Punk pioneer Tommy Strange returns to Ohio with band His Name is Joe

May 4, 2018 GMT

Punk pioneer Tommy Strange returns to Ohio with band His Name is Joe

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The 1980s area music scene was in flux. Punk had morphed into hardcore and a whole new underground scene was taking root.

Tommy Strange was not only in the middle of it, he was also driving force, an activist and an agitator.

The singer-guitarist played in the pioneering 0DFX. Formed in 1981, the driving, frenetic, high-speed Akron outfit help jumpstart the area hardcore scene with raucous DIY shows held, well, anywhere – rented halls, basements of bars and the occasional club.

Two years later, Strange co-founded a very different but just as influential band – the Kent-based Ragged Bag. The breakneck tempos and crushing chords were replaced with feedback and moodiness, not to mention a sonic style that crossed bands such the Yardbirds, the Velvet Underground and Flipper.

And then he was gone – for San Francisco.

“I grew up in Sandusky and came to see the Midwest as being this suffocating, conformist place,” says Strange, via phone from his home in San Francisco. “Of course, I was wrong – because once I got to San Francisco I realized just how unique the people are in Ohio, especially when it came to music.”

Strange brought his Ohio roots to California and kept on channeling it, with rough-and-tumble iconoclastic, politically-charged bands such as Songs for Emma, Forethought and His Name is Joe.

This weekend, he will bring it back to Ohio: Strange will lead His Name to the area for a pair of shows: 8 tonight at Stone Tavern at Michael’s, 1157 West Main Street, in Kent; and 4 p.m. Saturday at Now’s That’s Class, 11213 Detroit Avenue, in Cleveland.

The Kent show also features Plasma Alliance and Tufted Puffins. The Cleveland show is part of Punks For Profit! Punk Rock Flea Market + Free Show. The event features Plasma Alliance, Black Static Eye and Hep Z – not to mention a flea market that starts at 2 p.m.

“I’ve come back pretty regularly to see my family in Sandusky and friends in the area,” says Strange. “But it’ll be the first time I’ve play in Ohio in years.”

Calling it a return to his roots might seem a tad nostalgic, especially for an unsentimental type such as Strange. But it is a reconnection.

“I realized that even the non-political bands in Ohio have more of a class consciousness to them,” he says. “They’re more connected and have a deeper understanding of the costs of de-industrialization of America and the destruction of the working class.”

He points to bands such as the Pagans and Pere Ubu and the Lepers.

“I discovered so much about music while living in Ohio,” he says. “And I started being a part of the punk scene and people embraced me and I’d see people singing about the same things that I felt – it really changed my life.”

The scene influenced his musical approach, but also his world view.

“In general, we live as Americans live in this great big bubble regarding the rest of the world,” he adds. “But people in Ohio have in many ways experienced a burden of these changes in the economy and the concentration of wealth in the hands of few. It’s one thing to read about these things in books and quite another to see people struggling to pay rent and just live.”