by Ted Lehr

“If I were a million miles away, would you visit me?”

The older I get, the more I realize the importance of time and place. Certain spaces, during particular periods of time, produce, well, magic. 

Take the Bank Nightclub. Formerly located at 316 S. Main St. and built in 1916, the building spent the early part of its life as an actual bank. It became a jazz club sometime in the mid-70s. Shortly thereafter, the burgeoning Akron punk scene discovered The Bank and took it over as its own.

Bands with evocative handles like Hammer Damage, Teacher’s Pet, the Bizarros, Chi-Pig, Unit Five and the Dead Boys graced its stage. These bands were composed of young, hungry musicians who not only had chips on their shoulders but were also fiercely creative. The Bank was the perfect petri dish, at just the right time, to create mayhem. 

Everyone knew everyone else. Members from different bands would often co-mingle and form side projects or entirely new main groups. The Sodbusters were one such band to bloom from the scene. Conceived as a party band in 1981, The Sodbusters drew from Hammer Damage (Mike Hammer, Scott Winkler, George Cabaniss), Teacher’s Pet (Kal Mullens), The Bizarros (Terry Walker) and the Walking Clampetts (Johnnie Teagle) to fill out its ranks. 

Born Steven John Bator in Youngstown, the rechristened “Stiv Bators,” was a mainstay of the Akron/Cleveland music scene and the personification of punk rock. As vocalist of the Dead Boys (founded in 1976, but that’s another story), Stiv snarled and strutted on stage, equally provoking and captivating audiences.

Stiv and company soon left Ohio and took their act to New York City, specifically the infamous club CBGB. Armed with the anthem “Sonic Reducer”, the Dead Boys torched the city. Stiv’s vulgar and destructive stage presence, in large part, gave birth to the look, feel and attitude of the “punk” movement.

By 1979, the Dead Boys were no more. As artists are wont to do, Stiv was looking to move in a different direction. Partnering with Frank Secich (most notably of Blue Ash), David Quinton and George Cabaniss (of The Sodbusters and Hammer Damage fame), Stiv and his new collaborators dialed down the snarl and upped the pop factor. Though technically a Stiv Bators solo album, each member of the band contributed songs. The resulting effort was the snappy, infectious, daresay legendary, hunk of power pop called Disconnected.

After the record was released the band toured it, playing a number of times, naturally, at the Bank in Akron, Stiv’s home turf.

He went on to further success with his band, The Lords of the New Church. 

Stiv Bators was killed in Paris in 1990 after being hit by a car. 

Present Day

The current music scene in Akron is thriving. One architect behind the resurgence is Jenn Kidd, the guiding force behind Musica, a downtown club that features a smart mix of local and touring musicians and comedians. She was recently approached by the band about hosting a Sodbusters reunion show. 

Knowing the history of the talent involved, Jenn jumped at the chance. The last time The Sodbusters performed was in 2018. Prior to that, it had been 38 years since they’d played. 

As things evolved, members of The Sodbusters, looking to fill out the evening’s bill, reached out to members of Bators’s band (Cabaniss being the connective tissue), and it was determined that the time and place were right for a Stiv Bators Band reunion. THE FIRST EVER.

So, it’s going down. A crowd of members of legendary local bands will be at Musica on Friday, Aug. 16 to recreate the magic and mayhem that was initially birthed decades earlier at a ratty old bank in Akron, Ohio. The Sodbusters will be playing songs from the various bands with which they are affiliated, with perhaps a cover or two for good measure. And the Stiv Bators Band will be playing “Disconnected” IN ITS ENTIRETY. (Author’s note: that is BONKERS!) 

For older fans, it’s a chance to reminisce. And for younger fans, it’s an opportunity to sit at the learning tree with some of Akron’s finest. For both groups, it’s an opportunity to engage with Musica and what they represent, and perhaps the entry point to go forward to experience what the current crop of Akron talent has to offer. (The pool is pretty deep.) 

Special thanks to Johnny Teagle, George Cabaniss, Frank Secich and Jenn Kidd for their generosity and assistance in helping to craft this story.

Visit Facebook.com/AkronMusica for ticket prices and availability.

Ted Lehr has been a contributor to the Devil Strip since 2016. As a freshman in high school, a friend turned him on to the Dead Boys’ first album, “Young Loud and Snotty.” He’s never looked back.

Top two photos: Theresa Kereakes.

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