Michael Stanley Band

TrackAlbum
Strike Up The BandLadies'’ Choice
Rosewood BittersStagepass
Let's Get The Show On The RoadStagepass
Why Should Love Be This WayCabin Fever
He Can't Love YouHeartland
LoverHeartland
In The HeartlandHeartland
Falling In Love AgainNorth Coast
Someone Like YouYou Can't Fight Fashion
My TownYou Can't Fight Fashion

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Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

Once upon a time I was lucky enough to live in a place where I could see the biggest band in the world, at their creative and commercial peak mind you, as often as I wanted. They were huge, nobody could touch their sales numbers. I remember the old Coliseum at Richfield, the Concert Hall of my youth where although I missed Frank Sinatra opening the arena in 1974 I did see Roger Daltrey close the place in 1994. They set the one night attendance record for that venerable institution in 1979 with a paid attendence of 20,320. I remember in 1982, right after I graduated High School, when the band headlined four nights in a row at the Blossom Music Center Outdoor Amphitheater and sold a still record 74,404 tickets. And then headlined the Coliseum on December 30th and 31st that same year and set a two day record of 40,529.

Yes, I was there to see the biggest band in the world – with their list of all-star producers and guest stars. Who didn’t want to be in the Legendary Michael Stanley Band, at least in a five county area of North East Ohio? Outside of their home turf they were a club act that charted twice, peaking at 33 and 38, during their eleven year career but on the Northcoast they were legends.

This is a story of a band, who if you stood in Downtown Cleveland on the shores of Lake Erie and drove for say two and half hours East/West/South they were the Beatles, Elvis and the Boss rolled into one and were a band that people asked, “didn’t they sing that song about …” anywhere else.

This is a story of the Legendary Michael Stanley Band.

Yet no good story can be told without an introduction of sorts. That started when not yet legendary, but soon to be, music producer Bill Szymczyk was fishing around Cleveland, Ohio in the very late 1960s for some talent to sign. He found the James Gang, led by Joe Walsh, and Silk, led by Michael (not yet Stanley) Gee. In 1969, Silk released an album and shockingly it didn’t sell.

So Michael headed back to Cleveland and laid low for a few years before, in 1972, Szymczyk produced his first solo album. Of course he brought along friends Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, Rick Derringer, Joe Vitale and Patti Austin to guest star on the album, Rosewood Bitters does appear on MSB’s first Greatest Hits album (yes, a band of this magnitude deserves two Greatest Hits albums) but it wasn’t really a MSB Song, so we aren’t going to count it.

A second solo album was produced by Szymczyk in 1973. This one guest starring Joe Walsh, Paul Harris, Joe Vitale, Joe Halal, David Sanborn, Richie Furay and Dan Folgelberg. And while I really want to include the classic Let’s Get The Show On The Road, again it isn’t really MSB yet.

In 1974, Stanley teamed with another guitar player by the name of Jonah Koslen. In retrospect, Stanley was at his best when he had a partner, and in the early years of the MSB Legend it was Jonah. They added Glass Harp bassist Daniel Pecchio and drummer Tommy Dobeck, who supposedly never officially joined the band but just kept showing up at the practice for the next thirteen years. Szymczyk produced the first MSB album, You Break It … You Bought It!. But it didn’t have that classic MSB sound we all know and love yet.

The second MSB album, Ladies’ Choice, which featured guest Sanborn on sax and J Geils Band organist Seth Justman on organ, does offer their first big hit with Strike Up The Band. A fun little rocker about well, being in a band on Saturday Night. It was a Koslen song and their closer for years.

I sort of fibbed earlier. I said I couldn’t include some of Stanley’s classic songs because they weren’t really MSB songs. Wellllllllll, then came Stagepass, the live album that proclaimed “MSB will make believers of you all”. So I can now sneak in Rosewood Bitters and Let’s Get The Show On The Road. The Michael Stanley Band went some through some big changes at this point, with Szymczyk producing for the last time, Koslen quitting the group and bassist Pecchio only having one more album in him.

But a group of this magnitude drew talent, so Mutt Lange stepped up to the boards to take over producing duties and the soon to be legendary Kevin Raleigh joined on keyboards and vocals, thereby replacing Koslen as the other guy who sang in MSB.

The Mutt Lange produced Cabin Fever produced the first great make out song of the MSB era, Why Should Love Be This Way, which asked the immortal question why should love be this way.

For Greatest Hints (see what they did there, replacing the word Hit with Hints) Harry Maslin, fresh off producing Bowie’s Young Americans, took a crack at producing the MSB juggernaut.

That year, MSB set an attendance record of 20,320 at the Coliseum of Richfield that was never broken, and then Arista dropped them for the incredible claim of bad sales.

