Friday, December 1, 2023

Hot Wax: Ronnie & the Savoys’ “Domino” b/w “Slapping Rods and Leaky Oil” (1958/2023)

Ronnie & the Savoys’ “Domino” b/w “Slapping Rods and Leaky Oil”
Former record label executive Steve Popovich’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history is carved in stone. Starting his career with a job in the Columbia Records’ Cleveland warehouse, he quickly vaulted up the ladder into sales and promotion, ending up as Columbia’s first Vice President of Promotion by the age of 30. A couple years later, he made a lateral move into A&R for Epic Records, where he signed or launched artists like Cheap Trick, Boston, Jaco Pastorius, The Soul Children, and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Dukes, among many others.  

Using the experience and knowledge gained from a decade in the music biz, Popovich branched out on his own in 1977, launching Cleveland International Records from his adopted hometown. Best known, perhaps, for the overwhelming success enjoyed by Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell album (40+ million hubcaps sold and counting!), Cleveland International found its niche as a forward-thinking independent rock ‘n’ roll label releasing albums like Meat Loaf wingman Jim Steinman’s solo Bad For Good and Ellen Foley’s Night Out as well as records by artists as diverse as The Boyzz, Ian Hunter, Ronnie Spector, and the Euclid Beach Band (their “There’s No Surf In Cleveland” is a post-punk, power-pop gem!). Oh yeah, Cleveland International also released a few more Meat Loaf LPs that sold by the truckload…

Long before Popovich became embroiled in the murky morass that is the music industry, he was banging out tunes on his own with bands like The Twilighters and Ronnie & the Savoys. Formerly known as The Polka Kings, they changed their name when Popovich brought his bass guitar skills to the band. Ronnie & the Savoys entered into the studios at Cleveland Recording Company sometime in 1958 and laid down two red-hot slabs of primal rock ‘n’ roll for release as a single and, thanks to the good folks at Cleveland International (now run by Steve Jr.) and Little Steven’s Wicked Cool Records, you can add this nifty 7” wax with picture sleeve to your collection.

The 45’s A-side, “Domino,” is a period-perfect roller-coaster o’ rock ‘n’ roll cheap thrills. Featuring swaggering vox by “Poppy” laying out a narrative of the title character’s tragic fate, the song is layered with manic guitarplay, Tim Tokish’s blaring saxophone, and a rhythmic backbone straight and strong enough that you could run it up a flagpole and salute. Clocking in at a radio-friendly three-minutes, more or less, “Domino” found ready airplay from Cleveland radio, but the single also found friendly programmers in Pittsburgh and on the West Coast.

The flapjack’s B-side is equally bodacious, “Slapping Rods and Leaky Oil” a scrappy, madcap instrumental that captures a real hod-rod vibe with Jim Sellers’ wiry fretwork (a few licks evince a Duane Eddy twang) and Zupancich’s explosive drumbeats clashing with Tokish’s out-of-control saxplay. At a hair over two-minutes, the song takes off like a rocket and quickly achieves orbit. Ronnie & the Savoys became a fairly well-known band in the Cleveland area, honing their sound with nightly performances at Leo’s Café, a blue-collar joint in the city’s Polish neighborhood.

Ronnie & the Savoys would later move up to larger venues and bigger crowds, but they could never break free of Cleveland and long-term success wasn’t knocking at the door. Popovich would eventually pursue his love of music in a different forum, helping other musicians achieve their vision. Sadly, Popovich passed away too young in 2011, but his fingerprints can be heard every day through Classic Rock radio playlists. Ronnie & the Savoys was the first step towards creating Popovich’s legacy, and you can get the single exclusively through the Cleveland International Records website…take a look around, you’ll find some other cool stuff while you’re there!

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