In compiling the list of bands for the second annual Scene Music Awards, we sent requests for nominations to nearly 70 local industry representatives and music experts, and tallied their votes to come up with the list that appears on the ballots. Scene readers vote for the best artists in each category, and those winners will be announced at a private function for the artists on Tuesday, May 2 (see the May 4 issue of Scene for a list of the winners). To celebrate the event, we're hosting a public Music Awards Showcase Friday, April 28 -- the last day to cast your vote -- at the Agora Theatre. Train and the Gas Giants will perform, as will nine local acts, subject to change, tentatively including Anne E. DeChant, Birth, DJ Curry, After the Rain, Chargers Street Gang, Al's Fast Freight, Blonde Boy Grunt & the Groans, Tigger, and Rob Sherwood.
Steve Byrne, Nate Cavalieri, Jeff Niesel, Aaron Steinberg, and Matt Trahan contributed to this story.
Artist of the Year
Cobra Verde -- With a nod to Roxy Music and Brian Eno, Cobra Verde took on a glam sheen for its fourth album, Nightlife, one of the best albums put out by a Cleveland band in 1999. Lead singer John Petkovic hasn't abandoned his irascible punkish roots -- the band's live show is every bit as visceral as those put on by Petkovic's former band, Death of Samantha. Always a showman, Petkovic likes to drag his micstand into the crowd and get in your face, while keyboardist Chas Smith goes crazy on the theremin. Despite what you might have read elsewhere, Petkovic doesn't get all dolled up like a glam queen either -- he's been erroneously described as The Boy With the Boa, when he doesn't even own said fashion accessory. Playing a few Midwest dates with Matthew Sweet and embarking on a tour of the West Coast earlier this year have undoubtedly increased the profile of the band -- which also includes guitarist Frank Vazzano, drummer Mark Klein, and bassist Dave Hill.
Poets of Another Breed -- If Northeast Ohio has an answer to the Beastie Boys, it's Akron's Poets of Another Breed -- MCs Joe "Interrupt" Chuita and Kevin "Matosphere" Matos, drummer Patrick "Raunchy P" McNulty, DJ Kevin "Kevlar" Carr, bassist Chris "C.N.N." Sykora, and keyboardist Casey "Misc." King. Their debut, Creamed Corn, was recorded by Cyde's Shawn Hackel at his Grooveyard Studios in Akron and sounds spectacular, abounding with infectious, funky grooves. Parts of the album, which came out last year, were recorded at recent high-profile gigs -- the group opened for the Sugarhill Gang at Peabody's DownUnder and played with Kid Rock at the Daily Double in Akron. Helped by dueling MCs, the Poets' boisterous live shows, which have gone over well -- even with a predominantly female audience that came to see Salt N Pepa -- have all the energy of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Chargers Street Gang -- The Chargers have been blasting high-energy rock and roll since 1998 -- leaving two records in their choppy wake -- the Pistol Whipped EP (released on their own label) and the more recent Fun Housing EP (Donut Friends Records). The group's live shows are a gas, as guitarist Chris Kulcsar often leaves the stage to whoop it up with the crowd, yet somehow manages to execute his blaring leads amid all the confusion. Torturing the microphone with howling bravado, singer Joe Holzheimer struts like a manic fighting cock, keeping step with drummer Matt Fish and bassist Chris Rude's driving rhythm section. Despite misconceptions that the Chargers Street Gang is overly cocky, guitarist Lachlan MacKinnon humbly describes his group as being "easily the most exciting band in Cleveland," and he might just be right.
Rosavelt -- Considered one of Cleveland's best alternative country bands, this group of Miami University grads follows in the tradition of Uncle Tupelo and its offshoots, Wilco and Son Volt. For its most recent album, last year's Transistor Blues, the group's main songwriters -- singer-guitarists Chris Allen and Kevin Grasha -- holed themselves up in a cabin on Lake Michigan, and the rustic atmosphere gave the songs a distinctly rural feel. And like the much-maligned and now defunct Uncle Tupelo, Rosavelt, which also includes drummer Miles Loretta and bassist Keith Hanna, has reportedly had a few personnel problems. Singer-guitarist Chris Allen has played several solo shows and is reportedly working on an album. But we're assured that Rosavelt, which recently opened for the great country group BR5-49 at the Euclid Tavern, isn't about to disappear anytime soon.
Birth -- A fusion of drum 'n' bass and avant garde, Birth revels in raw, visceral, and unabashedly pugilistic music. Unafraid to traffic in earthier sounds -- in this case, a heavy dose of funk -- this scrappy power trio generates the kind of R&B/free-jazz offerings you might expect from a Julius Hemphill record, though with a few more modern touches. The sound often hinges on Jeremy Bleich's steady bass lines, a persistent electronic thud that gives the music a feel somewhere between Miles Davis's dark '70s funk and a '90s garage band. Stacked against the sound of Joe Tomino's electronica-influenced, skittering kit, it's a great foundation for the forceful and occasionally electronically distorted saxophone of Joshua Smith.
Strip -- Anticipation was high for Strip's second record, Home for Wayward Girls, which was initially supposed to be released last year. When legal problems prevented it from being distributed, the band simply regrouped, recruiting guitarist Matt Highley and former NY Surfgirl drummer Danny Basone, who nicely complement founding members Gerard Dominick (bass/vocals), Laurie Styron (lead vocals), and John Gmerek (guitar). The band held another well-attended release party and has carried on without missing a beat. With her classical training and natural good looks, Styron, a former actress, might be the most arresting female fronter in town, and the band has started experimenting with acoustic sets that cast its bluesy alternative rock songs in a new light.
Quazimodo -- Since forming in 1992, Quazimodo -- singer-guitarist Frank Vazzano, drummer Jerry Hentsch, bassist Ed Maroli, keyboardist Lou Vogel, and singer-guitarist Doug Niemczura -- has established a reputation as one of Cleveland's best garage rock bands. On the group's latest CD, last year's Magna Vox, Jimmy Zero, formerly of the Dead Boys, lends a hand, playing guitar and singing on several tracks. By adding handclaps, saxophones, and analog synthesizers -- all thrown together in a messy Stones-influenced stew -- Quazimodo broadens its range and even proves itself capable of power pop on the bittersweet "New Love." Live, the band always shreds and has been known to break into a raucous cover of Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen" that's just as defiant as the original.
