Michael Stanley, RIP: An Appreciation of Rock’s Ultimate Local Hero


Like a secret handshake, you’ll be able to nonetheless measure the rock and Midwestern bonafides of individuals, particularly those that grew up in Ohio and surrounding states within the ‘70s and ‘80s by whether or not they knew the Michael Stanley Band. In Cleveland, particularly, Stanley was an artist who felt each bit as necessary as Detroit’s Bob Seger, Indiana’s John Mellencamp and even Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen, who additionally captured working class lives, loves and disappointments with an authenticity as gritty because it was charged. He was the person who forged AOR rockers like “Midwest Midnight,” “Let’s Get the Present on The Street,” “Strike Up the Band” and “Our City,” anthems from a city that was forged off and mocked, right into a world the place he by no means fairly attained nationwide stardom. How might they not know that, in our nook of America, he was a god?

Michael Stanley, the dark-haired guitarist with the voice that growled, did the unthinkable with out the momentum of superstardom, in Cleveland, regardless of his attain to the coasts. He offered out the once-proud Richfield Coliseum, opened by Frank Sinatra with a black-tie gala and the place the Cavaliers performed for many years, for 2 nights sooner than Led Zeppelin of their prime. Offered out the theater-in-the-round Entrance Row for ten consecutive nights because the swan track for the Michael Stanley Band. Offered out 4 more-than-SRO reveals at Blossom Music Middle, a document that has but to be damaged.

However that’s not why he issues, or why individuals the place I come from care. Michael Stanley noticed us. He knew what we had been pondering, feeling, the fact of the way it felt being the good unseen and never-heralded. He took all of it in, twisted that reality into three, 4, 5 visceral minutes, and despatched our lives into the world with an precise dignity and understanding. (To learn Selection‘s obituary of Stanley, click on right here.)

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Michael Stanley, 1949-2021

As 1999 turned to 2000, I started a blind e-mail friendship with him. Managing a giant buzz artist whose deal had gone south, I reached out for recommendation. The consumer, who was on the quilt of USA Right now with no document deal, then bought caught in a document firm merger and politics and was self-destructing. Someway I believed he would have perception into the best way to survive the underside falling out. He had no concept who I used to be, past that I cared sufficient about one musician to succeed in out to a different; demurring he prompt I attempt a younger guitarist he’d seen who appeared to have a extra present take. I defined that was precisely who I used to be reaching out for.

Nonetheless the trade grew right into a life of its personal. I realized that he had opinions about all the things musical, however he was additionally a voracious reader, a fan of the Indians, the Browns and the Cavs, Mission furnishings, native Cleveland eating places and the way life advanced.

Sooner or later, it got here out that I used to be one of these Cleveland children, who’d grown up on the music. If not an enormous fan, I understood why “In The Heartland” mattered, “Spanish Nights” with its declaration “She holds on to St. Christopher…” mattered a lot to us. They had been songs individuals we knew had inhabited.

The place most rock stars wish to be seen, he noticed – and took within the individuals rocking out to his music. Shortly after we grew to become buddies, I confessed seeing him do a really small present on the finish of the ‘70s at Cleveland’s Crawford Auto Aviation Museum; in direction of set’s finish, he reached down and pulled me — together with a bunch of different ladies — up onstage.

“I keep in mind that present,” he stated.

“Yeah, it was loopy.”

Taking a look at me, he laughed, “You had been sporting a gray gown, proper?”

I nearly fell over. “Yeah…”

“Yeah, you’d stood there all night time,” he stated, “along with your arms variety of folded, wanting actually exhausting at us…”

Thoughts you, this was greater than 20 years prior. Being pulled out of the gang is a giant deal to child, however to a man setting attendance information in Northern Ohio? To keep in mind that? Already on observe to be a rock critic — maybe the job I’m greatest recognized for — getting that shut was a rarity, so I used to be taking all of it in.

“Can I ask you a query?” he requested.

