From the mid-70's to the mid-80's, The Michael Stanley Band rocked arenas all over the midwest, setting still-unmatched concert attendance records at northeastern Ohio's Blossom Music Center and The Coliseum in Cleveland.
With album sales reaching the hundreds of thousands, the band enjoyed a strong and undeniably loyal following in other areas of the country as well, and toured with some greats, including Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Foreigner and The Doobie Brothers...
In his early days of recording his talent attracted the likes of producer Bill Szymczyk and guest musicians Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, and David Sanborn from the beginning. He formed the Michael Stanley Band (aka MSB) in 1975 and pursued a more straightforward rock direction.
To this day, Michael's first two albums are mainstays of any fan of 70's country rock. Songs like "Rosewood Bitters," "Moving Right Along," "Yours for a Song" and the ultimate Michael Stanley tune, "Let's Get The Show on The Road" have survived well. Most favorably compared to Dan Fogelberg's early albums, Michael was and still is extremely capable of writing songs that raise the little hairs on the back of your neck. Just from his uncanny ability to write perfect songs ever since he began would be enough reason to listen to his music but Michael has been able to do what few other artists have in that he hasn't changed his magic method. His new songs are just as vibrant as his classics. The sign of a true artist.
Finally! It's time for a Michael Stanley Anthology.
Michael Stanley started out as a bass player with the folk-rock group Silk in the late '60s, and according to Michael, "We weren't very good." Destiny demanded a solo career which in 1972 began with the self-titled first album on Tumbleweed Records which was produced by Bill Szymczyk (The Eagles, The Who) and featured "Rosewood Bitters," the song that would launch the 40 plus year journey that culminates in the release of "The Solo Years 1995-2014." One more solo effort came in 1973 entitled "Friends & Legends" which is aptly titled since it, like the first album, included the efforts of Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren and David Sanborn with Bill Szymczyk at the helm again. It produced the legendary classic, "Let's Get The Show On The Road" which, to this day, commands thunderous applause in concert performances.
In 1974, Michael's friend Jonah Koslen was added to the list of friends and legends along with Daniel Pecchio from Glass Harp, and Tommy Dobeck and The Michael Stanley Band came into being. For more than a decade MSB worked wonders with fans and the singles charts as they took control of the Mid-West Rock scene. 12 albums and 12 years later, Michael saw the end of MSB and thought his rock star status had come to an end. But in the words of Michael, "Making music is a powerful drug; one that, despite the travails of the profession, can help keep you sane…or maybe just a little bit less insane…but anyway you look at it, it’s still a hell of a lot cheaper than therapy!"
And thus, in 1995 he picked up where he left off in '74, feeding the addiction of writing songs and performing. Michael says, "It was a second act that I had never envisioned but one that I am eternally grateful for because it led to the twelve solo albums from which 'The Solo Years' was pulled. I have been blessed to be able to continue to make music with people I love and respect and they always, always make the tunes better. And to rekindle a working relationship with my dear friend and mentor Bill Szymczyk on this anthology was the perfect icing on the cake."
This 3 disc set is structured as - Disc One: The Rousers, Disc Two: The Weepies and Disc Three: Crispy's Critters. The Rousers are tunes that have always excited his fans. The Weepies are powerful and emotional ballads. Crispy' Critters (referring to Bill Szymczyk's nick-name of "Crispy") was selected and sequenced by Bill himself and includes Bill's faves from Michael's solo material. Bill was driven to write liner notes for this release as well.
"The Solo Years - 1995-2014" also includes two previously unreleased tracks that are sure to make MS fans very, very happy. Twenty years down and at least twenty more to go. Michael Stanley never stops!
About Michael Stanley
Born on March 25, 1948, in Cleveland, Ohio, Michael Stanley Gee's early musical inclinations, as a Rocky River High School student, were typical of most teen boys in a 'garage band': "It was just something that was fun to do," Michael Stanley recalled, in a 1981 'TEEN Magazine interview, "It was a good way to pick up some quick money and meet some girls."
In 1965, the proverbial 'first' band was one called the 'Scepters'. Things became more serious, musically, when Michael joined the 'Tree Stumps', and a single was released, "Listen To Love". By 1969, Michael was a student at Hiram College, working on his Bachelor of Arts degree, and the Tree Stumps had become 'Silk', a locally-popular folk group that had advanced into the recording studio and produced an LP, "Smooth As Raw Silk"...
At a point when the band was on the verge of breaking up, they were asked to play a local Cleveland hotspotand they took the gig with the idea that they could, at the very least, 'go out on top'...