Disengage -- Sounding like a cross between the hardcore punk of Fugazi and the stoner rock of Queens of the Stone Age, Disengage has been courting major labels ever since it released Teeth, Heart, and Tail in 1997. Since then, the group, which initially formed in 1994 in Kent (it now calls Cleveland home) and includes singer Jason Byers, guitarist Michael Callahan, bassist Sean Bilovecky, and drummer Jonathan Morgan, has opened for groups such as Unsane, Filter, and the Deftones. It also was one of two Cleveland bands picked to play at Austin's South by Southwest music conference, where it delivered a fierce set before record industry types, whose ears are undoubtedly still ringing.
Brandtson -- Being a successful indie rock band from the middle of Ohio is almost unheard of. But no band is trying harder to change that than Brandtson. After a few years of basement shows and a self-released album, Brandtson eventually found success with the independent label Deep Elm, and now it's on the verge of national success in the underground pop scene. Benefiting from the underground emocore trend that has recently been dominating college radio, the four-piece band, which includes singer-guitarist Myke Porter, singer-drummer Jared Jolley, guitarist Matt Traxler, and bassist John Sayre, has recently seen its popularity explode. With a live set that leaves you heartbroken one minute and banging your head the next, the boys of Brandtson are earning their stripes as indie rock kings of Cleveland and have done their part to build the scene from scratch. With the infectious hooks of their latest album, Fallen Star Collection, Brandtson proves that it has progressed leaps and bounds since its early days.
Cyde -- Led by singer-guitarist Shawn Hackel, Cyde made the most out of Hackel's Grooveyard Studios in Akron, where it spent three years writing and recording its self-titled debut, which was released last year. At Grooveyard, the group had the ability to mix together hard-rocking guitars and enough electronic samples to make Garbage's producer/drummer Butch Vig jealous. Echoing vocals and industrial beats have enough of an edge to merit comparisons to Filter and Rage Against the Machine. Rage guitarist Tom Morello even produced and remixed the track "Rock Star," a rant about conceited egomaniacs who think they're all that, just because they play in a rock band. Morello lent the band a degree of credibility that it had already earned among alternative rock fans in Northeast Ohio.
Sherrod -- A self-described "Midwest player," rapper Billy Sherrod has a distinct sound that he achieves by using a live band on his debut, last year's The Messenger. With the assistance of multi-instrumentalist Mark Augustine, Sherrod, who plays guitar and bass, composes psychedelic hip-hop that recalls the metallic funk of New Kingdom. Sherrod's high-pitched rapping, which finds a worthy rival in guest rapper McMal, bears a resemblance to Cypress Hill's B-Real, but the numerous references to Cleveland in songs such as "Bug N Your Ear," "Cleveland's in the House," "Cleveland OH #10," and "Cleveland Shit" firmly place him in the Midwest.
Poets of Another Breed -- see Artist of the Year nomination.
Jahi -- Earlier this year, rapper Torman Jahi toured some 50 colleges in 15 states and not only performed, but conducted a series of seminars on topics such as the history of hip-hop, the rise and fall of some of its biggest stars (Tupac, Biggie, and Eazy-E), and hip-hop culture. On his recent record, Higher Elevation, Jahi, who regularly lectures about AIDS at Cleveland public schools, keeps alive the spirit of KRS-One and other rappers who have made education a part of their mantra. Not that he's soft -- when Jay-Z relegated Jahi and other local rappers to the ballroom stage at the Agora last year, Jahi let it be known that he didn't appreciate being dismissed as a local artist.
Bloodshot -- Cleveland proved too small for this duo, which started cutting demos when its members (rappers/producers Chris Butler and Chris Ackerman) were still in high school. After a successful showcase at the Whisky, a Los Angeles nightclub on the music-heavy Sunset Strip, the group relocated to Los Angeles, where it had better access to the music industry. The group moved back to Cleveland about a year and a half ago and has been busy at work on Nocturnal Emissions (due out in July), the follow-up to 1997's Vinyl Frontier, which sold some 7,000 copies locally and even charted in Cleveland, where the single "Whorekneedrunkenhigh" was a hit.
Thieveland -- Thieveland turned down offers from big-name producers such as Dallas Austin and Jermaine Dupri to release its debut, Da Land of Da Scandalouzz, on its own record label, Execution Entertainment. The trio -- rappers Will Butler, Marlon Glanton, and Andre Wilson -- has a singsong style that's not unlike that of locals Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (BTNH rapper Bizzy Bone even guests on one track), but the hard-hitting rapping in tracks such as "Addicted" and the hard-as-nails "Last Resort" recall early N.W.A. without being derivative. Yukmouth of the Luniz also makes a cameo, lending his gruff vocals to the boisterous "Where My Thugz At." This is one group that's as tough as its name implies.
Cryptkicker -- In the thriving Cleveland metal scene, no name inspires as much respect as Cryptkicker -- bassist Woody Simmons, guitarist Jeff Zych, drummer Eric Elkins, and singer Rob Forrider. In its five-year reign of terror, Cryptkicker has become one of Cleveland's most popular heavy metal acts, due to a skull-crushing live show and its out-of-control credo of hate. Kicking out two studio records and a double-live album in its relatively short life has helped the band's rise to fame as well. One needs not look further than the rotting head, with nails driven through it, on the cover of Cryptkicker's latest release, Unusually High Level of Hate, to figure out what the band is all about. Cryptkicker plays so often in Cleveland, it's virtually impossible to read show listings without coming across its name, and the band deserves credit for never resting from the task of taking its punishing heavy metal to the street.
Keelhaul -- With muffled vocals and heavy guitars, this quartet -- singer-bassist Aaron Dallison, guitarist Dana Embrose, drummer Will Scharf, and singer-guitarist Chris Smith -- is one of Cleveland's hardest rocking bands. It doesn't matter that the jams at the ends of songs on its 1998 self-titled debut go on for too long -- they're every bit as tight as just about anything by the Melvins or Today Is the Day. The band, which formed in the early '90s and has toured the Midwest and East Coast steadily in the past year, is currently working on a new album for release this fall. You can bet it'll be heavy.
