By the dawn of the '70s, the baby boomers were turning 18 and hitting the bars. That spawned a wave of splashy, near-professional cover bands that filled rock clubs virtually every night. Many of these bands became local stars — making good money, buying topnotch gear and attracting groupies. One of these was East Wind, who packed the Longhorn in Maple Heights every Friday and Saturday night in the mid-'70s. They broke up in 1978, and except for one reunion show a year or two later, that was that — until recently.
Drummer Tony Mazzone remained friends with band founder/lead guitarist/singer Jim Greer over the years. When Greer's son Tim got married, Mazzone, Greer and Greer's brother Billy — the band's first drummer and co-writer with Jim of many of its tunes — jumped onstage and did a few songs.
"It gave us chills when we looked at each other onstage, " recalls Mazzone. "We had spent a lot of time together; we were like band brothers. [Tim] kept saying, you guys have got to get back together."
After tracking down rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Rich Attinoto in Detroit, East Wind were ready to rock again. They played at the Beachland Ballroom in September, with bassist Bob Coulson rounding out the lineup and Billy Greer coming from Denver to sing backup vocals. They're doing it again at House of Blues' Cambridge Room this weekend. But now it's just for fun — the stardom dreams are in the past.
Mazzone recalls the band's trajectory from its formation in 1969 (he joined in 1971) to local success to its final days. At the band's peak, "We were playing out five, six nights a week — Fat Glenn's [at Cleveland State], the Agora, the Longhorn, a lot of frat parties at Case Western Reserve."
He attributes the band's longevity to its adaptability.
"In the beginning, we were playing stuff like 'In the Court of the Crimson King,' a lot of Uriah Heep, Moody Blues, Grand Funk," he says, ticking off a typical early-'70s set list. "Then we started playing more commercial stuff, danceable material that got us bigger crowds. When disco came in, we still did good because we learned about eight songs off the Saturday Night Fever album. One of the things East Wind prided itself on is we played songs very close to the record. We did them better live than a lot of the original bands."
Like most of Cleveland's popular cover bands, East Wind aspired to more. They wrote dozens of songs, although, like most bands, they played only a handful at any gig. In 1975, the band went into Agency Recording with producer Jim Quinn and engineer Arnie Rosenberg and recorded seven tunes. Two of them — "Sadness Never Lasts" and "Could This Be Love" — were released as a single on the band's own label, S.E.C. ("Sherry Elaine Comella," the band's sound engineer and Jim Greer's high-school sweetheart to whom he's been married since the '70s).
The band worked hard to promote the single. They made bumper stickers, posters, key chains and balloons, and worked with local distributors to get it in stores. But they didn't have the resources to get the airplay they needed. Meanwhile, they were focusing on their show, which kept getting bigger and flashier in their final years. They owned one of the biggest P.A. systems in the area.
"There was nothing like us at one point," says Mazzone. "We had a slide show, 16 mm films, flash pots, police lights, a disco ball, a smoke machine. I had 14 drums, three bass drums. We had a 22-foot box truck loaded with shit."
But musical tastes changed, disco took a toll and many of the rock rooms closed.
"We did our farewell-for-now reunion show at the Longhorn in April of 1980," says Mazzone. "We weren't sure whether we were broken up. It wasn't a personal, couldn't-get-along thing. It was just because we weren't going anywhere. We got tired of arguing with the same old bar owners."
But Mazzone fondly recalls those days. "The Longhorn was small, but any time we were there, it was packed. We had those silky shirts that show your hairy Italian chest. And by the time you went from one end of the bar to the other, your shirt had unbuttoned itself from the heat and the sweat."