Riding the Sound Wave 

How Al Lucchesi built the biggest incubator in Bay Area music.

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Two years prior to graduating from Cal, then-21-year-old Lucchesi purchased a warehouse on 43rd Street at Telegraph — what was then a pretty crummy neighborhood at the edge of Temescal. Lucchesi took the biggest room for his own band, Risk, and rented the other two spaces out by the hour. Among his first clients was the metal band Testament — who was right on the verge of getting signed to Megaforce.

Flipsyde's Lopez was fifteen at the time, and used the space to rehearse with a garage outfit he started with his cousins. He'd grown up mostly in Richmond after immigrating to the US from Chile at age seven, and mastered his instrument by emulating metal gods like Chuck Billy of Testament. Meeting Billy at Lucchesi's studio was a religious experience. "I walked in, and I saw Testament there," Lopez recalled. "That was my favorite band as a kid. ... I was like, 'This is where I gotta be.'"

Four years later, Lucchesi opened the now-legendary Jackson Street Studios in Oakland's Chinatown, where he rented rehearsal space to such groups as Digital Underground, Metallica, Faith No More, Tony! Toni! Toné!, En Vogue, and Tupac Shakur. A former taxi dance club, the studio had one exceptionally large room where Lucchesi installed a big arena stage, bequeathed onto him by the band YMT. "It was cool because you'd get En Vogue and Faith No More at the same time, hanging out," Lucchesi recalled. "My Chinese neighbors never really got that there were bands in there. They thought it was the stereo for thirteen years."

Chuck Billy of Testament has similarly fond memories. "It was probably the coolest studio we ever rehearsed in," Billy said. "He had a bar in there. All the bands before they went on tour would set up their full PAs and monitors. Everybody kind of congregated over to the bar on Friday nights, it was like a little nightclub. People who didn't play music would just come to hang out."

In 1991, Lucchesi threw a release party for Tupac's first album, Tupacalypse Now. At that time, said Lopez, Lucchesi was one of the only people in the Bay Area willing to take a chance on a hip-hop show. "It's kind of the same story now," said DJ Fuze of Digital Underground. "Tupac was known as a street type of artist. As I remember, this is before people really knew who Tupac was, so it's kinda weird to me that people would really trip on a Tupac record release party. Just the typical fear of the hip-hop club. ... Back then, there was a strong rift between R&B and hip-hop. There was the crowd that did the electric slide and dressed in silky stuff, had Jeri curls. And then there was the hip-hop crowd, which was much more street." But Lucchesi wasn't tripping. His career as a practice facility mogul put him in contact with a whole pantheon of Oakland rappers. "I've always had a bunch of the top rap guys coming through: Too $hort, Too Big, Too Everything, Too Something," he said. "You always have to deal with the gangsta rap guys in a certain way. I prefer dealing with them to dealing with tweakers. At least you know where you stand with those guys."

According to Lopez, Lucchesi's ability to reach out to the disparate elements of the East Bay music scene has more to do with his personality than any attempts to be hip. "He's kinda out of touch as far as what's going on with radio," said Lopez. "He's just nice to people who are nice to him. He liked Tupac because Tupac was always respectful in the studio."

Lucchesi threw another big party for East Bay funk band Fungo Mungo when they signed to Polygram Records. He produced shows for Bart Davenport, whose underage rock band the Burminghams would throw Coca-Cola parties at Jackson Street. "They were totally mod," Lucchesi said. "They all rode scooters. They were trying to be Quadrophenia." He hosted the early Unsigned and Hella Broke parties launched by local hip-hop duo the Mystik Journeymen, whose Living Legends crew would eventually make good on its name.

At various points in his career, Lucchesi almost crossed over to being a promoter. He still produces shows and wants to launch a radio station and YouTube channel for Soundwave. But he's never quite been able to play the game. "I have a problem with authority figures and permits and stuff," he said. "That's not really good for a club person."

At the height of the Bay Area music scene in the early 1990s, Lucchesi had positioned his business as the preeminent rehearsal space in the East Bay. In 1993, after his house burned down in the Oakland hills fire, Lucchesi expanded to West Oakland, buying up an old furniture factory on Wood Street with leftover insurance money. With the help of his stoner construction crew, Lucchesi sandblasted the rafters at Wood Street, built wide, Hawaiian-style hallways that kept the place well-ventilated, divided the building into 22 rehearsal spaces that varied in size, installed a stage that he eventually hopes to rent out for showcases and video shoots, and built a bar next to the front entrance. He decorated the vestibule walls with painted bass drum heads and posters representing a long lineage of East Bay bands, all of which graced Lucchesi's studios at some point in their careers: Counting Crows; Faith No More; KGB; Rancid. Upright pianos, arcade video games, old coffee dispensers, and electric organs still clutter the hallway.

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