Cobra Verde -- Reviewed in publications such as Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, L.A. Times, TimeOut NY, and Alternative Press, Cobra Verde's last album, Nightlife, got more national exposure than any other release by a Cleveland band. And for good reason. Between the theremin theatrics of Chas Smith and the crowd-provoking tactics of singer John Petkovic, Cobra Verde has two of the best frontmen in town. Regional tours with Mike Watt, Matthew Sweet, J. Mascis, and the Makers have given the group followings in a variety of cities, and the band, which also includes guitarist Frank Vazzano, drummer Mark Klein, and bassist Dave Hill, is in the process of putting the final touches on an album it expects to have out before the year's end.
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 last CD, 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." The band released a 7-inch single, "Here Comes the Bang," earlier this year before abruptly calling it quits last month and playing its final show at Pat's in the Flats.
Cyde -- While Cyde doesn't play the club circuit as much as other bands, the Akron group has started to play in Cleveland on a more regular basis (and occasionally does word-of-mouth shows at Ron's Crossroads, a club on its home turf). With its second album, last year's Drawn Toward the Sun, the band redid "Rock Star," the closest thing it's had to a hit, so that it now concludes with a salsa send-up. At its Grooveyard Studios, the group has the ability to mix together hard-rocking guitars and enough electronic samples to make Garbage producer/drummer Butch Vig jealous. The band, which includes singer Shawn Hackel, percussionist/flutist Mark Sterle, bassist David Sterle, and drummer Brett Lashua, is one of the biggest supporters of the Akron-area scene: Last summer, it put together a terrific bill of Grooveyard acts for a daylong show at Nautica.
Satan's Satellites -- The members of Satan's Satellites -- singer-guitarist Tom Fallon, drummer Ant Petti, keyboardist Mark Leddy, and bassist Jeff Curtis -- could write a book on the history of garage rock. They're so well-versed in music that they know about stuff even the most educated critics haven't heard. Released last year, the Satellites' self-titled debut proves as much. On it, they write their own songs, but also pay tribute to some forgotten classics. Covers of the Motions' "Land Beyond the Moon" and the Interns' "The Trip" don't sound much different from the Satellites' own material -- the raspy-voiced "Bad News Baby" and the equally acerbic "She's a Dog," for example, have an organ-fueled, garage-rock punch. On "Ghoul Powered," a song about the local Friday night B-movie host, a trio of female background singers (Maria Gigante, Lauren Podis, and Annemarie Strassel) scream "ghoul-powered" over rumbling, Link Wray-inspired guitars and spooky organ riffs, adding some colorful camp flavor to the Satellites' retro trip.
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', in 1999. Managed by Unlimited Wealth Entertainment, the same company that represents Men at Large, After the Rain has kept a steady schedule and performs at nearly every R&B event between here and Akron.
Jahi -- Last year, rapper Torman Jahi visited 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 last 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 by proclaiming that hip-hop is a form of activism, rather than just an obsession with materialism.
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 spectacular debut, Creamed Corn, was made by Cyde's Shawn Hackel at his Grooveyard Studios in Akron. Portions were recorded at recent high-profile gigs: The group has 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 have all the energy of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Lo Down -- Rapper Marlo "Lo Down" Bloxson wrote all of the tracks on his debut, The Foundation, and Ill-Type Records owner Gregory Morrison, a student at Kent State University, produced them. The samples Morrison and Bloxson choose suggest their influences -- they borrow beats from original hip-hop artists such as the Roots, Rah Digga, Mos Def, and Common. Not afraid to slow things down for the groovy, jazz-oriented "Dough," mimic Funkadelic on "Megabyte," or preach resistance with poetic eloquence in "The Revolution," a track that features guest appearances by local rapper Darque Phoenix, Bloxson doesn't adhere to just one style. Like the best rap artists -- say, Wyclef Jean or Prince Paul -- Bloxson embraces a variety of sounds, and the lazy beats in "Live It to the Limit" let Bloxson show off his rapping skills and flow.
