Kent, Rock And Roll’s Midwest Companion

Written by on March 12, 2019

In 1973, a special band put forth a special album for the world to hear. Its artwork is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable album covers in music; a triangular prism dispersing light into color. Pink Floyd hit a creative home run with their highly acclaimed The Dark Side Of The Moon. More than just an album, it was a revelating listening experience that initiated a successful stretch of records in the 70s for Pink Floyd. Oh yeah, they also played the album in its entirety during its release week at Kent State.

Kent is seemingly just another college town. It’s another stop in northeast Ohio. It’s the focal point of the May 4th shootings. At times, it’s also dismissed by the classic line “Kent read, Kent write”. It’s time to shift the narrative because you can’t dismiss the “big music” that has come out of and come through this “small town”.

Whether it was Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys honing their sound separately in EuroGyro, Joe Walsh performing in front of Engleman Hall with his band The Measles, or DEVO coming forth with sounds endowed in obscurity; Kent was apart of it. These snapshots and other passages have been put together into a book.

“Small Town, Big Music: The Outsized Influence of Kent, Ohio, on the History of Rock and Roll” was written by Author Jason Prufer and it hit the shelves on January 29th. Prufer, 44, is a Kent native. He has been an employee for over 20 years at Kent State. He is a senior library associate and a good listener for electric stories.

Jason Prufer

His interest in the vibrant scene that was once cultivated in Kent goes back many years. In regards to his book, the barebones for the extensive project can be traced back to 2010 during an art gallery. Prufer displayed forty panels of original promotional posters and photographs of renowned artists that once performed in Kent such as Fleetwood Mac, Frank Zappa, Ray Charles & James Taylor.

Prufer had no intention of writing a book.

“It was at the gallery show that a colleague said you really should write a book,” Prufer said. 

But before the writing could come to fruition, Prufer needed to conduct heavy research and network with people who had experienced these precious moments. Although his lust for preservation kept him focused, it wasn’t an easy journey. Prufer jokingly said that he would have dismissed the colleague’s suggestion had he known the obstacles that awaited him.

Sifting through countless material in The Daily Kent Stater archives while revisiting The Chestnut Burr helped to jumpstart the task at hand. When it came to gathering stories from locals, Prufer emphasized that visualization was at the root of it all.

“All stories were triggered by photos. If I didn’t have an artifact, I didn’t go after the story,” Prufer said. “I would say to people look at this photo, what do you see here?” 

The people that shared their stories could be temporarily young again. The sights and sounds that made these nights special, resurfaced. Purfer didn’t get to see Sly & The Family Stone or Elton John perform at the Memorial Gym. However, the cherished vessel of nostalgia, of reminiscence, invited Prufer to these monumental moments. A scribe for the people and the end result is a piece of work that is tangible, a piece of work that is an artifact itself.

Referring back to Joe Walsh, he was more than happy to write the foreword for the book. The rebellious rockstar archetype who oddly enough had a pet spider (according to founding member of DEVO Bob Lewis) planned a visit to the KSU library in 2017, in order to gather research material on the May 4th shootings. Prufer was given a one day notice about Walsh’s arrival. When asked on whether or not there was anything rock and roll related to show Walsh, Prufer put forth the photos he collected along with his manuscript. Walsh fell in love instantly and asked if he could contribute. As one might imagine, that’s an easy answer.

It took about a year and a half for the foreword to reach completion, with several phone calls made by Walsh, who kept giving updates on its progress to Prufer.

The front and back cover of “Yer’ Album” (1969) by The James Gang. The photographs on the front cover were taken in downtown Kent while the photographs on the back cover were taken at Walsh’s apartment in Brimfield. Not only did Bill Szymczyk serve as the photographer for the album, but he also produced it. Szymczyk would follow Walsh throughout his career, eventually producing the groundbreaking Eagles’ album “Hotel California” (1976).

A staple of the music scene that Prufer continually revisited was JB’s, a bar that housed The James Gang, The Raspberries & Bo Diddley. In 1984, The Red Hot Chili Peppers also performed at JB’s. They were a young punk band coming off of their debut album, long before reaching national stardom. A group of girls heckled the band after Flea confronted them outside of the bar, making a comment along the lines of them being “too punk” to go inside and actually listen to the music. Ironically enough, they would run into each other later that evening during a party at the College Towers apartments.

There’s also the story about Bruce Springsteen performing in the student center ballroom during his tour for The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. He was the opening act for southern rock band Black Oak Arkansas. Following the show, Springsteen went on to attend a party on North Depeyster Street.

Although Prufer touches upon some of these priceless moments in his work, it is merely a glimpse.

“There’s a hell of a storied history in this town. My book does not cover all of it,” Prufer said. “The book is not comprehensive in any way.” 

Since the book’s release, Prufer has had a busy schedule, balancing book parties and interviews. To him, it has been unexpected and at times overwhelming. His truest intention was to create “something that would last a hundred years”.

There is hope that another vibrant scene can take shape within Kent again. Prufer compared Kent’s music scene to tide patterns, claiming that the area continually goes through a cycle of “ebb and flow”. “Ebb” refers to water draining away from the shore, while the “flow” refers to incoming water. As of now, it appears as though an ebb period is upon us.

Although many have been eliminated, there are still venues that aim to serve the people and its music within Kent. The DIY scene is still alive. There are still young minds that are driven by creative enthusiasm, aching to build a community once more. We just need to give them our support.

After all, the author himself believes in the cause.

“This is definitely fertile ground for it. It’s going to happen again, there’s no doubt in my mind.” 





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