Chas Madonio is intimately familiar with Kent’s music scene during the ’60s and early ’70s, at one point playing in a band with pre-fame Joe Walsh.
Madonio spent the last three years compiling his and others’ firsthand recollections of those times into a book.
“Bars, Bands, and Rock ‘n Roll: The Golden Era in Kent, Ohio” is a 300-page tome packed with photos and retellings of events from those heady days in Kent.
The book debuted during a release party Tuesday night at North Water Brewing Co. in Kent as part of the brewery’s Tap Talks series.
“It was the golden age because this was the center of the universe for music,” Madonio said.
The $30 book, published by the Kent Historical Society, can be purchased from the organization’s website.
Madonio’s involvement in the scene, himself a bass player for The Majestics, Monopoly and more, allowed him to rub shoulders with some of the most iconic names in rock and roll today. Joe Walsh wrote the introduction to the book, and Joe Vitale provided a forward.
“There were over 50 people that I interviewed,” he said. “They’re all over the country now.” Reaching out to them gave him a chance to reminisce and reconnect.
It was difficult locating and contacting his old friends, but Facebook made things easier for Madonio. Once he got them talking, he said, all the old stories came rushing back, even after 50 years.
“Most of them were happy to hear that someone was finally going to tell the story,” Madonio said.
Rich Underwood, a 1965 transplant from Pennsylvania who played with The Measles for awhile and who currently helms Monopoly, provided many of the pictures found in the book.
Most of the photos are from 1965 onward, coinciding with Underwood’s appearance.
‘Kent was the music capital of northeastern Ohio’
Encouraged by the late Roger Dipaolo to write about what Madonio calls “the old days,” Madonio put pen to paper to memorialize stories from the era that would have otherwise been lost to future generations. The book was a three-year endeavor
“Back in those days,” Madonio said, “Kent was the music capital of northeastern Ohio. It wasn’t Cleveland or Akron; people came from Cleveland and Akron, and Pittsburgh — and they were going to come to Kent because this is where it was really happening.”
The scene was drawing international attention as well. Madonio said there were people coming in from Canada to catch a show at one of the city’s venues.
Someone looking for a good time on a Friday or Saturday night would have no problem finding one. There was a vast array of venues open at the time — eight to 10 of within spitting distance of one another, all opening their doors at about the same time.
“Once that happened, everybody came from everywhere around,” said Madonio.
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At the time, there was talent in Kent just waiting to collide with a crop of students primed for rock ‘n’ roll. The country had just witnessed President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, and America was taking a more active hand in the Vietnam War; Kent was a nest of antiwar activity.
“The rebelliousness that was pent up inside the students came out when The Beatles came on the scene because they did everything different,” Madonio said. “They looked different, they dressed different, cut their hair different — everything about it was a whole new change from what it had been in the ’50s and early ’60s.”
Joe Walsh’s band The Measles was playing regularly, and for a time Madonio played bass for them; Phil Keaggy’s Glass Harp appeared on the scene as well. Drummer Joe Vitale, who eventually became a staple of the tour lineups for The Eagles and Crosby Stills & Nash, was playing in a Kent band called Marble Cake at the time. The Raspberries got their start during this time period as well.
A trip down Kent’s musical memory lane
During the release party at North Water, Madonio took the packed house on a trip through Kent’s early ’60s and ’70s musical infrastructure, setting the stage by picking through some of the saccharine hits pre-dating the rock ‘n’ roll explosion set off by the Beatles in 1964 — songs like 1960’s “Theme From a Summer Place” by Percy Faith.
He regaled them with stories of old bars no longer open, like JB’s, and The Kove, which burned in 1975, taking the Water Street Saloon down as well. Along with tales of the venues came tales of the bands that played in them, and his part in the saga.
“I met Joe [Walsh] when he came to Kent in ’65, I was looking for a band to play in and so was he,” Madonio said. “There was an ad in the Kent Stater, the guy was having a tryout, so I ended up at the tryout. It was like a cattle call with about 25 different guys there.”
Each one played for a few minutes before relinquishing the audition to someone else. Madonio evidently made impression.
“I’m packing up ready to leave,” Madonio recalled, “and he came up to me — this little skinny, blonde-headed kid— and he said, ‘I’m looking for a bass player for my band are you interested? I like the way you play.’ “
Madonio accepted and followed Walsh back to his room in Manchester Hall, where Walsh proceeded to stun Madonio with his guitar work. The 17-year-old Walsh was the greatest guitar player he’d ever heard, he said.
“So that was my introduction to Joe,” Madonio said. They played together for some time before another band offered to pay him more for his services.
“I foolishly took it,” he said, drawing laughs from the crowd.
For those who missed it, or simply want to experience it again, Madonio will be reprising his appearance at North Water Brewing at a date to be determined. Check https://northwaterbrewing.com/events/ for updates
Contact reporter Derek Kreider at DKreider@Gannett.com