Remembering Peter Schliewin of Record Revolution
It was twenty-six years ago – June 16, 1983 – when we lost Peter Schliewen, the founding owner of Record Revolution on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.
You seldom hear his name mentioned today – and that’s a shame. He was a prominent part of the star maker machinery behind Cleveland rock and roll scene in the seventies and early eighties – and a close friend to everyone at WMMS.
Peter looked like a rock star and lived like one, too. He drove a Porsche 911 SC, a Harley XLS 1000 and a top-of-the-line high performance Jeep. He was always the most rock and roll fashionable person in the room – even amongst veteran rock stars.
Peter’s Record Revolution, along with Lakewood’s Melody Lane and downtown’s Music Grotto, were the three “breakout” record stores in Greater Cleveland. When we added a new album or a new artist, mostly one on the cutting edge or somewhat left of center – the first indication of its popularity would come from sales in those stores.
Peter loved turning friends and customers on to new music. He stocked imports. If a new album arrived that hit Peter’s hot button, he’d call about it. If he were really hot about a new import, he’d drive down to the station and drop it off. Peter was no fool. He’d get a free mention or two on-the-air – and, more than likely, sell a few copies of an album he had that no one else did.
Peter also kept us supplied with the latest issues of U.K. music magazines like Melody Maker and New Musical Express, which enabled us to stay current with emerging European music trends. We discovered Detroit-to-London transplant Suzi Quatro from the British music magazines in the early ‘70s. Though she didn’t duplicate the equivalent musical success in the U.S., she was a superstar in Cleveland.
I best remember Peter for turning me on to Queen. At the time I lived within walking distance of Record Rev, as we called it, and every Saturday morning, I’d stop by Peter’s office in the back of the store, and listen to his latest finds. He was an animated guy as a rule – but he was exceptionally excited at the occasion to crank up “Keep Yourself Alive” on his Voice of the Theater speakers. It was a good month and a half before the album was released in the U.S. By the time it was, Cleveland was recognized as the group’s breakout city since the band was already established from the import’s airplay on WMMS. We owe that breakout to Peter.
He did in-stores with many of the breaking artists like Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Elvis Costello.
Peter’s Record Rev was a destination for many rock stars passing through Cleveland – and most of his famous customers autographed his store’s walls. Among them were members of Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Bad Company, the Who, Mott the Hoople, and Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny.
Rock critic Gene Sculatti’s 1982 book, The Catalog of Cool called Record Revolution,”the coolest place to buy records” in Ohio.
He also had the best, most knowledgeable staff – that could ID tunes from a lyric or a hum. Two of his staffers formed the popular Pride of Cleveland reggae band I-Tal.
Though Peter expanded the store to include rock clothing, used albums, and paraphernalia, it was becoming increasingly difficult to compete with the larger discount chains.
As record retailing technology improved, the lag time between an artist’s initial exposure to established success went from months to weeks and the fickle labels lessened Record Rev’s importance as a “cutting edge” breakout store and spent fewer dollars to support him with advertising and promotions. For Peter to stay competitive and profitable, he was forced to broaden his customer base by adding more drug paraphernalia items – and opened a store a new store in mainstream Parma. And that’s when his problems really started.
Though there was nothing illegal in what Peter was selling – the far-more-conservative-than-Cleveland Heights Parma city government fervidly attacked Peter’s store for selling paraphernalia. In the early eighties, he was getting more press on that fight than he was for his true love – music. His legal costs approached a quarter of a million dollars.
Despite these problems, Peter continued to be upbeat on the future of his business. On Thursday, June 16, 1983, Peter was with friends at Nighttown on Cedar Rd. in Cleveland Heights. It was their annual Bloomsday party, in honor of Irish writer James Joyce. Looking for a break on this warm summer evening, Peter asked a young woman if she’d like to take a ride in his Porsche. She did – and off they went up Cedar Rd. to Fairmount and from Fairmount to Shaker Boulevard.
He was a safe driver – but as anyone whoever rode with Peter would tell you – he had a need for speed. In the 21200 block of Shaker Boulevard he lost control of the Porsche. It jumped the curb and slammed head on into a tree at a high rate of speed. Peter and his passenger were thrown from the vehicle. His passenger, though critically injured, survived the crash. 41-year old Peter didn’t.
He may be gone but those of us at WMMS who knew him will always remember his determination, drive, and genuine love of rock and roll.