Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Aerosmith Encounters The Numbers Band in Kent on an Unplanned 1978 Night Off

Back in late October of 1978, Aerosmith found themselves in Northeast Ohio with an unplanned night off and spent it at JB's Up in Kent; it was there that they encountered The Numbers Band.

By Jason Prufer

Robert Kidney of The Numbers Band and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith
backstage at the Richfield Coliseum on Sunday, October 22, 1978.
Photo by Anastasia Pantsios.

As many folks know, I work for The Numbers Band and have since 2011. I do all of their social media, I design all of their flyers and I have been working on a documentary film about them. To do this work, I occasionally have to spend some time with their vast archives, which have been compiled and preserved by Bob Kidney since the band's inception back in 1970.

A few years ago, Bob Kidney and I were working on a project that required us to go through his dense photo archive. At one point I watched him pass by a few photos showing him with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith -- and they both looked pretty young. I stopped him. "What are those?" I asked. "Oh that's some night out at the old Richfield Coliseum where I was backstage at an Aerosmith show," he indifferently stated before quickly trying to move us back on task. "Wait," I said "How did that come about?" "Oh, they came to Kent one night and stopped in at JBs to see the band -- they gave us tickets and backstage passes to their show at the coliseum the following night" I wanted to know more but we were on a different mission -- before I could get any additional information about the photos we were back to our initial task.

For several years after this, I never forgot about those photos and a few weeks ago I had the chance to go back into The Numbers Band's archives and retrieve them to find out more. I had so many questions: When did this happen? Who took the photos? How did Aerosmith end up in Kent? What did they think of The Numbers Band? What was going on with The Numbers Band during this period? What was going on with Aerosmith during this period?

When I went to the different band members to ask when specifically this happened they were all over the place on the date. One placed the event happening as late as 1984 and another saying it was probably 1977. After I looked online for a list of Aerosmith performance dates at the Richfield Coliseum, it looked as if they had played that place for every single major tour they did till the venue closed in 1994.

One of my first missions in trying to find out more about what happened during these couple nights was to track down Anastasia Pantsios since she was the one who took the photos and she had done some work for the band back in the 1970s. When I contacted Anastasia, she, at first didn't remember the show or taking the pics. She told me that there were times in the late 1970s and early-mid 1980s when she was at a major concert every night -- and backstage for at least some of these shows -- so I can understand the events from 30-40 years ago being a kind of giant blur for her. After inquiring further, she did a little digging and actually found the original negatives from that night concluding that she must have taken the photos. Additionally, she told me the date on her negatives was October 22, 1978.

So from there I started researching what Aerosmith was doing on that date. It turns out they were in the midst of their tour for their album Live! Bootleg, which you can hear in its entirety by clicking right here. Furthermore, that date Anastasia provided me with matched up with a known Aerosmith performance at the Richfield Coliseum.

One thing about this date of October 22, 1978 though --- and this made me CRAZY -- there is a wiki page for the Live! Bootleg Tour, and on that page you can see that it lists a show for Aerosmith at Richfield on the aforementioned night; however, it also shows that the band was at Freedom Hall in Louisville, KY the night before (October 21) and a show two days before that (October 19) in Roanoke, VA. The story that I got from the members of The Numbers Band put Aerosmith at JBs the night before that Richfield date, but when you look at that list of tour dates on Wikipedia, that made this scenario virtually impossible. I couldn't get over this detail, so I started re-asking all of my sources what they thought the date of that Aerosmith show at Richfield was, and everything still kept pointing back to October 22, 1978.

After exhausting every single source I had -- including contacting The Numbers Band's manager from the late 70s -- I couldn't figure out why my dates weren't lining up and this particular inconsistency nearly derailed this entire story. As a last ditch effort I decided to take a look at Louisville, KY's newspaper of record The Courier Journal to see if I could find anything there. While Wikipedia is a great springboard for research its facts should never be taken as gospel.

My mystery was solved when I went to the original Louisville paper. I found that Aerosmith's October 21, 1978 show in Louisville had been postponed at the last minute and was rescheduled for December 14 of that year. This means that Aerosmith had two nights off -- one of them unscheduled -- before their October 22, 1978 show and that easily could have placed them at JB's in Kent on either that Friday or Saturday night before their show at the Richfield Coliseum, which was less than 20 miles from Kent.

No reason was given in the newspaper as to why the October 21 concert in Louisville was canceled, and I couldn't find anything online that made any reference to that event not happening. If this piece makes it to the eyeballs of a serious Aerosmith scholar I'd love to hear from you as to why this concert was cancelled at the last minute.

With that mystery solved I moved on to try and find some decent audio or video of Aerosmith from this tour and while I couldn't find anything of really good quality from that specific time period I did find some great footage of the band from earlier that summer of 1978 at the Texxas Jam. Their show at The Richfield Coliseum that October must have been a lot like this:

^^ that video is set up as a YouTube playlist, so if you just let it roll, you'll get 11 full songs from that concert.

In late October of 1978, The Numbers Band were playing 4 nights a week at JB's Upstairs and had been playing with their new bass player Bart Johnson, for about 8 months. I compiled an archive of photos and newspaper articles about the band from this time period -- and you can check those all out by clicking here. I suspect the band that Aerosmith walked in on looked closest to how they did in this promo photo from that time period.

I searched and searched for live recordings of The Numbers Band from 1978 and I didn't come up with much though there are three "studio" tracks on 15 60 75 20 that were recorded in April of 1978. There is however a dynamite 30 minute recording of The Numbers Band live at the Cleveland Agora from April of 1980, featuring the exact lineup of the band that the members of Aerosmith would have seen at JB's. It's very likely that the band Aerosmith saw on that night sounded just like this:


When I really started digging in and asking questions about this story, Bob Kidney told me I first needed to talk to Michael Stacey. Michael was The Numbers Band's lead guitarist from 1974 to 1989 and appears in two of the backstage photos with Steven Tyler. Bob told me Michael will have some unique insight into the events that unfolded over those two nights.

