Joe Hunter describes growing up in Coventry and how the scene in Coventry changed in the 1980s.
Hunter, Joe (interviewee)
Rotman, Michael (interviewer)
Michael Rotman [00:00:01] All right. It is June 18th, 2011, my name is Michael Rotman and we are at the Coventry Library. And can I ask you to state your name, please?
Joe Hunter [00:00:15] My name is Joe Hunter.
Michael Rotman [00:00:16] Okay, and where and when were you born?
Joe Hunter [00:00:20] I was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1960.
Michael Rotman [00:00:23] Okay. How did you come to... well, okay. What is your first memory of Coventry?
Joe Hunter [00:00:30] In 1968, my parents bought a house on the corner of Euclid Heights and Woodward, one block from the original Coventry School. So I immediately, immediately became immersed in the culture of Coventry, became a very young hippie. By the time I was, you know, 8, 9, 10 years old, with long hair and a pea coat and Mr. Natural stickers; and of course, at that time, Coventry was like Haight-Ashbury. And there was just tons and tons of hippies all over the place, and there was a Hell's Angels biker bar called the C-Saw Cafe, sort of near where Panini's is now. And it was very much impacted by... by just the culture of Coventry at that time.
Michael Rotman [00:01:16] They keep saying the culture... Could you... The culture of Coventry. I wanna know what that, I mean, could you explain that more?
Joe Hunter [00:01:22] Well, if you're familiar with Haight-Ashbury or any place where young people were gathering in the United States at that time, Coventry was a mecca for young people, and there were lots and lots of people just hanging out on the streets. A lot of counterculture stores had shops and record stores and clothing stores and jewelry stores. And as I said, even when I first moved over there, there was a Hell's Angels bar. So you would see the Hell's Angels on their big motorcycles out there. So, yeah, I mean, just the '60s counterculture was very, very much a part of the Coventry scene.
Michael Rotman [00:01:59] Did the Hell's Angels get along with the hippies? What was that like?
Joe Hunter [00:02:03] Yeah. Yeah, they... I never remembered any fighting. I mean, they fought within themselves or sometimes I think there might have been drunken brawls within. I know there was a shooting inside the C-Saw Cafe at one time.
Michael Rotman [00:02:14] Really?
Joe Hunter [00:02:15] Yeah.
Michael Rotman [00:02:15] What was the story behind that?
Joe Hunter [00:02:16] I really don't know. I was so... I was very young and I kept my distance.
Michael Rotman [00:02:22] So, you know what, I'm sorry, I'm gonna pause it. Ok, so... So you started hanging out there. At what age were you when you first moved to Cleveland Heights?
Joe Hunter [00:02:36] I was probably 4. We lived over on South Overlook near the Cedar-Fairmont area. But in, as I said, 1968, we moved over to the Coventry area. So I'd be, you know, I went to school at the original. I think I might have been one of the last graduates from the original Coventry School and I had a very strong connection with this library where this is being recorded. The Cleveland Heights Coventry branch of the Cleveland Heights public library system.
Michael Rotman [00:03:03] What do you remember about this library?
Joe Hunter [00:03:05] Oh, wow. Well for one thing, when I became a teenager, I was... I meant, I'm a professional musician right now, and maybe I should point that out. And I had saw my first professional experiences playing here on the front lawn of the Coventry School, the Sunday afternoons. I used to do folk music and I was working at the time with a guy named Stu who sometimes also went by Captain Cleveland, who was a juggler and a blues guitar player singer. And I was playing harmonica and the acoustic bass with him. And I still have some great old photos from about 1976 of me playing right on the front lawn of the Cleveland Heights Library here.
Michael Rotman [00:03:52] So what kind of things that you and your friends do at Coventry when you were growing up?
Joe Hunter [00:03:59] Well, you know, I'd loved Record Revolution. I thought it was one of the coolest places I had ever seen. It was this huge, huge record store. And again, being the young, you know, hippie that I had, you know, long hair. And I just thought it was so cool to see all these other, you know, folks hanging out with the really long hair and bell bottoms and the pea coats and all that kind of stuff. So I loved looking at records at Record Revolution. And the walls, of course, at that time, were signed by all these big rock stars who had come through town because that really was one of the major record stores in the city of Cleveland; Record Revolution. And there was also a great deli down there called Irv's and we would sometimes go there. And Tommy's, of course, I at a very early age, Tommy Fello would on Saturday mornings, I would go down. And again, this is pre-Tommy's. This is when it was called the Confectionery. And it was, I think it was Lou. Was it Lou's Confectionery? Or Al's, I can't remember. But Tommy worked for this Lebanese family and on Saturdays and he was the manager and ran it. He would hire me to move pop bottles and I would get like a submarine sandwich. And then I remember when he and his family, you know, bought it. I knew his sister, Anita, and his mother, of course, worked there at the counter. And then, you know, I saw the, the building of the Cov-, all the CoventrYards. You know, the shopping areas. And then, of course, their subsequent burning down. I had one of my first jobs at 16 years old. I worked at the original Mad Greek in the basement of Coventry, the CoventrYard. I was a dishwasher there. And that was an interesting experience.
