It was my “grand vision” to have this little studio out at this beautiful estate that I was the caretaker of, where all these local artists could come, help me learn about recording and production and create a larger musical scene that we could share with the world. After a few of these records were released, the once-weakling music publication known as New England Performer had a new editor, one that would start championing these very artists I was working with or playing shows alongside. Jeff began attending shows that they/we were playing. Driving from Bolton or Boston out to shows in Portsmouth, NH or Montague, MA or even to the Estate, where I would hold shows with Death Vessel, Matt Bauer, Tin Ceilings, Brian Michael Roff and the Deer, Tiger Saw, Milkweed and more.
Probably one of my fondest memories of hanging with Jeff was after one of these very shows. The Estate in Leominster was owned by Louise Doyle, whose father helped invent one of the first plastics in the U.S. and turned Leominster into the Plastics Capital. Miss Doyle, as she was commonly referred to, allowed me to set up a small recording studio in one of the unused buildings on the property. In reality, it was an entire reproduction colonial Cape House (fully furnished) set behind the main house and amongst a small organic orchard and garden that I’d been cultivating. It was an incredibly serene environment and a pretty magical place for people that were fortunate enough to have visited or worked there during that time.
Not only did the Doyle Estate have this little studio space and orchard/garden combo, but Louise’s father had built a gymnasium on the side of the former carriage house, which had been moved from one part of the property to another early in the 1900s. The gymnasium was the first place that I was “allowed” to record in. My band, Milkweed, recorded several songs in this glorious space, with its 20-foot high wainscotted ceilings and walls, cast iron basketball hoops, maple flooring, wooden dumbbells and rope swings. When I first came to work at the estate, I’d been helping out with the Trustees of Reservations, who had their Central Headquarters next door, in another Colonial-reproduction saltbox that Louise had built in the 70s. The gymnasium, at that time, was full of all sorts of high-end carpets from all over the world, old lawn furniture, apple boxes, and all sorts of odds n’ ends. It was dry, dusty and smelled of drying habanero peppers from the old caretaker who grew them. My first glance at the place and I thought, “Holy cow, this place sounds amazing! I want to record in here!” Within a year, that wish came true and then, a few years later, I began recording other bands in there, Jason Anderson’s “Tonight”, Nat Baldwin’s “Enter the Winter” and more. Shortly thereafter, I was hosting shows in the space, taking all the crap out of there and setting up the apple crates as a backdrop with Christmas lights everywhere. I set up folding chairs and the shows were well attended for just donations to the bands.
One evening after one of the shows, Jeff stayed behind and helped me fold up chairs and organize a bit. He asked if I wanted to go to his favorite ice cream spot, Rota Spring. I had never been there before, even though it was not far away in Sterling.
I had a tuxedo cat, Hank, that lived on the property and was out mousing. I always made sure Hank was back inside before it got too dark, so a fisher or coyote wouldn’t get him. It was still pretty early and the sun was a long way from setting, and Hank wanted to stay out late hunting. I think he knew I was trying to find him, so he was being extra sly. Jeff and I scouted all over the grounds looking for him, knowing that the ice cream place didn’t stay open all night…but Jeff hung on with me and eventually, after about an hour, we managed to find Hank hiding under Jeff’s yellow VW Beetle. I put Hank inside and Jeff and I went speeding off, hoping to get to Rota Spring before they closed. I was in my truck, following behind him, as I’d never been there before but knew the area well.
Sterling’s a pretty small town between Leominster and Clinton, not a lot of activity there. Jeff races up to this stop sign, with his blinker set to go left. He barely stops, rolls through the intersection and starts heading left. I stopped, then took the turn only to hear a siren coming up quick behind me. The cop swerves around me and catches up to Jeff and pulls him over. “Oh boy!” I think to myself and pull up behind both of their cars. The cop gets out of his car and starts talking to Jeff, who has this sweet and slightly confused look on his face, like he knows he probably did something wrong, but he’s not sure what exactly it was. After several minutes, the cop lets him go and we’re again off to Rota Springs.
When we got to this little farmstand out in the middle of nowhere, cows grazing in the field to the side, the dirt billows up as Jeff’s car races up the dirt driveway. We had the place to ourselves. The lot was empty, but the one young woman that worked there was still behind the counter, leaning on the windowsill. It was like she was waiting for Jeff to bring some newcomers to this little gem of a place. I got out of my truck and asked, “What did the cop say?” He sort of nonchalantly said, with his sly smirk and cool, deep voice, “Nice California roll buddy. I’m assuming that’s your friend behind us? Looks like he took the time to stop at the sign, but you were in a rush, eh? Where you in a rush to?” Jeff responded, “Rota Spring, before they close,” and it was like the cop knew why we were rushing and just said something along the lines of, “just be careful and enjoy your ice cream.” I don’t remember what flavors we got, but no one else showed up there that evening and we just sat at one of the picnic tables they had out, looking out over the field of the few cows they had at that time, watching the sun setting and talking about music and our hometowns. That place became a favorite of Miss Doyle’s in the last few years of her life. Friday afternoon, we’d drive on over so she could get coffee ice cream and sit and watch the cows (that she named) from her gold Volvo 240 wagon, as she raced to eat her ice cream before it melted. Whenever I go there, I think of Jeff and that first visit.
Over quite a few years, Jeff would always champion the various projects I was a part of or the people I had worked with. He would call or text me to ask if I had a band that wanted to perform on Pipeline! or to ask if I knew of someone that was looking for a place to live or help finding work or whatever. When I was on tour with Strand of Oaks in 2017, along with our good friend, Jason Anderson, he would text every so often to ask how things were going and to say that he’d seen us on Conan O’Brien’s show or that he had read about a show. He texted me about how excited he was that Kelly Clarkson had the Boston Typewriter Orchestra on her show and how his aunts were so proud of him. Maybe not for the music, but because he was on her show.
I always enjoyed seeing him and giving him a big hug. The last couple times I saw him were when Margaret Garrett, Gregg Porter and I played on Pipeline! in 2019 as True Horizon or Stone and Star (we changed names a lot in a few months!) I saw him again just before walking into the Royale to see Bitchin’ Bajas and Stereolab. We chatted for a bit, then decided to head inside and lost one another in the crowd. I figured I’d see him again soon enough. During the pandemic, we would text every so often and I kept trying to get him to come up north to mid-state New Hampshire, where I now live, to share one of my favorite ice cream spots, Sandwich Creamery. Schedules didn’t allow it and then I got a message from our good friend, Brian Roff, and another from Sam Potrykus telling me that Jeff had died. It broke my heart.
I couldn’t and still can’t imagine a world without someone so good-natured, so goofy, so intelligent and so passionate about so many things, but especially music. He helped transform the Boston music scene and the people within it. Jeff WAS the community that he championed. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if any of us would be in the positions we’re in. That being said, he had the gift to bring us all together and, hopefully, we can find a way to return the favor to him and bring the Boston music scene, or the music world in general, back together and make it bigger and better and tighter than it was. To champion one another, big or small. I don’t think we can wait for another Jeff Breeze to come into this world to do it for us.
Thank you, Jeff!