Who’s your favorite Ohio band?
Here at Like The Record Productions, we spend a long time analyzing classic tracks from over the years. We pore over every note and nuance, the better to perfectly replicate them in our live sets.
And when you do that, it’s difficult not to get caught up in the history of those records: to think about the people who made them and the times that informed them.
It’s difficult, too, not to map these thoughts onto our fair state, because Ohio has a surprisingly rich musical heritage; one that courses through its cities and towns, its venues and even its people. In fact, many famous bands from Ohio have contributed so much to the nation’s musical culture that picking your favorite Ohio band might be more difficult that you’d think.
Current Bands From Ohio
You don’t have to look far for successful Ohio bands: current acts such as Cincinnati’s The National, Cleveland’s Nine Inch Nails, Akron’s The Black Keys and Canton’s Marilyn Manson, to name a few, enjoy international acclaim.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find so much more. Many bands from Ohio can boast that their parent state is the home of Rock and Roll, one of the birthplaces of punk, and that it helped shaped many musical genres, from jazz to country, and from R&B to funk.
The Home of Rock And Roll
Call yourself ‘the home of rock and roll’ and people will raise objections, but what can’t be argued is that Ohio is the home of The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. The museum stands on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, and it wasn’t placed there on a whim: when the city lobbied for the building, it was able to claim that local disk jockey Alan Freed actually coined the term ‘rock and roll’, and that it hosted arguably the first major rock and roll concert: the Moondog Coronation Ball.
Moreover, local radio stations played a key role in promoting the new genre, breaking several major acts including Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and Roxy Music.
A Birthplace of Punk
It may be surprising to some, but along with New York and London, Cleveland is considered a birthplace of punk, although in truth the Ohio bands who pioneered the genre in 1975 found themselves a little ahead of the game, or at least ahead of the local scene. Punk trailblazers electric eels (lower case in tribute to ee cummings) could expect to play their early sets to indifference, bafflement, or outright hostility. Founder member John D Morton remembers the Ohio band’s most memorable — and demoralizing — heckle: “You guys are wrong!”
The movement soon caught on, however, and Cleveland punk developed in parallel with the New York and London scenes, although it was at the same time separate and distinct: punk bands from Ohio tended to be less aggressive and slightly more accomplished.
It would be a few years before an Ohio band would move the punk scene forward and find the wider audiences the genre deserved, but by 1978 the likes of Pere Ubu, The Dead Boys and Devo would do just that.
Ohio and Jazz
Long before three-chords-and-a-bad-attitude powered a generation of Ohio bands, the state swung to the rhythms of jazz. And while Ohio can’t claim to be the home of jazz — New Orleans takes that honor — it has been hugely significant in its development. Due to its location and population density, Ohio was an important stopping point for touring jazz musicians for most of the twentieth century. But Ohio also produced its own jazz legends, among them Nancy Wilson, Rusty Bryant and Hank Marr. Perhaps the best of them, however, was Toledo’s Art Tatum, a jazz pianist of such renown that the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman would often join him onstage — unpaid — whenever they were in town.
When country music first became popular it was still called ‘hillbilly music’, and there was no more popular or prolific producer of hillbilly music than King Records. King Records was also perhaps the first record label to employ whites and African-Americans side-by-side and, because it owned its own pressing plant and distribution network, it was able to record and ship a record in a day.
Many Ohio bands simply wouldn’t exist without King Records, and not just country bands: after the Second World War, King Records and its growing stable of subsidiary labels expanded into rhythm and blues, bluegrass, soul and funk. Notably, one such subsidiary, Federal Records, launched the career of James Brown and his bass player, Ohioan Bootsy Collins.
Though King Records has declined in recent years — it now operates only as a reissue label — it’s hard to overestimate its contribution to music in Ohio and across the country. For most of the last seventy years, one thing was for sure: if you were an Ohio band, you wanted to be on King Records.
The history of American music courses through Ohio. It’s a heritage we at Like The Record Productions are very much aware of — it’s why, in fact, we go to such great lengths to sound ‘like the record’. We believe the best way to honor and celebrate music’s rich history is to bring it to life as faithfully and fully as possible. This is what we try to achieve with every show we play.
As for our favorite Ohio band? Well, there’s far too many to pick just one…