Boulder -- The stage of the Grog Shop is piled with amp heads and speaker cabinets -- Boulder is attempting to break the world record for Loudest Show in the Smallest Club. The result? A lot of blown speakers and blown minds. Boulder packs enough wattage to blow every fuse from Cleveland's Speak in Tongues to Kent's Mantis Gallery. Forget about Korn, Limp Bizkit, and all other pretenders to the throne -- Boulder's brand of heavy metal has its roots firmly planted in the soil once tilled by iron giants such as Venom, Tank, and Destructor. Complementing Chan and Gillz's dual ax attack and Heinous P's thunderous drums, bassist Jamison Johnson supplies Boulder's '70s metal sound with the type of guttural vocals one would usually associate with hardcore. Since the band's birth in the early '90s, Boulder has produced several independently released tapes and 7-inches, culminating in last year's The Rage of It All LP.
Mushroomhead -- While Mushroomhead's gimmick -- appearing in jumpsuits and masks -- may have been co-opted by the Des Moines, Iowa metal group Slipknot, it hasn't detracted from the group's popularity in Cleveland, where its Halloween shows regularly sell out. Picked to open the season at Blossom this year, Mushroomhead, which is in the process of making a compilation of its three albums available nationally, puts its own spin on Goth metal with its theatrical live shows, which have actually matured since the days when Roxy would join them for depraved acts.
Ivet -- The soothing synthesizers that you hear on the opening track on Ivet's second album, last year's Sickhouse, are misleading. They suggest the Youngstown band is quieter than it really is. The slashing guitars that soon kick in put those fears to rest, and by the album's second track, the hard-edged "Ename," it's apparent that this group, which includes singer-guitarist Frank Silver, guitarist Mike Roberts, bassist Sam Papa, and drummer Mark Grabowski, has both melody and muscle -- no wonder it has opened for acts as diverse as Henry Rollins, Def Leppard, Soul Coughing, and Sloan.
Secret Servix -- When Secret Servix formed two years ago, they caused quite a buzz. There aren't many female-fronted bands in Cleveland that sound like the Runaways, and this trio definitely had the rawk moves down. But things started to come apart last winter, when the group went through some lineup changes. It hasn't played a show in town since a December gig at the Euclid Tavern, but with new members Tim Long and Chris Monroe of the Sign-Offs adding their talents to the group, Secret Servix, which also includes founding members Leslie Patterson (bass) and singer-guitarist Tina Brugnoletti, have gone back to the album they started to record last year, with hopes of recording some new tracks and releasing it sometime this year.
GC5 -- In August of 1998, "after four years of fucking around and too many songs to count," the GC5 finally started settling into a sound. That sound is furious streetpunk, with lyrics that sympathize with the working class and issue a call to arms to those fed up with being pushed around. The GC5 is four guys living in Lakewood who'll release Kisses from Hanoi, their first full-length CD, on a real label (the Michigan-based imprint Transparent) in September. The songs for it, plus four others released on the 7-inch "Price of Security" in January, were recorded in October of last year. The majority of GC5 material, particularly lyrics, comes from CWRU student, bassist, singer, and Teamsters Local 407 member Doug McKean; guitarist Chris Yohn, singer Pete Kyrou, and drummer Dave McKean round out the group, which, to date, has released two other 7-inches ("Buy American" and "Takin' It to the Streets") and the full-length A More Aggressive Approach to Peacekeeping.
Chargers Street Gang -- See Artist of the Year nomination.
The Cowslingers -- Here's a band that won an award as Cleveland's best punk/hardcore act only a year after being voted the area's best country act. Go figure. Just back from a Canadian tour in support of their latest CD, Americana a Go Go (just one of their many LPs and 7-inches released since 1994), the Cowslingers have thrived on what some may call a musical contradiction: cow-punk. According to the band, its forthcoming album "combines booze-fueled roadhouse songs and in yer face punkabilly" that tends to "focus on the traditional Cowslinger themes -- booze, narcotics, and "boy loses girl.'" Indeed, the Cowslingers manage to produce a stripped-down combination of heavy country twang and Link Wray-inspired surf rock that is surprisingly accessible. Just throw some whiskey down grandpa's throat (so he can get beyond the distorted guitars and the "spastic Elvis" vocals), and that ol' sonofabitch will think he's watchin' Austin City Limits, even as the group breaks into covers of songs by Aerosmith.
The Hostile Omish -- Known for its outlandish, Amish-inspired costumes and boisterous live shows, the Hostile Omish formed some 13 years ago. The group has released numerous cassettes and CDs, calling its strange, punk-informed music "barncore." For its last album, Olde Order of Omish, it went into Brooklyn's Audioworks studios and, in one take, re-recorded the songs on its first four cassette-only releases (Broken Buggy Wheel, Caution: This Buggy Makes Wide Right Churns, Quilted in Fascism, and Barncore). Coining catchy choruses in songs such as "Lizard up My Butthole," "Who Put Sea Monkeys in Mom's Douche," and "Never Shake My Baby (My Fetus in a Jar)," and screaming their lyrics over thrashing guitar chords, the Hostile Omish are noisy and irreverent -- just the kind of band you want at a beer bash.
Chew's Eye Shop -- With only an EP (1998's Incept) under its belt, Chew's Eye Shop has earned a reputation as one of the best Goth/synthpop bands in town. With songs that address morbid themes such as the death of a family member ("New Limb"), apocalyptic futures ("Midpoint"), and corpses lying in the street ("Wasted Earth"), Chew's Eye Shop -- singer Android, keyboardist Kevin Roll, and guitarist Larry Szym-Szym -- casts a dark hue, as Android's bellowing vocals (especially effective when he's singing anti-authoritarian lines such as "We make our gospel what they tell us to do") are sinister enough to exhume Bela Lugosi. If there's a band in Cleveland that merits comparisons to Bauhaus, it's Chew's Eye Shop.
Bath -- Formed in 1993, Bath has released three albums to date, the latest of which is 1998's N-Graver. Backed by a drum machine programmer/percussionist who calls himself the Cobbler, singer Christie Bailey -- a dead ringer for Siouxsie Sioux -- does her best to come off as a torch singer, while the Cobbler goes nuts by producing an array of electronic noises. The band's aesthetic sensibilities, which are drawn from Cabaret Voltaire and the Cocteau Twins, are so sophisticated, the group has even played fashion shows and, for a short time, published a magazine called Pivot.
