Arguably The Golden Age of Cleveland Music

My name is Chris Noga.  From 1988 until 1993, I played guitar and wrote songs for the incredibly obscure Cleveland Ohio band, North By Northwest.  We released one 7″ single, one five song EP, one cassette single and appeared on one compilation CD.  We spent about a hundred hours in the recording studio trying to find our sound (almost did, too) and we played less than a dozen live gigs.  We were, however, proud to be an extremely small part of what was arguably the golden age of Cleveland music when a number of immensely talented musicians and bands wrote and performed their own music on their terms.  From power pop, straight ahead rock and folk to post punk, electronic, avant-garde, the Cleveland music scene from 1985 to 2000 thrived and while there were varying levels of “success,” what really developed was a very cool sense of community.

The “Godfather” of the scene at the time was Jim Clevo (Chlebo), a lifelong resident of Cleveland and a proud graduate of John Marshall High School. Jim graduated from the Ohio School of Broadcasting and DJ’d at radio stations WCSB, WOXY and WFUN.  Beginning around 1985, Jim began to actively support and promote the local music scene and in 1987 under the “Jim Clevo Presentations” moniker, he released a compilation cassette titled “Listen.”  Jim took that tape to New York City containing original songs from sixteen local bands and he distributed it during the 7th annual College Music Journal Music Marathon.  He would release four additional compilations (on CD) until becoming the president of the Cleveland Music Group.  Jim then spearheaded additional compilations of Cleveland music as well as led the Cleveland contingent to the South By Southwest Music Festival in the early and mid 90s.  Jim knew there was a wealth of great music in Cleveland and when he passed away in March 2015, he willed his papers and media to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum Library in order to preserve the music he promoted so fiercely.

Recently, I learned that both North By Northwest cassette releases were actually part of the collection of tapes that were part of Jim’s donation to the RRHOF.  I realized that while it’s cool that Jim’s life work is safely preserved, in order to truly “live,” the stories behind the bands, cassettes, CDs, flyers and other documents contained in that collection have to be put into context by those who were there.  As a history major, while my career field the past 25 plus years had nothing to do with my degree, I think I’ve always unconsciously been looking for a historical research project to keep my skills sharp.  It’s been said, “write what you know” and so my mission is to catalog the era of Cleveland music of which I was a part.  I think the best way for me is to start with this blog.  I’ve compiled almost fifty LPs and CDs released by Cleveland bands in the late 80s and 90s.  I’ll spend the next few months blogging about those releases.  I’ll also be reaching out to friends and musicians from that era in an attempt to preserve their stories through oral histories.  Finally, I plan to peruse the Jim Clevo papers personally as well as the papers donated by legendary Cleveland rock photographer and writer, Anastasia Pantsios to the Western Reserve Historical Society.

There are stories to be told and I want to preserve them.  If you were a part of the Cleveland music scene from 1985 to 2000, if you are inspired to assist me with this project, please email me at chris@listenclevelandmusic.com.  I’m looking for personal recollections, photos, music, flyers and anything else that you feel would add to my research.  Who knows where this will end up but my sincere hope is that the final result will be a fun chronicle of the most fruitful era of Cleveland music.

Cheers!

Want to learn a little about my old band, North By Northwest?  Click on the hyperlink which will take you to our Facebook page.  We’ve got photos, music from our cassettes and videos from our final performance as a band.  While you’re there, please give us a “like,” too.  Thanks in advance.

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