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by Mike Breen 07.22.2015 77 days ago
Posted In: Local Music, Music History at 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Growing Up with Bogart’s

How my musical obsession coincided with the rise of the now 40-year-old Corryville concert venue

Though it hasn’t always been a loving relationship, Bogart’s has been a part of my musical life since the ’80s. I’m slightly older than the venue. I was 5 when it opened. But in less than 10 years, as my music fanaticism truly took hold, Bogart’s would become a place of awe to me.

It began when I entered junior high. I went to a school just a few blocks up Vine Street. It was commonly known as Schiel, but I attended during a brief period when it focused on foreign languages and was called the Cincinnati Bilingual Academy.

My fellow musically-obsessive friends at the time loved to hang out on Short Vine. The record stores were a big draw, as was the arcade, Jupiter and Beyond. So we spent as much time as we could in the area after school and on weekends. Bogart’s sat right in the middle of it all, but it was this magical, mysterious entity to us. Because the venue was yet to have “all ages” shows, we’d never seen a concert there. But we would stand out front and marvel at the posters in the window, wishing we could go see some of these very bands with which we were becoming deeply obsessed.

At some point, we discovered the alleyway that ran behind the club and realized that was where the artists entered and loaded in. So we began a ritual that lasted through high school. A few friends and I would linger around the backstage door before shows by artists we loved, hoping to see our heroes and maybe get an autograph. We would also sometimes be able to hear the musicians doing soundcheck, and every so often during our early high school years we’d be there late enough that we could actually hear some of the concert through those back doors.

There I got to meet some artists who were favorites of mine then and remain important to me to this day. Guitarist Andy Summers of The Police stopped at Bogart’s on a solo tour. The Police were by far my favorite band at the time, so it was incredibly exciting to say hello to Summers (who is a tiny, tiny man) and have him sign the pickguard  I yanked off of my cheap acoustic guitar. I also got to meet the members of L.A. Punk legends X. Billy Zoom, the band’s blonde-pompadoured guitarist, was hilarious. He chatted with us briefly and then when we asked for autographs, he happily obliged, pulling a silver paint pen from his leather jacket. It must’ve been a new acquisition because he couldn’t get the cap off, so he handed it to me for help. Nervously, I got it off, but also broke the pen in the process somehow. Zoom started giving me shit and I was horribly embarrassed, but later realized he was likely just busting my chops and having fun with me.

When I was just starting junior high, British Ska/Pop band The English Beat played Bogart’s on its 1980 tour. The Beat were second only to The Police to me, but the show was during a time where we could only longingly look at the gig posters in the front windows. Later, while in high school, with our back door ritual in full swing, General Public — which featured the Beat’s frontmen Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger — were booked to play Bogart’s, so we made plans to try and meet Dave and Roger. We arrived a few hours before the show and noticed that a few upperclassmen from our high school were there hanging out as well. It was a cold day and Roger and Dave came hurriedly around the corner towards us, huddled up in coats and trying to stay warm. Dave saw the five or six of us hanging around and instantly invited us in out of the cold. This was my first time inside of Bogart’s and it felt like I’d just entered a sacred temple. I had to leave (Mom was waiting for me), but we got to make that climb up the stairs from the backstage, walk across the stage (where the band members were messing with equipment), then through the big hall and out the front doors. It was a highlight of my life up to that point.

I also camped out around back when Adrian Belew and The Bears (featuring local musicians Rob Fetters, Bob Nyswonger and Chris Arduser of The Raisins) were making their Bogart’s debut in 1985 (it was the start of the band’s very first U.S. tour). I was a huge fan of Belew’s solo albums and work with King Crimson and The Raisins were one of my favorite bands. The Raisins were the first “local band” I truly fell in love with and anytime the group played an outdoor, non-club, all-ages show (in a park usually), I was there.

Belew finally was making his way into the club as we approached, accompanied by a man we didn’t recognize. It was Arduser, who was actually the drummer during an earlier period of The Raisins, not during the time when I’d go to see them constantly. As Belew jotted down autographs for me and my friends, he introduced Chris with a silly joke I’ll probably never forget: “This is Chris Arduser, also known as Chris Our Drummer.”

Years later, when I started my writing career, several of these moments connected and came full circle. While living in New York City, I had the chance to interview X’s frontpeople Exene Cervenka and John Doe in their record label offices (I didn’t bring up the Zoom/exploding-pen incident). I did an extensive phone interview with Belew. And through writing about and interviewing Arduser and Fetters over the past 20 years, I think if they saw me on the street they’d recognize me and say, “Hello.” Just being able to talk to those guys (and Nyswonger), considering my fanaticism over their bands from a young age, was and is pretty amazing.

A few years ago, I got to sit backstage at Riverbend with Dave Wakeling when The English Beat opened for 311. He was the kindest “Rock Star” I’d ever met and he actually hung out with me and a few other people I was with before and after the show. (When he let us into Bogart’s, I was convinced it was because one of the older high school girls was very cute, but I’m now more convinced he was just being a cool guy.) At one point, I was standing next to Wakeling at the side of Riverbend’s stage watching 311 play. At one point, he leaned over and said in my ear, “I think me and Roger (who no longer performs with The Beat; Wakeling is the only original member) will get back together at some point.”

