Line Level Music
The late Seventies and early Eighties were good to us. It was a good time to be in a rock n roll band. Radio was still cool. You could make a lot of inroads on the road. It was fun. We were lucky to be around at that point. ~ Michael Stanley
THE STORY BEHIND "THE GROUND" COVER
Its a picture I took in Shannon, Ireland in the late 80s. I have it framed in my house. My wife suggested we use it after talking about the title of the record. I was worried it would look like a depressing Windham Hill cover. But then, who wants to see an aging rock guy on the cover? So I put that picture on the back. For better or worse this is the most cohesive record Ive made. There is enough there for MSB fans as well as those who like the acoustic stuff. ~ Michael Stanley
There was a time when the Michael Stanley Band was untouchable in the northeastern market. They played with all the greats including Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Foreigner and The Doobie Brothers. To this day their attendance records at Ohios Blossom Music Center and the Cleveland Coliseum stand as monuments to the bands staggering audience appeal. The early-eighties where indeed good for MSB as they capitalized on their unique full band sound selling hundreds of thousands of records and enjoying a thriving loyal following.
The Michael Stanley Band can be divided into three separate entities. There were the early folk-rock years from 1972-77. The mid-section, regarded by many to be the bands most prolific, from 1978-1983 and the independent years from 1984-1987. Though they released a number of singles including the early MTV hits "He Can't Love You" and "My Town" the BIG one never came. Yet, their output remained consistent and honest right to the end. Heartland, North Coast, MSB and You Cant Fight Fashion remain classics and, like Bob Seger and John Mellencamp, earmark a historical period in Heartland rock.
As far back as 1967 Stanley was seeing success as a musician releasing a single with the Tree Stumps called Listen To Love. A few years later, while attending Hiram College, he completed his second recording with popular local band Silk titled Smooth As Silk (1969). The band enjoyed some regional success but it was the same night they decided to break up that New York producer Bill Szymczyk stopped by. After meeting with Stanley, an illustrious bond was formed which would eventually lead to Stanleys first set of recordings.
Though his first records followed a typical singer/songwriter motif they won the praise and support of another Cleveland native, Joe Walsh as well as Todd Rundgren and David Sanborn. However it was Stanleys collaboration with Danny Pecchio and Jonah Koslen that fine-tuned a band direction. Adding drummer Tommy Dobeck and later keyboardist Bob Pelander the Michael Stanley Band won fans throughout Ohio and eventually convinced their record label (Epic) to release a sold-out two-night recording at the famed Agora Ballroom. Stage Pass (1977) not only captured the bands highly energetic show with songs like Calcutta Auction, Nothings Gonna Change My Mind and Midwest Midnight but set a new precedence in cover art.
A label and personnel change only increased the bands momentum and with the help of Clarence Clemmons on loan from the Bruce Springsteen band, MSB delivered their most successful record to date Heartland. With the top 40 hit "He Can't Love You," and crowd favorite "Lover the band moved from a high profile bar band to blue-collar patriots. It all became a blur as MSB toured and recorded back to back for the next five years. North Coast (1981) put In the Heartland and Somewhere in the Night on the radio while MSB (1982) dropped In Between The Lines and Spanish Nights into the charts. You Cant Fight Fashion ended the bands ten year streak with major labels even though My Town become the largest hit single of the their career.
Two independent releases signaled the bands determination to survive but in the end they pulled the plug going out with nine sold out concerts at Clevelands Front Row in 1987. Since the break up the band has taken on legendary status. Once in the mid-Nineties they played a reunion show that promptly sold out. Stanley tried his hand at TV before joining the staff at WNCX 98.5 radio. He can now be heard daily on your afternoon drive home if you live in Cleveland.
Life changed for Stanley, but it was a near fatal heart attack in 1991 that gave it true meaning. The experience created what can only be described as his personal peak in song writing. The song was Coming Up For Air and is featured on his first post-MSB record of the same name. Its been eight years since Michael Stanley second lease on life and though he has recorded the acoustic romp Live At Tangiers and a second solo record Eighteen Down his personal best was yet to come.
Enter The Ground (2003). Released just before Thanksgiving, the 55 year-old Stanley has assembled a cast of songs as haunting, as moving and as inspirational as any in his illustrious career. The following is a number of quotes The Cutting Edge pulled from our recent phone call. We talk about his new record but more importantly, when sewn together, they give an insiders look into Michael Stanleys world as a musical journeyman.
I did an interview with Keith Richards several years ago. He said a wonderful thing that I kind of adapted as my own mantra. He said, We just took what we learned and tried to make something of it. We pass it on to somebody else and let them do something else with it. It 's the folk tradition in the electric sense.
I started selling records in a record store as a kid, now I work at a radio station playing those same records. I guess life eventually comes around full circle. Working at the station affords me the time to make new records and continue as a musician. The only thing it doesnt allow me to do is tour very extensively - its like, How far can you get on a weekend?
When I decided to get back into recording I started selling my records only on the Internet. Then I got a couple distributors who picked them up and now its somewhat national. Lately weve been getting a whole lot of orders from Europe. Mostly from Germany, MSB did pretty well in Germany probably due to Armed Forces radio. Its all been a new experience. Im back to my semi-retail roots. As well as writing, recording producing and stuffing the envelopes.
Once youre in this business for so many years its hard to walk away from it. I gave up the rock star dreams years ago. That wasnt the reason I got into music in the first place. I wanted to me a songwriter and I wanted to play. I wasnt even interested in being the frontman; it just worked out that way. I think Im making as good or better records than I have in the past and luckily theres still an audience out there willing to buy them.
The Ground was me writing on a very emotional, spiritual level. It deals a lot with relationships and has a universal theme. I like writing darker songs theres a bit of that in there but then I have to come up for air and just have fun. This record has both. When you get this far down the line you start thinking about more than just cars and girls.
The Ground and Romeo Is Bleeding are my favorites off the record. You Would, You Have, You Will has a bit of country in it. There are even some Tom Waits moments like Long Way Past Midnight Different Reasons is reflective. Bob Pelander, who was in MSB since 1975, adds a lot to the song. We communicate in a way that no one else would understand. Ive tried to explain it to other keyboard players and they didnt know what Im talking about. I have this keyboard language with Bob where I will say something to him and he will know exactly what Im taking about.
I always find a lot of surprises when Im making a record. After I sketch the songs out and get the vocal together I start to bring in people who will take it up a notch. Sometime I have very specific ideas of what Im looking for but sometimes Ill ask them what they hear. One Good Day In A Row has this nylon string guitar part in it. Marc Lee Shannon was in the studio and he said, Let me take a pass at it, I hear a nylon string part. He did it and it worked great! What I tried to create with this record is a set of songs that work together. The main thread is perseverance - whether Im referring to us as a country or me musically, its to keep moving ahead.
Obviously I was supposed to have tastefully disappeared years ago but this is what I do and Ill do it whether I have an audience or not. I never in my wildest dreams thought that it would lead this far down the line. Recently I formed a blues band called the Midlife Chryslers. We go out and just play bars for the door. We do four sets a night and have two rules. We dont rehears and we dont do any Michael Stanley stuff. It put me right back in touch with why I started doing this in the first place.
Website: Michael Stanley, The Michael Stanley Band, WNCX 98.5 Radio.
Stanley plans to release another best of the Michael Stanley Band compilation this year. He also has a couple DVDs in the works of vintage live material and the videos that made their way to MTV He Cant Love You and My Town.
Buy Michael Stanley CDs at Qhut.com