Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Michael Stanley Gee’s early musical inclinations, as a Rocky River High School student, were typical of most teen boys in a ‘garage band’: “It was just something that was fun to do,” Michael Stanley recalled, in a 1981 ‘TEEN Magazine interview, “It was a good way to pick up some quick money and meet some girls.” In 1965, the proverbial ‘first’ band was one called the ‘Scepters’. Things became more serious, musically, when Michael joined the ‘Tree Stumps’, and a single was released, “Listen To Love”. By 1969, Michael was a student at Hiram College, working on his Bachelor of Arts degree, and the Tree Stumps had become ‘Silk’, a locally-popular folk group that had advanced into the recording studio and produced an LP, “Smooth As Raw Silk”.
After graduating college, Michael Stanley Gee continued pursuing music (both with the band and as a solo performer of his folk-based ballads) while moving up in the ranks of his ‘day job’ at Disc Records. At a point when the band was on the verge of breaking up, they were asked to play a local Cleveland hotspot and they took the gig with the idea that they could, at the very least, “go out on top.”
New York record producer, Bill Szymczyk, was in the audience that night, and was impressed. A record contract followed. Michael continued working his ‘day job’ at Disc Records, having by then become the Regional Manager, in charge of stores in 12 states, and married. For 2 years, he juggled his time between the studio, work and family at a somewhat leisurely pace, judiciously using several weeks of vacation time a year to record both his debut, “Michael Stanley”, and second LP, “Friends & Legends”.
In 1973, Michael and his boss had a dispute that resulted in disaster: he was fired. Joe Walsh, a close friend and Cleveland area musician, suggested Michael either give music his all or get out — no ‘half-efforts’ were going to suffice. It was a turning point for Michael, and one where he finally saw music as his lifeblood, deciding to pursue it full time.
From the mid 70’s to the mid 80’s, the Michael Stanley Band enjoyed a strong and fiercely loyal following, touring with some of the superstar bands of that period (including Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Foreigner and The Doobie Brothers); there were several Top 20 and Top 30 hits, among them “He Can’t Love You” in 1980 and “My Town” in 1983, but it seemed the ‘one great hit never came — the kind of chartbuster that saw acts like Bob Seger, Bryan Adams, John Cougar (now Mellencamp), make their names and hometowns, literally, household words.
In late 1982, MSB released what would be their final album for EMI: “You Can’t Fight Fashion”. The single, “My Town”, had made it to 29 on Billboard Magazine’s charts, sales were good, and the band was on tour, when EMI stunned the band by offering them an ‘extension’, rather than a contract renewal with a long-term financial commitment. When Michael confidently ‘called their bluff’, their label pulled the plug, halting promotion and tour backing immediately.
It was a financial blow that staggered the band but they gamely continued performing in the Northern Ohio and Midwest circuit, producing 2 independent releases, 1983’s “Inside Moves”, and “Fourth And Ten” in 1984 (recorded live at Blossom Music Center — a 2 nighter that saw the venue’s all time attendance records shattered), before formally disbanding in late 1986, shortly after performing 9 ‘farewell’ concerts at Cleveland’s Front Row. “…We broke up not because we didn’t like each other, but because we couldn’t survive. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was like a group divorce,” Michael Stanley would later recall, to Cleveland Magazine in a July 1994 interview.
“After we did the last show with the band in Dec. 1987 (the Front Row Club “farewell” shows), I didn’t touch a guitar for 6 months,” Michael Stanley said in a 1992 interview, “…I wanted to walk away from it for awhile. I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll stop for a little bit, come back and it’ll be like turning on the faucet.’ It was the total opposite. It was like writer’s block for a long, long time.” In late 1991, the “block” fell away.
Not surprisingly, Michael’s post-MSB years found him still working in the Cleveland area entertainment spotlight: he served as co-host of WJW-Channel 8’s “Cleveland Tonight” and “P.M. Magazine”, ’til they were cancelled, and later as a weekly featured reporter for TV8’s “First Look”. It was only natural he’d find music calling him again, and he overlapped his television career with a new one in radio as afternoon disc jockey and on-air personality at Cleveland’s WNCX 98.5.
In Dec. 1991, during a Las Vegas vacation, Michael suffered a heart attack. The near tragedy resulted in Michael’s re-evaluation of his life and career, and, with renewed determination and perspective, he began building a life of balance, exploring new interests while rediscovering old ones. He ‘settled in’, buying Chagrin Falls acreage, and lent his support to a number of good causes and charitable projects. Former Ohio native and MSB-fan, Razor & Tie Records’ Cliff Chenfield, had contacted him, and the ‘compilation’ release they had discussed, “Right Back At Ya”, was released in Feb. 1992, leading to a following decision to ‘re-issue’ the entire Michael Stanley catalog. Michael remarked, in a 1994 Cleveland Magazine interview, “After a 6 year drought, we had 8 albums out one year and 4 the next. I finally got to have a copy of everything we’d done.”
In 1993, Michael reunited with Jonah Koslen, Bob Pelander and Jennifer Lee (an area singer whose vocals had contributed to many MSB studio projects and concert appearances) to form The Ghost Poets. With the MSB reissues selling so well, Cliff Chenfield decided to release the group’s eponymously-titled “The Ghost Poets” through Razor & Tie Records in 1994. Sales that followed were good, but local airplay was difficult — a Cleveland ‘blackout’ had resulted, as many radio stations viewed Michael Stanley — WNCX’s highly-visible personality — as a competitor. The Ghost Poets continued to perform for a little over a year after the release, when a decision was made to disband the effort, and move on.
Following the quiet disbanding of The Ghost Poets, Michael went into the studio with another set of former MSB bandmates — including Bob Pelander, drummer Tommy Dobeck, bassist Michael Gismondi and guitarist Danny Powers — and recorded his first ‘solo’ endeavor since 1973’s “Friends & Legends”. “Coming Up For Air”, a quiet, intensely emotional and introspective album that centered around the title track — Stanley’s chilling reliving of his recent heart attack — was released through Intersound Music (now Platinum Entertainment) on Feb. 27, 1996.
Though declaring a 1994 Blossom ‘MSB reunion’ concert as the ‘final’ one, Michael Stanley continued to perform with several long-time friends and former band members in and around the Cleveland area, billed as “Michael Stanley & Friends”.
Michael currently performs with THE RESONATORS: Tommy Dobeck on drums; Bob Pelander, piano and vocals, Danny Powers on guitar and vocals; Jennifer Lee on vocals and percussion; Rodney Psyka on percussion and vocals; Marc Lee Shannon, guitar/sauce, Eroc Sosinski on bass and vocals; and Paul Christensen on sax.
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