This Town is His Town
Michael Stanley was born Michael Stanley Gee in Cleveland, Ohio on March 25, 1948. A graduate of Rocky River High School, Class of '66 Michael went on to Hiram College where earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree. While at Hiram, he was a disc jockey on WHRM as well as a member of the Student Senate.
Michael is currently married to Denise; they have been married about 5 years. He is also the father of twin daughters, Sarah and Anna, and the proud grandfather of three.
But, none of that is why we know Michael Stanley. We know him for and because of his music, so that is the main story we will tell.
While in High school Michael played with a band called the Scepters, his very first band. He then went on to play The Tree Stumps who later became Silk. The Tree Stumps released a single called "Listen to Love" and as Silk, an album titled "Smooth as Raw Silk".
Music was only a second job for Michael at this time - his day job was as regional manager of Disc Records, in charge of a dozen or so stores. He was also married by this time and had his twin daughters.
Silk did not stay together, but Michael did not give up music. Instead, he formed a trio with Daniel Pecchio and Jonah Koslen. He didn't actually know either of them before forming the band. He knew of Danny from Glass Harp, but did not know him personally. Jonah was a friend of David Spero, the bands manager.
The other members pushed Michael to get a drummer, but he resisted because he knew it would take the band and his commitment to another level. Finally, they started looking and Tommy Dobeck was the first one they heard and knew they wanted him. Michael says it took a couple months to convince him to leave the band he was in. He says the running joke is that "I've been playing with him for 31 years and he still has never said he's going to join the band yet."
Michael was joined on his first two albums (Michael Stanley and Friends and Legends) by Joe Walsh. Michael remembers Bill Szymczyk, the bands agent, asking nonchalantly
if he would like to play with Joe Walsh. Joe had worked with Bill Szymczyk who also produced the James Gang. He remembers thinking "Well yeah, who wouldn't want to play with Joe?" Szymczyk also hooked Stanley up with the likes of Rick Derringer and Todd Rundgren. His first album (Michael Stanley) is more often than not referred to as "The Blue Album" by fans.
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about the Blue Album and Rosewood Bitters
Soon after the release of his album, Michael was fired from Disc Records, something that may have stopped other people in their tracks. Instead, it inspired Michael. "If that hadn't happened I don't know if there would have been a band." His friend Joe Walsh told him he had to make a decision; if he was going to pursue music, he had to give it his all.
Michael decided Joe was right and concentrated all of his efforts on his music.
Shortly after that his second album was released, Friends & Legends
. The big hit on that album was "Let's Get This Show on the Road". To many that is the Michael Stanley Anthem.
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about Let's get the Show on the Road
No matter how many times he has played it, Michael says," I never got sick of that one. There are others that you get tired of playing over the years. At the same time that's a good problem to have if people still want to hear 'em. That's part of the game."
Michael says "Show on the Road went through so many changes arrangement wise over the years every time we changed personnel in the band we changed the arrangement of it." He explains that the arrangement changes were an effort to keep the band interested after doing the song so many times. He notes that the music had to maintain enough of the original arrangement to keep the fans happy and change enough to keep the band playing it with enthusiasm.
The first Michael Stanley Band album came next; "You Break it You Bought It". Although this was the original line-up of what would be an ever-changing band, Michael does not necessarily see it as the best version of the band. He looks back at this time when they were all very young and remembers just having fun and hoping they could keep it going for a year or so and then get on with their lives and do what ever it was they were supposed to be doing. "That was a fun time. It was a fun album to make."
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about how he hooked up with Jonah Koslen, Dan Pecchio and Tommy Dobeck
Michael looks at a band as a group marriage, with all the changes and growth situations. "The bigger the band gets, and mine got pretty big, you just add more variables it presents more opportunities but it also presents more problems"
He looks back on that album with fond memories of the times, but musically he is not overly impressed "I think Jonah's stuff is the best stuff on that album. But I look back at the time and the process as a real fun time."
Ladies' Choice came out next. Calcutta Auction is a bitter and worldly tune about the music industry and he says he is still amazed that he "nailed it" so clearly so many years ago.
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about Ladies Choice
Epic Records was considering whether they would continue to produce Michael's albums. He knew he had a good thing and encouraged them to come see the band live, which they did. They cam to a show in Youngstown and the people from Epic were completely impressed. The representative told Michael he was not being showcased the way he should be. "In fact we had a meeting in a rest stop on the turnpike. He told us "You guys haven't been captured as you should." It was the time of Clapton Comes Alive and live albums were in vogue.
And with that "Stage Pass", live at the Agora, was born, "That album seems to have struck a chord with people. For a lot of people it's their favorite album."
The cover of Stage Pass has a stunning photo of part of a woman on the cover. Before even being asked, Michael volunteers, "I don't know her. I don't know if she has legs. Never saw any more of her than you're seeing right there. I don't know if she has a top of a head. Nobody has any idea."
