Singer-guitarist Jonah Koslen first met fellow singer-guitarist Michael Stanley in the 1970s through the late Marty Mooney, a local guy who worked as a regional rep for Columbia Records.
At the time, Koslen, 22, was living in Denver, but he liked the prospect of moving back to Northeast Ohio to play with Stanley.
It turned out to be the right decision as Koslen helped propel Stanley into a regional sensation.
“It was very exciting,” says Koslen in a recent phone interview when asked about performing with Stanley in the '70s. Koslen performs at 3 and 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Music Box Supper Club. “Michael had done two solo albums. We immediately went to Miami to record. I went from being a guy who had played in a folk duo to making a real record in a real studio and having the whole experience of going on the road. We worked really hard and went on the road all the time. Michael was very generous and let me write material for the band. I was excited to do that, and we’d work out the songs together.”
MSB toured extensively in support of 1977’s Stagepass
, performing with other up-and-coming acts such as Foreigner, Cheap Trick and Rush.
“We were just starting out and we played with a lot of bands who were starting out at the time too,” says Koslen. “Our band was just starting to break.”
But at that point, Koslen left the Michael Stanley Band and formed Breathless with bassist Bob Benjamin, drummer Kevin Valentine, percussionist Rodney Psyka, guitarist Alan Greene and keyboardist Mark Avsec.
“I just wanted to lead my own band and go in a direction that I had in mind,” Koslen says when asked about the decision to leave MSB. “Breathless was an absolutely fabulous band that made two albums that I thought were really underrated. The band didn’t get nearly enough exposure. It was just a good band, and I was writing lots of material. We did those two albums, but I had another three albums’ worth of material. If that band had happened today, we would have done lots of albums.”
Breathless songs such as the Journey-like “Takin’ it Back,” a tune with a gritty guitar riff and call-and-response vocals, certainly fared well next to what was on commercial radio at the time. The band toured with KISS and even headlined Blossom at one point.
“You’d turn on the radio in Cleveland at the time, and you might hear three or four different Breathless songs,” he says.
Breathless would disband in 1981. Avsec and Valentine would join Donnie Iris's band the Cruisers, and Koslen formed Jonah Koslen and the Heroes and recorded two albums with that group before moving to Los Angeles, where he played with blues guitarist Bonnie Bramlett.
“I also did some music for B-movies,” he says. “It was an interesting time. When I was playing with Bonnie, we would play the Coconut Teaszer on the Sunset Strip. The band that opened for us was called the Drunk Fux. They would just come in and play. That was right when the band was getting big.”
In the early ’90s, Koslen reunited with Michael Stanley to help write and produce his Ghost Poets
“It was great to work with him again,” he says. “We did at Beachwood Stuidos. It was right when digital recording was starting. We had a nice band. It was a good experience.”
Up until the upcoming Music Box show, Koslen has been playing the MSB album Stagepass
in its entirety. Now, however, he wants to draw from more of his back catalog.
“This is the first time I’m paring that back,” he says. “I wasn’t covering any other material. I’m doing Breathless and things from my new CD. I will have a couple of guys from Breathless join me on stage, which will be wonderful and a treat for me and the audience too. It’s obvious at this point which songs to do. A lot of them haven’t been done in a while and they’re favorites. I have my favorites off the new record too. There are other ones too. We’re doing a song from my One Man Island Band
album called ‘The Flip Flop Song’ and a couple of other things like that.”
Koslen’s new album, Partially Light
, shows off his singer-songwriter side. He’s also issuing Jonah Koslen and the Heroes Agora Live
, a recording of a WMMS Coffebreak concert from 1983 that contains live versions of classic MSB, Breathless and Heroes tunes.
“That concert took place right after [the Heroes album] Aces
came out,” he says. “The band was very hot. We did a great set at the Agora. After all this time, I thought it’s a nice representation of the Heroes material, and it also has some MSB material and Breathless material.”
And what continues to motivate a man whose career stretches back 40 years?
“I don’t want to seem too profound about it, but if you’re a musician, it’s in your blood,” he says, adding that it’s “always fabulous” to play Cleveland. “There’s a time when I used to write all the time and then infrequently. But even then, I would still wake up with song ideas. It’s just what you do.”
The Music of Jonah Koslen: The Heroes, Breathless, Solo Works and MSB Favorites, 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main Ave., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $25 ADV, $30 DOS, musicboxcle.com.