PBS Western Reserve documentary tells
the story of "the Akron Sound” of the 1970s
In the early 1970s, rubber
was still king in Akron, Ohio. But just a few short years
later, Akron’s most important product was, ever so briefly,
music. In the mid-1970s, a group of local bands took over
an old rubber workers’ hang-out in downtown Akron called
The Crypt and created a mix of punk and art rock that came
to be known as “the Akron Sound.” And for a while,
it was almost “the next big thing.” Almost.
and Then It’s Gone, a PBS Western Reserve
production written and directed by Phil Hoffman., takes
to a time when the music really did mean everything. And
for the men and women in these local bands, it was a way
“This is the story of those
people, many of them children of rubber workers, who rode
to the crest of the new wave and what happened to them after
the attention turned away from Akron and away from them,”
explains Hoffman in the opening of the documentary. Over the
course of the hour-long program, Hoffman tells the story of
bands like Devo, The Numbers Band, The Bizarros, The Rubber
City Rebels, Tin Huey and The Waitresses and their flirtation
with rock stardom.
The story of “the Akron Sound”
and It’s Everything, and Then It’s Gone
really begins in the college bars along Kent’s
Water Street in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The rise of
Kent-based Joe Walsh to national rock'n'roll fame created
the feeling that local bands could “make it big”
and inspired a movement of original music in groups like The
Numbers Band, Devo, Tin Huey and others.
Many of these bands shifted to
the Akron scene when The Rubber City Rebels acquired a bar
called The Crypt from its previous owner in the midst of a
rubber workers’ strike.
“Out of the misery of one
of the longest rubber workers’ strikes in the city’s
history, an unexpected gift would lead to the development
of ‘the Akron Sound,’” says Hoffman.
The Crypt became a haven for the
original music of bands such as Devo, Tin Huey, The Bizarros,
The Rubber City Rebels and others, explains David Giffels,
Beacon Journal columnist and co-author of Are We Not Men?,
based on the Akron music movement. The Crypt was modeled after
the New York nightclub CBGB’s, home to the then-new
sound of bands such as Talking Heads, Television and The Ramones.
Buzz about Akron’s music
scene began to grow. The local music movement came to the
attention of a British music journalist; soon, the spotlight
zoomed in on Akron and record label scouts descended on the
city. “None of [the band members] could guess ... that
an off-hand comment about Akron by one of their friends would
set off a record industry feeding frenzy that would sweep
them all up into the world of rock stardom,” says Hoffman.
For a short time, it looked like “the Akron Sound”
was going to be “the next big thing.” Between
1978 and 1980 nearly every one of the Akron bands would record
and release their first major label record, including Devo,
The Rubber City Rebels, Tin Huey and The Bizarros.
With the exception of Devo, success
was short-lived. While some band members muse that a lack
of record label support and promotion might have hindered
their success, Meredith Rutledge of Cleveland’s Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame speculates otherwise. “You can
promote and publicize and tour a band ragged and if people
aren't going to buy it, they're not going to buy it,”
she explains. “The bands that didn’t sell well
just didn’t fit into the taste of the record-buying
public at that time.”
“Every one of these bands
got plucked from Akron with great aspirations and almost every
one of them tanked, except Devo” says Giffels. Devo,
instead, became a national phenomenon with hits like “Whip
It” and “Jocko Homo.”
The band members today, many of
whom still live in northeast Ohio, have bittersweet memories
of their flirtation with success. “Failure doesn't happen
overnight," said Buzz Clic of The Rubber City Rebels.
“I didn't realize we weren't going to sell records ...
nobody heard of us ... It’s pretty disappointing to
watch your whole band fall apart right in front of you. It’s
everything, and then it’s gone.”
But the recollections aren’t
all bad. “It was the most interesting time of my life,”
Clic reflects later. “It gave me a lot of great memories
and a lot of great stories to tell.” That story is told
in It's Everything, and Then It's Gone.
and Then It's Gone is a PBS Western Reserve
production. Executive Producer: Don Freeman. Writer/Director:
A PBS Western Reserve production, 2003.