New York record producer, Bill Szymczyk, was in the audience that night, and was impressed; a record contract followed...
Michael had continued working his 'day job' at Disc Records, having by then become the Regional Manager, in charge of stores in 12 states, AND married--with two infant, twin daughters, Sarah and Anna. For two years, he juggled his time between the studio, work and family at a somewhat leisurely pace, judiciously using several weeks of vacation time a year to record both his debut, "Michael Stanley", and second LP, "Friends & Legends"...
Further supplementing his creative zen, he had also begun collaborating with two area musicians, Daniel Pecchio and Jonah Koslen, with the newly formed trio playing Stanley's solo songs as well as new material.
In 1973, Michael and his boss had a dispute that resulted in disaster: he was fired. With a new family, new car--and no job--Michael was momentarily 'stranded'. By now a close friend, Joe Walsh (another Cleveland area musician, who had joined Michael in the studio on both LP's) suggested Michael either 'give it (music) his all' or get out--no 'half-efforts' were going to suffice. It was a turning point for Michael, and one where he finally saw music as his lifeblood, deciding to consider it a full-time pursuit.
Michael's decision to 'hang tough' with the music, along with prodding from Pecchio and Koslen, became the catalyst that brought in drummer Tommy Dobeck, and the Michael Stanley Band came into being...
The Michael Stanley Band...
From the mid 70's to the mid 80's, the Michael Stanley Band enjoyed a strong and fiercely loyal following, touring with some of the superstar bands of that period (including Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Foreigner and The Doobie Brothers); there were several Top-20 and Top-30 hits, among them "He Can't Love You" in 1980 and "My Town" in 1983, but it seemed the 'one great hit' never came--the kind of chartbuster that saw acts like Bob Seger, Bryan Adams, John Cougar (now Mellencamp), make their names and hometowns, literally, household words...
In late 1982, MSB released what would be their final album for EMI: "You Can't Fight Fashion". The single, "My Town", had made it to 29 on Billboard Magazine's charts, sales were good, and the band was on tour, when EMI stunned the band by offering them an 'extension', rather than a contract renewal with a long-term financial comittment. When Michael confidently 'called their bluff', their label pulled the plug, halting promotion and tour-backing immediately.
Although it was a financial blow that staggered the band, they gamely continued performing venues in the Northern Ohio and midwest circuit, producing two independent releases, 1983's "Inside Moves", and "Fourth And Ten" in 1984 (recorded live at Blossom Music Center--a two nighter that saw the venue's all-time attendance records shattered), before formally disbanding in late 1986, shortly after performing nine 'farewell' concerts at Cleveland's Front Row...
"...We broke up not because we didn't like each other, but because we couldn't survive. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. It was like a group divorce," Michael Stanley would later recall, to Cleveland Magazine in a July, 1994 interview.
"After we did the last show with the band in December, 1987 (the Front Row Club "farewell" shows), I didn't touch a guitar for six months," Michael Stanley said in a 1992 interview, "...I wanted to walk away from it for awhile. I thought, 'Yeah, I'll stop for a little bit, come back and it'll be like turning on the faucet.' It was the total opposite. It was like writer's block for a long, long time."
In late 1991, the 'block' fell away...
Not surprisingly, Michael's 'post-MSB' years found him still working in the Cleveland-area entertainment spotlight: he served as co-host of WJW-Channel 8's "Cleveland Tonight" and "P.M. Magazine", 'til they were cancelled, and later as a weekly featured reporter for TV8's "First Look". It was only natural he'd find music calling him again, and he overlapped his television career with a new one in radio broadcasting--as afternoon disc jockey and on-air personality at Cleveland's WNCX 98.5...
Coming Up For Air...
In December, 1991, during a Las Vegas vacation, Michael suffered a heart attack. The near-tragedy resulted in Michael's re-evaluation of his life and career, and, with renewed determination and perspective, he began building a life of balance, exploring new interests while rediscovering old ones. He 'settled in', buying Chagrin Falls acreage, and lent his support to a number of good causes and charitable projects. Former Ohio native and MSB-fan, Razor & Tie Records' Cliff Chenfield, had contacted him, and the 'compilation' release they had discussed, "Right Back At Ya", was released in February, 1992, leading to a following decision to 're-issue' the entire Michael Stanley catalog. Michael remarked, in a 1994 Cleveland Magazine interview, "After a six-year draught, we had eight albums out one year and four the next. I finally got to have a copy of everything we'd done."
