Today he is music director and host at Philadelphia’s famed WXPN public radio station, but in the late 1980s, the Hamilton, Ohio native was working at 97X radio, “The Future of Rock and Roll,” and at Bogart’s. When he got off work from Bogart’s, he’d cross the street to Sudsy Malone’s, where he eventually started booking bands.
At that point in time, Short Vine was the center of the music scene. There’s no doubt about it. The guys who owned the Jockey Club opened up a place down the street called Shorty’s Underground. I knew John Cioffi, who owned Sudsy’s, and I started booking bands for him, and that’s when we first started bringing out-of-town bands in: Sub Pop bands like The Fluid, bands from Homestead records like Scruffy the Cat. And Midwest punk bands would play there. Sudsy’s started getting a reputation, and when Dan McCabe came along after me, of course, they booked a lot more shows.
Sudsy’s was like mostly a place for local bands to showcase and draw people. There were a lot of big crowds in there. I mean, The Afghan Whigs played early shows there. I was in a band with Pat Hennessy called The Buddy Bradley Experience, and we used to play there a lot.
There were people on the streets, man, that’s the thing. Not like it is now. I mean, people hung around o Short Vine, and a lot of times if there was a show at Bogart’s people would just walk out and cross the street and pay $3 to get into Sudsy’s and just keep watching music. That was a big part of what we tried to program around, to get people to come after Bogart’s show. And it worked. People wanted to stay out and watch music. You could just watch The Afghan Whigs get great right there on that stage. It was really exciting to see that happen. In the mid-1990s, it seemed like Bogart’s started drawing back on some of the smaller alternative shows and Sudsy’s just stepped in. By that time, the independent rock scene was a little more established, too.
Sudsy’s was a bar, so it got wild sometimes, and we let people try new things. I remember we had spoken word performances there. We’d have the noisiest bands in Cincinnati play. Uncle Dave Lewis would come in and do some really interesting experimental music that was not mainstream at all. When there wasn’t a national band touring on the weekends, we would book local bands that could draw.
The greatest show I ever saw at Sudsy’s was Jeff Buckley, right when his album Grace came out (in 1994). I was working at WNKU radio at the time and we were playing that record. Anne, who’s now my wife, and I were dating at that time, and we were both like, Oh my God, this guy is the greatest singer we’ve ever seen. And we just saw him at this laundromat, you know? There were some really special times when you would just see great bands or your friends playing at their peak, or an Afghan Whigs performance or the Auburnaires come in and just tear it up. To have something to do with that was very rewarding.
Most of the bands that played places like Sudsy Malone’s didn’t have the luxury of being featured on MTV. There was this flourishing, growing, especially American underground scene in the 1980s and ’90s, and it was very DIY. Even if you were on an established label like SST or Homestead, you still had to do everything yourself. They were just starting to get independent booking agents, and promotion was still catch-as-catch-can. Musicians were really small business owners just getting in a van and trying to keep the van running to the next town and trying to shake down the club owner for a little bit of a guarantee and something to eat. It was very bare bones.
It was a much more innocent time, too. Everything didn’t sound the same. There were all kinds of different bands. We might have some noise band or an industrial-type band on Tuesday night, and then the next night it would be Paul K doing live acoustic. And then we’d have some pop band play. When the Ass Ponys got signed to a major label, they made videos. I think that they certainly wanted their music out there, but I don’t know how much the specter of MTV or stardom change what they did. They were still at their core creatures who emerged from the primordial slime of ’80s Cincinnati punk rock.
It was a really strange scene with all kinds of different bands and weirdos. And I mean that in the best possible way. We were all weirdos. Characters, you know? Bands helped each other out.
The fact that Sudsy’s was a laundromat certainly contributed to the funkiness of it all. I think people got a kick out of that, you know? We had to change our rules. I mean, for a while, if you washed your clothes, you didn’t have to pay a cover charge to come in. So people would take off their shirt at the door and say, Yeah, I’m gonna wash this.
I also talked to performers from out of town who were like, I can’t believe I’m reduced to playing a laundromat. And the laundry area took a lot of space. If we’d taken out a couple of rows of those goddamn washers back there, we could have fit some more people.