Stuck at home? Give these Cleveland podcasts full of stories and roots music a listen#COVID-19

If you’re practicing social distancing and self-isolation and need a Netflix binge break, Roots of American Music hopes you’ll give their podcast series a listen.

Roots founder Kevin Richards of Cleveland Heights loves merging history and music, especially with a regional focus. Inspiration struck him a few years ago. “What if we did something where we recorded people using the old-fashioned method of recording direct to disc,” he says. Also called direct to (nitrocellulose) lacquer, it’s how they recorded music in the 1920s and 1930s.

Narrator Clint Holley owns record manufacturer Well Made Music.He took this historical recording method on the road to historical places and captured historical stories. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ohio is the setting for stories about architect Frank Lloyd Wright, cartoonist Robert Crumb, boxer Johnny Kilbane and abolitionist John Parker. Add an intimate concert with virtuoso musical guests, and you’ve got a podcast.

Five episodes are online, with seven more coming in the next two years. You can ask Alexa, your Amazon Prime household helper, to play the latest Roots Rearview podcast. Or you can find them on this website. This spring, the Cleveland Heights-based educational nonprofit will partner with Evergreen Podcasts to broaden their reach.

“My goal is to record part of these podcasts inside these historic venues in order for the story to be told not only by us but by the places themselves,” says narrator Clint Holley in the initial podcast’s opening. Holley, a lover of vinyl, owns record manufacturer Well Made Music.

Here’s a breakdown of each podcast, for your listening pleasure.

Episode 1, May 14, 2019:
The Ghost of Frank Lloyd Wright (29:28)

The Louis Penfield House, one of the famous architect’s creations, was completed in 1956 in Willoughby Hills, but the construction of Interstate 90 interrupted plans for a second Wright edifice nearby. “The blueprints still exist, and the new owner who's purchased it is planning on building Frank Lloyd Wright house No. 2,” Richards says. North Carolina singer-songwriter David Childers, the musical guest, performs songs including his composition “The Ghost of Cleveland,” about the Wright house that still hasn’t been built. Holley interviews Louis Penfield’s son, Paul, about Wright’s final residential commission. The Penfields received the plans in a long mailing tube the week of Wright’s funeral.
Cartoonist R. CrumbEpisode 2, May 29, 2019:
Following the Crumbs (29:36)

Explore the connection between legendary underground cartoonist R. Crumb and Cleveland’s 78th Street Studios, the original home of American Greetings. Holley interviews Dan Bush, current owner of the building, where Crumb worked before gaining counterculture fame as the creator of Zap Comix. “Most people aren't aware of the fact that Robert Crump was a fine old-time string band musician,” Richards says. He reveals the musical inspiration for Crumb’s iconic “Keep on truckin’” logo. Traveling troubadour Tim Easton is the featured musical artist, and the Spyder Stompers and Sugar Pie also perform.

Johnny Kilbane, world featherweight boxing champion from 1912 to 1923Episode 3, June 19, 2019:
A Fighting Heart (53:47)

This segment combines the story of Johnny Kilbane, world featherweight boxing champion from 1912 to 1923, with tales of the Irish-American experience. Kilbane grew up in an Irish neighborhood on Cleveland’s West Side called The Angle. Margaret Lynch, executive director of the Irish American Archives, tells how impoverished Irish immigrants living there experienced animosity and prejudice. Musical guests are Doug McKean of the Pogues tribute band Boys from County Hell, who sings “Dear Santa”; and Rory Hurley, another Cleveland performer with deep roots in the Irish community. The interviews and performances take place on the top floor of Terrestrial Brewing Co., in a former power generating facility in Cleveland’s Battery Park.

Episode 4, July 8, 2019:
Journey to Ripley, Many Steps to Freedom (1:08:54)

Travel to Ripley, Ohio, a small town on the Ohio River, and learn about two Abolitionist leaders in the early 1800s: Rev. John Rankin, whose home on a bluff overlooking the river was a stop on the Underground Railroad and is this podcast’s setting; and John Parker, an African American "extractor" who risked his life ferrying runaway slaves across the river to freedom. Holley interviews Carl Westmoreland of Cincinati’s Freedom Center; Betty Campbell, site manager of the John Rankin House; and Dewey Scott, a docent at the John Parker House. The booking of the musical guest was “perfect timing,” Richards says. Rising singer-songwriter and banjo player Amythyst Kiah of Johnson City, Tennessee, had just won the award for 2019 Song of the Year at the Folk Alliance International Conference, for her song, "Black Myself."

Tremont’s Hotz Café, that's been run by a family for 100 years, overflows with history.Episode 5, Feb. 24,2020:
Hotz Cafe (41:09)

“We wanted to do something local, right in our backyard, and just tell the story of a really cool place in Tremont that's been run by a family for 100 years,” Richards says. Hotz Cafe overflows with history. Babe Ruth ate hot dogs and drank beer there and once wrote a $13 check to buy the whole house a round. “This is a true piece of history,” says Brandon Lee, whose band the Luckey Ones is this podcast’s musical guest. Also interviewed are cafe owner John Hotz and his wife, Sheila. Prosperity Social Club in Tremont sponsored this episode, out of gratitude for the Hotzs helping them get started more than a decade ago.

The podcasts also have received funding at various stages from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Knight Foundation.

Coming up

The Tommy Lehman Quartet is scheduled to perform for the next podcast recording Saturday, March 28, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Akron Recording Co., 243 Furnace St., Akron. While this is subject to change because of the coronavirus crisis, Richards believes the show will go on because they can record without an audience.

They also hope to record singer-songwriter Rachel Brown at her family’s barn in Medina in June; another concert at the G.A.R. Hall in Peninsula, possibly in September; and later in the year in Akron on Howard Street, which once was an African American cultural hub, drawing performers like Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington.


If you are looking for additional podcast ideas to help you hibernate at home, consider these 10 worthy suggestions that FreshWater Cleveland wrote about in 2019:

From April

From November

But wait, there’s more …

The City Club of Cleveland, that bastion of free speech, has 763 episodes archived in podcast format here.

Cleveland Moto covers the motorcycle scene, with 184 podcasts on diverse topics like electric motorcycles, recalls, and even hair loss. Find them here.

Read more articles by Chris Ball.

Chris Ball became managing editor of FreshWater Cleveland in August 2019 after more than 20 years of editing and writing for The Plain Dealer. A graduate of Hawken School and Oberlin College, he previously worked for Crain Communications, the Lorain Morning Journal, The Free Times and The Cleveland Edition. A lover of Frisbee and film, Ball wrote a DVD review column for The PD for 15 years. He won a Press Club of Cleveland award in 2018 for Best Headline Writer in Ohio. Ball stepped down as managing editor of FreshWater in April 2020.