If my 13-year-old self would have been told that any of those moments would happen several decades later, he would’ve fainted.

At some point in the ’80s, Bogart’s began experimenting with having all-ages show. My very first show at the club was to see Violent Femmes (I believe in 1986), but, in the early stages of this experiment, Bogart’s herded us under-agers up into the balcony. I remember loving the show and being in the club, but I more vividly recall looking down on the club’s floor and noticing what a small audience there was. While the balcony had hundreds of kids smushed together and barely able to breathe, it seemed like there were only a couple hundred people below us. Still, I’d made it into Bogart’s! Not long after, I made it to the floor-level when the club was hosting high school cover bands for all-ages shows. The Complaints (who also did some originals I really liked) were the big band at my high school at the time and I remember the club being packed with teens for their show. (Fun fact: The Complaints’ drummer was Michael Meisel, who later became a big-time music manager for several popular artists, including Nirvana.)

The club kept expanding its all-ages policy over the next few years. Punk Rock matinee shows were very popular; I fondly remember seeing some of my favorite local Punk acts, like SS-20, The Edge and Human Zoo, thrashing around on the Bogart’s stage. It seems like a weird dream now, but there were also Punk shows that featured wrestling — an actual ring was installed in the middle of the floor and local Punk icon/radio host/Bogart’s employee Handsome Clem Carpenter not only MCed (I believe), but also wrestled.

Another early show I saw was True Believers, Alejandro Escovedo’s early punk-ish band. I remember this show because it was the first time I actually was served beer at the club. My teenage friends and I were sitting at a long table and a waitress came up to take our order; she didn’t flinch when we ordered a pitcher of beer. So, of course, we ended up ordering about 20 pitchers of beer throughout the night.

Around this time, I played my first shows at Bogart’s, something almost any young musician will tell you is a pretty special feeling. My Punk band was added to a few bills by a gracious promoter or fellow local band. I remember being so nervous at those first shows that I could barely play my instrument, partly because I was thinking about all of the famous musicians (U2, Prince, R.E.M.) who had stood right where I was standing. I ended up playing there many times over the years with various bands (opening for bands like New Model Army, Prong, Matthew Sweet and Fugazi), but the early shows were the most memorable. When my first band opened for 7 Seconds, we started to get heckled by a gaggle of skinheads in the crowd (we mixed Rap, Funk and Post Punk into our sound, which offended their purist tastes apparently). Our singer started taunting them so they approached the stage; as one started to climb up, I punched my combat boot directly into his face at the lip of the stage. After our set, the club provided us with a couple of security guards so that we could walk back up and watch 7 Seconds. We were told some skinheads were waiting for us outside, but by the time we got out, they were gone.

By the time I reached college, I was a regular at Bogart’s. I even started befriending some of the staff, dating a couple of bartenders and even marrying one. These were the days when I saw certain bands right before they graduated to “arena rock”-levels of success, like The Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys and Marilyn Manson. One of the more memorable shows was a weird 1995 package tour headlined by Mike Watt and featuring Hovercraft (which included Eddie Vedder on drums, right as he was at his Grunge God peak with Pearl Jam) and a new band fronted by Nirvana’s Dave Grohl on guitar and vocals. Grohl was road-testing his new group, which you may have heard of (rhymes with Doo Righters). Watt headlined the show and was backed by Vedder, Growl and Germs/Foo Fighters/Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear for his set.

As mentioned above, I haven’t always loved Bogart’s. The sound has ALWAYS been hit or miss, often frustratingly. I can only imagine it’s best explained by the set-up of the club (basically a big, long brick shed). There was period when the staff was almost universally rude, with harsh pat-downs at the door (at one point, if you tried to bring in anything that could remotely be considered dangerous — a lighter! A pack of cigarettes! A chain necklace! — it was often just tossed in the trash) and overly-aggressive bouncers roughing up kids who were perhaps dancing a little too hard. About 10 years ago, I got an assignment from U.K. weekly music paper NME to review an Insane Clown Posse concert at Bogart’s. During the pat-down, the door person grabbed the pen I needed to take notes and he tossed it into the garbage. I know ICP crowds can be rowdy, but, even after explaining the pen’s purpose, the doorman just blank-stared me, seemingly convinced that I was just the type to go on a serial pen-stabbing spree during the show.

I loved the ICP show, by the way. The band is a Bogart’s staple and that was my first time seeing them. The music isn’t really up my alley, but the duo’s ridiculous showmanship is truly something everyone should experience at least once. I’m convinced the two ICP dudes know they’re more a comedy act than anything — and probably chuckle at the fans who take them way too seriously —  and that makes me appreciate what they do. It was like a surreal circus show gone awry and I had a smile on my face the entire time. Though afterwards, I felt really bad for the Bogart’s clean-up crew — SO. MUCH. FAYGO. I wonder which show was more dreaded by the janitors — ICP or GWAR?

The Bogart’s of today is strikingly different and in the best shape it’s been since I started going there. I remember several years ago writing a rant about the club (probably after the ICP incident) and pointing out that, in the decades I’d been going to concerts there, the venue had made absolutely zero notable improvements. Sure, they’d upgrade the sound system from time to time (usually without much noticeable improvement to the sound), but the club never seemed to improve conditions for the customers (good Lord, those bathrooms approached CBGB levels at times). Maybe it was a money issue or maybe management felt there was no reason to upgrade, since people were coming anyway. And, besides, where else would they go to see these particular acts?

