Virtually everyone who was part of the Cleveland music scene in the ’80 and ’90s and even into the ’00s knew or at least knew of Jim Clevo who died Tuesday March 24 at age 57.
Jim had suffered multiple health problems over the last decade that curtailed his ability to be involved in the music scene. But what he did in the years he was active won’t be forgotten by the hundreds of musicians and bands he helped.
Jim first appeared on the scene in the early ’80s, and became known as someone who was ready to lend a hand to musicians in any capacity he could. In fact, it would be difficult to describe what he did. He served as a booker, promoter, manager, publicist and much more, but he wasn’t really any of those things. He was sort of an uber-promoter of the entire Cleveland music scene.
Many people got to know him in he mid ’80s when he put out a series of compilations featuring a variety of scrappy local bands who might otherwise been overlooked. He was just about the first person in the area to get into CDs and putting out music in that format. That turned out to be a cornerstone business for him in the ’90s when his company JCP served as a coordinator for bands putting out CDs.
But Jim never saw bands as a something to be milked and exploited, unlike dozens of shysters that have passed through Cleveland’s music scene over the decades. His motives were pure, and he never ripped off or cheated a band. He was that rare completely honest person in the music business.
For him it was about growing the scene. Jim was one of the early attendees of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, now the biggest music gathering in the world. He went down there on his own dime and in the junkers he bought for a few hundred dollars (he believed it was more economical to buy old cars and drive them for a few months than invest in a new vehicle) to set up displays focusing on local artists and get his compilations into the hands of industry power players.
He continued that work in the early ’90s as president of the Cleveland Music Group (CCG), an organization that existed from 1989-1994 to create cohesiveness in the local music scene and promote area artists on a national level. As SXSW grew, so did his work there. He continued to put out compilations with the Cleveland Music Group and brought Cleveland bands down to Austin to play. Meanwhile, he helped advise bands, often acting in a management capacity with groups like In Fear of Roses and the Walk-Ins.
Following his term as CMG president, he started his CD company and wrote a co-wrote a book with Cleveland-area write Eric Olsen called Networking in the Music Industry, based on the things he’d learned over the years attending SXSW and other music conferences and meetings and working to get Cleveland bands noticed. He opened a storefront office at Kamms Corners with a tiny performance space where he hosted obscure bands needing a place to play.
Those who knew and worked with Jim will also recall that he was prickly, hrd to deal with, quick to take offense, and frequently angry and bitter when did not get the appreciation he felt — rightfully — he deserved. His friends often remarked sadly that he was his own worst enemy, sabotaging his assets by being quick to make a potential friend an enemy.
But when it came to promoting the local music scene and using his knowledge, skills and tireless work to help area bands, he had no peer. A huge number of bands and musicians will remember with gratitude how he gave them a hand up, good advice and an enthusiastic boost without expecting too much in return other than respect.