When I got a hold of Michael he was more than happy to tell me about what he remembered about The Numbers Band from this era and about those couple nights with Aerosmith.

Michael Stacey:

"By 1978 we were mostly playing four nights a week and 3 sets a night at JB's. We also played in Akron during that period at The Bank. That would have usually been on an off night though -- like a weeknight. They had bands there like Hammer Damage and Unit 5. 1978 was that new wave era.

"On the night that Aerosmith showed up at JB's I didn't even realize the band was in the room till we were done playing. I don't know how long they were there. I do remember that I did notice there was a limo parked outside earlier that evening but I didn't know what it was for.

"It wasn't the whole band that came to the club. It was Steven Tyler, Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford
They were sitting in that little alcove on the side of the stage that was against the street side of JB's. If you were facing the band it was the seating area off to the right. I mostly remember sitting down with them talking at the end of the night and I remember there were people standing around finally realizing that these guys were famous -- but if you show up in a limo it's not like you are trying to hide this fact.

"I remember this one guy standing around their table going 'you're Steven Tyler' and Steven was responding 'no no we are in a band called the cockroaches' or something like that -- and then the guy kept pressing it saying 'no you're Steven Tyler' and then finally Steven says 'yeah ok I'm Steven Tyler' and then the guy says 'scream' -- he wanted Steven to do one of his screams and then Steven wouldn't do it and then the guy was going back like 'you're not Steven Tyler you can't scream' It was pretty funny.

"It was while we were up there talking to them that they invited us to the coliseum to see them the next night. 
The only other distinct memory I have from the night at JB's is that back in that era I used to wear white shoes and red socks on stage and Joey Kramer had the exact same thing on.  

"I think they ended up at JB's because the people who were doing security on that tour were from Kent. They had an off night before they played the Coliseum. They were in Ohio with nothing to do and their security people were like 'I know where we can go see a band' and they brought them to hear us.

Robert Kidney and Michael Stacey of The Numbers Band with
Steven Tyler at the Richfield Coliseum on October 22, 1978
Photo by Anastasia Pantsios
"What I remember about seeing Aerosmith the following night at the coliseum was that they gave us really good seats plus backstage passes. We were like in the 4th or 5th row right in front of the stage. I think Bob and I spent most of the night hunched down with our fingers in our ears while everyone else was standing on their seats. It was like the loudest event I had ever attended. I was thinking we were gonna be deaf by the end of this. It was a standard Aerosmith show. I remember Steven Tyler played drums a little bit. 

"I remember the backstage area was like most backstage areas. There's the regular backstage and then there's the room where everyone gets to go to be important and that's where we went after the show. I remember radio people being back there -- a couple of women from Kent, your standard groupies, the Scene Magazine people were back there. I remember Anastasia was there. I'm never very comfortable in those situations. I just don't -- it's a lot of people milling around trying to be seen. I never considered myself that cool (laughs.)

"Backstage Steven Tyler was very gracious. He came out and spent lots of time talking to Bob and I. This was before they cleaned up. I remember I saw Joe Perry walk through with a girl and he looked like he was just totally lit. I don't know what he was on but he was just -- the Keith Richards thing ya know?  We didn't exchange any words -- he was off by himself.

"I don't remember specifically what Steven Tyler talked to Bob and I about but I remember Bob got a kick out of the advice Steven gave to him. He told Bob if he wanted The Numbers Band to be successful that the band 'should all play the same thing at the same time.' Which of course is a total misunderstanding of what we were trying to do. Playing everything at the same time is what Aerosmith does. That's pop music.

"They were very nice. They were very cordial. I don't get the impression that they were trying to pull a star thing by coming down to see us at JB's. I got the impression that they were looking for something to do and that they appreciated the professionalism of the band even if they didn't quite get the music. They didn't think we were a bunch of dorks."


After I talked to Michael I knew that I had to get the full story from Bob Kidney next. Bob is the one who appears in all of the photos backstage at the coliseum and Bob is the founder and principal songwriter for The Numbers Band. This is what he told me about this particular period for The Numbers Band and about his two night encounter with Aerosmith:

Robert Kidney:

"1978 was a tough time for the band. We had a hard time keeping a bass player as Chris Butler had recently departed for The Waitresses and his replacement Kenny Grear only lasted about 6 weeks. We finally got Bart Johnson in that slot around April of that year -- he was a great bass player and he ended up staying with us until about 1983. 

"For part of 1978 we were forced into the basement of JB's. I don't remember whether it was a permanent thing where we worked in the basement or if it was just on some evenings because at that time they would have shows upstairs like Tin Huey or Pere Ubu and the place would be full of people. We couldn't bring in a crowd like they were able to because we were already playing there four nights a week -- but then Tin Huey would come in to play like once every 3 months and it was made into a big event. And then David Thomas would bring his crowd from Cleveland down to JB's to play and it would be wall-to-wall people. So because of all this the club owner and the club manager would just piss all over us -- because we were losers. This was the time when the new wave thing was beginning to peak and we were done. The Numbers Band was over with -- that's what we were hearing from everybody.

"I didn't think we were over with but I knew things were looking bad. We were being threatened. We were receiving nothing but negativity. The fucking bar manager that we were working for didn't like us -- and it was all about egos. He was running this club in the middle of fucking nowhere with a bunch of people that were local artists who were drawing local people to see them and we were playing there 4 nights a week and drawing a crowd of people that were just in one city. On Saturdays the crowd would boost but during the week we would play to nobody. The music scene was walking away from us. Our crowds everything. It was the new wave. 

"I don't remember there being a lot of people in the room the night that Aerosmith showed up. As I remember -- it was the band minus Joe Perry and one other. I met the drummer, I think I met the bass player and I met Steven Tyler.

