Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Interview and photos by James Damion

For the longest time, years to be honest. I’ve had Peter Tabbot on my list of people I wanted to interview. Given his thirty years as guitarist with New Jersey’s Vision to his contributions to the rock documentary "Riot on the Dancefloor" to his hard work as a health officer and educator, there were so many questions to ask and things to talk about. As one who often sees the bands and musicians I followed in my teens, twenties, and beyond as heroes, I feel an importance to approach their stories from various angles. This way, we get to see them beyond their time on the stage and what was sewn within the songs on a record.

The Beginning

Q: What was your introduction to Hardcore and Punk music?

Peter: Having grown up as a child/teen in the 70s and early 80s, I was a classic rock/metal enthusiast when I was a kid. I went from classic rock to your typical early 80s metal like Priest and Maiden, and then someone turned me on to the first Metallica album and other thrash/underground metal in ’83. Two friends at high school introduced me to punk rock, so it wasn’t until the mid-80s that I became obsessed with hardcore and punk, and began attending shows seemingly every weekend. I discovered most of the music through fanzines or by picking up an EP or album on a particular label, and then based on that, buying more releases from the same labels. I found a lot of great music that way on labels like Buy Our Records, Dischord, BYO, Frontier, etc. Same goes for some of the old British punk imprints. I only wish I hadn’t parted with most of the old hardcore and punk vinyl I used to have, and I had a lot.

Q: What was it that made you want to be in a band?

Peter: My parents were pretty conservative when I grew up, and I think I inherently wanted to break out of any kind of familial norms or expectations. Certainly, discovering and loving Kiss circa 1976, when I was eight years old, set me on that path. I began really appreciating guitar players/performances, in particular, when I was 11 or 12, and my uncle gave me my first acoustic guitar when I was 12. When I got my first electric guitar at around 15, it was inevitable that a band would follow – it just took some time to meet like-minded folks. I just wanted to play loud (who didn’t?), and I knew nothing would be as satisfying as playing live with others. My first band was called Mercy Killer, but within a few months I was playing with some other hardcore kids in a band called Chronic Fear. We did two demos in the mid-80s before I started playing with the guys in Vision. Meeting and playing with them is a bit of a funny story, but perhaps for another day. ??

Q: From the very beginning, Vision’s sound was very catchy and upbeat with a lot of rhythm and tempo changes. You reminded me a lot of Verbal Assault, which by the way is some of the highest praise I can give. What were some of the bands’ early influences?

Peter: Wow, that is awfully high (and undeserved) praise. Even more so because Verbal Assault was one of Vision’s very favorite bands, especially during our first few years together (’87 through the early 90s). Our early and consistent influences were all over the map, but if I had to name some of the artists that we most admired, it would include melodic hardcore punk like VA, Dag Nasty, SNFU, Adolescents/DI, TSOL, Descendents, Bad Religion, Bad Brains, Social Unrest, Social Distortion…Heavier sounds like much of the mid to late 80s NYHC…Early punk rock, particularly Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash and some late 70s LA punk…and plenty of classic rock, which – by virtue of our collective ages and upbringings – is in our DNA.

When it came to our songwriting and some of the lyrical subject matter, we definitely were influenced most heavily by the melodic hardcore of the mid-80s and similar music being produced by our contemporaries. I don’t know that our sound was terribly derivative, but you definitely can hear the influence of some of those bands in particular tracks. Our second album, Just Short of Living, which didn’t get widely distributed due to some label issues/limitations, kind of bleeds some of the Verbal Assault and heavier NYHC influences. We also experimented a bit, adding some different time signatures, dissonant chord structures, multiple guitar tracks with different meters or melodies, etc. With the rest of our albums and EPs, you can probably hear the melodic southern California and DC hardcore punk influence over the years. I am a HUGE fan of melodic HC guitarists like Brian Baker, Rikk Agnew, Ron Emory and Doug Holland, and I was writing an awful lot of our music, so the influences appear pretty clearly in the recorded material. We not only infused a handful of our songs with deliberate homages to some our favorite bands, but also wore our influences on our sleeves in other subtle (or not so subtle) ways. As mentioned, we all loved SLF, especially our bass player at the time, Chris, so our first album – with a bar code filter revealing portions of a live photo – was clearly inspired by SLF’s ‘Nobody’s Heroes’ album cover…And naming our late 90s album ‘The Kids Still Have a Lot to Say’ was obviously a nod to SSD’s classic, ‘The Kids Will Have Their Say.’ At the risk of being derivative, we thought it was important to recognize those who came before us and influenced us.

Q: Looking back, is there a song or album you’re particularly fond of?

