TV, movies, collectors discovering Poobah

Older Mahoning Valley rock fans may hear a familiar sound coming from their televisions.

The music of Poobah, which was formed in Youngstown in 1972, can be heard in the Epix television series “Graves” starring Nick Nolte and on the soundtrack for the film “Between Us,” currently streaming on Netflix. Two songs will be featured in the upcoming movie “Huntsville,” starring Sophie Turner (“Game of Thrones”) and Dylan McDermott (“The Practice,” “American Horror Story”), and Jim “Poobah” Gustafson said other projects are in the works.

“I received congratulations from all around the world (when the ‘Graves’ episode aired),” Gustafson said. “I’m really happy they chose Poobah for their project.”

Poobah toured heavily in the ’70s and played with such acts as Glass Harp, Alice Cooper, ZZ Top, The James Gang and Judas Priest, but the band never landed a major label record deal, and the indies that signed Gustafson tended to fold before they could give the music a proper release. It’s the kind of history that has turned many bands into footnotes, remembered by a few folks in their hometown if at all.

Poobah certainly hasn’t been forgotten. The band’s first album, 1972’s “Let Me In,” which was recorded at Peppermint Studios in Youngstown, is highly sought by vinyl collectors.

“In the ’80s, vinyl collectors started finding me somehow, and they were always hounding me to sell them these old records,” Gustafson said. “I got $300 for one vinyl record and couldn’t believe it. Then it kept on happening.”

Poobah has performed at several record conventions at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and the price for an original copy of “Let Me In” has reached as much as $1,000 on trading sites.

“It has never slowed down,” he said. “Even this week, I had two, three people message me. When I tell them an original is probably going to cost a thousand dollars, some still wanted to buy it. Some people like swimming pools and race cars, others like vinyl.”

Rolling Stone writer David Fricke called the 2010 reissue of “Let Me In” one of the top 10 reissues of that year, and an LA Weekly writer included Poobah in a story with the attention grabbing headline, “Five ’70s metal bands who are better than Black Sabbath.”

Gustafson never stopped making music. He’s released 13 albums, and Poobah’s next record, “Blue,” should be out in the next 30 days.

“It has a real Led Zeppelin-y feel this time around,” he said. “It’s definitely got a lot of complicated guitar solos.”

There’s also an early Johnny Winter influence on the record, and Gustafson said those blues influences have been a part of his music dating back to his pre-Poobah band Biggy Rat. Poobah — Gustafson, guitar and lead vocals; Kevin McIlvaine, bass; Michael Fortino, drums; and Lori Powers, percussion and backing vocals — will preview some of the new material Saturday at JR’z Pub in Austintown.

“We’ll play at least half of the new album at that show,” Gustafson said. “We go back to the ’60s and ’70s and find some really great songs and change them up a bit. Rather than play them like the record, we Poobah-ize them … And, of course, we do a lot of songs from ‘Let Me In.'”

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