Craig Balzer, 1970s Cleveland Rock Catalyst, Dies From Cancer at 61

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Craig Balzer, left, with Decembers Children.
  • Craig Balzer, left, with December's Children.

Guitarist and singer Craig Balzer, a sparkplug of Cleveland’s music scene in the ’70s, died January 7 of cancer at the age of 61. He fronted American Noise, which released a self-titled album in 1980 on Elektra subsidiary Planet Records and became a WMMS favorite and spearhead of its “Pride of Cleveland” promotional campaign. WMMS listeners of that era will recall tracks like “Anyone With a Heart,” “American Noise,” and “Out on the Street.” American Noise broke up in 1982, never catching the wave that propelled similar melodic hard rock bands like Loverboy, Mr. Mister, and Survivor to stardom, despite Balzer’s hard work and relentless promotion. Balzer retired from music and formed a company that sold specialty promotional items.

But Balzer was already a star in the local music scene, based primarily on his stint in Circus, which lasted only a year but had an outsized impact on the area music scene. He and his guitarist brother Bruce, who’d previously played togther in December’s Children and Ambleside, joined the popular band, which had a local hit with “Stop Wait and Listen,” in mid-1973 and propelled it to another level.

Balzer’s charisma, glam fashion sense, and engaging toothy grin, plus the Balzer Brothers’ twin lead guitars on their signature Allman Brothers tunes, gave the band the sizzle it needed to become the local scene’s top dog. It packed the old Agora on East 24th and Payne every Thursday night, usually drawing close to a thousand fans. That Circus lineup broke up in August 1974 when drummer Tom Dobeck joined the newly formed Michael Stanley Band, and the Balzers were tapped by Raspberries’ lead singer Eric Carmen for his new solo project. Carmen later opted to hire another local band to back him. Perhaps he was worried — not without justification — that Craig Balzer would outshine him. — Anastasia Pantsios

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