In a conversation I had once with Jim Jarmusch, he asked me if I was into the "late 70's Cleveland punk scene". I said yes, and we immediately started to nerd out about the music. He told me how he had interviewed a lot of the groups, about the original 7in records he had, and asked what the Pirate's Cove in Cleveland was like nowadays. It's funny how music creates a sense of time and place for people.
Growing up in Stow, Ohio, I've been unintentionally exposed in one way or another to this music of a bygone area; a kind of Rock 'n' Roll music of the strangest breed. Influenced by the weirdo humor and creativity of cult TV icon Ghoulardi, and the minimal guitar work of The Velvet Underground, there's no real name for it - but the music from this time has it's own unique sound, a North East Ohio sound.
I remember seeing episodes of The Drew Carey Show with specific reference to a particular NE Ohio band, which my parents had to explain to me. My mother used to get her printing work from the guitarist of the Bizarros. Every time the intro of The Rugrats would come on, I was reminded of who wrote the music. And when I went to college, a teacher of mine did a little documentary for PBS on the sound of Akron. This music is carved into the deep recesses of my brain and it makes me so proud to say I'm from Ohio. So here's a sample of some awesome alternative music from 1970's North East Ohio.
GRANICUS, a band from 1973 Cleveland....singing about getting out of Cleveland.
This may be the beginning of the NE Ohio sound. It's hard rock but... whats going on here? The middle breakdown of the song turns into this goofy talk/sing thing in weird cartoon like inflections. "Someday I'd like to take you downtown Cleveland,down/down/down/downtown/ down to the Cuyahoga River/where we can wait for it to catch on fire/Where we can roast our wee-wee's/ and have ourselves a little picnic." This of course mocking Mr. Robert Plant in all his majestic Led Zeppelin glory. Pretty fun if you ask me. Too bad they never got to leave Cleveland...
Of course we all know DEVO. They are permanently ingrained into the pop culture zeitgeist thanks to their quirky song and video "Whip it," and uhh...funny power dome hats? My Aunt went to the second Devo show ever at Kent State, and said it was the worst thing she's ever seen. Well at that time they were making fart noises on synths over primitive rock 'n' roll, so that's understandable. But what if you're into synth fart noises? Then you're in heaven.
Here's an great early demo song and a video somebody did with their cat...
ELECTRIC EELS, Cleveland's best kept secret. A band with a reputation for playing lawn mowers on stage, guy-on-guy makeout sessions to freak out working-class Midwesterners, and Nazi memorabilia shock tactics (before Johnny Thunders, Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux mind you). This was art terrorism at its most extreme in the the 1970's. I never really understood how protopunk of say The Stooges or The Velvet Underground became what is now known as punk until I listened to this band. I mean, shit, "Agitated" was from 1975 and he's sneering like Johnny Rotten. This band deserves way more attention and should be credited as the first punk band.
This is a contender for my all time favorite song EVER.
PETER LAUGHNER was a very important musician and music critic for NE Ohio. Laughner had his paws in Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu. He has a record of rare recordings from the 70's that was released in the early 90's called Take the Guitar Player for a Ride. Within is some fantastic Lou Reed influenced folk rock with fractured psych influences. Would have been interesting to see where he could have went next. He died of acute pancreatitis in 1977.
Laughner's own "Heroin."
ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS, notable for splitting into two great bands: Pere Ubu and The Dead Boys. With contributions from the late great Peter Laughner, this proto-punk band from Cleveland was more ferocious than either the bands it split into. With a raw, aggressive and dirty experimental blues sound, its a shame they never properly recorded an album in their heyday. But perhaps these damaged recordings are better than anything they could have created in a studio?
PERE UBU took the more avant garde parts of Rocket from the Tombs and expanded upon them to make music which they dub, "Avant Garage". Taking cues from Krautrock (particularly CAN), they released "Tokyo/Heart of Darkness" in 1975 and then "Final Solution/Cloud 149" in 1976. Out of their entire career I feel these two songs are their best.
After leaving Rocket from the Tombs, Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz scooped up Stiv Bators and called themselves Frankenstein, then renamed themselves THE DEAD BOYS. They reworked a song previously done in Rocket from the Tombs and the rest, as they say, is history...
THE MIRRORS were heavily influenced by The Velvet Underground, thanks to the Velvets trogging through Cleveland on numerous tours. But The Mirrors put their own quirky (almost goofy) spin on the Velvet's proto-punk 3 chord musings. The reissued compilation album Something That Would Never Do is always on the wall at Academy Records in Brooklyn with the sign: "Of course we always stock a copy of our favorite record ever". I like those sentiments verily.
When The Mirrors dissolved they became the POLI STYRENE JESS BAND. Here's a rare 7in they put out in 1975.
It's weird to for me to hear THE BIZARROS and try to dissociate the guitarist from the image I have of him in a suit, working for a printing company. I grew up going with my mom to business meetings with him in the summer, and she would mention The Bizarros in the car after the meeting. I always wondered what they sounded like until I got my first listen while I was in college. This is some great Velvets influenced hard rock from 1976 Akron, Ohio.
RUBBER CITY REBELS reworked a Fleetwood Mac song into an aggressive proto-punk burner. They formed in 1976 and had a split in '78 that spawned The Hammer Damage Band. I saw them play the last show at the Lime Spider in Akron before I left for NYC.
THE HUMAN SWITCHBOARD was a band from Cleveland that recorded this interesting e.p. in 1977. I don't know much about them but they definitely had that NE Ohio sound.
CHI-PIG had to really grow on me to fully appreciate them. They are almost too goofy. But when you're feeling really weird, this song, off the notorious Stiff Records Presents Akron album, hits the spot. They recently put out an album of unreleased songs from 1979 called Miami that has some great Devo-ish tunes.
THE CRAMPS were not from Ohio - or were they? Surprise! Lux Interior spent the better part of his youth in my hometown of Stow, Ohio. He met Poison Ivy in Sacramento, California in 1972, moved back to Ohio (this time to Akron in 1973) then moved to New York City in 1975. I would definitely say whatever funky stink was in the air of 1970's NE Ohio shaped the sound and ideals of The Cramps. Goulardi must have had a profound effect on a young Erick Purkhiser.
70's NE Ohio man, everyone wanted to get outa there. Some did, most didn't. But their music went farther than some of them ever did professionally.