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AN INTERVIEW WITH CLEVELAND PUNK LEGEND TOM DARK

INTERVIEW BY MATT GREENFIELD
I want to start from the beginning. What was it like being a kid in Cleveland? What kind of music were you into before discovering punk rock?

As a kid, growing up in Cleveland, from a young age, I was always into music. From watching The Monkees on television, to Soul Train, to Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, to the Midnight Special, I was always on the lookout watching things. Magazines such as Rock Scene, Cream, and Circus were a big read in my house. I was really into horror hosts and the movies they showed on television. Every city in the country had one, but we had several plus all the pro wrestling and roller derby you could watch. It was my exposure to trash culture, and I loved every minute of it! My mom turned me on to Alice Cooper, so the next day, I went out to buy the album “Easy Action”. My local library had a great section of glam gems by Roxy Music, Bowie, T. Rex, Slade, and Lou Reed.

The turning point for me was in the 6th grade. I made a deal with my teacher and parents to get good grades on this test. If I passed, my dad would have to take me to see Iggy Pop with David Bowie on keyboards on Iggy’s first solo tour. I had read so much about the man, but something drove me to see him. I passed the test, and my dad took me. I was nervous and the youngest person there. It was one of greatest nights of my life. Blondie opened up and then sat right next to us. We stayed for three encores and I remember my ears ringing the whole way home. I knew what I wanted to do right after that night. Even my dad enjoyed the concert and said “now that’s a performer” and “he knows how to put on a show”.

From there, punk rock started to happen. We had a record store here called the Drome. They stocked everything. I spent every last dollar I could on whatever I could afford. I mostly lived in the suburbs, and I feel punk rock saved my life. I was not interested in what other people in the suburbs were doing. I felt there was a whole different world out there, not just sports, going to college, getting married, having kids, and keeping up with the neighbors next door.

What suburb of Cleveland did you grow up in?

Warrensville Heights and Shaker Heights

Ghoulardi and the local horror shows seem to have had a big impact on the development of punk in Cleveland. Were most of the early punk kids avid followers of these local shows ?

The older people grew up on Ghoulardi while the younger crowd grew up on The Ghoul. Both hosts would say “stay sick, turn blue.” You would send in model kits you made as a kid and they would blow them up with an m80 live on the air. It warped every kids mind for sure!

Do you think the bloody theater of the pro wrestling you were watching was an influence too? I know Big Time Wrestling from Detroit was broadcasted in Cleveland. I can only imagine what it was like to watch guys like The Sheik and Bobo Brazil as a kid.

Of course it was. I watched it all the time along with roller derby, Three Stooges, Our Gang, Johnny Socko and Ultraman, etc. My favorite wrestlers were The Sheik and Abdullah The Butcher.

When did you decide to start playing music?

It was the late ’70s. 1979 to be exact.

Did you meet Mike Hudson of The Pagans around that time? I believe he told me you showed up at his door as a fourteen year old, wanting to record music.

I met Mike in 1981. My first band was The Decapitators. From 1979 to 1980, we played out once, broke up and a year later on November 1st, we became The Dark. We heard Mike Hudson was putting together the compilation album “Cleveland Confidential” and we wanted to be on it. We set up a meeting with him in downtown Cleveland. Me (vocals) and Robert Griffin (guitar) were young but meeting my brother Scott Eakin (bass) & David Araca (drums) was what I believe blew Mike away. At that point they were 12 and 13. Mike recorded us in a couple of places. First on a 4-track in someone’s basement in East Cleveland and then at a studio in Euclid below a music store where the track “I Can Wait” was cut. In January of 1982 we played our first show as The Dark at a club named Tucky’s. It was a benefit to raise money to help release the compilation. After that night, Mike became our manager.

As your manager, what kind of things was Mike doing for The Dark? When did The Dark end and The Guns begin?