Cult of the Psychic Fetus -- In the beginning, there was rockabilly, then there was psychobilly, and now, Cult of the Psychic Fetus is proud to present gothabilly. The oddly named group has been kicking around Cleveland's hottest rock and Goth clubs since the mid-'90s and has even been featured in a few film endeavors. With Ghastly on "phantom guitar," Lord Erik on "funeral bass," Marcus Dark on "voodoo drums," and the Rev. Doom on vocals, the Cult of the Psychic Fetus delivers a horror-driven, reverb-drenched sound reminiscent of the Cramps' earlier material. The band possesses a rather spooky presence, and its lyrics are mainly concerned with creepy B-movie topics. Signed to the Raven Music Group in 1997, the Cult recently released a CD titled Orgy of the Dead and plans to release another, titled She Devil, this summer on the same label.
Furnace St. -- After releasing two albums (1996's cassette-only Erie County Solid Waste Division and 1998's Neuromantic), Furnace St., which formed in Oberlin in 1996, has developed an ardent following among the local Goth/industrial crowd. The band, now based in Lakewood and consisting of singer-multi-instrumentalists Adam Boose and Lisa Jorgensen, creates dark, moody music that has its roots in European synthpop from the mid-'80s and compares to Joy Division and Ultravox. The band's roots are in Europop, but the music's bleak moods are driven by Boose and Jorgensen's Goth tendencies.
Graven Image -- Lorin Richards and Allen Dane Singleton formed Graven Image in 1996 and released its first and only album, Black Lung Cathedral, two years later. The group, which also includes Dann Lucian Hauff and Mark Thomas, quickly went on to win awards as one of Cleveland's best Goth bands, even though its synthpop music and techno flourishes defy categorization. Richards has since left the group to pursue a solo career and put out an album called ENKI last year, but Graven Image has trudged onward.
Birth -- See Artist of the Year nomination.
Howie Smith -- Unfortunately still one of Cleveland's best-kept secrets after years in the city, Howie Smith spends a lot of time logging section work with big bands. He regularly sits in with Bop Stop regulars the Jazz Unit and records every so often with the Frank Mantooth Orchestra. But the multi-reedist and CSU professor has plenty to say on his own. His nuanced, lithe alto and soprano sax playing gets all the space it needs when Smith presides over his yearly "Concert in Progress," an ongoing, Howie-centric fusion of new music, jazz, and performance art. Smith also impacts the local music scene through his "Sundown Series," a season of improvisational and/or experimental concerts at CSU, which sometimes feature his own sonic contributions.
Bob Ferrazza -- The deeply satisfying, classic sound in Bob Ferrazza's playing places him firmly at the end of a noble lineage -- one which begins with Wes Montgomery and runs through Pat Martino and Cleveland legend Bill deArango. His clear tone and able technique have won him sideman duties with some of the great jazzmen of the '50s and '60s: musicians including trumpeters Art Farmer and Donald Byrd, as well as B-3 organ man Jack McDuff. He has also branched out on his own, recording two CDs, Personal, and The Way I Like It. Ferrazza keeps a regular duo engagement at the Boarding House, with sidekick Pete Dominguez. But when he isn't gigging around Cleveland, he's sitting in with the Oberlin Conservatory faculty, imparting the beauty of jazz music to another generation of players.
Cliff Habian Trio -- A romantic at the keys, Cliff Habian favors easygoing tempos, simple melodies, and a gushing, almost classical sound. Though he has been apt to dabble in fusion and the electric keyboard, Habian's more recent projects include a pair of solo acoustic piano albums. His classical leanings surface again on his 1998 holiday album, First Snowfall, on which Habian channels John Kirby as he covers "Fur Elise" and "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." For 15 years, Habian directed the jazz studies program at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, but gave it up nearly a decade ago to concentrate on piano performance.
Greg Bandy -- Though still known by his friends and fans as the Mayor of Harlem, drummer and occasional bandleader Greg Bandy has been back in his hometown of Cleveland for some time. The drummer has collaborated with some of jazz's latter-day greats, including Pharoah Sanders, Gary Bartz, and Betty Carter, but now lends his cymbal snaps and press rolls to bands and shows all over Cleveland. Greg Bandy's 1997 recording, Lightning in a Bottle, features not only Bandy's drumming, but also his singing and ribald sense of humor, as on his ode to the culinary and sexual arts in "Good Booty and Barbecue." Now not only a mayor but also a professor at Oberlin College, Bandy has not only been raising the general jazz consciousness of the city through education; he raises its jazz quality quotient by bringing old pals in for gigs.
Mr. Downchild -- When we last left Cleveland's favorite former Englishman, he was fronting a four-piece blues band, Mr. Downchild & the Houserockers. Two months ago, Mr. Downchild (Steve Brazier) disbanded the Houserockers and began work on a solo album. He finished it on April 11 and is shooting for a June release. "It will be strange not having a band with me after nine years," Brazier says, "but I wanted to go totally solo. No more band, except on those rare occasions when the situation dictates I should have one." The album will be electric, with Brazier playing all the instruments with no overdubs. "It will be raw Chicago blues, like early Muddy Waters or Elmore James. Without a band, I had to abandon the jump blues, swing tunes, and shuffles I had been doing. It will be real down-home blues." Brazier moved from London to Cleveland in 1985 to be near his hero, Robert Lockwood Jr., and his previous albums include They Call Me Mr. Downchild (with Lockwood), Mr. Downchild Live at the Western Maryland Blues Festival, and Steppin' on Time.
Glenn Schwartz -- Probably no musician in Cleveland has had a more interesting history than Glenn Schwartz. He's been holding down Thursday nights at Hoopples, a Columbus Avenue tavern, since 1989, playing fierce electric blues and dispensing that old-time religion with equal enthusiasm. Schwartz was the original guitarist with the James Gang, until he split for California in 1967 (yes, Joe Walsh took his spot). He joined the band Pacific Gas & Electric, best known for its big hit "Are You Ready?" Schwartz departed in 1970 after a religious conversion and joined a commune in Middlefield, still playing guitar in the commune's in-house band. He reemerged as a solo act in 1979. His show is part guitar wizardry and part revival meeting, as Schwartz alternates between fiery playing and preaching the word of the Lord. Schwartz has long been admired by other guitarists. Walsh sought him out when the Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the liner notes of a PG&E album claim Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page regarded Schwartz as one of his favorite guitarists.
Robert Lockwood Jr. -- Along with John Lee Hooker, Henry Townsend, and Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Lockwood Jr. is one of the few first-generation blues guitarists still alive. Lockwood, 85, was born in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, and started playing piano and guitar when his mother became the common-law wife of legendary Robert Johnson. But Lockwood is more than just an interpreter of Johnson's songs. His life represents the migration of the blues from the country to the city, from the South to the North. Lockwood has been influenced by jazz and R&B, as well as Delta and urban blues. He has hung around with Rice Miller (Sonny Boy No. 2) and Doctor (Peter) Clayton. He has recorded with B.B. King and Johnny Shines. Lockwood, who has lived in Cleveland for the past 40 years, might not be as quick-fingered as he once was, but he still performs locally on a regular basis and recently celebrated his birthday with a show at Fat Fish Blue.
Blue Taxi -- Based in Bedford, Blue Taxi has opened for artists such as John Mayall, ZZ Top, Steve Miller, and Eric Burdon. The group, which includes singer-percussionist Bob Capuano, singer-keyboardist Theresa Capuano, singer-guitarist Bill "Cap" Capuano, and singer-bassist Kurt England, sounds so accessible on its recent album, Ridin' Shotgun, that you can understand why the music has found its way onto ESPN, where it's been used as background music for regional coverage. With Ridin' Shotgun charting in Greece, this band is on the verge of becoming an international sensation.
Colin Dussault -- On the one hand, there's the "blue" blues. You know, the "she done left me and took the dog" blues. And then there's Colin Dussault. The self-proclaimed "hardest working bluesman in Northeast Ohio" always sounds upbeat, even when singing the line "I can't carry on another day" from James Taylor's "Fire & Rain." On his third album, Moving On, the singer-harmonica player covers a wide range of styles, including gospel, Eagles-style country rock, and even blues tinged with heavy metal (think Eric Clapton playing "Helter Skelter"). The strong-voiced Dussault can belt out phrases like "I just wanna be your lover man" and compete with the backing brass, or he can tone it down, as he trades off with an acoustic guitar and flute in a more pensive moment. Dussault also knows something about restraint, adding tasteful touches on the harp -- fills which are neither excessive nor over the top.
Blue Lunch -- Back when Blue Lunch had a regular Sunday night gig at Wilbert's, engineer Jim Horn decided to tape the show. Singer-guitarist Bob Frank recorded the same show on a cassette recorder. Frank liked what he heard on his little tape and asked to hear Horn's copy. He sat in the studio thinking, "Jesus, we got a CD here." That humble gig became Recorded Live at Wilbert's, which Blue Lunch released in 1997. On the disc, the band performs smooth renditions of songs written by the likes of Willie Dixon, Eddie Jones, and Freddie King. Last year, Wilbert's released Blue Lunch's second CD, Eyes Wide Open, which was cut in the studio and features both original material and "overlooked classics" such as Peter Lewis's "Louisiana Hop" and Sammy Price's "Rib Joint."
The Dukes of Wail -- Formerly known as Jump, Jive & Wail, the Dukes of Wail are anchored by drummer Tom Edwards, a veteran who recruited the rest of the band -- saxophonist Chris Burge, pianist Joe Hunter, guitarist Don Better, bassist Mark Better, saxophonist Dick Ingersoll, and singer Dennis Desapri -- after seeing a show by the Mighty Blue Kings, a Chicago jump-blues group. While it features only two original songs (the title track and "Her Daddy's House"), the band's debut, No Turning Back, is an eclectic affair -- the Dukes of Wail play both ballads ("But She's My Buddy's Chick") and blues romps ("Big Mammou"), in addition to covering standards such as "Jump, Jive & Wail." And despite the downturn in the swing revival, the Dukes' energetic shows are likely to keep the genre alive.
Ernie Krivda's Fat Tuesday Big Band -- Believing that jazz was at its best when it was the popular music of the day -- when people would come out and dance in ballrooms, rather than sit and grow goatees in dark clubs -- Ernie Krivda has embraced the songs and composers of the '30s and '40s. While plenty of opportunist neo-swing bands have pilfered the Louis Jordan/Louis Prima jump tradition and tried to pass it off as swing, Krivda's band, Fat Tuesday, gets it right. The ruddy little big band generates the hard-hitting classic sound of a Count Basie-style swing and blues outfit, and in keeping with the Krivda philosophy, regularly hits up the songs of Gershwin and Ellington or the arrangements of Sy Oliver and Quincy Jones. Fat Tuesday's regular Tuesday engagement at the Savannah always attracts a sizable crowd, and the band keeps it up with the recently released CD, The Band That Swings.
King Dapper Combo -- Perhaps the funniest swing band you'll ever hear, the King Dapper Combo -- singer-guitarist Zombo, singer-guitarist Skeeter, accordion player Bodini, bassist Pepper, and drummer Stellanova -- plays swing music for beach parties. Its latest CD, last year's appropriately named Big Dumb Fun Party Music, was produced by Don Dixon (R.E.M.) and features the kind of goofy vocals you hear on B-52's records. Whether they're howling about bitter breakups ("Is It True?") or reveling in their love of the sideburned king of rock and roll ("Elvised"), the King Dapper Combo is all about having a good time. What other band could host the annual "$1.98 Worst Gift Exchange" every Christmas?
Joe Bell & the Swing Lizards -- Founded in 1989 by singer-guitarist Joe Bell, the Swing Lizards are a bluesy swing band that's on the verge of releasing its third album this spring. The group, which includes guitarist Brian Davidson, bassist Dallas Coffey, saxophonist Rob Williams, trumpet player Joe Miller, and drummer Tom Konopka, always keeps things uptempo -- its second disc, Live at Wilbert's, is a testament to that. Even when Bell writes about unrequited love in songs such as "Almost," he keeps the grooves strong and steady. No wonder Arnold Schwarzenegger owns one of the band's T-shirts -- you could work out to this stuff.
After the Rain -- Three members of After the Rain -- singers Todd Burton, Terrence Burton, and Dwayne Satterfield -- originally performed together in the moderately successful R&B group 1-900. When that group disbanded in 1994, they recruited singers Eric Allen and Qiana Davis, and formed After the Rain. They've been busy ever since -- opening for national acts such as Case and Chico DeBarge, and releasing their debut, Club Lovin', last year. Managed by Unlimited Wealth Entertainment, the same company that represents Atlantic Recording artists Men at Large, After the Rain has kept a steady schedule and performed at nearly every R&B event that takes place between here and Akron.