Peter: Boy, that’s a good question. Our songwriting changed over the years, so I guess I like each of our releases for different reasons. The second album, ‘Just Short of Living,’ was barely released (1,000 copies on a label that soon became defunct), but I love the production quality and we experimented quite a bit on that record. The lyrics are also a bit deep and complex, and occasionally dark. Dave, our late singer, looked at the lyrics I had written for the album and quipped, ‘We’re gonna have to give out a pocket dictionary with each album.’ Too funny. Our third full-length, ‘The Kids Still Have a Lot to Say,’ is full of the kind of speed and melody that we really enjoyed, and there are a handful of songs on that release that are among my favorites. Even the EPs we did kind of defined where we were at musically and mentally, so there very well may be something on each release that I like. Some songs, like ‘Falling Apart’ or ‘The Kids,’ were fairly melodic and always had a lot of participation live for singalongs, so they may be near the top of that list for me – those songs that actually inspired people to sing along.

Q: In retrospect, what are some of your takeaways from being in a band, playing shows, touring, recording and putting out records?

Peter: I guess my takeaways from 30 years playing in the same hardcore punk band would be similar to those of anyone who found this music, became passionately devoted to it and also tried to develop a voice within the genre…Having an outlet to express the things that moved me and mattered to me through lyrics, and knowing there was a similar group of people who felt similarly, was inspiring…Whether playing those songs as a teenager or through my forties, it always felt inclusive, special and sacred in a way. Whether we were booked in a studio, touring or playing a weekend show, it was always an amazing feeling to plug in, turn up and play loud, aggressive music with several close friends whom you love. It was always a bonus if others cared enough to pick up the latest album or come see you play on a tour. The thing is, it would be very different if it was a band that played cover songs or bars, or played another type of music. Doing this with different bands for nearly 35 years – punk bands – is what made it special, and it showed me time and again that anyone can do it, everyone can have a voice, and that everyone’s participation and passion matters.

Dave Franklin, RIP

A Death in the Family

Q: How shocking was Dave’s passing to those close to him? Had he been sick for some time?

Peter: Losing Dave, who founded the band, was a shock to all of us. Dave was one of my very best friends, though over the last couple of years of his life, we hadn’t seen or spoken with one another as often as we had during the years prior. Dave had been living with his girlfriend and her daughter for a number of years and had just moved to Florida with his them a few months before his passing. We played a long weekend of shows in Boston, NYC and Philadelphia in November 2016, and Dave drove up from Florida and stayed with me for nearly a week. He was fit, looked great and was in great spirits. A month and a half later, he was gone. Dave was so full of life, always charismatic and energetic – it was truly a shock.

Q: I saw footage of the memorial show. It was quite moving, to say the very least. How did the idea come about and was anyone the least bit surprised by the outpouring of love and support?

Peter: The tribute show of April 2, 2017 was pretty ridiculous in terms of the love, support, turnout and positivity. The circumstances that enabled the show were obviously tragic, but what we made of it was beautiful. In a nutshell, there was the formal funeral/visitation, at which I was honored to provide Dave’s eulogy…But it was clear to me and a number of Dave’s close friends that a real memorial for Dave would have to be in the form of live music. Dave lived for music and had hundreds of friends and acquaintances through the punk/hardcore community in New Jersey, alone. A handful of friends contacted me, expressing interest in putting together a tribute show in memory of Dave – something that would symbolize all he meant to our scene. Two friends in particular, Jay Dermer and Jenn Schaefer-Molnar, really wanted to do something special. Jay runs Asbury Audio, which is one of the very best audio/live production companies in New Jersey, and he has been affiliated with venues like the Asbury Park Convention Hall and the Stone Pony, etc., for years. He facilitated the space and all aspects of the live production/sound/stage…Jenn helped oversee some of the finances and transportation to get many of the artists there…I handled a number of the band bookings, promotions, communications, merchandise, etc. So we all collaborated with everything in our hearts to try and create a meaningful event that was befitting of Dave’s legacy and larger than life personality – and we also decided it had to be a charitable event.