Anne E. DeChant -- Raised in Avon Lake, Anne E. DeChant sang choir in grade school and studied theater for a short time in college. But it wasn't until her senior year of college at Miami University that she started taking singing seriously. Eventually, she and Victoria Fliegel formed the band Odd Girl Out, after she graduated and moved back to Cleveland. After Odd Girl Out dissolved, DeChant and Fliegel recruited a new group of players -- bassist John Weiler and drummer Amy Good -- and have built a loyal local following with the release of two albums, Effort of the Spin and Something of the Soul. A national runner-up in the Fresh Tracks Band-to-Band Combat competition held earlier this year, DeChant also recently performed in the local production of "The Vagina Monologues."
Tony Lang -- Singer-guitarist Tony Lang, formerly of the Simpletons, recorded his debut, last year's The Tony Lang Band, in multiple locations -- from Redondo Beach, California, to Lakewood, Strongsville, and Cleveland. It was mixed at Chicago Recording Company and in Cleveland at Closer Look Studios and GTR Media. For the album, Lang put together a competent five-piece band and employed a skilled cast of studio musicians. In short, Lang has put much care into making the album right, and the 11 songs sound as good as anything you'll hear on a major label release; the guitar melodies are crisp, the rhythm section is tight, and the backing vocals are solid. The songwriting is decent, too -- Lang crafts tunes that have the same kind of adult alternative flair that has turned acts such as Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind, and Tonic into platinum-sellers.
Mike Farley -- Mike Farley readily admits that he's going after the same audience that listens to the Counting Crows, Matchbox Twenty, the Goo Goo Dolls, and Third Eye Blind. The Long Island-born Farley made his debut in 1998 with On the Edge of Somewhere and is one of the hardest-working musicians in Cleveland. (He's played at festivals in Boston, Atlanta, and upstate New York, and he regularly plays locally.) Working in his favor is the fact that he writes songs with some bite to them. With his band -- guitarist Jeff Nagel, bassist Jeff Beam, and drummer Joe Rohan -- Farley delves into blues, soft rock, and pop. His voice is deep and emotive, sounding downright pissed on "Can't Be Your Man" and "Fight No More," two tracks that successfully serve as bitter kiss-offs to ex-lovers and show that he can rock hard when he wants to.
Tracy Marie -- Tracy Marie started singing in her grade-school choir, but by her teens, she was writing original songs and playing piano. Eventually, she switched from piano to guitar and has been playing the coffeehouse and club circuit ever since. Marie, who also sings in Little Queen, a Heart tribute band, released her full-length debut, Sheik European Assassin Woman, last year. Thanks in part to some fine guitar work provided by Mike Garrett (who plays in the Grateful Dead cover band Sugar Magnolia), the album alternates nicely between hard rock and folk.
Boulder -- 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. Since forming in the early '90s, Boulder has produced several independently released tapes and 7-inches, culminating in last year's Ravage and Savage/The Rage of It All, an album that sounds like a cross between metal's old school (Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath) and its new breed of sludge-loving cretins (Eyehategod). The band isn't beyond making a sensational stage entrance either -- last year at a Youngstown stoner rock festival called Emissions, singer-bassist Jamie Walters rode onstage on a flaming bike, which he then threw into the crowd.
Cryptkicker -- In the thriving Cleveland metal scene, no name inspires more respect than Cryptkicker, the outfit made up of 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 largely to a skull-crushing live show. Kicking out three studio records and a double-live album has helped the band's rise to fame as well. One need not look further than the rotting head -- with nails driven through it -- on the cover of 1996's 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 the band's name, and it deserves credit for never resting from the task of taking its punishing heavy metal to the street.
