birth
of the
band

 

Robert Collins Leonard, or Bob, as he is known to his friends, was born in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb on the west side of Cleveland in 1945. He grew up on Elmwood Avenue, took piano lessons from Sister Mary Ann Frances and tinkered with the piano that was in the family home.

 

After graduating from Lakewood High School in 1963 he attended Ohio State University for a short period of time before taking a break from academia by going to work on the ore freighters that were plying the Great Lakes. In 1965 Bob quit working on the freighters and enrolled in classes at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. Incidentally, Bob’s Uncle, 62 year-old John H. (Jack) McCarthy was First Mate aboard the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. Sadly, Jack McCarthy perished along with 28 of his shipmates when the Fitzgerald sank in the stormy waters of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975.

In the spring of 1966 Bob Leonard met folk guitarist/singer Mike Barnes and singer/guitarist Barrow Davidian at a record store on the corner of Elmwood and Detroit Avenue in Lakewood. After discussing their influences, (Bob’s being the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Mike & Barrow’s being, Bob Gibson, Jesse Colin Young, Spider John Koerner and Dave Van Ronk), the young men decided to start a band. From there the three aspiring musicians began to rehearse in Barrow Davidian’s basement.

Honda 1965 Scooter

Barrow Davidian sang, and played 12 string guitar & auto harp. Mike Barnes also possessed a strong voice and played guitar. Bob Leonard sang and played the family piano but had never been in a band before. As a result he had to sell his Honda 65 to buy a keyboard. Bob used the proceeds from the sale of his scooter to purchase an Acetone Organ. The new group recruited Tom Schuster to handle the drum chores and brought in Rick Hohn to play bass for a short period of time and the Tiffany Shade were born! As Bob Leonard recalls, “the band was named by Barrow Davidian who came up with the moniker while looking at a tiffany shade lamp”.

By all accounts this original incarnation of the band sounded a lot like the Byrds. They had really strong 4 and 5 part harmonies and Barrow played a 12 string Rickenbacker guitar like Roger McGuinn of the Byrds.

Acetone piano

After a few months of rehearsing in Barrow’s basement, the band began performing live together at CYO dances, high schools, teen fairs and union parties all around the west side of Cleveland. They were doing cover versions of songs by the Rolling Stones, Lovin’ Spoonful, Byrds, Beatles and other chart toppers of the day.

In the summer of 1966 Duane Verh was the bass player for Barry Lee & the Actions. He recalls being “at the channel 5 TV studios in a cattle call mass audition for the Upbeat Show [Upbeat was Cleveland’s version of American Bandstand. The show, hosted by Don Webster, was originally called the Big Five Show and aired from 1964 until 1971 in over 100 markets. The Upbeat show was one of the more significant early rock and roll TV variety shows and featured a live studio audience, a group of dancers and performances by the biggest names in rock. Among the hundreds of acts that appeared on the program were Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding whose last appearances before perishing in a plane crash were in Cleveland on the Upbeat Show and at Leo’s Casino, one of the nations premiere R&B and soul clubs which was located at 49th & Central in Cleveland.]

Duane Verh remembers, “There were literally bands by the dozen set up along the perimeter of a room the size of a school gym. Each band took a turn with a song. This band was just about opposite of us. The front man was done up in classic L.A. folk-rock style with a Dylan style cap and jeans tucked high into his boots. [This would have been Barrow Davidian]. He announced the band’s name [The Tiffany Shade] and they went into a rock ’n roll work up of a Fred Neil song called Other Side of this Life. I remember they had an electric piano player whose path would cross with mine a few years later.”

The Tiffany Shade did make it onto the Upbeat show. The date of their appearance is unclear but they were on a show along with James Brown and Van Morrison among others. Mike Barnes remembers watching Brown “lip sync his song”. He also recalls how “diminutive James looked in person and that he had two HUGE bodyguards around him at all times who were very intimidating.”

After a while the Tiffany Shade caught the attention of John Thornbury who managed the club Otto’s Grotto. Otto’s Grotto was situated inside the very elegant Statler Hilton Hotel. The Statler Hilton dated back to 1912 and was located at 1127 Euclid Ave. in Downtown Cleveland. Thornbury gave the band a six month long residency at Otto’s and they began to build a following and making some decent money.