"The first thing I remember about knowing they were in the room was Michael Stacey walking across the stage and saying 'Aerosmith is here' -- they could have come in and left and talked to me and I wouldn't have known who the fuck they were. I didn't know who Aerosmith was. I knew the name. I didn't know what they looked like. I didn't know what they sounded like. I kind of remember seeing Steven Tyler sing and he looked like Mick Jagger with black hair -- to me at least.

"I really didn't know anything about them -- but there they are and they came over to the front of the stage after we were done playing and they were very nice to us and Steven Tyler was very nice to me. He said to me how very much he liked the band but he advised me that my music was too complicated and that everyone should play the same thing at the same time. The next thing I remember is that they invited us to their show for the following night and then they left. It was a short conversation. I think Aerosmith got a big kick out of us. I think they heard things in the music that they heard in themselves. They like the blues.

"I don't remember what I said to him when he said
that 'my music was too complicated and that everyone should play the same thing at the same time.' I wasn't offended but I thought he was wrong. I mean it didn't change my mind. Ya know maybe he was right. That's what we needed to do but I wasn't interested in that because that's fucking boring. I don't want to be bored by the music.

"The whole thing that was going on in the culture right then was the dumbing down of everything -- and it still is. Taking it to the lowest common denominator. That's where the success quotient is. At that time there were signs all over Kent that said: FUCK ART LET'S DANCE. They were everywhere and that was the mentality. And there was this thing called art-rock which was a derogatory term and we were thrown in that category. Art rock -- who the fuck wants to listen to art? So ya know what am I supposed to do? I was not interested in writing music for 12 year olds. My music is about what I want to do with music. That's what it's about. It's not about the rest of this shit.

"And I consider 'playing everything at the same time' so that people can understand it, dumbing it down. I think people are perfectly capable of understanding things that are extremely complex like Beethoven, like Debussey, like John Coltrane if they care about it -- those are the people that I believe in. I don't believe in people that want to go hear bands that wear rubber hats or have the latest trend going and they all look like they work on a farm or whatever the fuck it is because I've seen it all come and go.

"As far as what I remember about going to see them at the coliseum, I remember sitting in about the 3rd or 4th row -- and I had to look up. It was really fucking loud. I couldn't understand or hear anything because it was so fucking loud. The sound was going over my head. I could hear the drums. I was watching them and they were like -- ya know doing the rock type thing. Almost like a dance type thing. Movements and moving their instruments. It was all very familiar from whatever else you see.

Robert Kidney of The Numbers Band and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith
backstage at Richfield Coliseum on Sunday, October 22, 1978.
photo by Anastasia Pantsios
"After it was over we went back behind the stage into this vast open cavernous place. It was like standing on the inside of Hoover Dam. And we had this discussion with the members of Aerosmith though Joe Perry was over sitting by himself -- separate from us. He didn't want to have anything to do with us.

"Then we all went into a room somewhere behind there and -- I do remember there was a lot of activity back there. I think they were packing up and leaving. It was like the packing up of the circus. Then we went to this room and that's where the photographs were taken.

"I remember Anastasia Panstios back there and I remember her taking the pictures and I talked to her because I knew her. She had taken pictures of The Numbers Band and I also knew that it was good that she was back there because she worked for The Scene.

"The other thing that I remember is that I talked to Jules Belken. That was big because this had potential because we were connected to this situation because since Aerosmith liked us maybe Jules Belken might take another look at us because by then I think if you check your history Michael Stanley was the band they (Belken Productions) were pushing.

Robert Kidney of The Numbers Band and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith
backstage at Richfield Coliseum on Sunday, October 22, 1978.
Photo by Anastastia Pantstios
"Steven Tyler was extremely nice to me. I am not sure what we were talking about backstage but look at the photos. Look at how nice. He was a gentle soul and I enjoyed talking to him. Simple as that. He's a good person and he was supportive and he knew he invited us there and he knew Belken would be there.

"Steven Tyler was a top of the line, professional musician. And he knew that that meant something and that he was helping us. He knew it and he did it and that's why he did it. He was trying to do something for us. 
Everyone in the band was looking at this as a potential big break though I saw it only as a possibility."


After I got done talking to Bob he insisted that I talk to his brother Jack Kidney who he said (as a longtime member of The Numbers Band) would also have another unique perspective on these nights. When I got a hold of Jack he seemed surprised that I was interested and it seemed like he hadn't told this story in a very long time. Here's what he told me about those couple of nights with Aerosmith.

Jack Kidney:

"Herman Pirchner was the manager of JB's at the time and he was also the manager of The Numbers Band -- and Aerosmith’s tour manager was from Kent. Aerosmith got into Northeast Ohio a night early and they wanted to go out and hear some music and their road manager suggested that they come hear the Numbers Band at JB's. Herman Pirchner was then notified that Aerosmith was coming to JB's to hear The Numbers Band. So it was a big-ass deal – and you know me well enough to know how jaded I am and – it meant nothing to me because these guys are just gonna show up and then leave but Herman was all worked up about it.

Alcove on the east end of JB's Up where Aerosmith were seated while they
watched The Numbers Band in late October 1978
"So we played and sure enough he had reserved a table for them in the left wing of JB's – and they fucking showed up! I think it was a Friday or a Saturday night. My attitude was like whatever  -- Aerosmith shmaerosmith.

"So after the show I went in the back room and started counting the money we made at the door – counting the cash – figuring out how much I was going to make that night and blah blah blah -- and Bob comes into the back room and he goes 'They want to talk to you' and I went 'who wants to talk to me?' and he goes 'no man they want to talk to you – Steven Tyler and Brad Whitford want to talk to you' and I was like 'oh shit' because I had no intentions of speaking to them ya know? I don’t like dealing with that kind of ego and all of that.