Disengage -- Sounding like a cross between the hardcore punk of Fugazi and the pot 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 formed in Kent in 1994 (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. While it's often difficult to hear Byers in live settings, the mix on last year's Obsessions Become Phobias puts as much emphasis on his vocals as the guitars. Byers, who seems to have a permanent scowl tattooed on his forehead when he's onstage, writes humorless, brooding songs filled with images of sharp fingernails ("Spine of Teeth") and burning buildings ("Angel's Night"). The shifting dynamics of "Tyrant's Blues," "Sunstarved," and an untitled instrumental suggest that the band has outgrown the Black Sabbath-meets-Black Flag description of past days.
Mushroomhead -- Mushroomhead's national debut, XX, offers a valuable primer for all things Mushroomhead. Which means bludgeoning metal riffs, rumbling low bass, double-kick-drum madness, eerie goth keyboards, and dual vocals -- one tortured crooner, one inhuman grunter. Think Tool without the high-art overtones, Faith No More/Mr. Bungle without the psychotic sense of humor. 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 Halloween shows regularly sell out and venues as large as Blossom don't swallow them up. Mushroomhead 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.
The Cowslingers -- Since forming in 1991, the Cowslingers -- brothers Ken and Greg Miller (on bass and vocals, respectively), guitarist Bob Latina, and drummer Leo P. Love -- have changed little over the course of 6 albums and 12 singles. The group has won awards for best local country act, but shouldn't be confused with the kind of music that passes for country these days. If anything, these guys hearken back to the time of Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash: They're shitkickers who play with attitude and don't cater to pop tastes. On last year's Boot N Rally, which was recorded by Don Depew at his 609 Recording studios in Bedford, the Cowslingers deliver their hillbilly blues with the fervor of the Blasters, the great roots-rock band of the '80s that, coincidentally, was led by two brothers.
Höstile Ömish -- Known for their outlandish, Amish-inspired costumes and boisterous live shows, the 13-year-old Höstile Ömish have released numerous cassettes and CDs of strange, punk-informed music they call "barncore." For Their last album, Olde Order of Ömish, they went into Brooklyn's Audioworks studios and, in one take, re-recorded the songs from their 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 Höstile Ömish are noisy and irreverent -- just the kind of band you want at a beer bash.
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). They've finished recording a new one with producer Tim Kerr and are currently shopping it to labels. 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 just might be right.
The Sign-Offs -- After a year of playing locally, the Sign-Offs, a Bay Village group of teenagers, have slowly started to get national attention. Last year, the band played on the local stage of the Warped Tour and was rumored to be courted by Epitaph Records. Often doused in beer and so sweaty that half of the band members are shirtless by the end of a good gig, the Sign-Offs have developed a reputation as a terrific live act, and their call-and-response vocals and revved-up guitars recall past punk bands such as the Dead Boys, the Stooges, and the New York Dolls.
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 rooted in European synthpop from the mid-'80s. While the band's clearly inspired by Europop, the music's bleak moods are driven by Boose and Jorgensen's goth tendencies.
Midnight Syndicate -- When Midnight Syndicate's Edward Douglas made a straight-to-video film called The Dead Matter five years ago, he discovered that he liked creating the music for the soundtrack more than the actual filming. As a result, he joined up with Gavin Goszka to form Midnight Syndicate, which released its self-titled first album in 1997. That album, which featured a range of music, isn't typical of what the band sounds like; it has since adopted a more consistent approach. Like Danny Elfman, Midnight Syndicate makes music that's spooky in a campy sort of way, and every Halloween, theme parks across the country tap the band's catalog for their haunted houses, rides, and other festivities related to the holiday. Set in a fictional nuthouse called Haverglast Asylum, the band's latest album, Gates of Delirium, keeps to the Midnight Syndicate template; with its gothic piano flourishes, creepy string arrangements, and bone-chilling chants, it sounds like the soundtrack to a Tim Burton film.
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 Szyms -- 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.