Michael Rotman [00:05:54] Why is that?
Joe Hunter [00:05:55] Oh, I was just, you know, just started there, you know, working, you know, being 16 years old, having my, you know, one of my first jobs. And, you know, having some money in my pocket and staying up, you know, closing the restaurant at two o'clock in the morning and hanging out. So that was kind of interesting. And then, of course, you know, the other big memories of that time were the Coventry Street Fair. And I live so close to Coventry that it was great for me. I could walk there all the time. And that was a major, major summertime event with hundreds of thousands of people crowding the Coventry. It was really something. And again, I played... I had a group in high school and we played- played down at the Coventry Street Fair, when I was probably 17 or 18, the band I was in. And I have some pictures of the hat somewhere, too, which is kind of neat down by the old saloon Coventry and Mayfield.
Michael Roman [00:06:53] What were those like, those Coventry Street Fairs? Were they like the ones that happen now or were they different?
Joe Hunter [00:06:58] Totally different. They were huge, huge events. I mean, really, if you stood at the top of the street at Coventry and Euclid Heights and you would look down and see if people- it was just absolutely packed wall to wall. There was, you know- we were having a lot of fun, and I was very young and we were kind of running around and doing what young people like to do at that time. And it was really fun, you know, and, you know, a lot of partying and listening to all the various bands that would play. And as I said, sometimes I would play, too, and I was so close, I never had to worry about, you know, parking the car. We could just, if we ever had to go to the bathroom or something, I could just run up the street and there was lots and lots of friends. Lots and lots of girls. It was really... it was fun.
Michael Rotman [00:07:53] You mentioned the fires. I've heard a lot about these fires. Do you know anything more about the fires that CoventrYard or what happened?
Joe Hunter [00:08:00] God, what a curse, man. I'm telling you, it just seemed like they would build these things and last a couple of years or so. I don't know. And they would burn down. It was just amazing. One of the times, it was one of the most spectacular things I've ever seen. The fire took place in the early morning- like overnight and it was frigid, frigid, cold, dead of winter. And the fire department came to put out this fire. And the next morning, I went to walk down there and it was one huge, enormous crystal ice sculpture. It was one of those beautiful things I'd ever seen because they had, you know, doused it with water. And it was so cold that all that water froze, and all... the whole top of Coventry was just a huge glistening ice sculpture. It was amazing.
Michael Rotman [00:08:51] Wow. And that was the CoventrYard. The original?
Joe Hunter [00:08:52] The original CoventrYard. And there was... That was when, oh, it was a great vegetarian restaurant called the Light of Yoga Society was up there, and I used to go there and eat all the time. That was really neat. I can't remember the woman's name who ran it. It was really very prominent popular place, and it did yoga classes and it was a very, very successful and popular restaurant. And then I also worked at the original Arabica. When Carl Jones first opened it up, I was 18 or 19, and I remember working there on Sundays. He hired me and a bass player friend of mine. And we would play up on this tiny little balcony we had in the original Arabica. And we would load this big, heavy Fender Rhodes electric piano up there and play there. I think we picked me to be like, you know, $25 and as much coffee as we could drink. I then in, when I was about 20, 21, by the time I could drink alcohol, the place that I spent all that time was, and we're talking again 1980, '81, was Turkey Ridge on Coventry, which is now the, what's it called, the Barking Spider. And the man and the... This was a major Coventry bar that featured lots and lots of live music. And I soon began playing there on Sunday nights with a woman named Debbie Stewart in a group called Soul Lives. And I just spent a lot of time in Turkey Ridge. My early drinking experiences and my really professional gigs. I had a very strong connection to that place.
Michael Rotman [00:10:37] So how had the scene changed? I guess by the time the 80s rolled around. Were their still hippies around or the bikers?
Joe Hunter [00:10:46] No, no. The C-Saw Cafe had closed long before that, and it didn't have that kind of Haight-Ashbury kind of feel. You weren't kids just sitting on the street and you know, it wasn't that, you know, hanging out, playing guitars. There's always been people that have hung out at the top of the street, which is now like sort of in front of where the Grog Shop is and all that. People been hanging out there forever. I mean, the scene changed for me. A lot of stores came and went. Record Rev [Record Revolution], of course, is still there, and that's been a major, you know, stable. Which was a crazy story, by the way. It was also, it... A completely different era than now. It was a drug mart. It was a place where drug dealers could go buy scales- all the drug paraphernalia you could ever imagine. You could even buy "cut," the stuff that they would use to cut cocaine, was a baby laxative. You could go in there and buy it on Coventry by any number of types of scales to weigh marijuana or cocaine. It was a huge, huge like emporium of drugs, a gazillion types of pipes and bongs and every type of possible paraphernalia you could imagine. You could go in there and buy whippets, which is nitrous oxide and all the things you needed to consume it. I mean, this thing now is just a completely different time. So what, sort of wild, wild west wide open, you know.