Listen to Michael Stanley talk Stage Pass and the girl on the cover
After Stage Pass, everything started to snowball. Right around that time they played their first show at Blossom - the only time they ever opened for anyone in Cleveland. They opened for Loggins and Messina and after that, they were always the headliners. They were the first and only local band to headline at the Coliseum. They went on to sell out Blossom. The Agora and The Coliseum every time they played.
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about headlining shows but needing gas money
Billy Joel opened for them at the Akron Civic Center, John Cougar opened for them and even REO Speedwagon opened for them. Stanley takes turns with one of his favorite bands, Cheap Trick as to who opens for whom.
Contrary to popular belief, with all this attention and rave reviews the band was not "rolling in money". The first time they played the Coliseum every band member was on unemployment, except for Michael, who as boss of the corporation, could not be. He remembers Tommy had to borrow gas money to get to the Coliseum so they could perform as headliners! "On one hand you're the rock star but on the other hand the drummer is borrowing money to get there."
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about his early influences.
Michael was influenced early on by Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. He says he was at the right age to go from "Rosemary Clooney singing 'How much is that doggie in the window'" to rock n' roll." He found it to be "mind blowing,"
"I was at the right age again when the Beatles hit. It was so different than it was before." He says all of a sudden people started to realize they too could be in a band. It used to be "Bands were one step above cat burglars. You didn't know anybody that was in a band… Then all of a sudden everybody was in a band."
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about their biggest hit - which he didn't sing
Michael Stanley at Tower City Amphitheater, in Cleveland, Ohio, June 8, 2002. Photo by Joe Kleon
Michael says he can often predict which tunes are going to become favorites and maintain their popularity over the years. Sometimes, however, the songs he thinks will really inspire people don't go anywhere and the ones, like Rosewood Bitters, that he thinks are just okay take hold and become hits. "Let me say, I'm glad they did [latch on]. We have to play it every time; I just don't know why they dug it but Thanks for digging it."
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about how he writes songs
He says die hard fans become very cryptic about many things, thinking there are a lot of hidden messages in his songs or his album covers, but really, things are just as they seem. For example, when he thanks "The Hills" on his first few albums, it is not a secret message, but just a thank you to his first wife's family. The Rosewood Bitters sign on the cover of the album is simply a sign the Art Department put up on the wall and has no other significance.
Rosewood Bitters was one of many songs that other singers covered later on. He thinks it is great to have had some one like Joe Walsh cover "Rosewood Bitters". As Stanley says, there are a lot of music and song choices out there, so to have someone record your work, and even more so, someone like Joe Walsh "is a great compliment."
"As a song writer, which is why I got into the whole thing in the first place, any time somebody covers one of your tunes it's a compliment. There's a lot of tunes out there, they can pick whatever they want."
He says Joe threatened to cover it ever since the song came out back in the very early seventies. Michael would always tell him to stop threatening and just do it! He finally got around to it on the Confessor album. Michael was especially flattered because he thinks so highly of Joe. Surprisingly though, it is not one of his favorite songs. "To be completely honest about it, I never liked the song much to begin with. I remember liking it at the time, obviously, but I never could quite figure out why people latched on to this one."
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about songs he thought were hits and how it feels when the audience sings along
A couple of the MSB albums there was a little touch of "funk" not typical of the MSB sound. Michael says that often this was a chance to get some additional David Sanborne saxophone on it. "Back then he was a real hippie."
Jonah Koslen and Michael Stanley at the Odeon in Cleveland
Michael never minded sharing the microphone with other singers in his band; he just wanted the music to be out there. He considers himself a songwriter first and he writes songs any way he can. "Usually you have to work at it. Sometimes a title will come to you." He says most writers keep a little book with them and jot things down. "The thing is you do it over and over and learning it as a craft. You wish it were all inspiration. That happens. And when it does it's amazing." He says sometimes inspiration will only get him through half a song, and then the "craft" aspect has to kick in.
When asked about his favorite songs Michael says, "I like a lot of them. Some I hate."
Included in his favorites are "Some Winter Night, Lover and Spanish Nights."
He never thought "Lover" would make it big even though as a writer it was one of his favorites. Now he not only plays it at every show, but doesn't really have to sing it at all - the audience takes over. Everybody knows and loves the song. He is concerned about the day he walks away from the mic and nobody knows the words. "That's the day you know the career is over!"
He doesn't remember when the phenomenon started but he knows it's pretty awesome to have 20,000 people singing back at you. The line they all join in on? "Thank God for the man who puts the white lines on the highway!"
Michael Stanley signing albums
He can't really choose an all time favorite band, but Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band would probably rank high. He says there are only two kinds of people: Stones people or Beatles people. "After much thought if I was told I could only take one catalogue to a desert island I would take the Stones."
