Jonah Koslen and the Heroes Memories
(Or, Strike-ing Up the Band One Time, or even Cleveland’s Songwriter)
By Eddie Pecchio
(Or, Strike-ing Up the Band One Time, or even Cleveland’s Songwriter)
By Eddie Pecchio
I could sing like a girl!
Jonah Koslen and Eddie Pecchio on stage with the HeroesNot something expectant fathers dream about, is it? “It’s a boy. I hope he can sing like a girl!”
And not really like a girl, but high, like a girl. I could lay on a full voice C sharp. If you don’t know what that means - trust me, it’s pretty high. I told myself that’s probably why I got hired on the drive over to the first rehearsal at Scene Magazine in downtown Cleveland. It was January of 1982. I found a spot on West Ninth Street and schlepped my gear through the snow and inside. I hadn’t met anyone in the band I was forming except the leader Jonah Koslen. I met Jonah the same day I met Michael Stanley. It was April of ’74…I was 15.
In 1974, Jonah played in a band with my brother Daniel, and Michael Stanley. Daniel took me to DeFiores Music and bought me a bass. We stopped at Michael’s house in Chagrin Falls on the way back to Youngstown for a quick rehearsal. Just the three of them on barstools and acoustic guitars. Michael was very friendly, Jonah, not so much. He was going through his Grizzly Adams phase according to my brother. Stopped shaving and lots of granola and other natural practices. I went to all of their rehearsals and many of their shows. In the upcoming years, they hired a drummer, made a record, hired a keyboard player, made another record, hired another keyboard player, a saxophone player…I asked my brother one day in that cacophony of musicians that was the Michael Stanley Band, who he was most impressed with. Without blinking he told me Jonah.
“Jonah can get up,” he said, “and go in that bathroom and poop out a song that is better than anything anybody else can offer.”
“He seems unfriendly,” I said.
“Eddie, you’re 17,” Daniel said. “The only reason I talk to you is so mom won’t get mad.”
In January of 1977, the Michael Stanley Band played the Youngstown Agora. It was decided that I would play my bass with MSB at the soundcheck, that little pre-concert check before the doors open. I learned Midwest Midnight and Calcutta Auction off of the Stage Pass album; learned the vocal parts my brother sang, and all of his bass lines. And while the light crews climbed trusses and the club readied for the overflowing crowd outside, I nailed both songs, letter perfect. Michael, Daniel, Jonah, and I drove to Newport Theater and watched Fun with Dick and Jane while the opening band played. Jonah sat next to me and actually started a conversation.
Koslen would leave MSB in the coming year and form Breathless, while I would land my first cover band a few months later. Three cover bands and four years later, I was plucked from the Cleveland bar circuit and hired by Jonah.
At Scene Magazine I was completely intimidated by the landscape of the rehearsal room: Pianist Dennis Lewin hunched over an electric grand piano and playing a complicated Rachmaninov piece from memory. Don Krueger, the drummer from Eric Carmen’s band who played on the hit All By Myself, carefully tuning his kit. Guitarist Danny Powers, like a futuristic guitar engine, able to deliver tones and textures that sounded like three guitars were playing. And Jonah, perched in the center, who I had known since I was 15, authoritative and focused. A songwriting machine and vocalist who didn’t just write great songs, but Ohio anthems! Me? I could sing like a girl.
I met people like Steve Knill and Jim Girard who they treated me like I might buy a house off of them, they were so friendly. They were our local booking agents and our looming popularity would deliver them out of the current recession that was hampering the local music scene. I met our road crew tech, Stein, and the gang at Eight Day Sound, and was introduced to the guys in the band (Powers was already an acquaintance). I tuned my Moonstone Eclipse bass and listened to Koslen call the first song of practice, a Breathless song called Ends of the Earth. Then another called Walk Right In. A MSB song, Waste A Little Time on Me, and Ladies Choice followed. Like ninjas, we descended on each song with surgeon-like precision and performed them flawlessly. I never stopped being intimidated by Lewin, Krueger, Powers and Koslen. Together we were the Heroes: Jonah Koslen and the Heroes.