But the days when going to Bogart’s felt like entering a prison yard are long gone. A few years ago, I remember going to a show and being stunned at how different it was. It was right after some upgrades and, while nothing drastic, it changed the whole vibe of the club and the experience. The staff was friendly. The front-door inspections were respectful. The bathrooms were clean. It was suddenly customer-friendly in a way I never remember it being.

There is no way I can remember every show I saw at Bogart’s, memorable or not. There have been several hundred. But a few stick out. There was the 1990 show when on-the-rise bands Faith No More and Soundgarden opened for cult Metal group Voivod; by the time the tour got to Bogart’s, the openers were blowing up on MTV and radio, which meant that less than half the large crowd stuck around to watch the headliners. Another time, when I started my writing career, I had a pre-show interview with the guitarist for Blind Melon at a restaurant next door to the club. As we chatted, late singer Shannon Hoon (who’d later put on a great show) and the other band members threw food at each other and acted (endearingly) like 12-year-olds.

Another favorite memory was a weird Red Hot Chili Peppers/Faith No More show in 1987. This was when Hillel Slovak (who later died from a heroin overdose) was still playing guitar with the Peppers (a favorite band of mine at the time), and Faith No More featured Chuck Mosley on lead vocals (well before Mike Patton took over the mic). Faith No More opened and ran through most of the material from the We Care a Lot and Introduce Yourself albums, its only releases at the time. Then things got weird and Mosley started telling the sizable crowd that the Chili Peppers weren’t going to show. Then the band started doing jams and weird covers, playing for well over an hour. Mosley did an acoustic version of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka.” By the time guitarist Jim Martin began to do a solo Hendrix-esque rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” it felt as if Mosley may not have been kidding.

Faith No More was clearly vamping and trying to fill time. Then, in the middle of a song, four heads started weaving towards the stage from the back of the room. The Chili Peppers hopped onto the stage with Faith No More and jumped up and down for a few minutes, then headed backstage. They put on a great, incredibly energetic show (they said their tour van — a VW Beetle Bus with bullhorns on the front that my friends and I saw in the parking lot afterwards — broke down on the highway, but we all suspected something drug-related caused the delay). For their encore, the Peppers came out naked except for the tube socks on their dicks (part of their schtick at the time) and looked nervous as hell, glancing over their shoulders constantly. Apparently they’d been informed about Cincinnati’s low-tolerance for anything sexual in public (remember, this was the ultra-conservative ’80s, when Cincinnati was most associated with shutting down “obscene” art exhibits and hassling Larry Flynt) and were fearful of being arrested. The band played one or two short, fast songs and then booked it off stage. (It’s just a rumor, but I’d heard the police were indeed there and going to arrest them, but the band escaped in a fan’s car and stayed at their house playing video games all night.)

I’m not a big fan of huge crowds, so sold-out Bogart’s show always put me in panic attack mode. But I’ve braved several and I’m glad I did. When Bob Dylan decided to play some smaller clubs in 1999 and chose Bogart’s as one of them, I proudly took my dad to see him. I’ve seen Dylan numerous times over the years and more often than not I’ve left disappointed. But at Bogart’s, he sounded amazing and played inspiringly. I also took the love of my life to an over-stuffed Bogart’s in 2003 see her favorite band of the time — The White Stripes — when she was several months pregnant with our child (if she’d given birth, the baby would have had to have been passed to the exit, crowd-surf style, because it was so packed).

Bogart’s has admirably supported local and regional artists since as long as I can remember. Locals were given opening slots for big-time bands often. After my first band played a crazy set at one of the club’s battle of the bands (competing mostly with straight-forward Hair Metal bands), Dan Reed, manager at the time, came up and asked if we wanted to open for Jane’s Addiction. We very much did, but Jane’s took off and ended up playing Hara Arena in Dayton instead. The aforementioned local Punk shows were always a blast. And I have fond memories of 97X’s old 97Xposure band contests. The club’s “battle of the bands” events (which I mostly attended as a guest judge after my competitive years were over) could sometimes be painful, but I always enjoyed watching the younger bands exhibiting that same awe that I felt the first time I played there (and it was fun to play “Spot the Parents”). The club also hosted a couple of benefits for local community radio station WAIF that were a lot of fun, one featuring a ton of local bands playing Christmas songs (my band decided to perform in just Christmas underwear — briefs! — which must’ve been horrifying) and one with local groups playing David Bowie songs. And I spent many great New Year’s Eves at Bogart’s when the great Columbus, Ohio band Royal Crescent Mob played there every year. I seem to remember The Afghan Whigs taking the slot a few times, too. (The many Whigs shows I’ve seen at Bogart’s, including their most recent one a couple of NYEs ago, have been some of my all-time favorites.) In recent years, CityBeat has hosted a new band showcase at Bogart’s — the staff has always been great and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the shows.

I wouldn’t say Bogart’s is my favorite club — I prefer smaller venues, in general. But I’m very thankful it exists. It has been the one constant, reliable place to check out live music of every sort in Cincinnati ever since I was a teen, and its mid-size has made it possible for mid-level acts to play the Queen City instead of skipping it altogether. More or less, my musical life has revolved around Bogart’s, and it’s hard to imagine what it (or Cincinnati’s concert scene, in general) would have been like without it. Thankfully, we don’t have to.