Mike got us shows, drove us to gigs, looked out for us, and gave us advice. We were way too young to get shows or drive, so that helped out a lot. The Dark ended in 1984, The Guns started in the summer of 1982. Scott and David had been jamming together since they were 9 and 10 years of age. They decided to become a band and debut at a party in Shaker Heights named “Beer Bash” (summer of 82) in the Marec brother’s family basement while their parents were on vacation. The Dark also played that party. In fact, we all practiced there including Spike in Vain, Outerwear, and No Parole. The Guns in no shape or form caused any problems in The Dark’s break up. Robert Griffin just didn’t want to do it anymore. At that time I had New Hope Records going. By 1983, we put out two releases , “The New Hope” compilation album and Outerwear’s “The Outerwear Limits” album on cassette. That one came in a bag with a booklet and prizes.

“The New Hope” is a Cleveland classic. What was it like putting that album together. It has every important hardcore band from that era.

Thanks! It was a lot of work, but worth it. I wanted to put our bands and scene on the map. At the time, most of the hardcore bands had only demo cassettes recorded on boomboxes. Lots of great compilation albums were coming out at the time, yet how come we didn’t have one? Which is where the idea to put out “The New Hope” came from. We had several benefits to raise money to help put the album out, including a show with Negative Approach, Agnostic Front, and Cause For Alarm playing for free!! N.A. got shut down after three songs by the cops due to a riot that broke out outside the hall at a nearby McDonalds. I had bands submit a page for a booklet that came with the album. We stapled a thousand of them on my parents living room table.

How soon after The Dark did Knifedance come?

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I started to put Knifedance together in 1984, right after The Dark broke up.

Did you want to depart from the sound of The Dark, or do you think it was just a natural progression?

A little of both. I was working with different people, so that made things different.

Did Knifedance or The Dark ever have the chance to tour?

The Dark did not tour but did play out of town. Knifedance did two tours (1988/89) of the Midwest/South. We were to do a third tour but broke up two weeks before it happened on November 1st, 1990.

What were the tours like? Any memorable or crazy stuff happen?

Lots of tour/weekend warrior show stories. In Erie, PA, on our last song we destroyed all of our equipment. Ant threw his kit into the audience with the symbols hitting this kid in the front row. His face was a bloody mess. He had a nasty gash on his forehead. We saw this kid after we were done playing and came to his aid to say we were sorry for what happened and see if he needed any medical treatment. He was so happy that this happened because he got hit by his favorite band. He brought in his mom and some of his family members. They had us take some photos with them while he’s standing there bleeding all over the place. He had his arms around us with the biggest smile on his face. I couldn’t believe it. I thought we would get sued or something. His mom told us, “he just loves you guys”… like he got hit by God.

In Youngstown, Ohio several things happened. I got jumped by a couple of guys before a show and was in a coma for a few weeks. Heard I tried to escape from the hospital while there. I came out of it, but rumors spread that I was shot, stabbed or killed in a drive by. Another time a chick ripped my pants off while on stage. I had to hold them up while singing the entire time. Another time, a father, his wife and daughter came down; he explained to me that he had a bar he owned and wanted us to go there after the show to do some shots with him. He also explained that he and his wife had just gotten into punk rock, so they really dug us and even went so far to tell us that we could stay at his place to party with them, especially his daughter. It was real creepy, like he was offering his wife and daughter to us or was setting us up to be killed. I got a real bad vibe off him. He kept on asking us all night but I said “thanks, but no thanks.”

So the first tour in 1988 went great. We went out for just over two weeks. Second tour was for a month and a half. It did not go well. Lots of shows canceled. We spent more time driving around than playing, so lots of tension set in. By the time we played New Mexico, we were to head out to the west coast the next day. Those shows were to happen through a booker in Seattle working out of the Sub Pop offices. We found out none of the shows were booked and that the money we gave him went straight up his nose. We decided to pack it in and head home. We played one more show, opening for Nirvana in Minneapolis. Our drummer Ant quit right after that.

What do you remember about the show with Nirvana? Did you have a chance to chat with them?

