Who: Joe Deuel, photographer, sound man.
Where: Caffè Lena.
You’re a native Saratogian. How long has your family been here? What did they do?
I’m the fifth generation. And everyone in town knew my dad. He was a pro bowler in the ‘50s and had a photo studio on Phila Street. Later, he ended up being the manager of Saratoga Bowl and Hi-Roc Lanes. I kind of grew up in bowling alleys.
How long have you been interested in photography?
I always had a camera in my hand, from the time I was eight. It was a cheap little thing and I was always shooting pictures. Later, they had a photo club when I was in junior high – it’s the Lake Avenue School now - and the first time I saw a print develop, that was it.
Do you remember the first time you came to the café?
I was in 12th grade and came here with two friends from high school. This was late ’72 or early ’73. Utah Philipps was recording his album called “Good Though!” That was my introduction to Caffè Lena. Utah turned out to be a real influence, a real teacher.
You have been the sound man at Caffè Lena for several decades. How did that start?
I came here to do the dishes one night and got wrapped up in the place. Someone asked me to do the sound one night for Peppino D’Agostino, the Italian guitar wizard. I helped him turn a few knobs, then Lena kind of stuck me on it and there was no getting out.
What are your lasting impressions of Lena, who died in 1989?
Lena was pretty complicated and fascinating in a lot of ways. I remember I’d go out on Thursdays and buy all the groceries for the weekend and come in and do sound and wait tables at the same time. On the days I wasn’t here I’d asked her, “Why don’t you call me, so I know you’re OK, or if you need anything.” So, she’d call me every morning. She was like my alarm clock. The first thing I did every morning was get a phone call from Lena, and we’d chat. It was sad when that stopped.
You have probably had many a-brush with fame?
This town’s crazy because with SPAC here. You can be sitting in Desperate Annie’s and the guy sitting next to you is Donovan. A friend of mine was sitting in the Parting Glass once, and Tom Waits walked in - still wearing his bum clothes from (filming the movie) “Ironweed,” and they were about to boot him out of there. Robert Plant came in one night. This town’s full of funny things. The first time the Talking Heads played at SPAC, the band showed up at the Bijou where we were watching Fear of Strangers, who were a great Albany band. I was wearing my Harley jacket and my Ramones T-shirt and Jerry Harrison walked up to me, laughed and said: Nice shirt. That cracked me up. We ended up chatting for a little while.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Saratoga Springs during your lifetime?
The bottom line for me is that I can’t afford to live here anymore. One thing I always looked for in apartments was how far the walk was from the café, because I was here all the time. Now it’s a 10-mile drive for me. It was such a threadbare, defunct town in the ‘70s. The stores on Caroline and Phila were pretty much shut down. There were some old stores on Broadway that had been there forever, then the mall came and that made it worse downtown. There were some great places I miss to this day, like Mabbett’s and Farmers Hardware. Even though the town now is gleaming and successful it’s gotten a little too precious. I think the ‘80s, when things started to come around, was a wonderful time here.