In 1993, Michael reunited with Jonah Koslen, Bob Pelander and Jennifer Lee (an area singer whose vocals had contributed to many MSB studio projects and concert appearances) to form The Ghost Poets. With the MSB reissues selling so well, Cliff Chenfield decided to release the group's eponymously-titled "The Ghost Poets" through Razor & Tie Records in 1994. Sales that followed were good, but local airplay was difficult--a Cleveland 'blackout' had resulted, as many radio stations viewed Michael Stanley--WNCX's highly-visible personality--as a competitor. The Ghost Poets continued to perform for a little over a year after the release, when a decision was made to disband the effort, and move on...
Following the quiet disbanding of The Ghost Poets, Michael went into the studio with another set of former MSB bandmates--including Bob Pelander, drummer Tommy Dobeck, bassist Michael Gismondi and guitarist Danny Powers--and recorded his first 'solo' endeavor since 1973's "Friends & Legends".
"Coming Up For Air", a quiet, intensely emotional and introspective album that centered around the title track--Stanley's chilling reliving of his recent heart attack--was released through Intersound Music (now Platinum Entertainment) on February 27, 1996.
"Though declaring a 1994 Blossom 'MSB reunion' concert as the 'final' one, Michael Stanley continued to perform with several long-time friends and former band members in and around the Cleveland area, billed as 'Michael Stanley & Friends'. Not surprisingly, his solo work led him to a decidedly 'acoustic' approach: in April, 1997, a two-nighter at Akron's Tangiers was duly recorded, and released by Razor & Tie Records as "Live In Tangiers: The Acoustic Shows" on June 3, 1998...
The release was received warmly by his fans and new converts alike, and the following 2 years were ones spent engaged in work on his next studio release. On June 6, 2000, of "Eighteen Down": elegantly titled (as an eighteenth album -- nineteen if one includes his debut endeavor with Silk, "Smooth As Raw Silk" -- spanning a musical career of over three decades) and brimming with new songs that both rocked with heartland spirit and embraced an oftimes-reflective maturity. Again, many familiar names joined Michael Stanley in the creation of that effort. (for MORE on "Eighteen Down", click here.)
Now, and on "The Ground"...
The following year saw Michael maintaining a busy schedule of work at WNCX, 'Friends' appearances and creative time in the studio mulling his next move. All was right in the world...
September 11, 2001, changed a lot of lives, and Michael was no exception. Tragedy has long inspired art, perhaps as a memorial to loss, grief and change. And, in the process, we are tutored as to what is really 'right in the world', and made stronger by the realization. It was a muse that would lead Stanley to pen new material that reflected this, to cherish family and embrace friends.
By now, "Michael Stanley & The Resonators" had become the band's performing moniker, and they were pleasing their loyal MSB fans while winning over new ones, with a setlist of old favorites and clever covers interspersed with fresh originals...
Not long after, a gumbo of Cleveland talent began rocking the Northcoast music scene as "The Midlife Chryslers", composed of musical alumni of the Resonators, MSB, The TopKats, My Old School, Jonah Koslen and the Gentleman Rockers, Wish You Were Here and more...
It was during this storm of creative activity that Michael somehow found the time to hit the studio and begin work on what is now his most recent work, "The Ground", to release on October 21, 2003. Michael continues to man the airwaves as afternoon 'drive-time' personality at Cleveland's popular WNCX, while performing with "The Resonators" and "Midlife Chryslers" throughout Ohio...
The pace shows no signs of letting up...
For a limited time only - here is a FREE DOWNLOAD of what we call "The Compact Michael Stanley" containing great songs from each of his solo albums, none of which are contained on "The Solo Years - 1995-2014" offered below - ENJOY!
With the release of Michael's album The Ride we offer this interview with Cleveland Scene:
Singer-songwriter Michael Stanley embraces the role of an indie artist
by Jeff Niesel
As Michael Stanley walks into the downtown Winking Lizard, he's greeted by a super fan who acknowledges that when he had his 12-night farewell run at the old Front Row Theatre, she attended 7 of the shows. "There's no accounting for taste," Stanley laughs in response. Currently the afternoon drive DJ on WNCX, Stanley can't fill venues like he once did when heartland rockers the Michael Stanley Band were big. And yet, he's kept at it with a backing band he calls the Resonators; his new self-released album, The Ride, comes on the heels of last year's The Hang, an introspective album he's referred to as his darkest release yet. Stanley's not touring in support of the album but he is playing two shows this weekend and next weekend at the Tangier in Akron. Over a quick lunch at the Lizard, he talked about those shows and about what it's been like to release albums without the backing of a major label.