Shirley Cook -- A tastefully unflashy singer in the Billie Holiday/Sarah Vaughan vocal tradition, singer Shirley Cook inhabits a lyric, staking her music on simplicity and nuance over virtuosity. Cook's voice -- grainy and resonant, like a tenor saxophone -- brings a sweetness to her jazz standards and a graceful swagger to R&B and the blues. Though Cook began singing in the church at an early age, she came rather late to performance and credits the efforts of Carl "Ace" Carter, the first post-Basie pianist to work with the Count Basie Orchestra, and local legend Duke Jenkins with giving her early instruction and her first gigs. Cook now regularly performs around town as well as everywhere from New York to Japan. She has been a featured performer with the Tri-C JazzFest and yearly hosts the JazzFest jam session.
Smooth Approach -- Experts at cross-promotion, Smooth Approach released an 80-minute film to go along with its debut CD, last year's You Got It. The film, which was shown at last year's Ohio Independent Film Festival, chronicled the difficulties the group faced in putting out the album and featured live footage of the group. Smooth Approach, which includes Jeffrey Roberson, Kerry Willis, Lawrence Harris, and Junior Dismuke, is sponsored by Mountain Dew and, like After the Rain, makes regular appearances at community events. The song "C-Town Here Comes the Browns" is just one of many sports-themed R&B tracks the group has recorded -- it also has a CD of Indians-related songs called 2G Tribe Jams in the works.
The Hesitations -- You might not know it, but the Hesitations are one of the best R&B groups to come out of Cleveland. While the group technically existed for only a few years in the '60s, it had an international hit with its rendition of the theme from the movie Born Free and toured internationally -- but when it came back from a tour of Germany in the '60s, it found that its records, which could be found even at department stores such as J.C. Penney, had disappeared. "Like most groups from the time, we never saw the profits, and we felt like stepchildren after we got hip to what was going on," singer Art Blakey says. Recently reunited for a Rock Hall performance, the group has turned its attention to recording a new album and getting back the name recognition it once had.
Reparte -- A group of classically trained musicians that sings both madrigal music and doo-wop, Reparte made a noticeable impression when it gave an R&B-oriented set at the Rock Hall's Black History Month celebration. The group, which performs a cappella, includes singers Nanette Canfield, Shari Pathinger, David Condon, Jeff Green, and Ray Liddle. While all the members have day jobs, they've been performing regularly since 1993 and are working on finishing a demo tape of jazz and oldies. "It's kind of just for fun, but we would like to get more work," says Pathinger.
DJ Curry -- Surviving multiple rounds of fierce competition from talented local DJs such as D-Man, Ree Mycks, and Ground Zero, DJ Curry took first place in the first local Scratch Battle Contest that was held at the Agora Ballroom earlier this year. It didn't matter that the official judges -- San Francisco's DJ Apollo and Vin Roc -- didn't show to preside over the event. Curry was the clear winner. Curry, whose skills are more like those of a turntablist than a rave DJ, also won a recent battle at Spy, where he was entered in the jungle category and even held his own as one of the opening acts for the Mix Master Mike and Rahzel show at the Agora earlier this year.
Rob Sherwood -- Perhaps the most popular DJ in Cleveland, Rob Sherwood spent nine years as the mastermind behind Trilogy's (now Metropolis) Sunday night dance club called "The Church." Just this month, Sherwood launched "The Muzik Institute," a new club night at Club Caliente. For his first show there, he brought in Julius Papp, a DJ from San Francisco, and has promised to bring in other talent and promote local DJs as well. With his connections, there's little doubt that Sherwood will introduce Cleveland to new talent on a regular basis.
Stephen "Sleepy C" Cinch -- Stephen "Sleepy C" Cinch, who used to hold down Thursday nights at the Brillo Pad, is possibly the most prolific DJ on the local scene. He originally started out playing guitar in alternative rock and metal bands before coming across a Frankie Knuckles mix tape in the late '80s and deciding that his true calling was on the wheels of steel. By 1994 he had started his own label, Psychoactive Records, and has released more singles and mix tapes than you can count on one hand. He's currently in the midst of starting another label, called Mannequin Odd Dance, with Dink drummer Jan Eddy Van Der Kuil.
DJ Orion -- DJ Orion, who's a regular at clubs such as Wish and Purple Haze, has risen to national recognition recently with his unique fusion of sampled hooks and extremely catchy groove-oriented dance music. Equally successful with creating acid-trance, house, and ambient, Orion has become an attraction as a rave and party DJ in major cities in the Midwest and on the East Coast. What keeps people coming back for more is his mastery of manipulating repetitive sampled hooks with a kind of stripped-down electro-funk flavor. Shaping his music with simple, multilayered drum grooves, DJ Orion covers the spectrum from heavily dance-oriented techno trance to more relaxed deep house.
Tigger -- Although Tigger has spent most of his time working the local rave circuit, he's recently gotten a steady gig spinning on Sunday nights at Metropolis (where he takes over for Rob Sherwood). His hard house mixes should fit well at the club, which has started to cater more to the rave and hip-hop crowd. Tigger's latest release, a 57-minute mix CD of deep house grooves that was recorded at the "Barely Legal 2" rave held in Cleveland last October, is currently out on the local Sphere Productions imprint.
Third Wish -- This roots-rock group, which has sold a combined 9,000 copies of its three albums (1994's Strings of Culture, 1996's Miles From Somewhere, and 1997's Third Wish), gets around. It has played at over 200 different clubs and colleges in over 20 states and has gotten itself onto one of the hottest tickets in town this summer, when it opens for Santana on June 13 at Blossom. The rest of the time, the group, which includes singer-percussionist Dan Heberlein, singer Tara Marie O'Malley, drummer Jerry Buescher, guitarist Ryan Dawson, guitarist Curtis Leonard, and bassist Scott Swanson, keeps a steady schedule of playing shows throughout Ohio and Michigan.
Qwasi Qwa -- Led by singer-guitarist Jesse Bryson (the son of the Raspberries' Wally Bryson), Qwasi Qwa plays an accessible mix of Beatles-influenced pop on its full-length debut, the recently released Shaking Hands With the Governor. Despite its youth (the oldest member is 22), the group, which also includes bassist Chuck Andrews, keyboardist Pete Breeden, and drummer Gerry McCabe, was one of two bands from Cleveland to play at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin this year, and its set went over so well that even the ubiquitous dancing fool known as Beatle Bob (a paisley-clad moptop who randomly shows up at clubs across the country) was seen cutting it up on the dance floor.
