Reborn Cleveland International Records opens up merch shop
Owners of Meat Loaf’s 1977 blockbuster album debut Bat Out of Hell--and over 40 million copies have been sold worldwide--know its striking Cleveland International Records releasing company’s landmark logo.
Steve Popovich, Jr. relaunched his late father Steve Popovich’s label in April with the reissue of the 13-track Cleveland Rocks compilation of roster artists including, besides Meat Loaf, Ian Hunter, Ronnie Spector & the E Street Band, Iron City Houserockers, The Boyzz, and Bat out of Hell collaborators Jim Steinman and Ellen Foley.
Popovich, Jr. has since released the Cerny Brothers’ album Looking for the Good Land and reissued several vintage catalog titles digitally—in addition to making available albums released by his father during Cleveland International’s second incarnation (1995-2011) and featuring artists including David Allan Coe and polka heroes Frank Yankovic, Eddie Blazonczyk and Brave Combo.
But he’s now making greater use of the label logo by emblazoning it on merchandise—apparel and accessories product—all available at his new Cleveland International online store.
“It’s an iconic logo--no question about it,” says Popovich. “My dad never really got into the merch side at the time, but for me it’s a no-brainer. It’s like having walking billboards, and I’m really big on it.”
One merch piece is a walking billboard indeed: black-and-white Cleveland International running shoes.
“I wear a pair myself, and everybody stops me!” says Popovich. “They have the logo on the outside and the Cleveland skyline on the inside.”
Other items include mugs, tumblers, beanies, t-shirts, hoodies and satin tour jackets.
“I got the idea for the jacket when Rock Candy Magazine in the U.K. did a big spread on me and Cleveland International and ran a picture of Meat Loaf wearing one back in the day. It was unbelievable!”
Popovich is Nashville-based—as was his father when he served there as senior VP of Mercury/PolyGram Records and signed artists including Johnny Cash, the Statler Brothers, Kris Kristofferson and Cleveland-style polka king Frank Yankovic before returning to Cleveland and relaunching Cleveland International in 1995.
“I found a branding company here—SomethingInked—and they were very receptive to all these crazy ideas,” says Popovich. “One thing led to another and here we are with a store of unbelievable merch—but it’s just the initial roll-out. But it’s all about Cleveland: Senior [Popovich] was a visionary and a forward thinker, and in today’s world you can’t just be a label and open up shop. You have to think outside-the-box and diversify.”
Senior Popovich hailed from the small coal-mining town of Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, in the southwestern corner of the state.
“There were Polish people, Czechs, Jews, Slovenians—all kinds of ethnicity,” says Popovich Junior. “It was a melting pot for Eastern Europeans, and they all called themselves hunkies.”
The word is sometimes a disparaging one for Eastern Europeans or Russians, or steel mill workers. But Popovich Senior, who was a huge fan and supporter of polka and other ethnic musics, wore it with pride—literally. He made up his own small “Hunky Boy” t-shirts and ball caps, featuring a caricature of himself playing an accordion. Junior is now reactivating it.
“I’m taking a lot of iconic verses from classic polka songs--like ‘In heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here,’ and ‘She don’t want no egg roll, she wants a kielbasi’--and turning them into t-shirts featuring the Hunky Boy face. I’m also reactivating another Cleveland International logo that my dad had for some of the Yankovic stuff. But all of this goes back to and fits in with Senior’s legacy: I’m here to make sure it continues to live on through his creation and what he brought to the world. As he always said, the Cleveland International name was his calling card for life, and it’s my responsibility to make sure people don’t forget about it.”
Then again, he notes, “that logo is on millions of records all over the world.”
Meanwhile, the rejuvenated Cleveland International label has reissued 15 back catalog titles, including some that it has long-term licensing rights to, like Brave Combo’s Grammy-winning 1999 album Polkasonic. And it continues to hew to one of Steve Popovich, Sr.’s slogans, one that Steve Popovich, Jr. uses as his email signature: “Be stubbornly passionate about your beliefs."
Cleveland International's "Cleveland Rocks" compilation