Trying to define “the Akron Sound” of the late 1970s can be difficult. The era saw bands mixing everything from jazz to punk to bluegrass. The Akron Sound Museum is collecting artifacts that tell the story of the city’s music scene.
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on September 6th 2018.
Calvin Rydbom grew up in Northeast Ohio. As a teen in the late 1970s, he would sneak into Akron clubs like The Crypt and The Bank to experience the city’s music scene.
“The Bizarros and Devo and Tin Huey, Unit 5 and the Rubber City Rebels. None of them sound anything alike. They were just a bunch of creative people around the same age who just had it with corporate, spoon fed album rock on the radio. And they all maybe took different paths, but they all did something very different.”
Earlier this year, Rydbom wrote a book on the Akron Sound, which grew out of his previous book on Akron history. Now, he’s established a physical space for The Akron Sound Museum, inside the Bomb Shelter vintage store in Middlebury. A large air conditioner cools the space, which is about the size of a one-car garage. The pieces on display are constantly changing, and right now include a well-worn acoustic guitar with pieces missing.
"This is from Tracy Thomas of Unit 5. And whenever she would write a song -- and finish it -- she’d write— [the song title on the body of the guitar]. I don’t know how far back it goes, but quite a few years."
Rubber in the city
Rydbom's favorite piece is a pair of pants with protruding valve stems. "Rod Firestone of the Rubber City Rebels sent us a pair of pants made out of innertubes that he used to wear when he was on stage.”
That connection to the city’s rubbery history is a big part of what drove the music in that era, according to Rydbom.
“There’s the fact that Akron was a dirty, dingy place that was very working-class. And for the most part your only option was to follow your Mom or Dad into Firestone, Goodyear or Goodrich. That’s the breeding ground for punk rock.”
Akron's own label
A lot of that music was documented by Clone Records. The Akron-based label put out just 16 discs, which are still sought-after today. A full collection was gifted to the Akron Sound Museum by Nick Nicholis, lead singer of the Bizarros.
Nicholis says once the museum has more space, he might have some rare posters and recordings to donate. But there’s one item he hopes turns up someday which has a lot to do with Akron music, but not punk rock.
“When I was still in college, David Allan Coe came out of prison and started his country life as a singer. And he drove around Akron in an old hearse. I think it would be cool to have that. The Rock Hall had Janis Joplin’s Porsche. We should have David Allan Coe’s hearse.”
Coe was a hit on the country charts. But on the pop charts, one of the most enduring Akron Sound hits came from The Waitresses.
Guitarist Chris Butler wrote and produced “I Know What Boys Like” as a side project to his work in the band Tin Huey. He says the Akron Sound Museum is lucky since so many people in Northeast Ohio are pack rats.
“Someone just put on Facebook that they found a Waitresses poster for JB’s in their Mother’s closet. Maybe there’s a corollary to the scene that people had a great time at these shows and kept set lists and memorabilia. I think that there’s plenty of stuff out there and, little by little, it’s trickling over to the Akron Sound Museum.”
Butler says he hopes venues such as HiveMind, and the organizers of the PorchRokr music festival, are all saving posters and artifacts now for the museum in the future. Calvin Rydbom says he’s always on the lookout for what to add from more recent acts such as The Black Keys.
“Pat Carney’s emailed us back and forth about some things. We have some Red Sun Rising posters. Some DIY CDs that they put out when they were playing in bars as teenagers, that aren’t even part of their discography. We never want to be seen as an oldies museum, because that’s not what we are.”
THE CLONE RECORDS DISCOGRAPHY
-The Bizarros / Rubber City Rebels: From Akron (CL-001, 1977)
-Bowling Balls From Hell compilation, (CL-011, 1980)
-Bowling Balls From Hell II compilation, (CL-013, 1981)
-Unit 5: Scared Of The Dark (CL-014, 1981)
-The Bizarros EP: Lady Doubonette; I Bizarro/Without Reason; Nova (CL-000, 1978)... originally released as Gorilla Records NR7639 in 1976
-Tin Huey EP: Puppet Wipes; Cuyahoga Creeping Bent/Poor Alphonso (Live); The Tin Huey Story (CL-002, 1977)
-Bizarros: Laser Boys; It Hurts, Janey/A New Order (CL-003, 1978)
-Tin Huey ["Breakfast With The Hueys"]: Robert Takes The Road To Lieber Nawash/Squirm You Worm (CL-004, 1978)
-Harvey Gold [Experiments]: Keep A Close Watch/Armadillo (CL-005, 1978)
-The Waitresses [In 'Short Stack'] Slide/Clones (CL-006, 1978)
-The Human Switchboard: I Gotta Know/No! (CL-007, 1978)
-Teacher's Pet: Hooked On You/To Kill You (CL-008, 1978)... also released on red vinyl with a red-tinted pic sleeve
-John Rader: One Step At A Time/Get You Back (CL-009, 1979)
-Tin Huey: English Kids/Sister Rose (CL-010, 1980)
-The Housekeepers: I Gotta Know/Down the Road (Mizzle the Mode) (CS-13, 1981)
-The Gray Bunnies: He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss) / Cigarette (CSX-015, 1981...12" single)