A number of other friends, some of whom had solid experience with event planning, stage management, catering, etc., chipped in. And SO many bands whom we had played with since 1987 stepped up – they all loved Dave and wanted to be a part of it. The best part is that all of the participating bands were artists whom we had shared bills with over the 30 years we were together. The lineup was pretty ridiculous, including H20, Agnostic Front, Murphy’s Law, Burn, Leeway, Sheer Terror, Shades Apart, Killing Time, Breakdown, Bold, Maximum Penalty, Ex Number Five and many more. We got to play one final set of our songs, also, with guest singers from many of the aforementioned bands and others, including Lifetime, World Inferno Friendship Society and the Bouncing Souls. Every guest was very meaningful and a close friend of Dave’s/the band. As mentioned, we made it a charitable event and I selected two organizations, with Dave’s family’s blessing, that I knew Dave would have gotten behind – The North Shore Animal League and Rock to the Future. Helping find homes for abandoned animals and helping put music and leadership into the lives of underprivileged children are both causes that Dave would have supported wholeheartedly. Even with the very low ticket price of $25 for a show of that scope, we were able to raise $20,000 for those two organizations. And nearly 3,000 people attended the show. We were pretty amazed when over 900 tickets sold during the first 24 hours they were available.

Q: As someone who never learned how to properly process or deal with death, I’ve become somewhat curious as to how others deal and heal when it comes to a lost friend, loved one or family member. Would you be open to sharing how you dealt with this unfortunate part of life?

Peter: Coming to terms with Dave’s death was a bit of a process with a few different dynamics. He was one of my best friends and part of my life for over 30 years, so there was that shock and pain…It also meant the end of a band and decades-long activity that partly defined me and was a part of my identity…and there was also the recognition of how much he meant to so many, and the unbelievable number of calls, texts, emails, etc., that I was receiving immediately after people learned about it. I guess the latter part of it really helped, having so many people around who adored Dave and shared so many similar experiences with him over the years. You often hear people say that old quote, that friends are the family you choose…and I think that is magnified in our music community…which means Dave had the largest family I can imagine. I’m really grateful to have been surrounded by so many people who loved Dave and who could share the same memories and stories. I’m also grateful for all the personal time I spent with Dave over the years, and it is sometimes those memories that help buoy one’s spirits when a tragedy like this befalls friends and family. In the case of Dave’s passing and as is often the case when losing someone, it was absolutely the sheer magnitude of support and community that helped many of us through it. Jimmy G from Murphy’s Law came up to me after the eulogy I delivered at the funeral and hugged me, and I’m certain he was weeping, and you are quickly reminded that despite the things that separate us, be it time, distance, work or family, we are all the same and lean on one another.

Pete Tabbot

Putting in the Work

Q: What exactly is a health officer? What are some of the roles and responsibilities?

Peter; ‘Health Officer’ is the name of a license I hold from the State of New Jersey and also my job title. The job is essentially director of a regional health department. I earned a Registered Environmental Health Specialist license from NJ after graduating college, and immediately went to work in a local health department. After completing my master’s degree in public health, I was eligible to test for the health officer license. That was 23 years ago and I’ve been running a regional health department in NJ for the last 22 years. I have about 20 full-time equivalent employees, including environmental health specialists (health inspectors), public health nurses, animal control officers, a health educator, and support/clerical staff. I also contract for physician and veterinarian services.

My department serves 64,000 residents in five municipalities. In my work – which has been completely consumed for most of 2020 by overseeing the local public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic – I have to manage staff, budgets, programs and policies, and have to make sure that all relevant State statutes, codes and local regulations are adhered to. The department provides environmental enforcement and inspection; clinical services for infants, children and adults/elderly; health promotion programs, disease reporting; etc. The pandemic has been exceedingly challenging, since my department has to perform all the disease investigation and contact tracing for each positive case of COVID in our jurisdiction.

Q: My half-brother became a teacher in September of this year and is currently working towards becoming an English Professor at St. Johns’. What led you to want to become a teacher? What were your early experiences as a teacher and in education?

Peter: Interestingly, I had never really thought of teaching, though I absolutely love it and have been an adjunct professor at Rutgers University in NJ for 22 years. A colleague had begun teaching there and recommended me for an open position, so I started teaching a basic public health course. I was asked to developed a few additional curricula, and I have been teaching four different courses year-round for many years now. It’s a part-time job but given that I work 50 – 60 hours a week in my primary job (not including some of the insane COVID hours), two or three courses per semester sometimes feels like much more than it sounds. I was also asked, about eight years ago, to be faculty coordinator for a post-grad program that trains our future licensed environmental health specialists…and that is an incredibly rewarding and intensive summer-long commitment. It’s a lot more teaching, exam writing and content selection, and I manage work of a couple dozen other professors/instructors, etc. So I’m basically an apparition during the summers – I come up for air once in a while but don’t get out much. Despite the degree of work – it feels like I spend most of my time bouncing between the jobs – I absolutely love what I do, and love public health. Discovering punk rock when I was younger definitely helped lead me to public service, volunteerism and teaching…and it also made me more conscientious and compelled me to examine the important issues we face. Naturally, much the subject matter I came to care about made it into lyrics over the years – from social inequities to freedom of expression, environmental stewardship and the human condition. Oh Christ, that sounds so presumptuous!

