Great Ohio Bands and Musicians

Posted on September 30, 2019

by Tim P

“Don’t gotta move to NYC/Wood County is the place to be,

LA, too far away/There’s rusty water here, but it’s O.K.”

– Matt Truman

That was a line from the T-Shirts, the late, lamented (by me, anyway) band from Toledo/Bowling Green. I don’t know why, but Ohio has spawned some amazing musical talent. (One British rock magazine recognized this in the ’70s, offering readers a chance to visit Akron and see local bands that would one day explode.) These folks were all from our wonderful state, but contrary to what Matt said, most had to move away to make it. There are obviously a ton of bands I forgot, or did not have material available, or I have never heard – but are probably playing in a bar near you!

1. Chrissie Hynde – Akron

After moving to London, Hynde was a music writer, band member with future members of The Clash, and, most importantly, founder of the brilliant Pretenders.

Message Of Love

2. The Isley Brothers – Cincinnati

Soul giants The Isley Brothers often reinterpreted pop hits in their own inimitable style along with the songs they wrote. Their version of CSNY’s “Ohio” mixed with Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” just burns!

Ohio/Machine Gun

3. The Dead Boys/Stiv Bators – Cleveland

After fronting punk pioneers The Dead Boys (who sprang from Rocket From the Tombs, more on them later), Stiv formed Lords of the New Church with Brian James from The Damned and later recorded an underrated solo album influenced by Sixties garage and power pop. He was hit by a car in Paris, thought he was fine and died in his sleep. A huge loss.

Sonic Reducer – The Dead Boys

Open Your EyesLords Of The New Church

4. Ohio Players – Dayton

It’s a shame the Players are perhaps more known for their album covers than their tightly coiled funk songs (except for the urban legends surrounding “Love Rollercoaster”). Their catalog is pretty brilliant.


5. Devo – Kent

Members of Devo were in the crowd the day the National Guard opened fire on the Kent State campus. It may be where they got the idea humans were de-evolving. Their influence on music from the Seventies and beyond cannot be overstated. It’s tough deciding which song to pick, but I’ll go with:

Freedom Of Choice

6. Doris Day – Cincinnati

The expression “America’s Sweetheart” is bandied about a lot. Ms. Day really was just that.

Que Sera Sera

7. O’Jays – Canton

With a huge string of hits in the Seventies, and being sampled in countless hip-hop songs, The O’Jays are remembered as one of the forerunners of the Philly Soul scene. But they weren’t! Ohio wins again! I’m linking to the song “For the Love of Money” because the way the echo drops off the bass line in the second measure is one of my favorite music things ever.

For The Love Of Money

8. Screaming Jay Hawkins – Cleveland

When Hawkins entered the studio to record “I Put a Spell on You”, he envisioned a traditional R&B song until the producer plied him with liquor. Hawkins’ drunken howls and yelps made a good song an absolute classic! Hawkins then went on to create shock rock, emerging from a coffin and putting “voodoo curses” on the audience.

I Put A Spell On You

9. The National – Cincinnati

Comprised of two sets of brothers and a lead singer so tall he takes over the street, The National formed in Brooklyn after the members all moved there. Matt Berninger has one of my favorite voices in music.

I Need My Girl

10. Kim Deal – Dayton

Deal co-founded the seminal Pixies and, upon the band’s breakup, formed The Breeders with her sister, Kelly. After a few years off, the band reformed in 2018. Although I’m linking to a Pixies song, I swear I have the opening of “Cannonball” by The Breeders stuck in my head almost every day.


Cannonball – The Breeders

11. New Bomb Turks – Columbus

Roaring out of OSU, the Turks played fast, catchy, sloppy garage punk like nobody else. Their sound expanded on the Dead Boys and Stooges, adding speed into the mix.

Gotta Gotta Sinking Feeling

12. Soledad Brothers – Toledo/Maumee

Henry And June were local garage-blues legends, but they broke up in 1996. Bassist Johnny Walker and drummer Ben Swank soon formed the Soledad Brothers, with Walker switching to guitar. They later became a three-piece after multi-instrumentalist Oliver Henry joined. The Soledads recorded a handful of fantastic albums before splitting up. If you get a chance, also check out H&J’s guitar player, Dooley Wilson, when he plays around town. He’s amazing!