A four-night run at the Tangier is rather ambitious.
What do you have planned for the shows?
You have to give them the ones they want every night. There are a bunch of swing songs and we'll do a couple of those each night. It breaks up the shows in case someone gets pissed off and hears a song we didn't do the night before. It also keeps the band on their toes, too. It's a nice problem to have that this far down the line there are so many fricking things to pull from. You want the audience to get what they came for but you have to keep the musicians engaged and keep yourself interested. My audience has been good about letting me move on as long as they get a certain amount of things. We'll do two or three things from the new album and see how that goes. You never know until you get out there and play them.
You essentially became an indie artist in the early 2000s when you left Razor and Tie. Talk about what that's been like.
It's weird for me having grown up in the label setting which doesn't exist anymore. There are pluses and minuses. I don't have anyone telling me what to do, but I also don't have a large distribution system behind me or a marketing squad. The Net gives you a certain amount of freedom. Everyone can find you. There are so many choices. The question is, who are people looking for? I like the idea of being able to do what I want. Since it's not my main livelihood, there's no pressure to have a hit album, whatever that is nowadays. I see the numbers of someone who has a No.1 album and in the old days that would have been No. 50.
Were there more good bands playing rock 'n' roll when you started?
Artists development didn't have much to do with developing artists. Those guys had no idea what was going on. That was the place where someone's brother-in-law got a gig. There were a few guys who were great, guys like [Cleveland International Records'] Steve Popovich. They were music people.
Who's your favorite Cleveland rock band of all time?
I would have to say the James Gang, although I'm a huge Raspberries fan too. There were a lot of good bands. Early on, there were good horn bands. It's been a great town for musicians.
What's your favorite Springsteen memory?
I'm a big Springsteen fan but I didn't want to meet him because I didn't want him to be a jerk. I've met enough people like that. I didn't want to meet Bruce and burst the bubble. Somebody who worked for [the local promoter] Belkin at the time around the Darkness tour or the River tour said I needed to meet Bruce. They took me backstage on some made-up thing and stuck me in his room. It was a dressing room. This was after the show and he played like three and half hours. There was a boombox going full blast playing the Ronettes, which I love. Bruce came out of the shower singing at the top of his lungs to the boombox after he had just been out there for 3 1/2 hours. He was very cool. We had a brief encounter but never passed paths again. It didn't blow it for me. That was at the Richfield Coliseum.
The Michael Stanley Band broke up in 1987. Talk about what broke up the band and how you've managed to stay on such good terms.
We broke up in January of 1987. It was an economic thing. We had lost our label 1 1/2 years before due to a run-in I had with someone at the label. At that point, if you didn't have a label, it was hard to keep going. We kept it together for about a year and a half. I had 15 people on the payroll and couldn't pay everyone and they all had families and houses. I thought, "If we're going to go out, I want to go out while we are still big." I didn't want to do that. Everyone thinks that we all hated each other but it was never that.
Your solo material has been more introspective. How well does that material fit with the MSB classics?
I think it's a growth. Early on, there was tremendous pressure to have a hit single, unless you were Zeppelin or somebody. We were thinking of what they would play on the radio. Once that was taken away, I could do whatever I wanted to. I like pop music so that wasn't foreign to me. At the same time, I'm not terribly focused. If I want to rock today, I'll rock. If I want to make acoustic music, I'll make acoustic music. I can do whatever the hell I want.
You don't have the luxury to play what you want on WNCX. Talk about some of the artists you would play if you could play anything.
It would be pretty eclectic. You would hear Joni Mitchell and AC/DC in the same day. That's a big jump. There's a lot of stuff I like and a lot of stuff that doesn't get much exposure. I like Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt and Bonnie Raitt. Who plays them? I gave up fighting about playlists because it is what it is. You might not think it if you live here, but I can't tell you how many people tell us that we're wide open and that they would never hear Alex Harvey or Todd Rundgren or old Genesis. [Program director] Bill Louis has done a good job of making it across the board and giving it some depth.
Do your kids introduce you to new bands?
Yeah, they do. One of my daughters seems to have a good grip on what I like. One of the bands was Lifehouse. I really, really like them. They make great records.
Cleveland has a reputation as a great rock 'n' roll town. Is it still a great rock 'n' roll town?
I think in a lot of respects it is. The part that was its strongest suit was that it was a trendsetting market instead of a following market. I don't think that's here anymore but I don't know if that exists anywhere anymore.