CityBeat celebrates the 40th anniversary of Bogart's with this week's issue. Check out Brian Baker's overview Cover Story on the club's rich history and promising future, plus sidebars on Brian's favorite moments, the view from John James' nearby record stores, Prince's surprise visit in 1984 and the infamous Heavy Metal Wheel of Sex.

by Brian Baker 04.15.2015
Posted In: Local Music, Live Music, Music History at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Falcons and the Snow, Man

David Rhodes Brown and the Warsaw Falcons prove there's no time like the present for a blast from the past.

The first time I saw the Warsaw Falcons, my Cincinnati experience was only slightly longer than the band's existence. I'd moved here in January 1982 on the heels of a failed and miserable marriage. I was working for (and living out of) a record store in North College Hill run by my friends/saviors Rick and Karen (aka Cookie, long before Empire, bitches) Kandelson, who gave me work and a safe haven.

I found full time work and a girlfriend in fairly short order, and for the most part felt I'd made the right decision in relocating to Cincinnati. But I desperately missed my 2-year-old son and my family and friends back in Michigan, so I entertained the notion of asking my new love to consider moving back to the Mitt with me.

And then a cosmic intervention took place. Within the span of a couple of weeks, I saw the raisins, who had been around for a while, and the Warsaw Falcons, who had only just formed. After those two musical epiphanies I said to myself, with unbridled joy and complete certainty, "I don't have to go home, I am home."

Beyond all doubt, I was where I was supposed to be.

The raisins were everything I loved about Pop Rock — smart and smartassed, loud, melodic, lyrically brilliant and gloriously dumb, intricate in the pursuit of simplicity. The Falcons exhibited a lot of the same characteristics, but in a totally different context. I couldn't tell you much about the original band at that point, as I was fairly riveted to the sight of David Rhodes Brown, a 6' 4" beanpole with an additional foot of roostered pompadour, snake-charming the nastiest, slinkiest, rawest, most compelling riffs from his hollow bodied Gibson that I'd ever heard in my 25 years. Brown and the earliest incarnation of the Falcons roared through a couple of sets of jumped-up Rockabilly/Boogie Woogie/Blues at an intensity level that could have microwaved a 15-pound roast to perfection in under a minute, and I stood watching in absolute wonder, as if I was attending the swaggering, staggering, yowling birth of Rock & Roll its own damn self.

There was no fundamental difference in any subsequent Falcons show I witnessed over the next seven years, give or take, and they were legion. At Dollar Bill's, Shipley's, Bogart's, Cory's, all the way out at the Townshipn Tavern and any number of places in between, the Warsaw Falcons never gave any less than their absolute all, tearing shit up with gleeful intent, putting it back together with ramshackle abandon and ultimately reducing it to smoke and ash with the zeal of blissed-out revolutionaries, confident in their cause and the destruction it inspired.

Through any number of lineup shifts, the Falcons delivered the goods night after night, set upon set upon set. There were gaps in the band's history when Brown lit out for Austin, Tex., and Nashville, Tenn., but he returned with more riffs to play, more stories to tell, more challenges to conquer. Brown shuttered the Falcons just after taking them into John Curley's Ultrasuede Studio to record their only full-length album, the righteous and red hot Right It on the Rock Wall. That incarnation of the band included legendary session saxophonist Bobby Keys. Brown dusted off the Falcons in 2001, turned out a couple of EPs and played out a bit but shelved them again when a proposed record contract fell victim to the post-9/11 downturn.

In the new millennium, things have been different. Music is ones and zeros instead of a spiraled groove or a spun tape reel, and David Rhodes Brown has reinvented himself a half dozen ways to Sunday. He had Ricky Nye teach him the rudiments of Boogie Woogie piano, he learned the Hank Williams songbook and joined Ryan Malott's 500 Miles to Memphis as a lap steel shredder and vocalist, helping transform it from cool local entity to national semi-sensation. Then he taught himself clawhammer banjo, grew a Rip Van Winkle-meets-ZZ Top beard and started playing old time music with the same dedication and intensity that marked his time in the Falcons, with less actual electricity and an improbable rise in passion and workload. He spread his attention over numerous full and part time projects, leading inevitably to his debut solo album, 2010's exquisite Browngrass & Wildflowers.

And then, as so often happens, fate intervened in the form of last November's celebration/roast of the David Rhodes Brown on the occasion of his 50th year in the entertainment racket (if you count his being paid to sing requiems at Catholic mass, which he does). The event was organized by one of the scene's greatest boosters and its unceasing heartbeat, the amazing Kelly Thomas, ably assisted by Brown's biggest supporter, fan and sugar mama, the incomparable Bobbi Kayser, who together assembled a veritable murderer's row of artists and friends in order to pay deserved tribute to DRB, if for no other reason than to thank him for his role in helping to build the solid foundation upon which the greater Cincinnati music scene has built its magnificent house over the past four decades.

