Want a free taste of Simon Chardiet’s flamethrower take on rockabilly? Download “Take It Easy, Greasy” an obscure 1958 rave-up by Bill Lehman that gets Bar Sinistered on Simon’s latest CD, Music for All Occasions.

A scrappy, motormouthed wildman with a low-slung Les Paul Special and an equal affinity for Charlie Parker and Link Wray, Simon Chardiet may very well be one of the best guitar players in New York City—and he’s got the decades of paying dues and the late rent to prove it. A longtime fixture on the notoriously fickle and low-paying downtown club scene, Chardiet’s shows fronting the raucous and rowdy Bar Sinisters have provided countless New York fans a schooling in rock and roll's deep roots with an improvised set that veers from rockabilly to bebop to swing to hardcore—all at a hundred miles an hour. A firebrand of musical opinions (“Swing is a verb. To swing. Something swings or it doesn't. It is not a noun!” he says, referring to the swing music revival of the ’90s), backed up with serious musical chops (“Can I read music? I can read mouse crap on a piece of paper from across the room”), and a surprisingly honeyed vocal delivery, Chardiet never lets his musicianship get in the way of the primitive fury of his playing. If you have ever doubted the sonic power of P-90s and a wraparound, a few minutes of Chardiet’s playing will make you a believer. And a few minutes talking to him is a good reminder of the dedication and determination it takes to pursue a life of music.

“In the ’70s I played in an Italian-American wedding band,” Chardiet recalls. “This was during the whole Saturday Night Fever era. My boss used to kick me if I hit a wrong note. He had those pointy wing-tip shoes with the see-through black socks, and he used to kick me in the ankle really hard. He was really smart about it. The shoes were pointy, and he’d get me right in the Achilles tendon.”

On another occasion, Simon did a show but was denied a meal by the club he’d just played. Chardiet’s response? To hijack a tray of meatballs from the kitchen, shoveling them into the back of his amplifier and eating them on the subway ride home.

Such is life for Chardiet and the revolving line-up of the Bar Sinisters. The lousy gigs may come and go, but what endures is the artist himself and a true rock and roll spirit—not to mention Chardiet’s high-energy, high-octane, unrepentant fusion of rockabilly, punk, surf, rock, and just about any other genre of music that you can name. What’s also lasted is Simon’s love of Gibsons.

“A Gibson can do anything that any other guitar can do, but other guitars can’t do what a Gibson can do,” Chardiet explains. “End of story.”

His true loves are two P-90 equipped Les Pauls of the ’50s—a 1954 Les Paul Goldtop and a 1957 Les Paul Special.

“That guitar just kills,” Simon says. “It has the deepest, growliest sound… That guitar wants to mess with you, man! It’s got the tone from hell.” And his love for the Special goes even deeper than its tone—without the Special, he never would have gotten the ’54.

Chardiet stumbled upon the ’54 Les Paul in the early 1980s, as he struggled to make ends meet in the wake of the city’s legendary punk explosion.

“I saw it in the window of this place when I was about 24,” Chardiet recalls. “I went in and I told the guy who worked there, ‘I want that guitar!’ I had no money—I’ve been poor my whole life. And he was like, ‘You can’t have it.’ I kept going back there trying to get it. It was kind of beat up—not real beat-up, but you could tell somebody had played it. It had that giant baseball-bat neck, and the frets were worn down and the back pick-up had lost a lot of power, but it still was like the best guitar. Finally, one day I went back in there, and I was like, ‘I’ve gotta have this!’ I had five bucks on me, so I gave him the five bucks. I hopped the subway turnstile so I could get home and grab my other guitar.”

Simon employed the 1957 Les Paul Special to pay off the ’54 Goldtop. Morning and night, Chardiet would play the ’57 on the streets of New York—during the city’s high-crime days of the early 1980s.

“I had that Special and a battery-powered amp,” he remembers. “I’d just play all day until my hands gave out, and at the end of the day I’d have a bag of change. I’d go back into the store where I got the ’54 and give the guy a brown paper bag of quarters. And man, was he mad. But he’d take ’em. I gotta give him that. He let me pay for a ’54 Les Paul in quarters! I’d play all day, give him the money, then I’d go home and eat government cheese. That’s how I paid off that guitar.”

Over the years, Chardiet has weathered the hype and dashed hopes that many musicians suffer as they are courted by labels whose interest then cools. He has offset the hard times teaching guitar to some of the city’s most well-known guitarists—the ones who fared better for being a little more photogenic, a little more cooperative, a little more digestible.

These days, Chardiet can still be found playing on the streets at least once a week to offset his regular club gigs. “It ain’t for a lot of money, but money attracts money, so you’ve gotta always keep something coming in,” Chardiet explains. “I’ve been playing my whole life. I’m not famous, and I haven’t been in a magazine in a long time. I’m not in the mass media. But I could walk around New York, and everybody in the street knows me. I’m a street guy.”

If you are in New York City, and you want to hear some fierce musical integrity filtered through a set of vintage P-90s, check out Simon and the Bar Sinisters—at a downtown bar or street corner or subway platform, depending on the weather. Rain or shine, Chardiet is playing.