Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs 2009

Our readers and critics pick their favorites.

(page 20 of 21)

Lou and Vince Durso (Photo by Shane McCauley)Prime Cuts

Along with the faintly sweet scent of talc and tonic, distinctive music fills an old-fashioned barbershop. While severed clumps of hair drift silently to the floor, the swish of sheets, the staccato snips of clippers, and the hum of electric shears create a symphony both timeless and cutting-edge.

Such is the case at Vince’s Barber Shop, (Best Barber Shop and Recording Studio in One) which has been shaping scalps for four decades. Directly above the first-floor shop, however, the orchestration is headier and the gear higher tech. This space houses Optimus Recordings, a state-of-the-art studio that spans the musical scene from high school wannabes to top names in the industry. And the cat who owns Optimus cuts hair downstairs.

Lou Durso, a Marple Newtown High School grad, began working at his father’s shop in 1996, after eight years as a full-time musician playing club dates with various bands became a grind. Vince Durso had been barbering since the age of 13, starting in his native Naples, Italy. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1962, he grabbed a chair at a Newtown Square shop and took over the business 10 years later. In 2001, he moved the operation a few blocks to St. Albans Circle.

Before Vince’s reopened at its new digs, Lou already had turned the second floor into a studio. “It’s a place built by musicians,” says chief engineer Michael Nuceder, who learned his trade alongside rock icon Jimi Hendrix’s recording engineer.

Nuceder’s skills and temperament are a natural fit for Durso’s studio. “It’s pretty much my home,” says Nuceder, who’s also engineered at MilkBoy Recording in Ardmore.

In New York, Nuceder spent a decade at the legendary Electric Lady Studios, built by Hendrix not long before his death in 1970 and the site of recordings by Billy Joel, John Lennon and other superstars. “I try to bring that level of experience and apply it to local bands,” says Nuceder.

The Optimus reach now extends well beyond this area, and Ardmore natives Joe Mass and Michael Sembello have provided additional thrust. A guitarist and keyboardist, Mass is Sembello’s music director and an Optimus associate producer. He recently recorded several of his own songs at the studio, which has sent them (via computer, the primary means of communication in today’s music business) to Cincinnati-based producer Bootsy Collins, a bass guitar wizard who backed James Brown in the early 1970s and has recorded with Mass. Collins has been gathering material to submit to such contemporary artists as Beyoncé and Kid Rock.

Sembello, who was Stevie Wonder’s lead guitarist and wrote “Maniac” (the signature song from the ’80s hit movie Flashdance), laid down some tracks at Optimus a few months ago and plans to return to the studio.

For his part, Nuceder says the equipment at Optimus measures up to what you’ll find anywhere else. As for the studio’s owner, Durso continues to pull double-duty as upstairs musician/head-honcho and downstairs barber. And that, oddly enough, is how two businesses sharing the same domicile at the top of the circle in Newtown Square make beautiful music together.

—Jim Waltzer

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