Superstars in Cleveland – the Sensational Alex Harvey Band!

Photo by Janet Macoska

Photo by Janet Macoska

Years ago Bob Dylan mentioned that there was a time when he could tell what city he was in by listening to the local radio stations.

One of the most regionalized music markets was Cleveland - and radio provided the soundtrack to its distinctive musical tastes from the late forties to the mid nineties, when deregulation homogenized radio into a dull national blend.

In the seventies Cleveland was the proving ground for dozens of artists – and a bellwether market for rock and roll.  If you made it in Cleveland, you had a fighting chance for your music to catch on elsewhere.

Then there were the many acts that were superstars in Greater Cleveland – but barely known beyond its borders.

Take the astounding popularity of the Scottish rock act, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

From the release of their first album in the U.S., Next, and their second album as a band, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band quickly grew to be one of our most requested artists of the seventies.

Within the first week of airplay, five tracks from the Next album became top requests on WMMS, including “Faith Healer,” “Vambo,” and the controversial “Gang Bang.” It was a top five selling album in Cleveland for close to a year.   In fact, the majority of albums pressed in the U.S. were sold in Cleveland.

Their popularity grew so rapidly that we got a hold of the first SAHB album, Framed, which was only released in Europe, and started playing tracks from that one, too.

Because of their limited U.S. airplay, the SAHB did only two abbreviated U.S. tours. Their first Cleveland appearance, one of only four U.S. dates, was a WMMS Monday Night Out at the Agora, which sold out in advance.   The second date SAHB played in Cleveland, in support of the Impossible Dream album – and part of a seven city tour – was on March 3, the following year at the Allen Theater. That show also sold out well in advance.

Harvey used to refer to WMMS as the next best thing to sex and beer – and even cut an ID stating that fact.

You couldn’t define the SAHB as being in any one rock genre.  In concert they’d shift from a ‘50s oldies cover song (“Framed”) to Jacque Brel (“Next”) to a staged performance (“Man in the Jar”).

The SAHB switched labels from Mercury to Atlantic for their third U.S. release, Live, whose only U.S. airplay was on WMMS.  Due to lack of airplay throughout the rest of the U.S. and Canada, the label canceled plans for a third SAHB U.S. tour.

Through the years we kept in touch with Alex Harvey, hoping to bring him back to the states – and even lobbied to get him on a WMMS World Series of Rock concert.

Alex Harvey passed away on February 4, 1982, the day before his 47th birthday.

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alexcard4Click photo and cards multiple times to enlarge to viewable size

Though there are no known videos of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s appearances in Cleveland, here are a few videos that capture their unique live show:

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6 Responses to “Superstars in Cleveland – the Sensational Alex Harvey Band!”

  1. Kent Fenwick Says:

    Great stuff, John.

    I never would have such an SAHB fan if not for the Buzzard. The closest I got to a live show was a Fayrewether concert in Lorain. They paid great tributes to Genesis and Alex Harvey.

    Love the clips.

  2. One of the best entries yet.
    Amazing how you guys and the listeners made rock stars out of artists unknown in the rest of the US.
    Swear to god, it could be done again.

  3. Great to see, I knew The SAHB were popular in Cleveland but didn’t realise to that extent, a truly Sensational band.

    Had the good fortune to see them many times in the 70′s in and around Birmingham, England. Also seen the SAHB over the past few years with Max Maxwell on vocals, no replacement for Alex and to be fair Max doesn’t try, but he’s still good in his own unique way.

  4. Thanks for keeping Alex’s memory alive.
    Cleveland will always have a place in my heart for recognising talent way ahead of its time and giving Alex a glimpse of what might have been in the US if the rest of the country ‘got it’ like you guys did.
    Alex’s influence is gaining greater credence here in the UK and as an actor he is an overriding infuence on my performances.

  5. I saw them at the Akron Civic Theater, and even in comparison to Queen, The Tubes, Kiss, Alice Cooper and other high wattage stage performers, that concert is still at the top of the best live shows I’ve ever seen.

  6. Mark Favorito Says:

    I saw sahb at music theater it was suppose to be at music hall but didn’t sell enough ticket . I don’t know why i play hell to get in myself .It was the best concert i ever seen and i have seen them all .

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