"So I left the back room and went over and talked to them and Steven Tyler was very flattering of my harmonica playing. I don’t remember what he said specifically but both Brad and Steven were very complimentary and the only harmonica playing that they heard me play was 'Narrow Road.' I do remember that. That was the only harmonica song they would have heard during the time that they were there because when we were actually playing I was conscious of the fact that they were there. They were so nice and they asked Bob what he was doing the following night. The next night was Sunday so we didn’t have any plans so either Steven Tyler or Brad Whitford said 'well ya know we’ll give you free tickets to our show at the coliseum and backstage passes.'

"So we went to the coliseum – Bob and I were there with our perspective spouses. I remember Bob and our manager Herman were sitting in their chairs while everyone else on the floor was standing on their chairs. After the show we all went backstage where we were invited in their inner sanctum. So we’re backstage and Brad Whitford said to me 'I wish we would have had you up there for 'Milk Cow Blues.'

"Jules Belken was there as well and I went over to Jules and I said 'my name is Jack Kidney and I play in the Numbers Band and it’s very nice to meet you and blah blah blah' – and I could see behind him that Joe Perry was laying on the couch and looked all strung out."


Aerosmith and The Numbers Band are both pretty different kinds of bands though both are blues/rock based and they both formed in 1970. It's interesting that almost 40 years after the two nights where Aerosmith and The Numbers Band would attend each other's shows that both bands are still very active. Aerosmith recently announced they were going on a "farewell tour" that according to Brad Whitford "could end anytime from 2017 to the next five years in 2021" while The Numbers Band have no retirement plans in sight. Click right here to see a really recent Aerosmith performance to get an idea of where these cats are today and then check the video below to see some clips from a really recent live performance from The Numbers Band...

The guys in The Numbers Band certainly remember the events surrounding these two nights but you have to wonder if the members of Aerosmith have any recollection. Maybe this piece will make it to their radar and maybe they could shed some light as to what they remember -- or don't remember.

Big thanks to everyone who helped me out with this piece including Robert Kidney, Jack Kidney, Terry Hynde, Bart Johnson, Michael Stacey, Herman Pirchner, Dylan Tyler and Anastasia Pantsios.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Country Queen Emmylou Harris and her 1975 North Water Street Surprise

By Jason Prufer

In July of 1975 rising country music superstar Emmylou Harris and her Hot Band did an impromptu performance at a long gone venue on North Water Street in Kent, Ohio --
and then disappeared into the night and into music history

Emmylou Harris posing with Good Company at The
Water Street Saloon in Kent, Ohio on Wednesday,
July 9, 1975. From left to right: Perry Bocci, Emmylou
 Harris, Bob Smith, Mary DuShane, RT Mansfield
 and Steve Downey. Photo by Richard Underwood.

This is one of my very favorite Kent stories and it is one that was fairly well documented and was so deserved by all of the stunned participants who witnessed and took part. In my mind what occurred on this night has every element of a great historical story: An international icon in her prime, a long gone local saloon, unseen photographs, an unheard recording and vivid memories from several folks who participated. Not to mention this takes place on North Water Street in downtown Kent during the middle of the summer of 1975.

This isn't a commonly known Kent story compared to some of the other tales that float around so when during a conversation a friend mentioned to me that the great country music icon Emmylou Harris showed up in town one night, it caught my interest. The gist of the story that I was first told basically went like this: 

Late one night back in the summer of 1975 Emmylou Harris and her Hot Band unexpectedly showed up in Kent at the Water Street Saloon where local country-rock band in residency Good Company were playing to their regular crowd. Somewhere in the night Emmylou Harris and her Hot Band
 took the stage and performed an impromptu set of music and then shortly after, disappeared into the night and into music history. 

Of course I couldn't let a story like this go and it was coming from a very credible source. I had so many questions about this tale. Why was Emmylou Harris in town? Why did she play a free show? How did she get here? What was the exact date this happened? What and where was the Water Street Saloon and what ever happened to it? What was the band Good Company? Are there photos? Did anyone record it? 

One of the more intriguing facts about this story is that it takes place in the summer of 1975 and what makes that so interesting for Kent is that while nobody really knew it at the time, this was the tail end of the fabled days of the North Water Street bar strip. Just 6 months after Emmylou Harris did her impromptu performance at the Water Street Saloon a raging fire would destroy half of that strip including the Water Street Saloon, The Kove and Pirates Alley effectively punching a giant hole into what had been a thriving downtown Kent nightlife

The original aforementioned fire took place on Wednesday, December 3, 1975 which you can see the aftermath of in this photo. The following day this story about the fire appeared on the front page of the Daily Kent Stater. It is my understanding that while the buildings burned pretty bad, there was a plan in place to rebuild that strip until 7 months later on Friday, June 11, 1976 a second fire devoured whatever was left of those buildings. Click here and here to see two photos of that second fire. 

I am not exactly sure how old the building was that housed the Water Street Saloon but if you look into this 1932 rephoto of North Water Street you can see it as a garage. You can also see the building suited as a street level business in this 1966 rephoto shown as Durham Electronic Co. Note the chunky line in the '66 photo to get into the basement bar The Kove in the same building. The Kove has a legend all its own which will have to make for another story in another piece. Later the "Saloon" building housed a bar called Big Daddy's which was one of the establishments the police emptied out just preceding the May 1, 1970 riot. After this, as you can see in this March 1974 rephoto, it became known as the Water Street Saloon which was its final name until the building burned down in 1975/1976. 

Another interesting element about this story is that the middle 1970s marks one of the primest periods in Emmylou Harris's career. In the summer of 1975 she would have been out on tour supporting her fantastic "debut" album Pieces of the Sky.

In addition to this, since we know that Emmylou showed up in Kent on Wednesday, July 9, 1975 I can tell you that the recording of Emmylou Harris that was made at the Water Street Saloon that night was made just three weeks before she cut tracks for Bob Dylan's phenomenal album Desire on July 28-30, 1975. If you have Spotify you can hear that entire album here with Emmylou's gorgeous lone vocals providing harmonies throughout. Her contribution to that album (in my mind) was and is crucial to its artistic success and according to the Bob Dylan Biograph box-set this photo was snapped of Dylan, Emmylou, and Eric Clapton on July 28, 1975 in New York City. 