Morticia's Chair -- Morticia's Chair, which includes singer-guitarist Mark K, drummer Mike Bostwick, and singer-bassist Jeffrey Deasy, has solid songwriting skills, and singer-guitarist Mark K has a bellowing voice that resembles that of goth icon Peter Murphy. Morticia's Chair experiments with a variety of sounds on its debut, last year's Echolocator. In instrumentals such as "Dark Hand" and "Orchard," it pairs acoustic guitars with cascading keyboards and tones down the guitars. The songs might be a little too new age, but they're beautifully written. The album's best song is "Another Siren," on which the band plays up its pop/rock sensibilities and goes easy on the goth clichés.
Eddie Baccus Jr. -- The son of a jazzman, Eddie Baccus Jr. started playing saxophone just over 10 years ago when he began his schooling with a summer program at the Berklee School of Music. After spending some time in New York to study with Cleveland native Joe Lovano, he returned to Berklee and consequently toured with trumpeter Lester Bowie and the jazz act Pieces of a Dream. He currently performs locally with a trio and quintet, is a member of Pieces of a Dream, and occasionally plays with his father as an act they call Back 2 Back.
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.
Ernie Krivda -- 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 and his Fat Tuesday Big Band have embraced the songs and composers of the '30s and '40s. While plenty of opportunistic neo-swing bands have pilfered the Louis Jordan/Louis Prima jump tradition and tried to pass it off as swing, Krivda and Fat Tuesday get 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.
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 multireedist 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.
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 its 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.
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 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.
Stacie Collins -- 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. 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 Collinses moved to Nashville last year, but not before releasing a terrific self-titled record and playing a farewell show at the now-defunct Barons. There are nods to folk and blues in Collins's music, but this isn't Americana. Rather, most of what the Collins family gives us is the polished feel of modern country -- think Holly Dunn or Patty Loveless, with less ache.
Hillbillly Idol -- Some things just never get old. When Hillbilly Idol -- singer-guitarists Paul Kovac, Dave Huddleston, and Al Moss, bassist Bill Watson, and drummer Scott Flowers -- is onstage, playing its fusion of old-time standards, bluegrass, and country, there's nothing old about it. The men of Hillbilly Idol have earned their reputation as 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 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. And look for the band's next album, which is in the final stages of mixing, due out by the end of the year.
B.E. Mann -- Known for his dance-powered live shows, B.E. Mann is to reggae what George Clinton is to funk. A versatile artist who sings and 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.
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 banging on a percussive instrument. Last year, the group released Full Circle, a retrospective of its work that includes songs recorded both live and in the studio.
Drumplay -- Born and raised in Cleveland, Drumplay's James Onysko was a relative latecomer to music. He worked as a court stenographer for many years before being drawn to music, first through a gig at WCSB, Cleveland State's radio station, then through WCPN. Onysko started studying percussion in the late '80s, and after his first band dissolved, he formed Drumplay on a whim in 1992. He's turned the group, which includes percussionist Warren Levert as a core member, into a kind of rotating improv unit that mirrors the U.K.-based space rock band Gong, with whom Onysko has performed. Its most recent album, Beachland, includes collaborations with locals such as poet Daniel Thompson and saxophonist Joshua Smith.
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. The group's also represented by a track on Balkans Without Borders, a benefit album done for an organization called Doctors Without Borders. Until just a couple of months ago, Mahovlich was 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 New York) and in Europe.
Doug Burkhart -- The owner of Grand Poo-bas Records in Lakewood, Doug Burkhart provides local DJs with a much-needed source of vinyl by stocking his store with the kind of hard-to-find 12-inches that only DJs need. He's been working on the Cleveland club circuit for over 10 years, and he's currently the DJ on Saturday nights at Spy.
Mike Metz -- Mike Metz's first exposure to house music came 15 years ago when he was a regular at a now-defunct bar called Isis. He's been in love with house ever since, initially mixing records onto a tape deck before he was able to purchase a second turntable. After playing his first gig at a party near Case Western, he landed a residency at Trilogy (now Metropolis) in 1991. After subsequent residencies at Spy, he now holds down a steady gig working the wheels of steel at Touch Supper Club.
