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After years of dutifully filling audience requests for James Taylor and Neil Young covers at Dylan’s Cafe and Quigley’s, American University’s own Peter Elliott packed up and relocated to New York in midsummer. Within weeks of his arrival in NYC, Elliott’s Upper West Side digs were thieved of sound equipment and instruments, including a vintage Fender Strat worth over $17,000. Then came a protracted but ultimately fruitless tryout for the Conan O’Brien show’s band, where, according to Elliott, producers of the show made him jump through a few too many hoops—such as filming, at personal expense, a music video—before hiring somebody else.

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But since the Conan kiss-off, Elliott’s fortunes have improved. He recently finished recording 13 original tracks at Manhattan’s Skyline Studios, and in the process convened a lineup of session players far more high-profile than any label-less artist could hope for: Saturday Night Live‘s G.E. Smith on guitar; Bowie and Pure Prairie League veteran Eric Parker on drums; and longtime Dylan backer Kenny Arensen on bass, to name a few. Not bad for a guy whose performing career hadn’t yet exceeded coffee-housing and whose discography was limited to low-budget demos.

The key to getting known quantities to sit in on an unknown quantity’s sessions, Elliott attests, is aggressive and selective name-dropping. Dave Beal, a casual acquaintance and former drummer for Joe Cocker, provided Elliott with just enough names to get started. “If you can get one guy, just finagle one key guy into working with you, then they all want to work with you,” Elliott explains. “The musicians I played with here are all friends of each other. They all hang out together anyway, so you try to get it down to being just a social thing for them, and they’ll go for it.”

Elliott is scheduled to take his self-produced (but star-studded) master tapes to Los Angeles in November for mixing, after which he plans to “shop the crap out of” the still-untitled collection to record companies. And if the labels turn a deaf ear, Elliott has other plans: He has assumed management duties for two New York-based acts, explaining that the same hustling skills he used to assemble his all-star studio band could help him sell other artists as well.