“Certain,” I replied, instantly not sure.

“What had been you doing?

Laughing, I defined, “I used to be attempting to know what it was you try this left everybody so unraveled… I used to be learning you.”

He laughed at that. However that was the factor. Michael Stanley didn’t simply see me that night time, of course. He noticed us. Younger, hungry, dreaming of one thing extra, not even positive what it was. He felt our urgency. He put it in songs.

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Michael Stanley

“Take The Time” was a plea to attach with the individuals in your world. “Working Once more” with its HOO-HUH punctuations echoed the get-on-with-it grind of blue-collar work. “Spanish Nights,” a story of a love that couldn’t be, supplied a blessing and a benediction with the confession, “Whenever you run with the dreamers, the going can get so robust / In the end, you discover out goals simply ain’t sufficient…” And: “For passionate individuals, these are determined occasions / Determined measures name for passionate crimes…”

He delivered a terrific indictment of the document enterprise. “Midwest Midnight,” whose bookends chronicle a younger music lover shifting from fan to band to at least one extra document firm casualty, brandishing the seething rejoinder, “Chasing the celebrity retains ’em all within the sport, However cash’s nonetheless the best way they hold rating / And no person informed you that you’d get outdated, strung out like some Avenue whore…/ Ready launch, getting shot by means of the grease / Some L.A. madonna’s maligned / And New York’s calling simply to see in case you’ve heard ’bout the good English band they only signed….”

Bitter, but cautionary, “Midnight” is matched by “Let’s Get the Present on the Street,” which cores the indignities and suspended animation of by no means fairly breaking by means of. Because the tedium and moments stack up, Stanley provides a reality that extends past rock ’n’ roll: “The Lord makes use of the great ones, and the dangerous ones use the Lord.”

“Stagepass” was the stay album — with the enduring cowl of an nameless lady pulling a cross from fairly the decolletage — that seemingly each child needed to have, extra ubiquitous in Northern Ohio than even than “Frampton Comes Alive!” Fist-pumping fury supplied our personal soundtrack, our personal place in rock ‘n’ roll simply as WMMS began successful these Rolling Stone readers’ polls for radio station of the yr. His document offers with Epic, Arista and EMI by no means yielded the large hit, however “Lover,” the gradual burning ballad of dropping the lady, supplied the impossibly iconic declaration: “God bless the person who put the white traces on the freeway…”

However once more, that’s not fairly why the man who did “American Bandstand” with Dick Clark or “Midnight Particular” with Joe Walsh and Dan Fogelberg in his band issues. He’d been produced by the largest rock producers of the day in Don Gehman, Mutt Lange and Invoice Szymczyk … and toured with the Eagles, REO Speedwagon, Fleetwood Mac. Residing the rarest air of rock ‘n’ roll with out ever forgetting the oldsters in Cleveland, he was ours.

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Michael Stanley

A citizen of music gone the transition to internet hosting “PM Journal” and being the man who “takes you house” because the afternoon drive-time DJ on WNCX, Cleveland’s AOR station, he acquired the 2019 Cleveland Arts Prize Lifetime Achievement Award. Whereas he was beneficiant with what he knew, he understood his significance to the followers who believed in that music for therefore a few years.

Once we lastly met, eight months after I’d first emailed him, he grilled me concerning the thriller of all of it. He was fascinated by the way it regarded from past the windshield – and he thought the notion of context was humorous. He swore he actually didn’t know, nor considered it. It appeared actual.

And when he challenged me to come back see his present band play — “Don’t you wanna know?” — I resisted the urge to demure for worry of what occurs to as soon as nice bands once they gear all the way down to the nostalgia laps. He was enjoying downtown Cleveland’s largest out of doors venue, the Nautica, with a post-MSB group he’d dubbed the Resonators. It was all so odd, lastly, I agreed to come back watch, realizing there was no assessment to be filed, no hurt to be finished.