And in a moment of divine inspiration, the once and future David Rhodes Brown called up the two other most recognizable components of the Warsaw Falcons — bassist John Schmidt, whose stoic demeanor on stage was always at odds with the blistering pulse he provided, and drummer Doug Waggoner, whose maniacal approach to rhythm was to beat it into submission, hammering it into new and exotic shapes with Thor's thunder and Odin's lightning. The Falcons' frenetic six-song set at the end of the evening — with Brown in the teeth of a mutant flu strain that would have coldcocked the sturdiest lumberjack or dockworker — was the stuff of local legend. And as the last chords were still ringing through the Southgate House's Sanctuary, Brown (clean-shaven for the express purpose of revisiting his youthful past) informed us that he, Schmidt and Waggoner had worked too hard and had too much fun to lock the Falcons back in their respective trophy cases and that they would be returning, badder and better than ever.

That promise was teased with the Falcons' opening slot for 500 Miles to Memphis at the Southgate House last New Year's Eve, but it was fulfilled with a righteous vengeance last Friday night when the trio headlined their first club date in nearly a decade and a half, transforming the swank surroundings of the newly refurbished Woodward Theater into an edge-of-town roadhouse, with all the danger and chicken-wire that implies.

The evening began with a spirited set from JetLab, the compelling Synth Rock trio that made a serious local splash with their eponymous 2014 debut album and earned a well-deserved Best New Artist CEA nomination earlier this year. In the studio, the trio — Elle Crash (a huge fan of DRB's since way back), Nick Barrows and Dave Welsh — churn out an arty Flying Lizards/Gary Numan/Breeders/Tom Tom Club-tinged soundtrack, but in the live setting, JetLab channels their performance adrenaline into a manic Soul Coughing/Mike Doughty ethic, with brush strokes from the pallets of early Talking Heads, B-52s and our own Perfect Jewish Couple from back in the day. Barrows and Crash take their turns on the Korg, accompanying each other on electric and acoustic guitars with Crash occasionally strapping on the bass to beef up the bottom. Through it all, Welsh provides the slippery beat to hold it all together, shifting seamlessly from tough-edged shuffle to hard-hitting machinegun attack. JetLab has already amassed a sizable and suitably loyal local following, but its rapidly maturing live presence shows the trio is stocked with brains and muscle and its best days lay just ahead.

Next up on was yet another standard stellar appearance by The Tigerlilies, whose greatness has been trumpeted in our pages and on this site for a good long time. Friday's show was solid evidence to support that stance. The band's fourth and undeniably best album, last year's In the Dark, was handed out with each ticket sold and anyone who didn't already have it was the proud recipient of one of the best albums of 2014, period. In my review of In the Dark, I name-checked Cheap Trick, Husker Du, The Clash and The Beatles and I confidently stand behind those reference points. In the live context, however, The Tigerlilies' energy level rises exponentially and they shift into a sixth gear that is almost impossible to quantify. With an audience to spur them on, The Tigerlilies blenderize all of the above and throw in heaping handfuls of the Dictators and Voidoids to create a sound that is Power Pop at a blistering yet amazingly nuanced Hard Rock level. Bassist Brian Driscoll and drummer Steve Hennessy have the kind of telepathic beat mentality that is the hallmark of every great rhythm section, and Pat Hennessy and Brendan Bogosian are proving to be one of the most adaptable and multidimensional guitar tandems in the city, able to pummel with Punk passion and pacify with Pop persuasion. Pat once took guitar lessons from DRB, distinguishing himself to his instructor by bringing him a Johnny Burnette single with the intent of learning the song. That breadth of interest and experience still informs everything he does with The Tigerlilies.

Inevitably, it was time for the Warsaw Falcons to take the stage. Suited up in dapper black like Sopranos extras ready for their close-ups, Msrs. Brown, Schmidt and Waggoner opened the evening with the one-two punch of their slinky and seductive "Skinny Anklebone," the Falcons' first 7-inch from back in 1984, followed by the propulsively thunderous "Mix Your Mess," and it was a slightly mannered free-for-all from there. As always, the Falcons proved themselves to be masters of pacing, knowing exactly the right time to draft and when to accelerate, slowing things down with the swaying Rockabilly/Doo Wop intensity of "I Fall Apart," heating things up with the insistent thump and throb of "Two Cigarettes in the Dark" and "You Can't Talk to Me." And the evening's special status was cemented with a backing vocal cameo from Mark Utley, taking a break from Bulletville and Magnolia Mountain (the latter of which once claimed DRB as a member) to sing harmonies on "You Can't Talk to Me" and "Melody" and provide appropriate shouts on "Cat Daddy."

When the Falcons finally closed with a rafter-rattling spin on "Never My Lover," the understandably frenzied crowd erupted with some fireworks of their own, stomping on the Woodward's dance floor with seismic fury until the trio retook the stage to finish the night with the hypnotic rumpshake of "Bertha Lou" and the incendiary barnstorm of "Swingin' on the Way Down."

As the lights came up on the dazed but exultant attendees (which included everyone's favorite politico/city booster Jim Tarbell; as Brown noted earlier in the night, "Well, when Jim Tarbell shows up, you know you've got a thing"), it was clear that the audience was comprised of two distinct factions — old fans who were basking in the glow of memories of ancient Falcons triumphs and the unexpected prospect of new frontiers ahead and new fans who had just witnessed a scorching force of nature whose earliest gigs may have preceded their births or at least coincided with their formative elementary school years. These younger fans had never seen the trio in their heyday, and I assured them that what they had just experienced was played out in that same fashion, at least five nights a week, three sets a night, back in the ’80s. Their jaw-dropped reaction was proof positive that the Warsaw Falcons belong back together, belong on the current scene with their (much) younger contemporaries and have more than enough fuel to go wherever they bloody well want to go.

