Calvin Rydbom, Wayne Beck Commemorate the Era that put Akron Music on the Map
by Brittany Nader
There was something about Akron in the 1970s-80s that lit a spark for many local musicians and performers. The result was a particular sound and style that put the Rust Belt city on the global radar, at least for a little while. Maybe it was the younger generation’s distrust and discontent of the government born out of the nearby May 4 shootings at Kent State University. Perhaps it was the discovery of New York punk rock that changed local players’ perception of what they could create and what audiences wanted to hear. Maybe it was the grit, the bootstrapping and the surge of rebellious energy that tends to emerge from hard times. Maybe it was a combination of all those things, and more.
Calvin C. Rydbom, prolific archivist and Stow resident, aimed to not only explore the reasons Akron received international infamy through bands like Devo, The Bizarros and The Waitresses, but also encapsulate a very specific moment in the city’s history where creative folks were pioneering new sounds that attracted music fans and media well outside of the Rubber City.
Rydbom’s new book, “The Akron Sound: The Heyday of the Midwest’s Punk Capital,” is arguably the definitive resource for anyone looking to learn more about sounds coming out of Akron in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It also explores the music that came before and after, along with the principles that are inspiring a new generation of Akronites to pick up a guitar or a microphone today.
This time in music is not only newly detailed and memorialized in book form, curious visitors and longtime champions of Akron’s creative outputs have the opportunity to peruse show flyers, band jackets, vinyl, ticket stubs and other artifacts through the “Akron Sound” Museum’s new home. Rydbom, along with Akron resident and self-proclaimed “music groupie” Wayne Beck and a board of local music icons, have collected and curated a storefront filled with “Akron Sound” mementos. Located at 923 Bank St., theAkron music time capsule is attached to other nostalgic hotspots like The Bomb Shelter and Wooster Vintage Audio. After existing as Beck’s traveling pop-up collection of local music artifacts for the last couple of years, the location finally gives Akron’s place in music history a permanent home.
“Wayne was a mainstay in the party scene in the late ‘70s and ‘80s then went to LA professionally for many years, came back here and said, ‘You know, I think it would be cool to celebrate that time in Akron history,” Rydbom says. “Me, I’m more of a writer and archivist […] Wayne called me up one day in December, a little over two years ago, and said he needed someone to do the behind-the-scenes things. Everything in the museum is categorized, archived with finding age and information. The ‘Akron Sound’ Museum has actually pushed me up professionally in the archiving world because of how cool it is and what Wayne has set up here.”
Where Rydbom’s new book serves as an introduction to this particular time, place and scene, the “Akron Sound” Museum transports the viewer into that moment unlike anything else. It truly feels like you’ve entered Beck’s basement and discovered a goldmine of rare collectibles that illustrate what it was like to go to those shows, get those autographs, dance at musty venues-turned-bowling-alleys and mingle with musicians who are now larger-than-life cultural icons. While the collection now has a brick-and-mortar home in Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood, Beck would eventually like to move closer to the places that best embodied the heart and soul of where the “Akron Sound” originated.
“When this place became available, it was like OK, we’ll take it,” Beck says. “The goal is to do well here then maybe move in to one of the new developments downtown.”
To gain an understanding of the important places that helped give birth to the music memorialized in Beck’s museum, Rydbom’s “Akron Sound” book is the perfect introduction to key venues like The Bank and The Crypt. The written work pays homage to a highly influential time not only in the city’s culture, but also in music history as a whole. It contains thoughtful profiles of the players and places that helped put the former rubber capital of the world back on the public radar. There are priceless candid stage photos that Rydbom received with the help of local music figures like Jimi Imij and Harvey Gold, rare record sleeves designed by Derf, Devo band flyers likely created by Mark Mothersbaugh and promotional images of popular bands that have ties to Akron but came “after the sound.”
Rydbom aims to define what exactly the “Akron Sound” is in his nonfiction book. It’s not necessarily New Wave, he writes. It’s not an actual sound like Seattle’s clearly identifiable grunge. It’s a little punk rock, but not every band evoked the sense of aggression and defiance common with the genre. Through his interviews with Akron Sound pioneers like Buzz Clic from the Rubber City Rebels and King Cobra and Chris Butler of Tin Huey, The Numbers Band, The Waitresses, Half Cleveland (and many other projects), there are jokes and guesses, but no one can really give a clear answer.
“Just different; it was just Akron,” Rydbom writes. “Just some really cool music by a bunch of young musicians who didn’t want to follow their folks into rubber factories.”
“The Akron Sound” by Calvin C. Rydbom is available to purchase online through Arcadia Publishing and The History Press or locally at The Bookseller in Akron.
Copies are also sold at the “Akron Sound” Museum, located in Unit A at 923 Bank St. in between the Bomb Shelter and Rubber City Vintage Bicycle. The museum is open. Follow Facebook.com/Akronsoundmuseum for updates and photos of the collection.
(Featured photo courtesy of the “Akron Sound” Museum)