We debuted two weeks later at the Cleveland, Columbus, Akron, and Youngstown Agoras. We played in Galion, Canton, Warren and North Olmstead – we played everywhere. I became close with all of the members. Krueger, whose precision drumming was like an expensive timepiece, was always upbeat and positive. Lewin and I played catch before every gig with a too generous strike zone. Powers occasionally stayed at my apartment and told stories of his best friend Jessie who committed suicide. And Koslen confided the “Three B’s” that haunted his waking hours: Bambi (Koslen’s first wife), his defunct former band Breathless, and the Belkin’s, his management company.
On St. Patrick’s Day the band played WMMS’ Coffeebreak Concert at the Cleveland Agora. In front a packed throng of Clevelanders we played hits from Breathless, MSB and the best of Jonah’s new songs. It was electric.
By the summer we were in full stride but the economy was worsening. A rift had developed between Koslen and the booking agents. There were many problems concerning work and pay scales, and the honeymoon was truly over. The band opened a concert at the Akron Agora in April with Ian Hunter. Before the doors opened, Koslen and I watched the headliner’s soundcheck.
“Boy, they sure are playing a lot of songs, Jonah,” I said.
“No, Eddie. They’re rehearsing,” Jonah informed me. He taught me many things. Like before shows, when Breathless was the opening act in front of Kiss, how roadies would bellow, “Head for passes” to the girls trying to get back stage and meet the band.
“Did it ever work,” I asked naively.
“It never failed, Eddie.” He shook his head.
Jonah taught me things for which I should owe him money. How to be a better listener, a better band mate, and most importantly, how to approach playing bass on someone’s brand new song.
In May we were asked to open prog rockers Asia at Blossom Music Center when their song Heat of the Moment was topping the charts. They gave us 30 minutes as the crowd was filing in the giant venue. I saw Bambi walk over to the monitor man at the side of the stage and slip him 50 dollars, a necessary move if Jonah wanted to hear himself sing. Jonah was able to get the early arrivals to sing along with his most famous piece Strike up the Band to end the show. Six months ago I was playing in front of 50 people at some bar on the Westside of Cleveland. Now, I was playing Blossom.
That same month we readied to record at Cleveland Recording with Ken Hamann. Songs like Do It All Again, Night Shift and Dreaming My Life Away were recorded with help of Koslen’s old producer, Don Gehman, who had just finished John Mellencamp’s Grammy winner Jack and Diane. When the vocals were recorded, we used a real girl, Jennifer Lee, to sing all the high harmonies. Jennifer would soon become Danny Powers’ girlfriend. It was the apex of the band.
As excited as we were with the crowds, we were more excited about the songs. Jonah wrote amazing songs. Not only were we playing his greatest hits from Breathless and MSB, Koslen’s new songs were exhilarating. Played for us on an acoustic guitar at the beginning of rehearsal, we would put our own touches to them and they became our own. One of the songs we recorded at Cleveland Recording, Love Made the Difference, had the most remarkable bridge. We marveled at how someone could be so creative and original, and poop out quality song, after quality song like he did.
By the fall, the work had really slowed. Powers became involved with one of our local opening bands called Boy Wonder and Jennifer Lee. Dennis Lewin started to write songs with a project that would later become Beau Coup. The economy bottomed out and by New Years, and Danny Powers had quit the band. The Heroes became a four-piece with Koslen doing all the guitar work. We would spend all 1983 trying to regain momentum. By the summer of that year, Jonah signed a local deal with Ransom Records to record at Beechwood Studios with James Gang bassist Dale Peters engineering. We quickly laid down tracks and our first album followed in September.
I was approached by my brother Daniel to become his bass player in a band he was fronting. I quit the Heroes and was replaced by Bill March in the fall of 1983. By the fall of ’84, I was off to Florida while Jonah Koslen and the Heroes finally disbanded.
In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would end up in a band with one of the guys I met that day back in April of 1974. And now, as a dinosaur, I look back on the people I’ve worked with over the years and try to compartmentalize like old people often do, sorting out who had value and what effect they had on my life – either as a person or as a musician. I still play in a cover band down in Florida, and I can even occasionally hit that C sharp. I even play guitar in a duo on the side. Almost always, when I say I’m from Cleveland someone will yell “Michael Stanley Band.” I’m happy to whip out Nothings Gonna Change My Mind or Strike up the Band for them... and for myself. Always thanking them and reminding them of one thing: that was written by Jonah Koslen.