Anne E. DeChant -- Winner of too many local music awards to list, singer-songwriter
Anne E. DeChant took control of production on her second album, the recent Something of the Soul, and established herself as a singer-songwriter on par with Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, and the Indigo Girls. DeChant, who was the sole local artist to play on the Lilith Fair tour when it swung through town last summer, also has solidified her band, which now includes guitarist Victoria Fliegel, bassist John Weiler, and drummer Amy Good. Formerly of Odd Girl Out, DeChant, much like Ani DiFranco, has established a loyal following through grassroots promotion.
Brigid's Cross -- A fiddler who had been playing since he was three, a female singer compared to Mary Black, and a guitarist who had perfected his craft in some of the best-loved traditional bands in the Cleveland area add up to a Celtic supergroup. No wonder Brigid's Cross played to a packed room at Price's Public House in its first gig, four years ago this month. Since then, Brigid's Cross has released three albums, traveled as far away as Las Vegas and Fort Lauderdale, and spent 11 days last month in Ireland setting up a tour of that country. In short order, Brigid's Cross has become one of the area's most in-demand traditional Irish bands. Perhaps its crowning achievement has been an appearance at the Milwaukee Irish Festival, recognized as the nation's leading gathering of traditional Celtic musicians. The group, which includes fiddle player Paul Baker, vocalist-keyboardist and bodhran (sheepskin drum) player Peggy Goonan-Baker, and singer-guitarist Wally Frantz, just released its third CD, The Blue Rose, a worthy successor to We Have a Dream and Family Tree.
Mike Farley -- Inspired in part by a recent divorce, singer-guitarist Mike Farley's second album, last year's On the Edge of Somewhere, had more angst running through it than Matchbox 20 and Hootie & the Blowfish, the acts to which he's most often compared. In the title track, for example, he sings about picking himself up off the pavement and starting again -- and he sings with such conviction, you really believe that's he been through some hard times. A native of Long Island, Farley has become one of the busiest musicians on the local circuit since moving here in 1992. He plays both acoustic and with his band -- guitarist Gary Oleyar, bassist Richard Korby, and drummer Gary Skiba. He's even got his own line of baseball caps and T-shirts that he hawks at his shows. With a new album scheduled for release in July and a shiftless schedule through then, Farley's popularity is steadily on the rise.
Al's Fast Freight -- Al's Fast Freight, a Cleveland band that regularly gets nominated in local music polls as one of the best country bands in the area, doesn't play at country bars and doesn't even have much of a country audience. When it formed four years ago, the band had more of a Springsteen/Southside Johnny R&B influence. Now, as evidenced by the band's last CD, the Steve Earle-inspired Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Al's Fast Freight -- bassist Pete Ponomarenko, guitarist Brendan Gilberti, drummer Dave Smoot, and singer-guitarist Howard Micenmacher -- is in touch with its rootsier side.
Stacie Collins -- They came for a visit, but decided to stay. Country singer Stacie Collins and her husband -- songwriter, musician, and Parma native Allen Collins -- moved to Cleveland in 1996 to care for one of Allen's relatives. It was to be for only a couple of months, but with Stacie's career being so well-received, there was no reason to return to their old home in Los Angeles. "I'm lucky to be around people who believed in me and pushed me and showed me what I could do," says Stacie, a native of Bakersfield, California. "It's hard for some people to believe, but I'm really shy." Stacie began her singing at open-mic nights at small clubs and coffeehouses, and worked her way up to opening a show for Vince Gill. The biggest boon was the release of an eight-song CD of mostly ballads that caught on with radio stations and critics. She and Allen are currently updating it beyond its mere 27 minutes of music. "I only wanted to have something to give club owners so I could get gigs," Stacie says. "I had no idea it would take off like it has."
Hillbilly Idol -- Some things just never get old. When Hillbilly Idol -- singer-guitarist Paul Kovac, singer-guitarist Dave Huddleston, singer-guitarist Al Moss, bassist Bill Watson, and drummer Scott Flowers -- is onstage, playing its fusion of old-time standards, bluegrass, and country, there is nothing old about it. The men of Hillbilly Idol have earned their reputation for being one of the area's most skilled country acts. It doesn't matter if they're playing a Patsy Cline cover or something off their latest release, Town and Country; Hillbilly Idol knows the classic sound of country music inside out. Though every member of the band can hold his own as an instrumentalist, what makes Hillbilly Idol great is the solid vocal harmonies and the unfailing taste of pedal steel player Al Moss. If you ever get a chance to catch them live, request your favorite country tune; they'll probably know it.
Lords of the Highway -- Any band that would boast that it will play at "any honky-tonk or dive bar that would have them" can't be half bad. And the Lords of the Highway, a big-rig-obsessed rockabilly trio from Painesville that includes drummer Scotty Ling, bassist Sugar (who moonlights as the pious Sister Sugar with Columbus's Broken Circle Gospel Deluxe), and singer-guitarist Dennis A. Bell, has been playing every hole in the wall between here and Akron since forming in 1992. The group, which has released a single on the aptly named Drink and Drive Records, recorded its full-length debut, Dangerous Curves Ahead, in Bell's basement. What better place for these rowdies to raise a ruckus and record it for our listening pleasure?
Blonde Boy Grunt & the Groans -- Mike "Blonde Boy Grunt" Good describes his music as "freight-train-folkabilly-bad-luck blues," which is to say grassroots hillbilly rock at its finest. Originally a Canal Fulton solo act who embarked on an ambitious tour in 1996 as a street musician, Good took on the Groans when he returned and realized he couldn't do it all himself. In 1997 the full band recorded its first album, All Folked Up, and followed it last year with Bar Fronts and Tombstones, another selection of Rolling Stones and Woody Guthrie-inspired tunes. Good takes inspiration from the places he's played (mostly on street corners): Key West, Nashville, Memphis, Tucson, Venice Beach, and of course, Akron/Canton. And like the storytelling minstrels of old, he proves that America's grassroots haven't really changed that much over the decades.