It was one of the best classes within the energy of not simply rock ‘n’ roll, however the ardour for a targeted hometown hero. He took the stage like he meant it, and the Resonators, whose lineup included unique MSB drummer Tommy Dobeck and keyboardist Bob Pelander, did, too. It was as in the event that they had been enjoying for his or her life, however much more for the followers’ lives.

And that’s the place the lesson is available in. Working class individuals don’t age effectively. Twenty years in the past, that viewers was of their 40s, 50s, 60s, and so they regarded prefer it. Sure, the recent ladies who had been all so horny had been nonetheless these girls, however for many of the viewers, the years confirmed. By the second track, nevertheless, the miles had fallen away. On their chairs, howling and dancing, it was precisely how they had been because the Nineteen Seventies became the ‘80s.

By the top of the set, in spite of everything of the songs from all of these well-loved albums had been performed, however the viewers was not sated. Stanley, 52 on the time, and band reappeared, fired up the music – after which the unthinkable. The previous baseball participant got here off that stage, guitar slung low, and took a victory lap by means of the gang; up one aisle, down the opposite. The individuals got here utterly unglued.

Speaking about how insane it appeared the subsequent day, I couldn’t assist asking what prompted it.

“,” he stated, “it simply felt prefer it wanted to be finished.”

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Michael Stanley

Michael Stanley at all times bought what the individuals wanted. His annual two-weekend stands at an old-school Akron supper membership yielded “Reside In Tangiers,” an unplugged consideration of MSB and  early solo albums. The double-CD set confirmed a depth of seething rockers and wistful ballads, normally with the girl simply out of attain.

He’d stopped recording, claimed he wasn’t writing partially as a result of the world had moved on. Our epistolary friendship challenged the concept of his creativity, pushed him to start out writing once more. All of the sudden, the songs and albums began coming. “The Floor” supplied songs for individuals weighing the identical questions on their place on the earth; “American Street,” “The Mushy Addictions,” “The Experience,” “The Grasp,” “Shadowland” and “Simply One other Evening in America” continued the thread.

As soon as once more, Michael was writing songs for the individuals no person noticed, talking their reality so that they knew they had been seen and anyone acknowledged their conflicts, their triumphs, their lives. That was the magic. These songs — “Romeo Is Bleeding,” “My Final Day On Earth,” “Fortunate Once more,” “Lap Canine Dance,” “Vicodin & Prayer,” “You Simply By no means Know,” “The Curves of Bratenahl” and “How Many Guitars Do You Want” — gave a palpable soundtrack to individuals regarded as too outdated and never goal demo, however nonetheless very a lot alive.

Scott Raab, the longtime Esquire author, got here to a Tangiers present with me one yr. Taking within the crowd, the apparent actuality of age and circumstances surprised him. “Simply wait,” I cautioned. “You’ve by no means seen something prefer it.”

Gamely, he nodded. Since he’d pushed from Cleveland the place he’d been engaged on his LeBron James e-book, he may as effectively hear “Strike Up the Band.” By the point the band had hit second gear, the years and the damage and tear had melted. The viewers was remodeled, again to their shiniest selves, 15 or 23 or 32 years outdated when life was contemporary and prospects had been infinite.

Raab leaned over. “What within the hell? I believed you had been kidding.”

“It’s like ‘Cocoon’,” I yelled over the music. “They should imagine, and the music ignites them. However extra importantly, they will inform he believes in them…”

Whether or not he ever became Bruce Springsteen or not, he was our hand on the brass ring. He held on for pricey life, doing all the things a rock star does, together with promoting out huge venues within the rock ‘n’ roll capitol of the world. However then when it was over, he saved on believing.

Like the town of Cleveland itself, he by no means let go. He saved rocking, saved enjoying reveals, saved writing songs. From time to time, the inbox would get an e-mail from [email protected] with a track connected, one thing fierce or one thing tender, however at all times one thing from the center.

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Michael Stanley


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