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about his favorite musicians and about iPods and mp3s
Asked to create an all-time Dream Band it would consist of the following:
- Lead guitar Eric Clapton
- Rhythm John Lennon
- Bass Paul McCartney
- Drummer Johnny "B" Badanjek ("You won't know him, he's from Mitch Ryder")
- Vocalist Michael McDonald
- Keyboards Bob Pelander
As for today's music, he can't see any bands with thirty year longevity out there now, but concedes that people would not have thought that someone like U2 would still be around. "It [music] seems really disposable. Everybody has an album, maybe two then they're gone. What's the new flavor?"
The Internet has brought an interesting angle to the music industry. He has mixed feelings about people downloading without paying for music because "[the] Record company never paid me anyway. I'm not one of those people who say all music should be free. People who say that have no idea what it takes to get music to that MP3 player. And if you want people to continue to do it, if you have a favorite… you have to support what they do."
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about Cleveland bands and how the radio and club scene have changed
To this day, Michael goes and buys the music he wants to keep hearing. "If Cheap Trick has a new CD I'll go and buy it. I want to be part of the thing that says make another one."
"If I had to do this for a living, which I did, I picked a good time to do it. Radio both here and around the country was much more accepting… much more musical. You could go to radio stations and build a following…"
He considers himself really lucky to do something for 20 years that he loves and would probably do for free.
Of Cleveland's Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, Stanley says that from a civic stand point glad it came here. "I think it's cool that you can go in and find at least one thing you are willing to genuflect in front of. I just wish the Rock Hall was a little more lively. I always feel when I go in there that it's quieter than a library and I don't think that's what it should be. I think it should be alive and kicking."
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Michael's entry into the world of television was as serendipitous as his being fired from Disc records and entering the world of music. The band broke up, an event Michael likened to a divorce. At the time, Tony Harris was the male co-host on PM Magazine. Harris had a disagreement with management and walked off. The show not only needed someone, they needed a male co-host. So, he became co-host of PM Magazine with Jan Jones.
Michael Stanley and Jan Jones on PM Magazine
"They hired me because I had a name." He says he knew that, and that was fine with him, but as it turned out, he was really good at it. He had been doing interviews for years -on the other side of the mic. So for him, asking the questions was easier than answering them. He didn't mind working with the beautiful Jan Jones, Paula Kline and Laurie Vick either.
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about his TV career
He continued working on television for six or seven years and won 10 Emmy's in that time.
In 1991, a very young Michael Stanley had a heart attack, which slowed him down, if just for awhile. "Live through something like that… it kind of changes your perspective on some things…from that stand point its good. I wouldn't wish it on anybody for that though."
Michael Stanley in 1996
He suggests, "If you're pacing yourself it might not be a good idea." September 11th was the same for him "Sort of like the heart attack. You realize you just don't know what would happen tomorrow or if there will be a tomorrow. You just don't know… I've got things I want to do and I'm going to do them now."
Michael and some friends have put together a blues band and have been playing bars "for the door" for the last 4-5 years. The Band, Midlife Chryslers, has only two rules. 1) They never rehearse and 2) no MSB music. "I have a great time. It reminds me why I got into this."
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about why he is still playing
"I'm still doing it because I love doing it. It's cheaper than going to a therapist. And there's still obviously a certain amount of people who respond to it and want to hear it and as long as there are [I'll keep playing] "
Michael went into radio as a disc jockey at WNCX. "Radio is fun, there's a lot of stations it would not be fun at but this one is fun. It's the music I grew up with." He says the only real problem is that he's starting to get burned out on music he used to love.
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about success
In 1993, he formed another band The Ghost Poets but because of his affiliation with WNCX other stations wouldn't play the band, looking at it as competition. The band broke up, but in 1996 Michael put out the first solo album he had done since Friends and Legends in 1973. The album was "Coming Up For Air" and his fans were eager to accept it. Other recordings followed including "Eighteen Down" so named for the 18 albums he had recorded as either Michael Stanley or Michael Stanley Band.
He continued to play and the bands name became "Michael and the Resonators", the name still in use to this day. He is on WNCX drive time daily and playing with the Midlife Chryslers and the Resonators on a regular basis.
Michael Stanley and the Resonators
He looks to the future as an opportunity to continue being creative. He has a number of projects in the works, including a DVD project with his wife and an album just released in August of this year "Soft Addictions."
Michael says everyone has his or her own perception of him. Some know him as a musician, a song writer, a television celebrity, or a disc jockey. But all who have dealt with him know him as a "real guy" - a straight shooter. There is nothing pretentious about him. He is a man who loves music and is creative enough and talented enough to make it part of his life.
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about how the band was a bunch of normal guys
Debbie Hanson and Michael Stanley
Michael says it "makes me smile" to think that he, the rock and roll musician, is now on ClevelandSeniors.Com. It is nice to think that the man who has made so many of us smile for so long (and continues to do so) is smiling too.
Listen to Michael Stanley talk about aging in rock and roll
For re-makes of all of Michael's work go to Linelevelmusic.com (everything is there except Stage Pass) and be sure to visit MichaelStanley.Com
Profiled by Debbie Hanson and Dan Hanson (7/07)
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