Michael Rotman [00:12:15] So why is that, I mean, why do you think that's changed? Why has that gone away, you know?
Joe Hunter [00:12:19] Well, I don't know. The whole culture has changed. It's been such enormous changes in the whole society, and, of course, it's reflected on Coventry now where we have, you know, sports bars. And I don't know what else is down there, a lot of sports bars and, you know, some restaurants and stuff as opposed to, you know, I mean, there's a few leftovers like the Passport to Peru, which kind of... That is sort of a reflection of a little bit more of what there used to be a lot of, you know, those kind of those stores. I mean, I don't want to say it's gone corporate, but, you know, it's a little bit more commercial. It's much more family oriented now, which is nice. And it's wonderful to see Tommy Fello, who has been such a, you know, Rock of Gibraltar of that street forever, you know, and to see him still doing so well.
Michael Rotman [00:13:13] So it's safe to say you're favorite era of Coventry was maybe around the '70s?
Joe Hunter [00:13:18] Probably, no, I would say my favorite era would have been when I was old enough to go to the bar so and play at places like... There was Chester's and there was an Italian place I played at in Turkey Ridge. That was probably, you know, when I've got to be 21, 22, you know, in the early, early part of the '80s, that would probably be my favorite part of it, you know.
Michael Roman [00:13:42] And you still... you still live in Cleveland Heights, I see. Do you still go to Coventry a lot?
Joe Hunter [00:13:46] I do, as a matter of fact. Yes, I still go there, yes. And interestingly enough, the Record Revolution has gone full circle. You know, we saw the advent of the CD and then, you know, boom, it was all CDs. They'd still, in the basement of Record Rev, would have used records. And that was another way I would make money. When I was in my teenage years, in my early twenties, I would go and sell records and of course, would buy used records. But you could make a little bit of, you know, spending money by selling vinyl. Well, it's all come full circle. Record Revolution now is selling vinyl. It's 2011. They don't sell CDs anymore. They've gone completely back to selling vinyl. It's all used, obviously, but it's really... It's very funny for me, someone with my perspective.
Michael Rotman [00:14:38] Sure. Well, is there anything else you want to share? Any other memories or stories about Coventry that you think we didn't cover?
Joe Hunter [00:14:47] Well, it was... No I mean, I had... One of the interesting thing was living so close to, I mean, when they tore down the original elementary school and they began work on this new... the new building, which is now not being used, I don't think. But that was... that construction site was really, really cool to hang out in, and we would run around there as kids and climb all over the roofs. And it was like this huge, incredible playground, this construction site that was really neat. Also that there used to be a street called Rock Court, which is where the parking lot of Marc's is. There was a street over there that I had some friends that lived over there. And that was really neat. They were these old kind of semi-dilapidated houses, but it was kind of reminded me of like a Hessler Street kind of feeling, you know. It really... It was really neat. You know, the nice thing about coming through that area for my teenagers on was, you know, you always felt kind of cool because you could hang out with older people. And that was really, you know, meant a lot to me at that time to hang out with, you know, and to be kind of accepted by people that were, you know, between 5 and 10 years older than you, and I thought that was really neat.
Michael Rotman [00:16:01] So it wasn't just a teen thing?
Joe Hunter [00:16:02] No, no, it's very much, yeah, it was not just teens. No. It was definitely... And with it being involved in music was a nice inroad for me to be able to hang out with older musicians. That was really neat. And, I lived next door on Euclid Heights Boulevard; I lived next door to a guy named Martin Perlick, who was the program director of what was to become WMMS. It was originally called WNCR, which was one... which was THE FM rock radio station in [the] City of Cleveland. So I would... through him, I got to meet all the big dj's in town. You know, Billy Bass and Michael Spyro and all these, really, and musicians like Bassett, John Bassett. Yeah, it was really neat. And I would shovel his driveway and he would take me in his house and let me pick any record I want. He had like thousands and thousands and thousands of records. So it was a really... It was a really neat place to grow up. That's all I can tell you. It was really in a different time in America, you know.
Michael Rotman [00:17:13] Well, hey, thank you very much for coming out and talking to us today.
Joe Hunter [00:17:16] My pleasure.
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"Joe Hunter interview, 18 June 2011" (2011). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 911060.