Clearly the Falcons themselves and those of us who followed them with unfailing fervor from the start bear all the marks of the passing decades. There is considerably more salt in our once peppery hair, but you know what they say about snow-covered roofs and the fire stoked furnaces beneath them. The Warsaw Falcons may well be looked at as the grandfathers of the Cincinnati scene, but they built this city on Rock and soul and the music they made is as timeless as the seasons, as immutable as the laws that govern the universe and as relevant as tomorrow's headlines.

Friday night's show at the Woodward was the first in a series of gigs where the headlining Falcons will be supported by bands whose members can claim some connection to DRB and his intrepid band of riffmongers, joined by special guests both past and present. Think the Warsaw Falcons are just the new geezer Rock? Get your mind right, kids, and talk to the virgins who got popped at the Woodward last week. They drank the Kool-Aid and they believe. You will, too … right down to your skinny anklebones.

by Charlie Harmon 11.24.2014
Posted In: Music History at 04:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

These Walls Have Heard It All: Taft Theatre

Stepping into the decorated light cast from the looming ceilings of the Taft Theatre, it’s immediately apparent the space holds memory far outreaching your own. That is, of course, unless you’re about 100 years old and happened to be around Cincinnati in your early teens.

If that were the case, you’d probably remember the other awe-inspiring theaters that entertained the Queen City in those days: the Albee, Shubert and Capitol, to name a few — all astounding architectural representations of the heyday of local theaters. Sadly, the Taft is the only of those grand structures that still remains today, likely because it stands just far enough away from the heart of downtown, just missing out on the urban redevelopment that has defined the city for the past half-century or so.

Taft Theatre was opened in January 1928, inaugurated by lines of suited men and flower-hatted women who were willing to brace the 40-degree weather of the new year for the warm spectacle of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a shining new entertainment venue.

The theater is part of the Cincinnati Masonic Center, then called a temple rather than center, and is currently owned by the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. In its early days it would host Broadway shows, ballets and traveling performers and artists, among other entertainment.

The name, contrary to what some might think, is not a nod to the former United States president William Howard Taft, although many likely know of the street we have to honor him. Rather, the theater was a tip of the hat to William’s older brother, Charles Phelps Taft, a major figure in the Cincinnati newspaper business and a high-ranking Mason who lived just down the street from where the theater now stands.

While it was very popular during its early days and became popular again in the new millennium, the theatre went through a largely dormant period in the second half of the 20th century. In fact, the Scottish Rite applied for demolition rights twice in the 1960s — although they were rejected both times — because they thought the theater would be too expensive to renovate and wanted to replace it with a parking garage.

Luckily, it hung on and didn’t fall into serious disrepair long enough for Music and Event Management, a subsidiary of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, to take over in 2010. The company headlined a $3.2 million renovation, less than a third of the value the Masons had been quoted for renovations decades earlier.

The revamp, finished in 2011, increased the size of the seats, lowering the original capacity of 2,500 to about 2,300, as well as the size of the bathrooms — fewer venue seats, but more toilet seats (does this say something about the needs of folks in the new millennium?). They also took great consideration of modern concerns, spending a heavy load on hooking the building up with eco-friendly air conditioning.

Thanks to the restoration and rejuvenation of the old theater, it now holds about 140 shows a year compared to roughly 90 before renovations, and the annual attendance has also almost doubled. The theater is again one of Cincinnati’s hot spots for entertainment, hosting all kinds of musical concerts as well as theatre, being home to the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. With the upsurge in activity at the beautiful old Masonic Amphitheatre, the tall walls can keep holding and building memories of entertainment that life would be oh-so boring without.

by Charlie Harmon 11.07.2014
Posted In: Music History at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

These Walls Have Heard It All: Woodward Theater

It’s 1791, and as William Woodward’s many siblings head out into the world — some to sea, some to South Carolina — he decides to head into the vast Northwest Territory to a little town that looks like hardly anything more than an outpost. Little did he know that a little more than a decade later he would be living in the Union state of Ohio, and that by a century later those woods and fields would be covered with busy roads and pounding industry.

At this time, however, people lived in small townhouses with acres of land to farm, and Woodward came as a surveyor to work with that land. In the process, he began investing in real estate, got himself some land and settled on a good sized plot near Fifth Street Market — now known as Fountain Square.

Hammering down coarse boards gathered from the flat boats that were dismantled upon reaching Cincinnati, Woodward built a house in 1803. Years later, in 1816, he upgraded, building the Woodward Mansion, a beautiful house of brick and hand-carved woodwork. All around the northern side of that house he fixed the problem of Cincinnati having no good fruit by starting a huge apple orchard that would crank out around 500 barrels of cider a year (ever wonder where Orchard Street in Over-the-Rhine got its name?).

Through his investments and business endeavors, Woodward gained significant wealth, which he would then turn around and give back to the community out of his love for others and his era-appropriate fear of God.