This means that the photos and the recording made at the Water Street Saloon are the closest documents of any kind (that I could find) to those legendary sessions with Bob Dylan. We have truly unearthed a little potent sliver of music history here folks. And guess happened in our own back yards. 

As mentioned before, one of the great artifacts from this story is this reel-to-reel recording that was made that night which had been buried in a local archive for decades. The recording clocks in at only 11 minutes and 28 seconds but it's three songs provide a portrait of country rock roots mastery. 

The three song set list from that night goes like this: The performance starts with "That's All it Took" from George Jones and Gene Pitney's 1965 album 
For the First Time . Click here to hear the original version of this song and then click here to hear the Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris version from the Parson's album GP. Of note is that if you listen to this old Gram Parsons interview, he states that this was the first song he ever rehearsed with Emmylou Harris.

The next song on the short recording is the 1969 Gram Parson's penned "Sin City" off of The Flying Burrito Brothers' album The Gilded Palace of Sin. Click here to hear the original version off of that old classic album. It's not surprising that Emmylou is still playing those songs of Gram Parson's on this night. Not only is he one of the greatest artists of the genre but he personally plucked her out of obscurity and made her a star. On this night at the Water Street Saloon we are only less than 2 years removed from his death and clearly he is still on Emmylou's mind. The third and final song of the set is the 1952 Hank Williams classic "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" Click here to hear the original version. 


On the evening of Wednesday, July 9, 1975 local artist, archivist and entertainer 
Richard Underwood slyly maneuvered himself (without authorization) into the backstage area at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls during a performance of Emmylou Harris and James Taylor and managed to get Emmylou to stop on out to the Water Street Saloon in Kent later that night. This is what Richard told me about this adventure:

"The way I ended up backstage at so many of those Blossom Music Center shows in the 1970s was--in those days I would literally just BS my way back there and I also knew some of the people at Blossom. A lot of those people who worked there had seen me around numerous times and I think a lot of those people who worked there just thought I was somebody because I would always be seen with a lot of celebrities--hanging out with them taking pictures and stuff like that. So when I was back there I would make it a point to be friendly with the staff and the likes. I would always be saying hi and talking to them and ya know people kind of get used to seeing you from time to time. 

"On the night of that James Taylor/Emmylou Harris show I really don’t remember exactly how I got back there. I imagine it was because in those days a lot of times I would park in the VIP section and then somebody would recognize me and I would just get let through. That was pretty much how I usually got back there.
Cleveland Scene Magazine
blurb previewing concert for
James Taylor and Emmylou
Harris at Blossom Music Center
from July 1975.

"That night I remember being backstage and talking to Emmylou’s band members and to this day I don’t remember who was who that I was talking to. At that time I had heard the name Emmylou Harris and I knew who she was and I had heard some of her music but I wasn’t really totally familiar with her. My biggest reason to be back there was James Taylor and I was finding him to be kind of an asshole. We talked a bit but he was kind of standoffish and wasn’t real open or friendly. Usually when I am around celebrities like that, I watch how they are around other people before I even approach them, and if I see someone being standoffish with others I am not even going to bother. If that’s what they want I’ll just leave them alone.

Akron Beacon Journal ad showing
several concerts at Blossom Music Center
from July 1975 including James
Taylor and Emmylou Harris.
"But anyway I was talking to Emmylou’s band members and they were talking about possibly going out some place after the performance and they were wondering about any clubs around where they could go check out a band or hang out. I told them about the Water Street Saloon in Kent and I was  mentioning that these friends of mine are in a band called Good Company and that the Water Street Saloon is really a cool place. It’s one of these bars where the stage kind of looks like a living room and they have these old lamps in there and you’ll even see a dog walk through every once in a while. I was basically telling them how laid back it was and that it wasn’t any kind of place you would have to dress up to be in. Plus the house band played country rock stuff and Emmylou’s band was being real receptive to what I was saying. As it turned out they were up to it and they were wondering how to get out there, so I wrote down the directions from Blossom to Kent though I had no clue they would actually come to Kent and bring Emmylou with them.

"At some point after the show I ended up giving a ride to this guy who had his car at the Holiday Inn on Route 8 (near the Turnpike.) There were actually two major hotels out there (along with a Brown Derby) and that was where most of the Blossom acts would stay. I don't remember who he was but he must have been a friend of somebody’s or one of the crew members. So I remember dropping this guy off at the hotel and telling him what was going on in Kent and he said he was going to come by afterwards but I have no idea if he ever did. So after that I headed to Kent and that is when Emmylou and the band showed up.

"I actually had no clue Emmylou was even going to be showing up in Kent since I gave the directions to her band members. I remember telling Emmylou’s people earlier in the evening that there was this girl who would be there, Mary DuShane who plays fiddle in Good Company  and she’s gonna flip cuz she’s a big fan. Later I found out that all those members of Good Company were so close to that music of Emmylou’s and Gram Parsons.

"I remember when I got to the Saloon walking up to those guys in Good Company and mentioning that there were some people in the room from the Emmylou Harris band and Emmylou is with them…and then Emmylou comes walking in and Mary just had this look on her face and she was in shock. She was just amazed that Emmylou was even in the Water Street Saloon. Emmylou was really cool and the whole thing was really cool.

"James Burton was in her band that night at Blossom but I don’t think he came down to Kent and I definitely would have remembered that since I was a huge fan of his at the time from his work with Ricky Nelson and Elvis, and I had even seen him that year at the Richfield Coliseum with Elvis.

