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Play it again, Pepe
by Haven James

Artist: Pepe
Event: Performance at Claude's Bistro in Phoenicia
Date: Saturday, May 9, 1998

He's back! The "artist formerly known as Pepe" returns to the ivory keys for a command performance this Saturday night, May 9, at Claude's Bistro in scenic downtown Phoenicia. With "lots and lots of requests from lots of people to play," Pepe truly is back by popular demand and looks forward to presenting his "encyclopedic knowledge of the American song form" once again.

Though occasionally long on jive, the great Pepe is also long on talent. A self-dubbed "musical chameleon," his repertoire includes a vast array of material from great composers and performers. In addition to originals old and new, Pepe will play tunes written or known to be performed by artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Ray Charles, Randy Newman, Duke Ellington, Hoagie Carmichael and Miles Davis, along with Sondheim ramblings and snatches of film scores by Nino Rota, zydeco numbers, and Scottish, Irish and Spanish songs. Pepe's gigs often generate a transpositional sense of being caught in the ozone somewhere between La Dolce Vita and Casablanca; with a little prompting, you can even get him to do his Brando or Bogart routines (and they're well worth the push!).

With a Miles tape playing in the background, Pepe offers some observations about his life as a musician. "If you're not skillful at marketing yourself it can be a miserable life," he says, "but there's no choice anyway, you're hooked on the muse ... I've got the itch, it haunts me, it's something I have to do--cannot not do. Everything [musical] that I've been fascinated with since I'm six years old, I've learned how to do."

Pepe started playing guitar at six; by age 18 he wanted to get more expansive, and so moved to piano. Inspired by Gershwin, he started to get into jazz. "I spent a million hours," he recalls. "I would sneak into the practice rooms at the college near my home and would practice as much as [possible]. Any piano I could get my hands on I would practice and play and play and play and figure out stuff; I had to do it, I was relentless, I had to learn." All of the songs he fell in love with, he got "relentless" about and learned to do. "It's kind of like when you were a kid and you fell in love with the checkout girl at the grocery store, at the supermarket, and you wanted to know everything about her--where she lives, when she moved to the area, the whole thing, you just kinda want to know everything, you get sort of obsessive," he says. "That's the way I get with music: every piece that I fell in love with, I had to know everything about it--where it came from, how to play it, why and how and who, the whole thing."

Though he's undeniably compulsive, personal parameters do guide Pepe's choice of selections. In addition to arriving at the judgment that a song is simply "good," Pepe seeks tunes that are "well thought out, [with] care put into [them] with attention to detail"; he looks for material with an interesting slant, for songs that are soulful and that have "something that [speaks] to me."

As to this recent plan to return to the stage, Pepe says it's "because I need to, I need to play. If I don't, I get unhealthy in my spirit." Saturday night at Claude's, Pepe will swing and swirl across the spectrum. Whether he's playing the Incredible String Band's "The First Girl I Loved" or a standard folk classic like "The Water Is Wide," you'll get the whole deal. For Pepe, the music's the thing: "It's sort of my geophysical center in the world."

Claude's Bistro is located on Route 213 and the gig begins at 8:30 p.m. For more info, call 688-2561.

Haven James has been a consistent contributor to the Music & Arts scene around the Hudson Valley and beyond for almost a decade through his column, Werewolves of Woodstock, published weekly in the Woodstock Times

A writer, musician, philanthropist, and Mac addict; he lives reclusively, high atop Overlook Mountain with his son and a menagerie of animals, both wild and domesticated. Though currently unmarried, rumors abound as to his intimate relationships with Madonna, Sandra Bernhardt, and Eli Bach; though he insists these notions to be pure hearsay. His identity has remained a mystery to all but the closest of friends as he often travels in disguise and appears unannounced and undercover at concerts and venues in a dedicated effort to get the real story.

Go to the Werewolves of Woodstock page for more articles by Haven James.
Haven James can be contacted at

Posted on May 08, 1998

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