Mean Ol’ Toledo

13. The Necros – Maumee/Toledo

The Necros were part of the early wave of hardcore punk bands including Black Flag, Bad Brains and Minor Threat. They soldiered on for about ten years before breaking up. Drummer Todd Swalla later played with the Laughing Hyenas and Boogaloosa Prayer with Dooley Wilson from the paragraph right above this one.

14. Five Horse Johnson – Toledo

For the past 25 years or so, Five Horse Johnson have played heavy blues-rock that absolutely rips. They are popular here, but huge in Europe, performing and often headlining at giant festivals alongside big name bands. Since the members have other things going on (singer Eric Oblander hosts the “Rise Up” show on BCAN), they don’t play as often as one would prefer. When they do, it’s always a pleasure.

Spillin’ Fire

14. The Raspberries – Cleveland

Along with Memphis’ Big Star, The Raspberries were early proponents of the genre later called power pop. They had a few fairly big hits, but sadly, are not often mentioned when bands of that ilk are discussed. (They did receive, I assume, a nice chunk of residuals when James Gunn used their song “Go All The Way” in the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” film.) Singer Eric Carmen was later all by himself (didn’t wanna be).

I Wanna Be With You

15. Pere Ubu – Cleveland

When Rocket From The Tombs splintered, one half formed The Dead Boys and the other started Pere Ubu. While The Dead Boys were more straight-ahead punk, Pere Ubu were the future. Weird, avant-garde, angular and yet somehow still catchy, nothing sounded like Ubu then. Not a lot does now. I picked the song “Final Solution”, which was originally performed by Rocket. It’s about being socially awkward and has no Nazi undertones whatsoever. Ubu wouldn’t stand for that nonsense.

Final Solution

16. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony – Cleveland

This group blew up with their second album, E. 1999 Eternal. Their music, combining beautiful vocal harmonies and triple-time rapping, sounded like nothing else in the late Nineties.

The Crossroads

17. Scott Walker – Hamilton

Walker was born in Ohio, but did not really make any music here I could find. I included him because I enjoy his songs, and he’s so danged interesting. His first group, The Walker Brothers, was pretty British Invasion-y (and huge in England). His early solo work sounded like Jack Jones or Vic Damone, but with more complicated orchestration and lyrics. He stopped recording for a while, and when he returned, sounded nothing like his earlier work. In fact, he sounded nothing like any other music around at the time. (That may be hyperbole. There were other avant-garde performers around, obviously, but none with such a grand leap. O.K., maybe Tom Waits, but Scott’s stuff was so much weirder.)

Montague Terrace (In Blue)

18. Mark Kozelek – Massillon

Most people think of football when it comes to Massillon. I think of music because of Kozelek, the singer and main songwriter for Red House Painters and sun kil moon. Musically atmospheric, beautiful, and utterly compelling, The Painters were part of the sadcore scene, along with Low, American Music Club, and Elliott Smith. As a fun bonus, Kozelek played a member of Stillwater in “Almost Famous”.

Grace Cathedral Hill

19. The Cramps – Akron

Well, what the heck can I say about The Cramps? They were ground zero (along with the Gun Club) for 2000s garage rock revival – your WhiteStripesBlackKeysHivesVines, not to mention tons of rockabilly and psychobilly bands. (Looking at you, Tiger Army.) All sprang from this well. I can’t imagine how terrifying they would have seemed in 1975 when they formed.

Green Fuz

20. Robert Quine – Akron

One of my favorite guitarists of all time, the sadly neglected Quine was a beast. As a human being, he was by all accounts a cranky, dour and ultimately loveable son of a gun. As a guitar player, he was the same. His anger combined with the most fluid lines you will ever hear. He worked with a ton of your favorite musicians. To name a few: Lou Reed, Richard Hell, Matthew Sweet, Tom Waits and Brian Eno. He also appeared on They Might Be Giants’ “John Henry” album, which is so weird. An absolute genius.

Blank Generation

Bonus: Guided By Voices – Dayton

My friend Steve’s favorite band in the world, GBV’s catalog has always proven daunting to me. I have a greatest hits compilation, but never knew where to start with their studio albums (of which there are a ton). On a side note, I got to hang out with their leader, Bob Pollard, at Arnie’s just before it shut down, and he was a really cool guy.

Everywhere With Helicopter

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