"I also remember taking those photos and I just knew that this was someone that people were really fond of though that night I did not know to what degree. I mean I was thinking that this person just performed at Blossom and she was famous and I was trying to capture this moment of her in Kent with the band. I was thinking it would be kind of cool for my friends in Good Company to get all these photos. I’m actually really glad I always carried my camera with me because a lot of times people would get really pissed off with me and say things like 'you and that damn camera' well now, all these years later with everyone on Facebook people are so appreciative that I took all of those photos and I am able to post them. So now I think it was well worth being a pain-in-the-ass with that camera because I know it meant a lot to that band to look back at something like this. I also had no idea the band had recorded the performance that night until much later and I only heard the recording really recently. It was a great great night." 


Mary DuShane, who played fiddle in Good Company from 1973-1975 and spent just a few years of her life in Kent in the early/middle 1970s, can be heard on the recording playing on Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya”  during that impromptu set at the Water Street Saloon and is shown in the various photos from the night. This is what she told me about her encounter with Emmylou Harris at the Water Street Saloon:

"Back in July of 1975 Emmylou Harris was not yet a big star. I think most of our audience didn’t even know who the heck she was but all of us musicians, we sure knew who she was because of her work with Gram Parsons. Perry Bocci (Good Company's vocalist and driving force (deceased)) and I used to sing '
Grievous Angel' in the band which was a Gram and Emmylou song so we certainly knew who she was. We liked that particular style of country rock which was a lot better than what else passed for country rock at the time which was these sort of head bashing southern rock bands that wore cowboy hats. Before we ever even knew Emmylou was going to walk through the front door we thought she was just a goddess.

"I remember when Emmylou showed up that night at the Saloon she had her steel player Hank DeVito with her and she also brought Rodney Crowell and I think he must have been playing bass that evening. I like the photo of her and me next to each other, flanked by members of Good Company Perry Bocci, Bob Smith, RT Mansfield and Steve Downey.  Hippie chicks, we were in those days, with our long dark hair

"I remember at one point we got Emmylou and her band drinks and they were all really happy and you can tell in that recording because you can hear her say 'it’s good to be in a goddamn bar.' So they hung out a little and then somebody in our band arranged for them to get up and take the stage to play some songs and they had Steve Downey (from Good Company) play guitar and then Emmylou called me up to play fiddle on 'Jambalaya' which was the last song and I think that was about it. After they played they hung out, drank a little more and went away. 

"Even though it was just for that short amount of time that night, Emmylou and I seemed to make some kind of a connection. And if you look at that photo taken that night you can see that Emmylou is reaching out for my hand. I remember that we looked at each other and knew that we were two of a kind. Just like Emmylou, I was the only girl in the band. That’s how it always was back then. There weren’t very many musicians who were women. There were some great female solo artists but back then there weren’t that many women out traipsing around with an all-male band, so Emmylou and I recognized each other in that sense. I think we are about the same age and we recognized each other as two of a kind in that world. She was very friendly and easy to talk to. 

Emmylou Harris reaches out to Mary Dushane at The Water
Street Saloon on July 9, 1975. Note Rodney
Crowell at the far right. Photo by Richard Underwood.
"Later that night while she was still there and our band got back up I did sing one of the songs that I’d sort of written for her. I said ‘I have this song I can really hear you singing.’ So I sang this song called 'Loves Laughing With Me Now' to her and she said ‘send it to my agent.’ –and I regret that I never did. Who knows if something could have come from that. We did chat for a while and there’s one thing I clearly remember she said to me. At one point I asked her, ‘what’s it like doing opening sets for James Taylor? What’s it like playing places like Blossom?’ And she said ‘Thirteen thousand people with perfect hair who wouldn’t know a honky tonk if they were in one!’ I’ve never forgotten that. Those words stuck right in my mind. She’d been playing lots of bars. That’s how she started out--playing bluegrass and country music in taverns in the Washington DC area."  

In the course of our conversation Mary offered up two other stories that I felt should be shared in this article marking the last days of the old North Water Street bar strip. The first of which involved her witnessing a stealth DEVO show at the Water Street Saloon circa 1974-1975. This is what she had to say about that incident: 

Water Street Saloon on North Water Street in Kent, Ohio
as it was in March of 1974. Photo by Dennis Rein.
"These guys DEVO, whoever they were, just showed up one night and wanted to play a set at the Saloon. They were just some rock and roll guys and they wanted to play and so they got up on stage, turned on their equipment and emptied the Saloon. Everybody hated them. They were headbangingly loud and they were wearing white lab coats and at least one guy had used tampons pinned on his lab coat. My crew at the Saloon was just a little happy country band ya know and then to hear these guys with this sort of shock rock thing going on. They had attitude before attitude was cool and people just left the Saloon in droves out to the streets until they finished and then everyone went back in. Oh my god they were so awful. Well I mean they probably weren’t awful but from our point of view they were awful because we liked country music. We had a feeling this was going to be the next big thing but we didn’t want anything to do with it(laughs.)"

Water Street Saloon as it is today (just a fence and a hole in the
ground) on North Water Street in Kent, Ohio. Photo by Jason Prufer.
Mary also told me what she remembered about the fire that took place just 6 months after Emmylou Harris stopped in at the Saloon. The fire really marked the end of the 10 year hey-day of the North Water Street bar strip. That area still had plenty of life left to it, but when on Wednesday, December 3, 1975 a fire took out the entire middle section of that strip an era of downtown Kent nightlife really did come to an end.

"That was an unforgettable afternoon. Good Company had just set up in a whole new configuration. Actually Perry and I weren’t getting along at that point. We used to be set up together in the middle but we’d had an argument so we set up with Perry at one side of the stage and me at the other. So that afternoon we had a rehearsal and then everybody left the Saloon except for my boyfriend Bart Johnson who was the bass player and myself. Our plan was to go home for dinner and then come back and play that evening with our new stage set up and as we were getting ready to leave Bart heard a funny noise, like a crinkling noise. It sounded like mice in a bag of potato chips. So Bart ran over and opened the fuse box which was at the back of the stage on the wall and he could see flames coming up from downstairs. 