Speaker/Cranker -- Speaker/Cranker could just as well bill itself as the Cleveland All-Star Band. Created in late 1997 as a "refuge of free experimentation" by members of bands such as Cobra Verde, Downside Special, Guided by Voices, the New Salem Witch Hunters, and the seminal Pere Ubu, Speaker/Cranker at first only provided spontaneous live music to accompany a traveling silent art-film festival. When the festival ended, it looked as if S/C would vanish as well. Instead, the group took on two new musicians and continued touring without the films. Obvious allusions describe them as "soundtrack rock," but no more incorrect are the epithets "space rock," "psychedelic rock" or "free-jazz rock." Normally that would add up to a collection of wannabes all playing in different keys and calling it a jam, but fortunately S/C -- bassist Jim Donadio, guitarist Dave Swanson, keyboardist Jim Jones, guitarist Keith Pickering, effects guy Dave Cintron, and drummer Scott Pickering -- has a good sense of humor.
Hilo -- In many ways, the story of Hilo sounds like a modern-rock cliché: Emerging from the blue-collar rubber plants of Akron in 1996, founding singer-guitarist Wamis Singhatat and bassist Johnathan Swafford set out to create an "artfully inspired" band. Where other bands are all talk and no action, Hilo managed to translate the rough draft from paper to performance, with a little help from singer-flautist Jenifer Bair. Merging the intensity of garage punk with the intelligence and vision of an artistic scientist, Hilo truly has been able to create something new. And as soon as it found drummer Pat Ginley, it cut its portentous debut, This Is the Destroyer. Singhatat has since left the group to study human biology in California, but was replaced by longtime friend Brian Ulrich, the guy whose good taste in music is apparent in the bands he books to play Speak in Tongues.
Pleasure Void -- Pleasure Void formed several years ago in Virginia, but the current lineup of the band didn't start to come together until last January, when bassist Poindexter joined keyboardist Nero, drummer Bonnie, and guitarist Brent. Singer Lo, a practicing dominatrix, joined last year and has brought something unique to the band. While songs such as "Prisoner of Pleasure" and "History" have a dark, Bauhaus-like ambiance, the band's music doesn't entirely fit into the Goth category -- the uptempo "Breakend" is more pop-punk. Lo, who sounds like a cross between Shirley Manson, Patti Smith, and Poly Styrene, writes almost exclusively about obsessive love -- but her strong voice has undoubtedly helped the band get gigs opening for national acts such as GWAR and the Mekons.
Cows in the Graveyard -- The members of this local avant-garde rock band look and sound as if they're from three different bands -- drummer Wil Sperdute has the spiky hair of a punk rocker, singer-guitarist Alx Alvarez boasts the dreadlocks you'd expect to see in a jam band, and bassist Ian Eddy looks as if he could be a frat boy. The music on its forthcoming album, tentatively titled Sketchbook Bible, is simply unclassifiable. Alvarez might evoke Jethro Tull when he plays the flute, but don't hold that against him. He's just as influenced by modern rockers like the late Jeff Buckley and the Cure's Robert Smith.
Six Parts Seven -- Since 1995, Six Parts Seven has been Cleveland's working definition of progressive underground rock. Even though that genre is not one in which most people feel at home, Six Parts Seven is spreading its high-tech gospel, and there's little doubt that, if you have never heard them yet, your days are numbered. Because of performing instrumentals that rely on atmosphere, not words, on its debut, In Lines and Patterns, it's not so easy to find a genre for the group, which combines E-bow, lap steel, and viola with more common instrumentation, and combines those instruments in a way that's like nothing you've ever heard.
Harmonia -- Walt Mahovlich leads Harmonia, a band of world-class musicians that blends various central and eastern European forms. The group already has a couple of CDs: Harmonia: Music From the Heart of Europe and Ciganska Krcma: Marko and Harmonia, which features the band's violinist, Marko Dreher, and is represented by a track on Balkans Without Borders, a benefit album done for an organization called Doctors Without Borders. Mahovlich has also been working with painter/art dealer Thomas Stanchak to bring a world music series to his Tremont gallery, Inside, and his attachment to the music and zeal for promoting is hard to overestimate. He's played not only locally, but also in venues in other large American cities (including the Knitting Factory in Manhattan) and in Europe.
Kool Runnings -- Founded by Anwar "Top Natty" Aswad Amir, a published poet who was born in Mobile, Alabama, Kool Runnings have gradually started to write more of their own original material. The group still covers songs by artists such as Bob Marley (of course), Burning Spear, and Gregory Isaacs, but it's not simply a cover band. At least two of the members of the seven-piece outfit were born outside of the country, and the group has opened for artists such as Ziggy Marley, Peter Tosh, Third World, and the Mad Professor. They're now working on recording a live album.
Carlos Jones & the P.L.U.S. Band -- Citing a drought of inspiration, singer-guitarist Carlos Jones, a Cleveland native, walked away from one of the region's most successful bands, First Light, to strike out on his own. He had a place to go -- the P.L.U.S. Band, a side project he formed with keyboardist Peter Platten. While First Light had scooped liberally from the rock and funk trough, the P.L.U.S. (Peace, Love, and Unity Syndicate) Band felt native pangs, relying more on percussion and less on electric instruments. At a show, you might see everyone in the seven-piece band but the keyboard player rapping on a percussive instrument.
Yiddishe Cup -- Over 10 years ago, Yiddishe Cup started playing klezmer music, and the band has released two albums over the course of that time -- Klezmerized and Yiddfellas. While the group makes regular appearances at local folk festivals, it has also played as far away as Texas and Florida. The band, which includes multi-instrumentalists Bert Stratton, Irwin Weinberger, Steve Ostrow, Alan Douglass, and Don Friedman, doesn't go anywhere without Daniel Ducoff, its frenzied klezmer dancer (shtickmeister in Yiddish), making it equally suited to synagogues and middle-school lawns.
B.E. Mann -- Known for his dance-powered live shows, B.E. Mann is to reggae what George Clinton is to funk. A versatile reggae artist who sings as well as plays bass, keyboards, guitar, and trumpet, Mann is a sensation in cities where reggae is seen through a kaleidoscope rather than a microscope. Influenced more by Motown than Marley, Mann's music is smooth and soulful, not angry or political. His last album, The Energy Man, is filled with more funky guitar solos and manic horn arrangements than you'll hear at a P-Funk party.