“We were the hottest band in Cleveland for about two years” says drummer Tom Schuster. He adds, “I was a senior in high school when we played Otto’s Grotto so I was playing until two in the morning, and then going home and sleeping for a few hours, getting up and going to school. I’d get home and sleep for a few more hours and then go back downtown. Those were some crazy times but it was worth it.”

Cleveland rock legend Michael Stanley recalled seeing the Tiffany Shade at Otto’s, “I used to love that band. I used to go see them at Otto’s Grotto when it was in the basement of the Statler Hotel on 12th & Euclid...We used to say that their lead singer Mike Barnes had the look. In fact, I’ve still got a fairly mint copy of their album.”

During the band’s tenure at Otto’s Grotto Bob Leonard recalls “doing a lot of cover tunes while working a few original songs like Sam into our set lists. We were also working out early versions of several other songs that would eventually make their way onto the Tiffany Shade album”.

Lead singer Mike Barnes describes the Statler Hotel as being “...the nicest hotel in town at the time. It was a basement club but it was really very popular. It was a pretty sophisticated clientele. A hell of a lot more sophisticated than us. We were just out of high school. We were in way over our heads.”

Drummer Tom Schuster remembers nights at the Grotto when acts like “The Who and members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience-Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding stopped in when we were playing. It was a happening scene”.

The band pooled their earnings together from the Otto’s Grotto gigs and took up residence in another downtown Cleveland hotel. One night the group was hanging out at the hotel bar where they were staying and checking out a hypnotist show. During the show James Gang guitarist Glenn Schwartz, who was also in the crowd, became hypnotized. While under hypnosis Glenn began playing guitar solos and guitar lines that he had never played before. According to Bob “It was great”! [Glenn Schwartz was the original guitarist in the James Gang from 1966-1968. Joe Walsh replaced Schwartz in the James Gang when Glenn left for the west coast to join Pacific Gas & Electric in 1968. Today Schwartz still plays around Cleveland in venues like the Parkview and Hooples on Cleveland’s west side].

Dick Korn was the assistant manager at the Statler Hilton Hotel and is responsible for introducing the band to WIXY 1260 Radio disc jockey Dick Wild Child Kemp. Kemp and an attorney from the East side of Cleveland, whose name no one can seem to remember, assumed the roles of being the bands managers. According to Bob Leonard, “these guys wanted to manage us, but they really weren’t managers at all. They were basically hangers on with deep pockets and a desire to be part of the scene”.

In the fall of 1966 at the urging of John Thornbury, Bob Leonard, Tom Schuster, Barrow Davidian and Mike Barnes decided to take a short hiatus from playing gigs at venues like the Mentor Hullabaloo and the Village Wha. They accomplished this by taking a week long vacation at the Sugarbush Ski Resort in Warren, Vermont. Bassist Rick Hohn did not accompany the band on this trip as he was still a junior in High School. To the best of Mike Barnes knowledge they had a bass player named “Rob Ruzga with them at this time. Ruzga eventually left the band and went on to play with Ted Nugent.”

According to Barnes “the way we ended up in Vermont was really bizarre. The manager of Otto’s Grotto had been a bartender in New York with the fellow who owned a bar in Vermont called the Blue Tooth. He said you know you guys have been here every night for two months. I’ve got a friend in Vermont who would love you guys. Why don’t you go up there and I’ll call him. We had a fantastic time there. Vermont was really spectacular. It was incredibly un-crowded and beautiful. So we had a great time playing the ski area. We played there a lot.”

From Vermont the band was supposed to go on to New York City to do a gig at Trude Hellers club on 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village. But while they were in Vermont they realized that the club owner at Trude Heller’s in NYC had never heard of John Thornbury. Bob Leonard says “John Thornbury was telling us that he had all of these great connections with various clubs and it turns out that he had no connections or gigs whatsoever in Greenwich Village, or anywhere else. The owner of the bar in Vermont hadn’t even heard of him!”

One night while imbibing at the Blue Tooth, Bob Leonard, Mike Barnes, and Tom Shuster decided they “didn’t want Barrow Davidian in the group anymore”. When asked about what had precipitated Barrow’s dismissal Bob stated “we simply didn’t like what he represented or who he was and we felt like he wasn’t going anywhere, so we decided hey we’ll just go this without him”.