“So he and I ran through the connecting door that was the interior door from the Saloon to the stairs that went down to the Kove. We ran down there and there was an old fashioned gas space heater about 3 feet by 3 feet big or something hanging over the bar down there and there were all these little orange crinkly flames coming out of it. And the flames had spread across the ceiling. There were these beautifully aged beams down there in the KoveJust the kind of wood you’d want for your fireplace. So Bart grabbed the fire extinguisher that was down there and he sprayed it all over place and then he stopped spraying for two seconds and then it went. It started burning again because that space heater down there was gas and it just kept running. So Bart looked at me and said ‘we gotta get out of here.’

"Well later we found out the back door of the Kove had been locked and had we not gotten upstairs when we did we’d be dead because we then ran back up the stairs and Bart said ‘we gotta get our equipment out of here’ and I looked at Perry’s incredibly beautiful antique Guild arch top guitar with the F holes and I said ‘Bart you gotta open the closet so I can get the keys so we can get the guitar’—idiot I am. RT Mansfield (Good Company soundman) asked me later ‘why didn’t you grab all the (good) microphones?’ and I said I don’t know. I wanted Perry’s guitar and I got it and I put it in the case and Bart ran out on the street and he hollered for (Good Company pedal steel player) Gerry Simon who was by then half a block down the street. Bart yelled for him to get back to the Saloon and so Gerry came in and he grabbed his pedal steel guitar—he unplugged it and just grabbed it all set up without the case and he rushed out to the sidewalk. Lucky for me my fiddle was at home. 

"Bart grabbed his bass and his amp and then maybe one other thing and then when we went back in for another load it was dark—the fire had eaten through. And then so we stood out in the sidewalk and just moments later the fire trucks came screaming up North Water Street and the guys broke through the front doors with an ax and the flames shot across the sidewalk from where the wooden steps went down into the Kove. So that’s how close that was and that’s how hot that fire was. It makes me shiver just to think about right now. 

"After the fire the Numbers Band had a meeting and decided they had to keep going but Good Company also had a meeting and we looked at each other and we said ‘we’re done.’ Though shortly after the fire we had this big benefit at the KSU Rathskeller to help pay for all the equipment lost in the fire but after that the band was over and I went back to Minnesota. The fire was on December 3, 1975 and I was back in Minnesota by Christmas and I was done. My time in Kent was over but as I say the friends I made in Kent have become lifelong and I have visited Kent ever since I left 4 decades ago and I’ve been visiting every year for the last few years including this past Labor Day. So even though it’s been a very long time since I lived in Kent the time I spent there was a pretty important time in my life." 


In the Summer of 1975 Steve Downey was lead guitar player for Good Company and was asked to sit in with Emmylou Harris and her band in absence of her lead guitar player James Burton. When I tracked Steve down he had a lot to say about that night at the Water Saloon, his old band Good Company and that Summer of 1975 on North Water Street. This is what he told me:

"How I ended up in Good Company is that I had been playing in this garage band in town that never got out of the garage. Dave Robinson (of 15 60 75) was our drummer and Paul Braden of Woodsy's Music was the bass player. In the spring of 1975 Good Company's original guitar player left the band and they were already doing one of my songs so they asked me to take his place. Actually, I was in this band only for the last 6 months they existed. The big North Water Street fire in December 1975 ended everything down there for a while.

"Good Company was a band that did lots of Grateful Dead type stuff--that California country-folk-rock sound. We were the house band at the Water Street Saloon and played three, roughly one-hour sets a night, starting at around 10:30. The breaks were somewhere around thirty minutes. 15 60 75 (Numbers Band,) playing downstairs in the Kove, did more-or-less the same schedule. Summer evenings were hot then as now, so when the bands were on break, the sidewalks outside would fill. Each band had its own fans, but there was also a substantial number of people who liked both.

"The Kove was dimly lit, except for the stage. The Water Street Saloon was more lighted, some of that from the double doors open to the street. Kent's current local Mexican food restaurant, Taco Tontos began here in the rear of the Saloon. There were no laws against smoking in bars and the clubs were filled with haze.

"A huge factor in the bar scene at that time had to be that in the State of Ohio the drinking age was 18 for 3.2 beer. It's just a guess, but this might have approximately doubled the number of KSU students in the clubs especially in the summers when the nights were warm, the sidewalks were filled and the clubs were jammed. On any weekend you could probably hear seven or eight bands within Kent's city limits. People walked from bar to bar throughout the evening, hearing a little of one band, and then some of another, somewhere else

"A few social behaviors were more relaxed in these days. I remember on a few successive weeks in that summer of 1975 when some of the dancers at the Saloon began taking off all their clothes while they danced. I don't think anyone does that today. It was probably just six to eight people, but they kept it up for a while and I never heard anyone complain. 

"Of course there was some pot smoking going on in the bars, but people were usually at least a little watchful about how they did that. It was, after all, against the law and now and then someone you'd know would get into some pretty serious trouble about it. One member of our band sometimes brought some of his home-grown pot to the Saloon and would pass out joints on the dance floor. 

Water Street Saloon circa 1974.
Photo from Kent State Chestnut Burr.
"There was a little railing around the stage at the Saloon and there were candles set up at intervals along the top. The whole scene was really psychedelic looking and I remember one night watching a band-mate pass out joints to lined-up dancers at the railing. I remember thinking this was like some very odd twist on a Catholic communion ritual. This Water Street Saloon ritual seemed both funny and serious at the same time. I'm up there just noodling around on my guitar, playing some meaningless solo, while we all kind of smiled about the scene. 

"The night Emmylou Harris came to the Saloon, none of us knew she was coming. I think we were close to the end of our first set when she and her band walked in. It wasn't hard to recognize her and we just looked at her walking through the crowd and thought 'Wow- that's Emmylou Harris..' I think I remember doing two or three more tunes before going on break.  

