Michael Stanley was born and raised in my hometown, the home of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio. He is an American singer-songwriter, musician, and since 1990, the afternoon drive disc jockey for radio station WNCX in Cleveland. Stanley graduated from Rocky River High School in 1966…(me a little further South, and a decade and a couple of years later in life, in that place everyone used to call AMRAP). He made his name along with his band, playing heartland rock throughout the American Midwest of the 1970s and 1980s. Many even call him the "Bruce Springsteen" of the Cleveland area.
I saw so many shows as a youth in Ohio, that I couldn't possibly recount them all. When I first found out Stanley had a new album coming out I wanted a crack at reviewing one of the men who, with all of his work and support of the Cleveland area rock music scene, helped make the '70s such a fun time to grow up. After finishing the review I sent a copy to Michael and was amazed, with his busy schedule, that he was willing to answer some interview questions.
Read on for Mark Johnson's interview with a real American rock musician, Michael Stanley.
(This interview is dedicated to one of my best friends from James Marshall High…you know who you are…this one is for you!) (Can you believe it…Michael Stanley?)
SoT – Ok, before we dig into your new album please tell our audience a little about your roots. Rocky River, Westlake and Bay Village were some of the best suburbs in that "Northshore" area of Cleveland. And that part of the Lake used to be beautiful...cruising at night along the lakeshore with some Rush "Permanent Waves" blaring.
Michael - Well, first of all, thanks for taking an interest in what I'm up to at the moment. Yeah, I grew up in Rocky River on the Westside of Cleveland, went away to college, and since then have lived on Cleveland's eastside which makes me one of about three people in the area who can actually say they've lived on both sides of town!
SoT – I've tried to tell a number of friends about the importance of WMMS in the Cleveland area. I heard rumors they were one of the influencing forces which brought the "Hall" to Cleveland. What are your thoughts?
Michael- WMMS was without a doubt one of the most powerful radio stations in the country from the mid-seventies until the early eighties and was directly responsible for breaking acts such as yours truly, Springsteen, Todd Rundgren, Bowie, Roxy Music, Rush, and a host of others. If you wanted your record to happen it had to be on their playlist!
SoT – Two words…Murray Saul…ok…discuss.
Michael - Two words for Murray Saul, huh? Well, the first two that come to mind are "very high"! The next two are "great guy!" But how can you really explain Murray to those out there who have no idea what the "get-down-man" was all about? Just chalk it up to being a completely wacked-out Cleveland-thing!
SoT – "Big Chuck and Hoolihan", "The Ghoul" and Saturday nights…what comes to mind?
Michael - All those late night weekend movie hosts really mark a certain time in our lives (and I'm sure everybody had their own in their towns)...aaah, to be young and carefree again!
SoT – Tell us how it feels to be a DJ at WNCX. Ah, the memories…Kid Leo and John Gorman at MMS.
Michael - Being the afternoon jock here at WNCX has been a great job; you can't beat the hours, (which leaves me plenty of time to write and record) and you're getting paid to listen to great music all day! You mentioned Kid Leo who, along with a whole lot of other great Cleveland DJ's, did radio the way it should be done...he was one of a kind, and it was a very cool kind!
SoT – "Rosewood Bitters", yeh that one almost still brings tears. Joe Walsh…he was such a fan of the Cleveland area back then. Did you ask him to participate on "The Hang"?
Michael - No, I didn't approach Joe about playing on "The Hang" because his Eagles gig keeps him pretty booked up. I did however just see him when he was in town to re-record some classic James Gang and solo tunes and was honored to get to sing on a few with him!
SoT – "From Somewhere Else", sounds like a call for all Clevelanders to remember where you're from, no matter where you are at today?
Michael - In "From Somewhere Else" I was trying to address the idea that now, more than ever, our world is a cultural melting pot and it's kind of get on the bus or get run over by it...we're all in this game together!
SoT – "How Many Guitars Do You Need" is one of the best songs I've ever heard from you. Man, did this need to be said.
Michael - It' probably my favorite "mix' on the album. Danny Powers played his ass off on this one!
SoT – "A Damn Fine Way to Go". Great song. Who was the inspiration for that one?
Michael - There really wasn't one person who inspired this (although I'm sure we've all crossed paths with someone who could have)...I just really wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try something really off the wall; and what's more off the wall then a recitation. I was going for that kind of "film Noir" voiceover thing and figured folks would either love this one or hate it. Glad you came down on the good side!
SoT – "Fait Accompli" and "Martha" were written as tributes. Would you like to describe the background for these well written living tributes?
Michael - Well the past year and a half has been kind of a rough one. Both my parents and my wife passed away; "Martha" is for my mother and "Fait Accompli" is for my late wife.
SoT - Very sorry. The Sea of Tranquility passes on its condolences for your loss.
SoT – Did you ever see Mark and the boys do "Romeo and Juliet" live?
Michael - Yeah I've seen Mark do that one live a few times. It's just always been a song I wanted to cover with a slightly different attitude than he took.
SoT – "Another New Year's Eve"...ok...yes it did bring tears to the eyes. Hard to admit it, but that song is incredible.
Michael - Thanks...the older I get the more I realize that our time here is finite and hopefully we can spend as much of that time as possible with the ones we love!
SoT – "Little Michael on WGAR, (glad he found Pelander!)", that was a cool addition. Amazing you kept that. I think I still have some Murray Saul cassette tapes…somewhere.
Michael - That's my dad interviewing a four year-old me. I just wanted to hear his laugh and show off my early piano chops!
SoT – Which was your favorite '70s era rock concert?
Michael - Favorite concert? Man, there were a lot of those: Springsteen on the "Darkness" tour (although it could have easily been almost any tour), the original Allman's...the list goes on and on...
SoT – Which was your favorite Cleveland area rock place? Remember the Agora?
Michael- Yeah, I think it would be The Agora...but Blossom Music Center was always a great time as well!
SoT – Yeh, outdoors at Blossom…I guess I forgot…but it was a long time ago.
SoT – How many times have you seen "the Boss" perform?
Michael - I've seen every tour but the latest one and we even opened for him at Kent State back before anyone had really heard of either of us!
SoT – Summer weekends in Sandusky at Cedar Point…discuss.
Michael - Cedar Point? Sorry, always hated it...I'm not an amusement park guy!
SoT – Remember the Cleveland Barons?
Michael - The Cleveland Barons? Man, you're going deep here. I do, however, remember them well since my dad did their play by play on the radio for many years. They played at the old Cleveland Arena which was like walking into a giant wet cigar...very cool!
SoT – Much of this album could be made into a movie or some fantastic music videos. Will there be some for this album?
Michael - I don't have any plans to do any videos but I see that there have already been some fan-produced ones that popped up on You Tube.
SoT – When do you head out on tour? Heading to the West Coast? Be glad to show you around Elliot Bay and the Seattle area. It even smells like the ocean… (Laughs)
Michael - Well the plan is just to keep writing and recording and playing as many shows as possible. I've put out a lot of music in the past ten years that I think people may have missed an, if they want to check out those or any of the older MSB offerings you can find them at www.linelevelmusic.com
SoT- Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for us. We at the Sea of Tranquility wish you and the Resonators much success with the launch of "The Hang" and all that you do in the future. One day I'll get back to the Lakeshore and we'll have a beer together I hope.
Michael- Thanks Mark for taking the time and I hope we can cross paths soon!
(Click here to read our review of The Hang)