19 March 2021

Thank God for the Man Who Put the White Lines on the Highway


Every city has its sound. That's part of what goes into the setting. There are jazz towns like New Orleans, Chicago, and San Francisco. Memphis is all about country and roots-based rock. Nashville owns country. I won't call Seattle grunge, but Seattle still burns the punk torch.

Living here in Cincinnati, I sometimes lament that I moved to a "wedding singer" town. The bands here all play cover tunes, although my former spouse is married to a guy who plays some tasty Southern Rock originals. (Link at the end of the article, with a few others you might like.) Some cities are like that, content to have bands that do nothing but cover tunes. Which is sad because I really think rock would benefit from hearing originals from the Rusty Griswolds, Naked Karate Girls, or the Menus, all highly regarded Cincinnati bands that sometimes sound better than the ones they cover.

But, if I haven't beaten you over the head with it recently enough, I grew up in the multi-county empire known as Cleveland. And Cleveland gave us not only the name "rock and roll," it gave us Kansas transplant Joe Walsh, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and the spell he put on you, half the members of The Cars, and Nine Inch Nails. (Yes, they started in Cleveland as an offshoot of another band Trent Reznor played in, the Exotic Birds.) Unfortunately, it also gave us Eric Carmen with the song that caused a million wrists to be slit, "All by Myself." (Thanks, Eric. The makers of prozac, Xanax, and Paxil thank you.)

It also gave us one Michael Stanley Gee.


Better known as Michael Stanley. Of the Michael Stanley Band. Those of us of a certain age will remember three of his songs. Those of us from the Midwest of that same certain age will remember quite a few more. (Working from home, his last regional hit, "Shut Up and Leave Me Alone" gets put on heavy rotation on Spotify whenever the sales team has a "crisis.") The first is that early eighties guilty pleasure, "He Can't Love You Like I Love You." Michael doesn't sing on this one, but he is memorable.

As you can see from the video, the city's blue-collar, manufacturing ethic is on full display here. "He Can't Love You..." was a fun song and a breakout hit for MSB (as we know them). Joe Walsh and Eric Carmen left town to make it big, as would Trent Reznor when NIN gained traction. MSB insisted on staying put. After all, you can travel to New York to record and tour anywhere. Why should they abandon their hometown? Over on the country side, Willie Nelson did not really gain success until he went home to Austin, Texas. That might have contributed to their difficulties breaking the charts.

The second song is Cleveland at heart, a jilted boyfriend making the long, lonely drive home during a snowstorm. "Lover" has a line that, if you're from that area, you hear over and over every winter. "Thank God for the man who put the white lines on the highway." Even before I knew what noir meant, I thought the song was noir as hell.

It's companion song, "In the Heartland," is pretty much their signature tune and explicitly mentions local spots, including the "boys on Mayfield" looking for a fight. Readers of Les Roberts's work will recognize that particular street as the turf of Cosa Nostra off-shoots, the Mayfield Road Mob, purveyors of fine illegal booze from 1920 through 1933.

Of course, I wax nostalgic about one of my graduating class's high school heroes as Michael Stanley pass away a couple weeks ago. After he called it a career, Stanley joined local classic rock station WNCX as an on-air personality and worked in television. He was a natural, an affable, down-to-Earth guy who refused to surrender his blue collar roots. We still love him for it.

So, perhaps it's fitting that I leave you with MSB's final hit, an ode to his hometown that should have been the state rock and roll song. (I still haven't forgiven Governor Celeste for picking "Hang on, Sloopy." Jerk.) Because like Michael Stanley, Cleveland is still very much "My Town."

For that tasty Southern rock I mentioned, check out the Russell Jinkins XL Band on Facebook.
And for more Northcoast rock, check out Northcoast Shakedown. No, I had nothing to do with the band. Except sharing DNA with the oh-so-talented lead guitarist, Chris Hottle. That, and I might have signed off on the name.


  1. Never been to Cleveland but I know it's the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I like that last song you posted.

  2. Aww, poor Eric Carmen, harsh. You think Pearl Jam had him in mind when they re-recorded Last Kiss?

    I very much like NIN and my brother loved Screamin' Jay. There was another interesting band, Glass Harp.

    I think of Michael Stanley as Cleveland's answer to Jersey's Bruce Springsteen with perhaps a pinch of Detroit's Mitch Ryder. Is that a tenor sax one member tosses like a sex organ? Damn, he's good.

    DNA, huh? (laughing) Loved the music, Tom.

    1. Factoid: Nine-Inch Nails recorded the soundtrack for the classic first-person shooter Quake. A favorite weapon in the game was– what else– a nailgun.

    2. Funny you should ask that. Years ago, when I was a regular attendee at Bouchercon, I lobbied Johnny Temple to do a Cleveland Noir. Alas, no go. Perhaps we could see if our friends at Down & Out would consider it?

  3. As a Clevelander from 1991 to 2006, I'm delighted to see you giving Michael Stanley a shout-out. It was so sad to see that he's passed on.

    Since we're talking about the Land of Cleve and music, don't forget Marc Cohn (who before he began walking in Memphis grew up on the East Side) and the legendary Robert Jr. Lockwood (who spent the last decades of his long life playing a weekly gig at Wilbert's and Fat Fish Blue).

    Why oh why, meanwhile, has Akashic not done a Cleveland Noir? That book would be a natural!....

  4. Noticed I replied to the wrong comment. That's what I get for trying to use blogger to point to my own web site.

    Years ago, I did, in fact, lobby Johnny Temple to create Cleveland Noir, even attempting to lure Michael Koryta (who started out writing about Cleveland) and Ken Bruen into my nefarious campaign. No joy. Ken was busy. Never really knew if Michael was interested. But Johnny Temple never bit anyway. Maybe someday.

    I don't think Michael Stanley is notable enough outside the Midwest to create a themed antho like our friend Brian Thornton did with his two Steely Dan volumes. (That was FUN!)


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