Mike Barnes says this was when Barrow “finally dropped out of the band. He didn’t want to stay up there. We really liked it. He was more into the urban thing. We were out in the country and having a ball. So we went back to Cleveland and reconfigured the band.”

Bassist Rob Ruzga who had replaced original bass player Rick Hohn early on also left the group around this time. Mike Barnes described Rugaza as “a gangly black haired kid. He was freaky guy. He was a fun guy. He played with us for a while but then he got really sick. He came up to Vermont with us but he didn’t last long and then we went down to Newport to find Robbie.”

1969 Checker Aerobus

With no gigs in New York City the three remaining members of the Tiffany Shade hit the road and headed for Montreal where they tried unsuccessfully to find and hire a new bass player. Bob Leonard and Mike Barnes both re-call that “Montreal had a great scene and we had a really great bass player from there all set to come back with us, but he had a little trouble clearing customs. Due to his border crossing issues he couldn’t join our band”.

Having no success in their endeavors to find a new bass man in Canada the band returned to Vermont. Tom Schuster says, “we were always going back and forth from Vermont. Mike and Bob had girlfriends up there who eventually became their wives.”

While in Vermont they had shared a room with a talented bass player named Robb Clarke Murphy. A few months later Leonard, Barnes and Schuster went to Newport Rhode Island to hang out and found Robb Murphy playing bass in a local bar. Murphy had just left a band called the Invaders and it didn’t take much to talk him into joining the Tiffany Shade.

In 1963, Robb Clarke Murphy graduated from high School in Newport Rhode Island and immediately enrolled in the Berkley School of Music. He attended Berkley for 1 year before quitting school and playing upright bass in area lounge bands. Eventually he and his band the Invaders worked their way up to the Sugarbush Ski Resort in Vermont, which is where he met the members of the Tiffany Shade. “We all got along really well and had similar tastes in music” says Robb.

From there, according to Bob Leonard, “we all went back to Cleveland and when we got back no one could find John Thornbury. It seems he had embezzled tens of thousands of dollars from the Hilton Hotel and disappeared with all of the cash.”

Once back home the band managers set the group up with a rented house on Murray Hill in Cleveland’s historic Little Italy. As Bob recalls, “That house was a very happening place. One night the owner of La Cave, [a Cleveland nightclub located inside a former coffee house at 10615 Euclid Ave.] brought Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi of Traffic over to the house to hang out and party. On another occasion Canned Heat stayed with us for about a week”.

Mike Barnes was really fond of Canned Heat “They actually turned out to be our friends” he says. “It was really sad the way they died. It was shocking, absolutely shocking to me. You know those guys really were not heavy drug abusers. They really were not. It shocked me when they went down the way they did.”

Bob Leonard laughs when he remembers how “Mike Barnes mother Eileen, stopped by the band house early one morning and received the shock of her life. The place was a total mess due to all of the partying that was constantly taking place. Mrs. Barnes walks in the front door and starts cleaning up when all of a sudden she sees Canned Heat front man Bob Bear Hite walking around the house naked! What a sight! We just laughed!”

Bassist Robb Murphy is of the impression that, “the house on Murray Hill was linked to the owner of LaCave in some way. In exchange for our staying there we were to let whoever played at LaCave stay with us. I remember Mick Waller and Ronnie Wood stayed at our place as they passed through town with the Jeff Beck Group”. [They would have most like been touring in support of the Truth album at this time]. “They hated that drummer”, says Murphy, “they were kicking his drum kit and always fighting.”

In addition to these musicians, Tom Schuster re-calls that “Rich Tepp also stayed at the house for extended periods of time as well”. Tepp and his band Richard and the Young Lions had a regional hit called Open Up Your Door. “Tepp never saw any money from that record I don’t think. He was always broke and looking for a place to crash” Schuster says.

Mike Barnes remembers, “Richard Tepp owned an adult-sized one-piece, pink, fuzzy pajama suit with attached feet. It was his habit to wear this garment around the house at all hours of the day and night. As Richard was around 6’-1” and had shoulder length black hair, he was a bit of an apparition.”