/Smith. “I loved playing music with Pete and appreciated the conversations we had. As a musician, he was very, very open.”

Acts such as Guns ’n’ Roses and Mission of Burma have played Laughner tunes, and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy borrowed lyrics from the Laughner song “Amphetamine.”

Laughner famously once said he wanted to do for Cleveland what Brian Wilson did for California and Lou Reed did for New York. He didn’t succeed, but he still left behind a remarkable legacy.

“First and foremost, [Laughner’s legacy] is a story about the creative process and how one goes from garage musician to writing some of the most well-known underground rock ’n’ roll songs of the era. It’s a story of what one has to do to engage in the music hustle. It’s also a story of illness and addiction and how devastating and damaging that can be. We worked a long time on it and put a tremendous number of hours into it. We searched every attic and closet, and we’re happy to present what we think is a comprehensive picture of Peter Laughner.”

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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