Mike Filly -- While in his teens, Mike Filly started sampling the new-wave portions of '80s music and experimenting with artists who relied on heavy sampling to piece their tunes together. By the time he stumbled onto his first gig, a summer slot as a DJ at John Carroll University's WJCU-FM/88.7, he got his first chance to play music that wasn't getting airtime at local stations and clubs. Now a resident DJ at West Sixth Street's Mercury Lounge, Filly has maneuvered through Cleveland clubs for nearly 10 years, playing downtempo and jazzy/deep house with a groove-infested approach that relies on hip-hop beats and bass and funk instrumentals. And though Filly's chilled-out, slower style is a rarity in the Cleveland area, he gives much-needed exposure to artists such as DJ Cam, Nightmares on Wax, and Todd Edwards.
Tik Tak -- Alex Virasayachack, a.k.a. Tik Tak, started out listening to staples of the mid- to late-'80s electronic and industrial scene -- acts such as Depeche Mode, Nitzer Ebb, and Skinny Puppy. After tiring of that, he gravitated toward the gritty breakbeats of hip-hop, and once he was exposed to the hardcore breakbeat techno coming out of England in '91, he was hooked. In the early part of 1993, inspired by local DJs such as Mike Filly, he started throwing small raves around the Cleveland area and regularly enlisted the help of other Cleveland DJs, such as Steve "Sleepy C" Cinch, as well as friends from around the Midwest, such as Pittsburgh native Dieselboy. After a short stint in San Francisco, Virasayachack returned to Cleveland in 1995 and picked up where he had left off, promoting raves as part of the Baseheads crew -- which also includes DJs Kevin Cunningham, Still Life, and Release -- and on his own, under the 216Base production flag. He currently hosts the Jungle Lounge, a weekly drum 'n' bass night at Spy.
Einstein's Secret Orchestra -- A side project for Cobra Verde's Chas Smith, Einstein's Secret Orchestra plays mostly at "Devivals," the strange quasireligious functions put on by the Church of the Subgenius. But ever since the Church's leader, Reverend Ivan Stang, moved from Texas to Cleveland just over a year ago, the number of locally staged devivals has increased, and ESO has been there to assist in the mayhem. The group, which throws the occasional Brian Eno cover into its set, puts the emphasis on Smith's madcap theremin routines, thereby setting an appropriate mood for the kind of debauchery that goes along with devivals. Smith also teaches a class on rock music at Cleveland State University and will be publishing a textbook on the subject this fall.
Hanna -- Warren Harris, a.k.a. Hanna, had a choice to make when he was a teenager: He could learn to play music, or he could play sports. Inspired by his mother, who sang in the Cleveland Orchestra chorus, he chose music, and the local scene has benefited from that decision. In the mid-'80s, while still in high school, Harris joined a heavy metal band called Tempest, but by the mid-'90s, he started experimenting with electronic compositions and sampling. His first single, "Freshglow," was released on Dan Curtin's Metamorphic label in 1998. Since then, Harris has recorded at a steady pace, releasing singles on small dance labels such as Sublime, Paper, Headspace, and Nepenta. Scarlet Manifesto, his debut for the New York-based imprint Shadow Records, was released earlier this year.
Prom Queen -- A group that's equal parts hip-hop and electronica, Prom Queen includes singer-guitarist Doug Johnson, singer-guitarist-keyboardist Felicite Medi, singer Tora Whitehead, singer Mike Baker, guitarist Paul Vancuren, and percussionist Warren Levert. Think of the group as Cleveland's answer to Tricky, as its music has a decidedly dark, ambient texture that sounds as if it came out of Bristol, England, rather than Midwest America. Last year, the group released its debut, Nothing Is Forever, and showcased at the College Music Journal conference in New York.
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 to "soundtrack rock" exist, but no less appropriate 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.
