The sunlight glimmering off Lake Erie seems a bit muted today as an entire city mourns the passing of a true Cleveland legend. This morning brought the news that many have feared since Michael Stanley’s family made public a few days ago that he was suffering some major health issues. Michael Stanley has passed away at the age of 72.
A staple on stages, on TV, and on the radio for almost 50 years – Michael leaves behind a legacy of music, friendship, and love that reflects the city he called home.
Many have stories, memories, that they can share of time spent with this amazing musician and man – including the one sitting at this keyboard right now. Michael and I crossed paths many times over the last five decades and I find myself wanting to share some of those with you today – as I mourn the passing of someone I always considered a friend although we actually never spent enough time together to warrant that moniker, that’s the thing about Michael – he always made you feel welcome – he always made you feel like you belonged.
Although I was aware of Michael Stanley at the time – I honestly wasn’t a fan till I saw him at the Canton Civic Theater on the band’s Greatest Hints tour about 1978 or so. That show blew me away – in a way, it changed my life. I was a sophomore in high school, trying to figure out what path my life was going to take – and that show made me realize that I wanted to do something in the entertainment field, I certainly did not have the talent (or looks) to be a performer but – I had a passion for photography and for writing and I decided to take up Media Communications. A few months later my future wife ( I didn’t realize that at the time) and I went to an MSB show in Wooster and I managed to get us close enough to the stage to get some pretty kick-ass photos – back in those days there was no digital photography – so, had to run home, develop the negatives, print the pics and to my surprise – I had a couple of real winners.
The following week – the band was playing a show at Kent State University. I was determined that I was going to get these photos in front of Michael Stanley – he was going to see them – and if I had my way, was going to sign one. We’re going back about 40 years now so – my recollection of the exact events that led to me making it backstage may be a bit off but – I think I first attempted to go through Michael’s then road manager Jim Soffos – who I believe politely told me to get lost but not to be deterred – I somehow managed to end up backstage, in a small room with the band – and a few other fans or contest winners or something. I handed Michael a handful of pictures and he took them and rifled through them stopping on one of sax player Rick Bell – “Hey Rick – you gotta see this” he yelled across the room and motioned for me to take the picture over to him. Turns out that Scene Magazine was getting ready to do a story on Rick – labeling him The Cleveland Horn – and he had been looking for a good shot of himself to use in the article, and he had an interest in using the one I shot in Wooster. I left that room walking on air – and that was my first encounter of spending time with Michael Stanley. Who knew at the time it would be an on-again, off-again series of chance meetings that would allow us to spend time together several times through the years.
I don’t remember the circumstances but a few years later I was along for a show in Cincinnati at the famous venue Bogarts. It was a small club but all the major bands hit. The night before we were there Rush had been on stage. After the show, we were once again back with the band and got to meet Jeff “Skunk” Baxter of Doobie Brothers fame. I wish I could remember why I was there but I do remember it was awesome.
Through all these years I was a constant fan – attending any show I could get to. Traveled to Idora Park, hit as many shows at Blossom as I could – those were great days. I remember going to the farewell shows at the old Front Row theater when MSB broke up – three nights if I remember right. Amazing shows.
Michael and his music have been a part of my life ever since I was old enough to realize that music was important to me.
In my adult years, I found myself once again crossing paths with him. I was manager of a hotel in Millersburg, Ohio – I reached out to him to see if he would be interested in coming down and maybe doing a small acoustic set – he agreed to come down but didn’t want to perform so – we booked him in as a celebrity bartender – and had an amazing evening of Michael interacting with a group of a couple of hundred people – he went table to table spending time with each and every person there – my oldest daughter has memories of sitting in a booth with Michael, just hanging out – I wish I had a picture of that moment but at least my daughter has the memory.
That event was such a huge success that he agreed to come down and do a full set at the Holmes County fairgrounds – with his then project The Ghost Poets. That whole weekend is a blur to me but one vivid memory I have is standing on the stage with Michael as they were getting ready to soundcheck and taped to the stage was a setlist from whatever band had used the equipment the gig before and it was basically just a list of profanities – the list was something like 1. SH!t – 2. F#C% 3. MotherF&@k, etc. You get the idea. I said to Michael – “Oh good, you’re gonna play F#C%” and he replied, “Well, we’ve never played in Holmes County before so we thought we would pull out the special songs.” We both laughed – and the soundcheck – and the show went off without a hitch. It was a moment I will never forget. My point of all this is that Michael was a down-to-earth, friendly, caring man who went out of his way to always make you feel comfortable.
Although the personal encounters were always special – it’s his music that I will always hold the closest. He wrote and sang about things happening in our world – he lived here, he experienced the same issues we all struggled with daily – and we all embraced his message.
As I sit here typing this – WNCX is playing an all-day tribute to Michael and his music, his legacy. Bandmates are calling in and sharing memories and while I find myself saddened he will no longer be here to talk to us every afternoon as we drive home, or bring us any more great songs and performances – I can’t help but smile as I remember all the great times – and music that this one mans life brought to so many.
Rest well Michael – as your lyrics remind us:
“This old town’s been home long as I remember
This town’s gonna be here long after I’m gone
Eastside, Westside–give up or surrender
But I still rock on…”
We’ll try to rock on – but it will never again be the same.
This is my personal favorite song of Michael’s – showcasing his amazing talent on all fronts.