Jonah Koslen Interview
Playing Music Box
If you grew up in northeastern Ohio in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, you will recognize the name Jonah Koslen. He was a key member of the Michael Stanley Band in the mid ‘70s and appeared on three MSB albums including Stagepass, the legendary album that was recorded at the Cleveland Agora.
Just as MSB was gaining national recognition, Koslen left the band to form Breathless and later Jonah Koslen and the Heroes.
Koslen and his band will be playing a one-off show at the Music Box Supper Club on Friday, July 20th.
We had the chance to speak with Mr. Koslen to discuss his career and his upcoming appearance on Friday.
Greg Drugan: Hey Jonah, thanks for taking the time with me today.
Jonah Koslen: Hey, no problem!
GD: So you are playing a show at the Music Box on Friday, how many gigs do you normally play in a year?
JK: Possibly two. For the past couple of years its only been one.
GD: This is going to be a special one-off show for Cleveland. Fans better get there if they want to see you this year.
JK: It is, yes!
GD: Looking back, who were some of your musical influences?
JK: Growing up, I listened to a lot of '50s music, Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Chuck Berry and all the music they played on AM radio. Then for my 11th birthday, my parents got me the Meet The Beatles album which happened to be on February 9th which was the first time for the American appearance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. So I got the double whammy! (laughs) That really was the turning point for me and kinda set the path for my life.
GD: That's amazing. So many artists that I've interviewed that are of a certain age always say it's The Beatles who had the biggest influence on them.
GD: You mentioned Meet The Beatles as an early record, do you remember the first record you bought with your own money?
JK: I think it was probably a Bobby Vee. It had stickers on the back, it was an album. It was probably a greatest hits album. He had a bunch of hit singles in the early '60s.
GD: Very good! Who was the first artist you saw in concert and how did that affect you?
JK: Let's see, it was the Rolling Stones actually. They played down at the Cleveland Arena, when there was a Cleveland Arena. My parents dropped me off in front. I was a big fan of the Aftermath album so I got tickets to that. I remember it well! I remember Brian Jones playing the dulcimer. I loved The Stones. The opening act was The Shirelles, but they didn't show up, and the other act was The Trade Winds who had one song on the charts at the time.
GD: Was that in 1967?
JK: Yeah I think so. Maybe 1966, somewhere in there. "Paint It Black" was one of the singles.
GD: That had to be great. When did pick up the guitar and do you play any other instruments?
JK: I play a little bit of trumpet. That was the first instrument I picked up in the high school and junior high school band. I picked up the guitar around 14. I wanted to play bass guitar and my dad rented me a bass guitar. He said, "You got six months here and if you're still playing at the end of six months we'll get you a guitar." At the end of six months, I was playing in a band, I was playing all the time and I told my dad I wanted a bass guitar. He said, "No, no bass guitar, but I will buy you a six-string guitar." Because a bass guitar you can't accompany yourself. So he was kinda setting me up for songwriting. My dad's a musician, he played saxophone and was in a big band.
GD: Wow, that's awesome. So he kinda knew what he was doing.
GD: How did you end up meeting Michael Stanley? I believe he already had a couple albums out before you formed the Michael Stanley Band.
JK: Right, he had two solo albums before. I was living down in Colorado, working at a music store and I happened to be listening to the first single off his second album. My manager friend at the time, Marty, who was a Columbia Records promo guy, talked to Michael's manager and he said he was looking for a guitar player. Marty asked if I wanted to try it out and I said, yeah I like the music. A couple months later, Marty flew me into Cleveland and I met Michael. We sat around and played songs for each other. It was a very exciting time.
GD: What was it like playing those shows at the old Agora? Did you think Stagepass was going to turn out as well as it did?
JK: Yes, I thought it was going to turn out as well as it did. The band was really peaking and we had some great new tunes that were going to take us to another level. Songs like "Midwest Midnight" and "Nothings Gonna Change My Mind" became signature songs for MSB. So I was confident about the band. We had played some great shows for the album so I felt really good about it.
GD: MSB was starting to get some national recognition, why did you decide to leave and form Breathless?
JK: I was very prolific in my songwriting back then. As much as I loved working on the album with Michael and collaborating with him, I was just driven as a 24 or 25 year old man to go out there and do my thing! I had a couple of ideas for my own albums and it was an amiable parting and we remained friends and we've worked together several times since then.
I wasn't thinking about forming Breathless, it took about a year to put that (band) together.
GD: Breathless headlined Blossom in 1980, what do you remember about that show?
JK: That it was a really big venue! Well, we had been on tour with Kiss opening shows for other bands. But headlining there was very exciting. Mike Belkin put that together and I appreciated that.
GD: Who opened that show?
JK: That's a good question! I think maybe it was Alex Bevan.
GD: That's great, a total Cleveland connection there! After Jonah Koslen and the Heroes broke up, how did you stay involved in the music business?
JK: I moved out to Los Angeles to pursue my songwriting. I got there at the time when music technology was getting more affordable for the average Joe. I had a little 8-track recording studio, first generation drum machines and I had a really good time multi-tracking with vocals. I did some b-movies and some music for TV.
GD: You've had an interesting career! So you will be at the Music Box on Friday. What can fans expect from this show?
JK: A lot of Breathless, the hits they know from MSB and a Heroes tune. They can expect to see Rodney Cajka from Breathless who will be there for the entire set. We are bringing in on lead guitar, Dan Powers from the last incarnation of the Michael Stanley Band. I don't want to short-change my core band, they are an awesome band but we will have some special guests.
GD: Jonah, thank you so much for you time. I wish you the best!
JK: Thank you very much!
Check out a Cleveland legend, Jonah Koslen at the Music Box Supper Club on Friday, July 20th.