We got to open for them in ’89 at the Uptown in Minneapolis. Kurt was real low key and didn’t say much, like my brother Scott, so he ended up hanging out with him in our van. Scott said they talked and both jammed on guitar. They went to do an interview at a college radio station and came back just in time to see us. When they came on, my mouth dropped. I couldn’t believe how great they were. Nirvana had a different drummer back then and “Bleach” was just out.

So after Knifedance, you started Step Sister.

Knifedance ended November 1st, 1990. Step Sister began in 1994. Between that time I had a band called Dynamite Jack.

Does Dynamite Jack have any recording?

Nope, none exist.

I didn’t think so. The band doesn’t even come up in an internet search.

So you started Step Sister with your brother. Talk a little bit about his musical influence and impact in Step Sister and your other projects together

Scott just loved to play and was on board with whatever I wanted to do. He was such a great musician. When Step Sister started, I wanted to do more of a stripped down punk version of the blues in the vain of Laughing Hyenas, Pussy Galore, etc. Scott’s drumming was a major part of the sound. Drummers are very important to have in your band, and Scott just had it. Of course when Step Sister went into a more high energy Detroit rock sound, that made the band even more bad ass! When The Dark formed, Robert Griffin wrote most of the songs, but Scott brought in killer bass riffs. Between all of us, we were a solid working unit. Besides my brother, David Araca was also one of the best drummers I have ever played with. When Scott joined Knifedance, he had all the songs down and was a better guitarist by then. We needed a drummer in Step Sister so Scott said “okay” and showed up the next day with a drum kit. Having a person like Scott was a blessing in your band. Everything about him was music. I think he was put here for a purpose and to make his mark like David Araca too. I miss those guys every day. They passed away way too young, which is such a loss. They are both buried in the same cemetery.

They have both played in some incredible bands.

They sure did. All great stuff which still has a major influence on people today.

Do you think Tony Erba changed the direction of Step Sister when he joined?

Somewhat. With the change of members, that’s what Scott and I were going for. High energy Detroit style rock with a dirty punk edge to it. We all loved The Stooges, MC5, The Dogs, etc, so by then, it was time to kick out the jams!

What caused Step Sister to break up?

It just wasn’t fun anymore…musical and personal differences, ego bullshit.

Did you start another band after that or just take some time off?

Not right away. I put out a book of Step Sister lyrics titled “If He’s the Singer, Then What the Hell is He Saying?” followed by a solo release “Scorpio Rising”. By 2009, I began putting together my current band Dead Federation which is still playing.

Is there anything you still want to do musically but haven’t yet ?

It all depends. I am into all kinds of music, so it has to hit me at the right time. One thing I never got to do was put together a group with Larissa Strickland from the Laughing Hyenas/L7. She and I had been friends since the 80’s, and after the Hyenas ended, she contacted me about doing a band with her, the drummer of the Dirty Three, and some cat in Lubricated Goat, but it wasn’t to be. One thing I would really like to do is tour the world. That would be a dream come true.

That should just about conclude the interview. I’ll leave you with one last question though. What bands from Northeast Ohio (past and present) should people check out?

Easter Monkeys, The Pagans, The Guns, Ragged Bags, Spike in Vain, and Kneecappers, to name a few from the past. Current groups would be Archie and The Bunkers, Inducing Panic, Punching Moses, Gluttons, Wetbrain.

Anything else you want to add, Tom?

If you wanna get any of my recordings, go towww.redhourrecords.com or www.smogveil.com. Matt, thanks so much for the interview. Red Hour Records ยป founded in 1995 by Tom Dark

When you order a CD, album, or any item from Red Hour Records, in addition to blazing fast order service Red Hour will pay the shipping charges! Take advantage of this great deal and pay by PayPal, check or money order

Thank you. I really enjoyed this interview.

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Note from Matt- In addition to playing in The Guns, The Dark, and Step Sister, Scott Eakin was also in False Hope and Soul Vandals. Dava Araca passed away in 1994 due to a brain aneurism. He also played in Integrity, False Hope, and Asphalt. False Hope was a huge influence on Integrity and the metallic hardcore that is still popular today.