Superstars in Cleveland – the Sensational Alex Harvey Band!
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.
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.
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: