Monday, October 16, 2017

Cleveland Regional Breakout Hits

The following two singles are the only ones to be listed in Billboard between 1970-1974 as regional breakout hits in Cleveland and never to have moved any higher.

"Roxanna  (Thank You for Getting Me High)" (1970) - Wild Butter

Written by John Senné * Produced by Eric Stevens * 45: "Roxanna (Thank You for Getting Me High)" / "Terribly Blind" * LP: Wild Butter * Label: United Artists * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Cleveland * Entered: 1970-08-22

"Roxanna" will strike most listeners as a lost proto-power pop gem to be filed alongside Big Star or the American Dream, with its Beatle allegiances, airy melodicism, and odd refrain ("Naked heart and naked mind / Thank you Roxanna for getting me high"). The most available story about Akron's Wild Butter is that drummer/vocalist Rick Garen and keyboardist Jerry Buckner (who, alongside a man named Garcia, would later enrich contemporary society with "Pac Man Fever") scored a record deal with United Artists before having a full band. Their songwriter-guitarist friend John Senné, along with bassist Steve Price, then joined up to help get an album in the can. Most of the songs, including "Roxanna," are Senné's, but Price and Buckner also contribute alongside cover versions of the Bee Gees, Neil Young, and the Moody Blues. (The flipside "Terribly Blind" is a Senné/Price track.) Garen's lead vocal has a British affectation that's not uncommon for the era, but then it may remind you of Guided By Voices singer Robert Pollard (of Dayton), leading you to wonder if that's an Ohio thing.

An August 1970 issue of Record World mentions Cleveland's popular WIXY as a station giving "Roxanna" heavy rotation, which is no surprise because the record's producer and the band's manager was former WIXY program director Eric Stevens, who knew a thing or two about the radio biz and his city's musical tastes. He'd also produce and manage local heavy rockers the Damnation of Adam Blessing and—his biggest success—Brownsville Station. Stevens is quoted in a book called Cleveland Rock and Roll Memories as being frustrated with United Artists who didn't seem to know much about "bringing the record home," ignoring the pre-installed roadblocks of Wild Butter's overt "getting high" references.

Side A: "Roxanna (Thank You for Getting Me High)"

Side B: "Terribly Blind"

"Linda's Song" (1971) - Alex Bevan

Written by Alex Bevan * Produced by Eric Stevens * 45: "Linda's Song" / "Brady Street Hotel" * LP: No Truth to Sell * Label: Big Tree * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Cleveland * Entered: 1971-10-23

Like Wild Butter, singer-songwriter Alex Bevan was from Akron and had his first record produced by former WIXY program director Eric Stevens. Fans of be-denimed early seventies singer-songwriters should add Bevan's No Truth to Sell to their search lists. The two tracks on his "Linda's Song" 45, especially, have a haunted aura with their journeyman lyrics and echo chamber strings. For the rest of his career, though, Bevan would settle in as Cleveland's good time troubadour-in-residence, appearing regularly on WNCR and WMMS, doing commercials for the Cleveland Browns, and performing the local anthem and signature song "Skinny" that he'd written and recorded in 1976 ("I'm a skinny little boy from Cleveland, Ohio / Come to chase your women and to drink your beer"). In 2017, Bevan released his 25th album.

Side A: "Linda's Song"

Side B: "Brady Street Hotel"

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