Gene D. Plumber
He’s been working two jobs for a long time – he’s been a fixture under sinks and on stage in Hoboken since the 1970’s. Gene Turonis, aka Gene D. Plumber, is finally ready to put down the wrench and pick up the guitar full-time. On his new album Gene has truly found his voice – a gravelly outer shell that sandpapers into a smooth sweet center. Gene cut solo vocal and guitar tracks for this album and then brought in some great players under the watchful eye of Marc Jonson, a producer and songwriter perhaps best known for writing the song “Love Radiates Around,” made popular by The Roches.
The album features Gene on a number of originals, both poetic and humorous, as well as a few cherished covers. As a child of rock and roll, he embraced the music of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee, and all the great 45’s getting cut in New Orleans by the likes of Little Richard and Fats Domino. Having discovered county music in college, he is well versed in the repertoires of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rogers – self-identifying as a George Jones “freak.” Gene actually met Jones twice, and say’s “He was the scariest person I’ve ever come across – but what a voice.” The fancy chords Gene throws into the mix here and there show that some of his all-time favorite artists are jazz musicians. The Americana feel in his music pays homage to his musical heroes, from the 20’s and 30’s through the 50’s. He calls his music “swinging honkytonk-a-billy.”
He graduated high school in 1963 and bounced around a number of colleges in the area, studying acting and philosophy. Then a friend took him to Hoboken one night where he met the electric psychedelic jug band, The Insect Trust, at a guitar player Bill Barth’s apartment. “It was a place down by the waterfront, “ recalled Gene, “I had never seen roaches like that, just crawling across the kitchen table.” He was grossed out; still something about the visit kept him coming back. In 1971 he began calling Hoboken his home, and expect for a year in Nashville, he hasn’t left since.
He met his future wife, Renee, a Hoboken B&R (born and raised), while on a plumbing job where she was the family babysitter. They got married in town in 1981 and three bands played at their wedding over the course of the 12 hour celebration; they’ve been together ever since.
Hoboken was a run-down port town in those days, it had really gone to ruin when the shipping industry left. The mayor, the city council and the school board were mostly cops or ex-cops. The local bohemian scene centered around The Insect Trust, who put out an album called Hoboken Saturday Night. The band’s multi-instrumentalist, Luke Faust, became a mentor to Gene, who helped the fledgling guitar player shape the style he plays to this day. Luke once told Gene, “Be careful of what you listen to because it will change you.”
Gene was also educated by Jim Hans, who ran the Hoboken Historical Society in its early days. Jim threw a lot of parties and schooled Gene with his extensive collection of jazz records from the 20’s and 30’s. “To this day Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday are my favorite musicians”, says Gene.
Oddly, Gene never saw The Insect Trust play. “People played music sitting around the kitchen, but there wasn’t a music scene at all when I got here.” He would travel into the Village to see the Unholy Modal Rounders and found further guidance and inspiration in the music making of the Rounders’ Peter Stampfel. Another member of that scene, Michael Hurley, also played a large part in forming Gene’s musical persona.
Gene has an endless enthusiasm for making music; he has been a constant on the scene for over 40 years, through the changing face of the town. While plumbing the depths of Hoboken and raising a family, he always found gigs; he never let the music slip away. Gene has put in his 10,000 hours – playing, singing, and songwriting – mostly in his basement after a long day of work. People have described Gene’s music as real, authentic, and direct, three words that happen to describe him as a person, too.
From the kitchen table bohemian scene of the early 1970’s through the rise of Maxwell's, punk rock and grunge, Gene and his band, D Plumbers, kept plugging away. With All the Pretty Girls, he’s planning to travel farther afield, beyond the mile square city. Last year he traveled to Paris and played the basket houses over there for a week. So watch for him, he may be playing a club or house concert near you. And if you have a leaky pipe…