Q: What would you consider as the biggest rewards and drawbacks of teaching on a collegiate level?

Peter: The biggest reward is easy: My favorite thing about teaching college students is just feeling like I have even a tiny role in their development and transition from the academic to professional world…and maybe turning them onto some of the many things that appeal to me about public and environmental health. Similarly, one of my favorite experiences is running into former public health students a few years later, and seeing them working in the field and making small differences. There really is no drawback, except for how harried I sometimes feel working two/three jobs year-round!

Q: How do you balance teaching at Rutgers with your work as a health officer?

Peter: With a lot of caffeine…and not much of a social life. ?? I’ve been doing both for a long time, so despite how busy it can be, you develop a bit of a routine over time, as with most things.

Riot on the Dance Floor

Q: . How did you become involved with co-producing the City Gardens documentary? What was your role and what was it like working with so many creative individuals? Is there a person or exchange that particularly stood out?

Peter: I was so lucky to become deeply involved with the production of Riot on the Dance Floor. Vision was sort of a local house band at City Gardens in the late 80s and early 90s, and we probably played there at least a dozen times, so Steve Tozzi, the film director, called me to interview for the film. Before I knew it, I was calling others to interview, setting up some shoot locations, assisting Steve creatively and in a variety of ways. This went on for a few years while the film was being developed and made, and it was amazing to be part of the process in so many ways. Along the way, after I had been doing some of the work a while, Steve told me that he was naming me co-producer of the film, along with authors Steve DiLodovico and Amy Yates-Wuelfing, and legendary photographer (and good friend of 33 years) Ken Salerno, and I’m SO grateful to Steve T. (who is a creative genius) and the co-producers for their generosity and collaborations.

Besides all the interviews, shoots, editing and other activities that Steve had me help with, the experience that probably stands out the most was the opportunity to write and record original music for the soundtrack, which you can hear over the closing credits of the film and over Ken’s photo gallery on the bonus DVD. I hadn’t written much music in a while and was inspired, and I asked some amazing musicians/friends to record the original music and a few hardcore punk covers with me – Alf Bartone of Ex Number Five, Ed Brown of Shades Apart and Nate Gluck of Ensign. I named the band House of Others after a Daniel Halpern poem and the track you’ll hear is called Memento Mori (it’s on YouTube and probably a streaming service or two). The song is about the club and its promoter and is also very self-referential, given the theme of loss and trying to find one’s way. We also recorded covers of Agent Orange, Dag Nasty and Descendents for the film. In addition, I took one of my favorite young NJ punk bands, The Scandals, into a Philadelphia studio to produce/record a few of their songs for the film and its promotion. I love their singer/songwriter Jared Hart like a little brother, and admire all he has done musically.

Q: Being from New York, I had only been to a couple of shows at City Gardens. Those trips were also the only times I’d been to Trenton. As a kid growing up and hanging out on the Bowery, I kind of brought some of that elitist, “I’m from Noo Yawk” attitude to any Jersey shows I attended. That said, Trenton scared the tough out of me. Myself and the people I tagged along with were lucky to get out alive. Sorry, for the lengthy description, but I was really curious about getting insight about your own experiences there and some of the people who played and went to shows there regularly.

Peter: Having grown up in northern New Jersey, about 30 miles west of Manhattan, my first hardcore punk live shows and experiences were very much like yours – going to CBGB and the nearby record stores most weekends…Hanging in Tompkins Square or the Bowery and just waiting every week for Sunday afternoon matinee shows. In the mid-80s, a coworker named Miles took me and a mutual friend to City Gardens in Trenton and I was pretty blown away. It became my other weekend destination besides CBs, and pretty much every show featured two to four national acts (or equivalent) for less than $10. It was a bit scary when I first went – as a teenager, having long hair at first, and also being in the bowels of Trenton…But it quickly became like a second home, particularly after my band began playing there. I am still friends with the promoter and a few bouncers who date back to my experiences there 30 – 35 years ago. Like any punk club of the mid-80s, there were a few bad actors who attended shows there, but the majority of people were just fantastic and became fast friends. Considering it was right in between NYC and Philly (home to many great shows and many of the same tours), it was kind of against all odds that a warehouse space in a bad part of Trenton would routinely be filled with up to 1,000 people…But that speaks to the quality of the bands, the reasonable door prices, and the great taste and intuition of the promoter, who consistently brought amazing bands through the place, helped break bands on the cusp of big things, and gave local bands like ours a chance to play to a larger audience. I absolutely loved that place and basically grew up there, along so many others whom I have called my friends ever since.



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