One of the major ways he gave back to the community still stands today — in 1831 Woodward High School opened thanks to his efforts and donations. Woodward High School was not only the first in the city, but the first high school to exist west of the Allegheny Mountains.

When Woodward eventually grew old and passed away, his land and home was given to his wife, who also passed it on when she died. Eventually, by the time it was almost 100 years old in 1912, it was in the hands of a man named George C. Kolb.

Kolb razed the house with the intention of building a theater in honor of Woodward. Not simply a businessman without a care for the history of the house, Kolb had a committee choose certain items from the mansion to be preserved. The wooden mantel and the front door were given to Woodward High School and, according to a news article at the time, the committee also saved a cupboard, balustrade and a window Woodward had been known to look out from into the woods.

Once it was properly gutted of relics, the building was knocked to the ground and on top was built the beaux art-style building we see today (though the statues on either side of the door are replicas).

It was opened as a movie theater on June 18, 1913, in the days when film was still a fresh and developing art form. To say silent film at that time was redundant, because recorded — and especially synchronized — sound was a concept beyond reality. For example, in 1917 you could have seen the then-new but now lost film The Railroad Raiders.

The theater only lasted until 1933. While there are no records of why it closed, most speculate that the Great Depression kept people from having a nice night at the movies, causing the theater to go under.

By 1935 the building was again showing something, but this time it was used cars under the name Andy Schain Inc. A newspaper ad from 1937 shows that you could buy a ’36 Chevy Town Sedan for $525, a ’29 Chevy Coach for $60 and a ’31 Chevy Sports Roadster for the mindboggling price of $10. In other words, you could’ve purchased that Coach for the amount you might spend at today’s Woodward Theater in a night of heavy drinking with your spouse (or alone, if you’re that hardcore).

Around this point is where the trail runs dry except for a few sad drips. The used car shop closed sometime in the 1940s. While it’s hard to brush the dust off and find evidence, apparently there was a Kroger in the building in the 1950s. And jumping ahead to the ‘70s, it was a nightclub called Wanda Bear’s.

In 1990 Greg Starnes bought the building, using it as storage for his antique shop further down Main Street until 1995, when he opened it as the second location of Greg’s Antiques.

The end of Starnes’ tenure there is where Dan McCabe stepped in with his partners Chris Schadler and Chris Varias to begin work on this old building that has seen and heard it all.

It’s heard the silence of an early 20th century film; the passionate debate between two 1930s jocks over the price of a hot ride; the chatting of lovers shopping for lemons and mustached men cheering a band; the cooing of an old lady over a doll that reminds her of her younger days; and most recently, the buzzing of drills and booming of hammers.

Now once again the halls of this honorary building might listen to the rumbling and rattling of Rock music, the soft crying of a mother watching her daughter wed, or the perfectly timed joke of a comedian to the background of rollicking laughter. Whatever it is, as time rolls on these walls won’t stop listening.

The Woodward Theater opens to the public tonight. Read more about Main Street’s newest music and events space here.

by Charlie Harmon 10.14.2014
Posted In: Music History, Local Music at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

These Walls Have Heard It All: Sudsy Malone's

When researching Bogart’s for the first of these columns, I discovered a place that used to be its side-stream neighbor. Sudsy Malone’s, which sat just across the street from Bogart’s until 2008, may be a well-known name to older Cincinnatians, but to those of my generation I imagine it’s a legend unheard.

Sudsy’s, as those who knew it well referred to it, was more than just a bar or music venue. It was a laundromat. A gathering place of locals who fancied having a beer and hearing a tune as their clothes turned over in bubbly cleanliness. And while it was only open for a fraction of the time many of the big venues around here have been, it occupies a deep space in the history of Cincinnati and its local music scene.

Refined searches and several page scrolls through Google turns up hardly anything on the former venue. I finally found a memorial Facebook page that further fascinated me, still only offering a brief and general history but filled with posts by former loyal patrons reminiscing of great times at the bar, offering tales of hilarious happenings along with images, videos and old posters to fill it all in with color.

I wanted to know more in hopes of giving Sudsy’s its due place in Cincinnati music history. To understand where it all started and where it went from there, I talked to Janine Walz, a former managing partner who was around during the establishment’s heyday.

Sudsy’s was originally owned by John Cioffi and opened in 1986. As I understand it, the idea was inspired by similar businesses popping up in the region such as Dirty Dungarees in Columbus. They serve beer, so you can sip some foam while listening to the groan of washers and dryers, but Dungaree’s was never quite a bar. They served drinks in more of a refreshment center style. Cioffi’s vision for Sudsy’s was different.

The decision for the name came from a lot of scrawling and scratching by Cioffi and his family.

“They just had a long list of names that they would write down as they were brainstorming, and then they started crossing names out until it was down to Soapy Tucker’s or Sudsy Malone’s,” Walz says.

Michael Sharp, the highly adored Renaissance man known for his ballet career in Cincinnati and who sadly just passed away in September, designed the character logos. Soapy Tucker was a sort of motherly figure, whereas Sudsy Malone was a true gangster.

He became the face of the place, with his one-eyed look, suds-filled beer and coin-flipping hand becoming the calling card of the bar’s sign.

Upon walking in the front door guests faced a 40-foot bar.

“We would have competitions to see who could slide a mug full of beer the furthest down the bar without spilling it,” Walz recalls with a smile.