"On break, I seem to remember us all hanging around the soundboard and meeting Emmylou and her band and someone in our band, probably Perry, asking her if she and her band would be willing to do a few songs with our instruments. I remember all of us more-or-less huddled around the soundboard in the rear of the club, and the discussion -  Emmylou and her group deciding what songs they could do without their guitar player and bass player, both of whom had stayed behind at Blossom because they were also in the headlining band.

"Somehow it was decided that Mary DuShane our fiddler, and myself on guitar would be invited to play with them. Of course this was a big thrill for Mary and I. Emmylou had a rhythm guitarist in her band who would play Bob Smith's bass, and Emmylou would play Perry's beautiful old Gibson electric ES 345. Gerry Simon would remember the name of the pedal steel player (Hank DeVito), who used Gerry's instrument. Whoever he was, he had to struggle a little because Gerry used an unconventional tuning. Nobody re-tunes a pedal steel for three or four songs.

Emmylou Harris and The Hot Band performing with Steve
Downey (shown far right) at The Water Street Saloon in
Kent, Ohio on July 9, 1975. Photo by Richard Underwood.
"On stage someone counted it off and we played the songs. 'That's all it Took,' 'Sin City' and 'Jambalaya.' The crowd was on their feet the whole time. Both Mary and I were familiar with the songs and had no difficulties. Emmylou was nice enough to give us both solos. The club was packed, as it was always packed that summer, and everyone was loving Emmylou. I think the crowd was perhaps a little extra pleased with us- seeing Emmylou Harris on our stage probably reinforced our credibility a little. Every little bit helps. I remember one thing Emmylou said after the first tune, for which everyone cheered wildly, ‘It sure is good to be back in a God-damned bar’. It seemed like she had had a lot of fun. The rest of us did too."


Steel guitarist and longtime Kent musician Gerry Simon was at the Water Street Saloon performing with Good Company when Emmylou Harris and her band walked in. I got to talk to Gerry (along with Good Company bassist Bob Smith) about that night and those times with Good Company at the Water Street Saloon, this is what he told me: 

"Good Company's very first gigs were at The Deck here in Kent which is now known as the Franklin Hotel Bar underneath BW3' on East Main St. We would play between sets for Rich Underwood's Monopoly. We chased away his fans. They didn't like us but eventually we were offered the gig at the Water Street Saloon although when that happened it was known as Big Daddy's. 

(Bob Smith: "Initially it was just one night and a couple weeks later we came back for another night and that went ok and it just built on its own success. So at first it was just one night then it was two nights and then eventually it was 4 nights a week. On the weekends it was packed absolutely packed.")

"Before that night Emmylou Harris showed up I was already a huge fan plus Perry and I loved the album she did with Gram Parsons and we used to play 'Grievous Angel' in the band-- we were all in love with her. Perry and I were smitten with her voice, the music, her look--this beautiful woman. When she walked into the Saloon I remember Perry had no problem with being friendly towards her but I cowered and I remember thinking 'that's Emmylou Harris! Oh my god, where can I hide' that kind of thing. 

"She brought her steel player, drummer and rhythm guitar player. Her steel player Hank DeVito used my pedal steel and he doesn't sound nearly as good as he does when he is playing with familiar equipment. I had a weird setup and my steel was weird too so he had to quickly re-learn his style on it. I was using two amplifiers and the knee levers and the setup on the steel was not what he was used to. So I just needed to acquaint him with the peculiarities of my particular setup. Many steel guitars are set up to the discretion of the musician and not necessarily standardized so it wasn't easy for him. 

"Emmylou seemed to have a really good time playing in Kent although that’s not from memory that’s what it seems to me from listening to that recording from the night. She was enjoying herself because when you play big concerts there is a big distance between the performer and the audience. You totally miss the intimacy. 

"The Water Street Saloon had a totally different vibe than any other place in Kent. Actually it was pretty different from most other places I've been. We had dogs, kids, just a comfortable place. We had the stage set up with lamps and rugs and tie dyed stuff
. We also had a lot of air brushed images on our amps and speakers from Dr. Fly. The Water Street Saloon had more of the feel of a living room which is what we really wanted to have. 

(Bob Smith: "A living room for very strange people.")

"Listening to the recording you can tell they are using unfamiliar equipment and an unfamiliar sound system so they sound a little rough compared to how you would usually hear her in a concert situation. Just judging from the steel playing, Hank DeVito is a great steel player but he was battling it. 

"Emmylou actually gave us tickets to see her the following night at Blossom since she was opening for James Taylor again. So the next day Perry and I saw her play but we had to miss James Taylor since we had to be back at the Saloon to play our gig."


It's interesting now in 2017 to go back to what remains of the North Water Street bar strip. Click here to see a photo of the current state of the space that used to occupy the Water Street Saloon. Even though all that's left of that strip is The Brewhouse compared to around 12 establishments at its 1965-1975 peak, I still see energetic youth down there as well as successful events down the street at Standing Rock Gallery. That area still has energy and still has the ability to attract a lot of people. 

With all of the development that came from Acorn Alley and beyond it seems that the next logical step would be to bring North Water up to par. Most of that street is ripe for development, cleanup and upgrades. While I can't project any kind of real numbers nor do I even know the politics and money behind what this takes, it seems to me that if a new building went in there where the Saloon and Kove used to be and it had 3 stories of bars and live entertainment that the area could once again be glorious.

As far as Emmylou Harris goes, you gotta wonder if she remembers her couple hours in Kent, Ohio from that July night in 1975. In closing I'll leave you with this awesome piece of footage showing a vital Emmylou Harris...

Big thanks to everyone who helped me out with this piece including the Daily Kent Stater, Chestnut Burr KSU Media, Stephen Downey, Mary DuShane, Gerry Simon, Bob Smith, Richard Underwood and Dennis Rein.