Deanna Adams – MSB’s Stagepass
MSB’s Stagepass is One Good Reason to Celebrate its 25th Anniversary
Place: The Agora Ballroom, Cleveland, Ohio
Dates: October 22, 23 and 24, 1976
What: The live recording of The Michael Stanley Band’s new album, Stagepass
Result: MSB is forever engraved into the archives of Cleveland pop culture
Girl on the album cover? Remains a mystery (despite rumors to the contrary, it was not me…)
by Deanna Adams
MSB’s Stagepass cover art
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n the fall of 1976, Cleveland was still living down that five-minute river burning incident, was heading towards default, and The Michael Stanley Band was just another band on the North Coast. Although they had surely earned a huge local fan base in the two years the group had been together, their mission statement was yet to be realized. Besides, there were many bands throughout the area that also had dedicated followings. Bands like Rainbow Canyon, Fayrewether, Stairway (formerly Skyport, soon to be Love Affair), and so many others. So seeing a great band in Cleveland wasn’t only all that unique, it was practically assumed.
Yet from the early beginnings of MSB, there was a certain magic that was evident, and separated this band from the rest of the great local talent. Exactly what the elements were that caused it, or where that magic came from, no one can quite define. Call it chemistry, comradery, creative differences, or perhaps all three. But what is certain is that the musical background of its members was certainly a large factor.
A young Chuck Berry/Buddy Holly/Beatles/Stones fan, Michael Stanley had already been playing the club circuit with a few popular bands before recording two solo albums (first one, self-titled; second, “Friends & Legends”) – both with a little help from his friends, like Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, David Sanborn, Dan Fogelberg and Richie Furay. He was also blessed with the looks and persona that had all the right makings for a rock ‘n’ roll frontman.
Songwriter/guitarist Jonah Koslen had also been in previous bands, including Jeep (with Cleveland’s favorite deejay, Billy Bass, as manager) and Snake Eyes (with bassist Danny Sheridan who went on to form Eli Radish and today manages Nina Blackwood).
And bassist Dan Pecchio had just come off the national success of Glass Harp, which featured phenomenal guitarist Phil Keaggy…
Starting out as an acoustic trio, Koslen and Pecchio soon persuaded Stanley to make it a full-fledged rock ‘n’ roll band, which meant getting a drummer. And after watching Tommy Dobeck perform one night at the Agora, they knew he was the right choice. There was only one problem. Dobeck was already in the popular band, Circus, which was Agora’s Wednesday night house band and had been hailed by renowned New York deejay, Murray the K, who gave their hit, “Stop, Wait and Listen,” a regular spin on WINS radio. Dobeck seemed content to stay where he was, showing no signs of leaving. But fortunately for us, MSB manager David Spero and the rest of the group persisted and finally succeeded in “stealing” the great drummer, who ended up remaining with MSB throughout its next 12 years.
From there the magic of The Michael Stanley Band, with another added member, keyboardist/ songwriter Bob Pelander, commenced. A signed contract with Epic produced two albums, “You Break It, You Bought It” and “Ladies Choice” which had kick started Cleveland’s love affair with the band. Then in 1976 the group, with the suggestion of Epic’s A & R wizard, Steve Popovich (now president of Cleveland International Records), decided to veer from the norm and record a live album, given the worldwide success of Peter Frampton’s live LP that year.
“I had the idea to record Michael live after seeing the great response he was getting live in Northern Ohio,” Popovich recalls. “I didn’t feel the studio records captured Michael’s onstage live magic. And one of the other groups I was working with at the time, REO Speedwagon, was huge in St. Louis and had the ability to sell 20,000 tickets – without a hit record. They, too, had a strong Midwest base. Since their live album broke the group wide open, I felt, why not apply the same theory to MSB?”
Of course, there was only one fitting place to capture the live magic that MSB produced. That was the beloved Agora Ballroom on E. 24th Street. And by this time MSB could easily pack the large venue, so that October they began the first of four concerts there (two that Sunday) for what became perhaps their most revered recording.
“For whatever reason, Stagepass seems to be a special album to a lot of people,” Stanley says. “And I’m not quite sure why, or what the allure is. Though it is an album I think pretty much captured what we were all about at that time. Plus it had the hits from the previous albums, as well as five or six new songs.”
With such show-stopping tunes like Midwest Midnight, Let’s Get The Show On The Road, Strike Up the Band, Nothing’s Gonna Change My Mind, and One Good Reason, they had a great album in the making. And it was successful on many counts. The album sold in excess of 300,000 copies regionally, was praised by critics, and succeeded in broadening the group’s fan base that extended far past Ohio borders. From there came six more albums, national tours, videos for MTV, and a bittersweet finale of twelve straight performances at Highland Heights’ Front Row Theater.
Jump to June 2003. Much has changed in the 25 years since those exciting early days. After a successful rock ‘n’ roll run, The Michael Stanley Band called it quits in 1987. Most of the members, however, continued on with various musical projects. For Michael, there were four years as a TV host (for PM Magazine), a new band, Ghost Poets (with old bandmates Koslen and Pelander), solo releases, and a steady day job as a deejay on WNCX-FM, which he still holds down today. He also continues to perform, most recently with his new band, the Resonators, and is in the process of releasing yet another studio recording for this fall.
There have been a few times Michael and some former MSB members have reunited to perform, and/or record, together. But June 21, 2003, at the Tower City Amphitheater is going to be a special night indeed. Michael Stanley and the Resonators will devote the middle of their concert to a special era in Cleveland rock history.
“There are really three different versions of MSB, and everyone has their favorite,” Stanley notes. “The first being with Jonah and Danny, the next with Gary [Markasky], Gis [Michael Gismondi], and Kevin [Raleigh], and then when Danny [Powers] came in.
“But in terms of the Cleveland music scene, that time of Stagepass, and especially the old Agora, was special. Dare I even say those were our ‘good old days.’ It’s been a long time since all of us been together on stage, and it’s always a pleasure to get back together with those guys.”
Stanley adds that they will “revisit some stuff we haven’t done for awhile and try to capture the spirit of that time.” So while there will be the MSB staples often included in the repertoire, such as “Rosewood Bitters,” “Midwest Midnight,” and “Let’s Get the Show On The Road,” devoted fans will also get to hear those old favorites they haven’t heard live for some time – “One Good Reason,” “Calcutta Auction,” along with a few more surprises.
“They’ll be something for everyone,” promises Cleveland’s favorite son.
HAPPY STAGEPASS ANNIVERSARY TO MICHAEL, JONAH, DAN, TOMMY, AND BOB.
AND TO ALL THOSE AGORA FANS WHO WERE LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE AT THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME.
ALL OF YOU MADE 1976 ONE FOR THE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL BOOKS!
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