They had little round cocktail tables covered with dark blue tablecloths and standard bar stools. The ceiling undulated with the movement of fans under which each had a globular light, providing a sort of soft ambiance to the bar.

At the back of the building sat the laundry area, a brightly lit room where the fluorescent lights glinted off dozens of top-of-the-line washers and dryers.

“I remember some of the bands complaining after a while about the laundry room lights because they would glow into the bar and kill the mood for the crowd,” Walz says. “We strung up some Christmas lights and would just turn those on instead when bands were on stage at night.”

When the place first opened, however, the stage didn’t exist. Live music had never even been part of the idea.

“It was only intended to be a laundromat with frosty-mug beer,” Walz says of the original plan.

Walz recalls being the second laundry customer when Sudsy’s first opened. She worked at the Perkins just up Short Vine, and happened to be John Cioffi’s waitress the day he sat down to get food with the liquor agent that was supposed to be approving Sudsy’s license.

“When they were finishing lunch he asked me to come a few doors down to talk to him about a job,” she says. “I figured it was the same distance from home and might pay better, so I went. Next thing I knew I was hired on as a manager.”

In other words, she was there from the start. Walz watched the bar being built, and she knew it when it was just a place for people to wash clothes and have a drink, the crowd rarely exceeding 10 people.

Only months after the place opened, a local band called The Thangs approached the owners with the idea to play music. Essentially, they just wanted a place to gig when nowhere else would let them. After some hesitation, Sudsy’s let them do it, and much to their surprise the first show was packed with about 100 people. Sudsy’s wasn’t expecting this, and they completely sold out of every drop of beer they had stocked at the time.

With such outrageous success, The Thangs wanted to come back. Before long, music became the detergent to Sudsy’s suds, responsible for consistently bringing in large crowds. At first they charged a very minimal cover, mostly so they had something to give the band, and offered a free soft-drink ticket with entry for additional incentive.

By ’87 they were charging a $5 cover, although they would still let people in for free if they had a basket of laundry. This often resulted in washers full of abandoned clothes the next day, as people brought the clothes to get in and then simply forgot about them in the excitement of music and merriment. Over time, Sudsy’s developed a massive collection of forsaken threads.

This memory sparked another for Walz: “I remember this guy that would show up about once every year driving a station wagon. He would take the clothes people had left over time and pack every inch of his car, literally. He would do something with them, I think donate them.”

As the place continually packed in people like foam to the top of a mug — thanks to the highly praised booking magic of Dan McCabe (Now of MOTR Pub) — problems inevitably occurred that now seem laughable. The carpet in the bar area became so matted and disgusting that it resembled tile, so Walz had it ripped out and replaced with wood. The men’s bathroom was a story of its own. Widely known as “Worst Men’s Bathroom,” Walz said she wouldn’t go near it, even almost buying stainless steel sheets to layer on it so she could just hose it down at night.

At one point the fire department came in and completely cleared house, although there wasn’t a single flame or wisp of smoke. The building’s stated capacity was far under how many people they would pack in, and one night they had to count the crowd back in, one by one. Eventually they completely stopped the music for a period of time to get the building up to code.

Despite its small size, Sudsy’s brought in now-major acts that were rising at the time — Beck, Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers — while also helping breed local acts like The Afghan Whigs and Over The Rhine. Almost all the music was original, save some special events like Grateful Dead night.

Even on nights they weren’t playing themselves, members of bands could always be found among the crowd. The music scene at the time was like a circle, made up of bands and fans that truly appreciated music and enjoyed simply watching people express themselves creatively. Bands would come out and support other bands. Non-musicians would out come and support them all.

Even bands and celebrities that were too big to play there live in the storybooks. Popularly known folks like Jackson Browne, "Weird Al" Yankovic and James Taylor stopped in to wash clothes or use the phone. Kate Pierson (B52s) and Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) came by during their Tide protest to pass out literature in affiliation with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Walz recalls the afternoon before a Jefferson Airplane concert at Riverbend when the bar was pretty empty and there were four guys hanging out doing laundry and drinking a beer. They were worried about their cab not showing up and frantically trying to figure out how to get to their hotel — so Walz drove them. Only after dropping them off did she realize the reason the dudes were so worried about being late.

Walz showed me the blueprint of the building, and again lit up when she pointed out the wash sink in the laundry room.

“Some crazy celebrity took a bath in that sink one night,” she says. “I’m pretty sure it was Marilyn Manson.”

And these stop-ins aren’t the only “celebrity” claims to fame for Sudsy’s. The bar itself was given awards throughout the years from Cincinnati’s former alternative weekly Everybody’s News, from “Best Looking Staff” to “Best Rock Club,” and even “Best Place to Ditch a Blind Date.” They were also named the best bar in Ohio in ’93 by Creem magazine, courtesy of The Connells.

However, all the press, awards and celebrities aside, Walz says what really made the place special were the local patrons.

“It was like a family, people were loyal,” she says. “They would look out for others, and for the bands, and would always defend Sudsy’s no matter what. Without the people, everybody, the people that watched the bands, the bands themselves, Sudsy’s was nothing.”

The bar would even cater specifically to bands they knew well, for example stocking extra Hudy Delight when The Thangs would come back because their crowd loved to drink it.