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, 86, 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, and 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.
Joe Bell & the Swing Lizards -- Founded in 1989 by singer-guitarist Joe Bell, the Swing Lizards are a bluesy swing band. 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. Last year, the band released Slither, which features a guest appearance by Gloria Estefan saxophonist Kenny Anderson.
Blue Lunch -- Back when Blue Lunch had a regular Sunday night gig at Wilbert's, engineer Jim Horn decided to tape a show. Singer-guitarist Robert 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 and realized he could release the recording as an album. 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. Earlier this year, the group returned with its third album, Not Live at the Copa.
The Schwartz Bros. -- Probably no musician in Cleveland has had a more interesting history than guitarist Glenn Schwartz. He's been holding down Thursday nights at Hoopples, a Columbus Road 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, 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.
Breaker: Get Tough -- Formed in 1982 -- when singer Jim Hamar and bassist Ian Shipley left their band Hellion to join drummer Mark Klein, guitarist Michael Klein, and guitarist Don Depew (who all played in Imposter) -- Breaker took its name from an album by the German heavy metal band Accept. While Breaker has never disbanded, it basically dropped off the map shortly after making its debut with 1987's Get Tough. In its day, Breaker played regularly to full houses at the now-defunct Pop Shop and opened for Metallica the first time the group came through town to play the Agora in 1983. With the reissue of Get Tough, which comes complete with a separate disc of outtakes and demos, the band has found new life. Last summer, it played at the Wacken Music Festival in Germany and shortly after returning to Cleveland played on the Blossom side stage before an Iron Maiden concert.
Damnation of Adam Blessing: Damnation of Adam Blessing -- After releasing two solid albums -- 1968's Damnation of Adam Blessing and 1970's The Second Damnation -- the Damnation of Adam Blessing, which had had only a couple of regional hits, teamed up with producer Eric Stevens, who proceeded to water down its heavy music by adding overwrought string arrangements to its third album, Which Is the Justice, Which Is the Thief. Nevertheless, all three albums are essential listening for anyone into what was then called "acid rock." Reissued last year by the Italian label Akarma, which has packaged them in a boxed set that comes with a booklet and poster, the albums have gotten the deluxe treatment they deserve. Conflicts with its manager, coupled with the fact that Which Is the Justice didn't sell, resulted in the band getting dropped, but a reunion show at the Rock Hall last year suggested the group's still got some life left in it.
Pink Holes: We're Glad We Are What We Are -- In 1981, bassist Scott "Cheese" Borger started a punk band he called the Pink Holes, which were active until 1990, when their guitarist, Bob Richey, relocated to Los Angeles. (The group still reconvenes for occasional shows and played earlier this year at the Beachland.) While they were never virtuoso musicians, the Pink Holes have a snotty approach that's been mimicked by plenty of bands since. Smog Veil, a label based in Las Vegas, has reissued We're Glad We Are What We Are (Revisited), a Pink Holes album recorded at a show played on New Year's Eve in 1984 at the Lakefront. It comes with nine previously unreleased bonus tracks and features a raucous cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."
Alarm Clocks: Yeah! -- Norton Records' reissue of Yeah! is the first official pressing of the Alarm Clocks release since the band put out its one and only single, "Yeah!"/"No Reason to Complain," in 1966. About a month after cutting "Yeah!", the Alarm Clocks, a garage-rock band from Parma, went to Sound Ideas Recording studios to cut a demo tape that it could give to local promoters. In one take, the group recorded several tracks, among them raucous covers of "Louie Louie," "It's All Over Now," and "It's Alright." At the time, the group thought the tape would help take it beyond the high school party circuit, but in retrospect, the band's unhinged performance has had a more lasting effect. Both "Yeah!" and "No Reason to Complain" were recorded live in the studio, and only 300 copies were made (the original pressings have since become collectors' items that sell for up to $1,000), so this reissue works to the consumer's benefit.