But then came Heartland, the album that saw Clarence Clemons joining the band on sax, at least for this one album,

Raleigh’s first lead vocals, He Can’t Love You (Like I Love You), is a recognized classic of course. Although oddly enough, Billboard claimed the song peaked at #33, being the band’s biggest hit in “their” records, we in the Heartland new better. And then, when they said Stanley’s Lover peaked at #68 we knew the fix was in. Come on, who can’t sing “well the glow from the bars and a thousand stars/Light the cold Ohio night/and the turnpike’s slick, the snow’s as thick as thieves.” Stanley’s In The Heartland made this album a bona fide classic.

(Whoever You Are I’m) Falling in Love Again leapt off North Coast, the band’s next album, with the cover of all the guys in their leather jackets and seriously cool 1980s hair. This is a great ballad, but also a sentimental favorite as my group of friends at the time considered it the lead singer of our band’s theme song. Not because he sang it well, but because he usually fell in love Friday night, and by Monday morning was sad and dejected playing The Eagles’ Desperado over and over again. Admittedly, we might have used the song to harass him a bit. But then he made us listen to Desperado forty times in a row once.

1982 saw the release of MSB with a four night stand in front of over 74,000 in August, and closing out the year back at the Coliseum with a two night show to over 40,000. Suspiciously, Billboard claims the album peaked at #136 and the two singles at #78 and #81.

1983’s You Can’t Fight Fashion, produced by Bob Clearmountain, offered not only the strong Raleigh cut Someone Like You but a song that became a Cleveland Anthem and a one of their biggest hits nationally, which Billboard “claims” only reached #38. Of course I’m talking about the utterly infectious My Town.

After appearing on a couple national TV Shows, including Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, their label EMI actually had the gall to offer them only a six month extension on their contract. Stanley, ever the astute businessman, called their bluff and turned it down, which caused EMI to promptly drop the band. Which meant they released their final two albums on their own label. Which in retrospect might not have been the best idea. The band broke up in 1987, sort of.

In 1993, the band Ghost Poets released their one and only album with Stanley and Dobeck, the only two guys to play on every MSB album, joined by Koslen (guitarist and vocalist 1974-1977) and Bob Pelander (keyboardist 1976-1987 and frequent Stanley songwriter partner). They probably didn’t want to perform as MSB because they knew they couldn’t live up to the hype.

There exists a Facebook page demanding an MSB reunion. Which is kind of funny, as the Resonators, which constitute most of Stanley’s twelve post-MSB albums (many with Szymczyk involvement) are a band that contains Stanley, Dobeck, Pelander, and Danny Powers (MSB lead guitarist 1983-1987). They just don’t play under the name MSB, even though they clearly kind of are. Stanley has also been the Drive Time DJ on the local Classic Rock Station since 1990.

Koslen and Raleigh have both tried solo careers, without much luck but are still out there somewhere rocking away.

All joking aside, this was a band that probably deserved more than two hits that barely cracked the top 40. And they were also a band that in no way should have sold 74,000 tickets during a four night stand in the summer of 1982.

Bad business deals? Awful contracts? Bad timing? Who knows. If you were in MSB for any length of time you did fairly well financially, probably better than bands that had quite a few more hits. Of course it didn’t hurt that at any time the band had 3-4 songwriters, so royalties were plentiful. But facts are facts, for a solid ten years in a five county area where I grew up Bruce couldn’t outdraw them, Journey couldn’t outdraw them, Dylan couldn’t outdraw them. They were MSB, the biggest band in the world. At least in NE Ohio.

The Official Michael Stanley Website

Michael Stanley Band biography (iTunes)

There are only a few tracks on Spotify at present – click on link above – but you can sample the Heartland album and other Michael Stanley Band tracks at AllMusic.

TopperPost #299

3 Comments

  1. Ian Ashleigh
    Jun 12, 2014

    Another day, another new name and more new music to explore. Many thanks Calvin, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the 5 tracks our host collected for Spotify. I’m sure the rest must be out there somewhere. There’s a bit of Huey Lewis meets Bruce Springsteen in He Can’t Love You – and that’s not a bad thing to these aging ears.

  2. Calvin Rydbom
    Jun 13, 2014

    Glad you liked it Ian. I wasn’t completely satisfied with it as I was trying to walk a fine line between satirizing their ridiculous history and truly respecting them as a tight pop band of the Huey Lewis genre and I don’t feel as if I nailed that feeling as well as I could have.

  3. Adam Nowicki
    Jun 15, 2014

    This article is a stunning representation and explanation of this classic Ohio band. Not in all my time as an Ohioan have I read a more comprehensive overview of a band that all my uncles and father have talked about for as long as I can remember. In fact, I plan to search through my dad’s vinyls as soon as I am able and listen to them in their classic glory. This article was so expertly written that I am starting to feel a deep seated regret at being born past their prime. If I had a list of things that depressed me, never being able to see the Michael Stanley Band at the Richfield Coliseum, or at the Blossom Music Center would be placed firmly at the top of the list.

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