Band picks up Internet following

Group gets recognition 35 years after releasing only album

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2007

HOLLAND, Mich. Today he owns wine store, but 36 years ago, while he was a college student in Chicago, Paul Cohn started a six-member progressive rock band called McLuhan.

In 1972, the band put out one album, "Anomaly." Cohn then graduated, got married and started a career in business. He never heard about the album or the band again until a year ago.

"I thought the album went into obscurity," he says. "I would think, 'It's great I did that too bad nothing ever happened with it.' My kids would say, 'My dad used to be a rock musician.'"

For years, Cohn hadn't even listened to the album, because he didn't have a record player.

"We had played for one year in a pub," he says. "It was hard to get a sense for just how good it was."

Last Thanksgiving, that all changed.

"I just thought, on a whim, I should Google my album," he says. "I was bowled over. All this stuff came up people were trading those 5,000 copies, talking about 'em."

He found glowing reviews of the album on music sites, and even live chat groups discussing it.

"It found its way to recognition," Cohn says excitedly, "But no one knew who we were. All they knew was our names from the album cover."

Cohn logged in to one of the chat rooms and surprised the fans by writing, "I was the woodwind player on the album really."

"It gives me goose bumps that it's coming around through this unforeseen technology, the Internet, because the whole idea of our band was, 'The medium is the message.'" Cohn says, adding that Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher who criticized modern technological society, was the inspiration for the band's progressive rock and, of course, its name.

"We were a mixed-media group not just jazz or rock 'n' roll; we didn't want to be defined. We used excerpts from Burt Bachrach, a marching band whistle, anything to create an effect. The movie "Bride of Frankenstein" inspired one song, and we would play the movie during our performance.

"The album takes you through the stages of McLuhanism: first, the garden, with slow, expressive, peaceful flute music, which represents tribal man having no concept of time and every day being like the next.

The second track represents abrupt technological changes, like Henry Ford's invention of the assembly line, so we do a rhythmic thing like an assembly line. Then we do a soul thing, showing people connecting through global-village communication and the world moving toward the tribal village it used to be."

Cohn discovered Internet reviews of the album written by people as far away as Scandinavia and Italy.

"They think it's a significant piece, so they put it out on their Web sites. I wrote and gave them information about who was playing on each track." Also, he says, "there are a myriad of references on the Internet of people selling it."

The album was reviewed on two major music databases, and "right along with Santana and other people with records in 1972."

"Back then," Cohn says, "records were produced more often because there was a market and they could be protected," unlike the current market which is controlled by Internet downloads and the threat of digital piracy. The digital revolution makes it more difficult for labels to promote albums that are not guaranteed to be popular so it's harder for companies to take a risk.

"We were paid union scale by Brunswick Records," he said. "They printed 5,000 copies and gave us about 50 copies for our own use."

Now, those copies are difficult to find and are scattered all over the world.

Cohn had lost touch with the other members of the band, but over the last year, he has attempted to contact them.

"I've been talking to Neal Rosner, now a doctor. He played bass and sang in the band. I hadn't talked to him in 25 years," Cohn says. "His wife told me how excited he was to hear about what's going on."

Cohn also located Tom Tojza, the organ player, for the first time in 35 years.

"It was quite a moment when I spoke with Tom on the phone," he said. "I asked if he was the Tom Tojza who was in a band named McLuhan in the early '70s and before I could get the words out he said, 'YES.' He also had no idea that there was anything on the Internet, or anywhere, about the album, and was quite amazed and excited to hear about it."

Before they became McLuhan, the core musicians were playing weddings, proms and bar mitzvahs with another group. The guys rehearsed in Cohn's basement, but when the original guitar player and singer left, Dave Wright suggested the McLuhan name and the new philosophical, multi-media bent.

"It was very intense. We were all at the right time of our life to do something creative," Cohn says. "I want to find Dave Wright, but he has a common name and I didn't know that much about him. I have to tell you I will probably break down and cry if I ever hear his voice. Dave was such an unassuming personality, and even though we all were very committed to McLuhan the concept, the rehearsals, the performances and the making of the album it was Dave who was irreplaceable. He conceived the whole thing, wrote most of the music, ran the rehearsals in a way that we all felt equal and orchestrated the final studio production, not to mention his trumpet and singing performance. He was the 'genius' of it all."

Like other bands of the time, McLuhan utilized horns and woodwinds in addition to guitars, keyboards, percussion and vocals. The album is "certainly very unique and non-commercial, but it was trendy to be anti-establishment then, and we were genuinely into this different music, like Moody Blues, Mothers of Invention and Chicago. The whole concept was anything goes it was very progressive I think we were an inventor of progressive rock."

The band used technology like overdubbing, for example, to make the horns have the effect of 10 trumpets.

The producer of the album, Bruce Swedein, went on to become very successful, producing for "big names" in music and winning 13 Grammys along the way.

Even though McLuhan never gained widespread fame, Cohn has been excited to discover the interest and admiration.

"We'll have a reunion with the band that's what I'm hoping to do."

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