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Your backstage pass to Northeast Ohio's independent music scene.

Northeast Ohio folk legend Alex Bevan reflects on his 50-year music career

Alex Bevan in studio playing guitar for Applause Performances
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland folk legend Alex Bevan performs his classic song, "Skinny," as well as new releases from his latest album in the studio for Applause Performances.

At the height of Cleveland rock radio station WMMS’s popularity in the 1970s, a local folk singer shared the airwaves with the likes of David Bowie, Boston and Fleetwood Mac. Alex Bevan’s song “Skinny” became an anthem for the summer of 1976, bolstering the singer-songwriter’s popularity.

“Prior to that, I had worked on the college coffeehouse circuit, and so I was traveling nationally as a bottom-rung folkie,” Bevan said. “But then I'd come home to Cleveland, and I'd be the ‘skinny little boy,’ something larger than life.”

Alex Bevan

Bevan got his start in music after attending a folk performance at his neighborhood coffee shop in East Cleveland when he was 15 years old.

He said the lyrics resonated with him, giving voice to everything he sought as a teenager trudging along in the marching band at Shaw High School.

“It was the agency of speech. It was the opportunity to express emotion in a persuasive manner without shouting,” he said.

“It was the agency of speech. It was the opportunity to express emotion in a persuasive manner without shouting."
Alex Bevan

He started performing on tavern and coffee shop stages around the Flats. Eventually, Bevan began opening for artists like the Michael Stanley Band, the Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel and the Beach Boys.

He calls himself “a troubadour of the journeyman class” and worked his way up as a musician, taking every gig he could get, continuously crafting his style and writing songs from his heart.

After 50 years, Bevan is still writing music and delighting fans throughout Northeast Ohio through his storytelling, wit and ever-evolving take on the song that kickstarted his career.

“A lot of people, they look for a career that is like an arrow shot,” Bevan said. “You hit the mark and the crowd cheers. And that's not me. That's not my career. My career is more kind of like a a paper airplane you fold up and maybe you adjust a couple times.”

His musical journey through the decades

Bevan attended the University of Akron and lived in Kent during the May 4, 1970, Kent State shootings by the Ohio National Guard. It had a profound effect on Bevan and his outlook on the future.

Alex Bevan performs on stage in 1977
Janet Macoska
Alex Bevan rose to popularity in the 1970s with his song "Skinny," eventually opening for artists like the Beach Boys, the Doobie Brothers and Billy Joel.

“After May 4, I decided that I didn't want to be a student anymore. I drifted down to Nashville for a while,” he said. “I was trying to decide how political I wanted to be.”

After seeing the tragedy's impact on the nation and his close friends, he returned to Ohio and tried to make a difference with his music.

He began playing as a backup musician for an Irish folk band before signing to Big Tree Records and releasing his debut solo album, “No Truth to Tell,” in 1971.

With the radio success of songs like “Skinny,” Bevan’s subsequent 1978 album, “The Grand River Lullaby,” became a staple of Cleveland’s album-oriented rock that dominated the era’s music scene.

With songs like “Have Another Laugh on Cleveland Bluze!” and “Sunshine Suite,” recorded live at Blossom, the energy of the post-hippie generation shines through in his songs.

“Some of my friends would say, ‘Well, aren't you selling out with that?’ I go, ‘No, I'm still playing music,’” Bevan said.

The album’s melodic guitar and hymnal singing are reminiscent of Neil Young and Paul Simon, showing Bevan’s softer side and introspective lyrics. 

When the 1980s crept up, Bevan found it difficult to find a place for his solo folk music in a decade of cover bands, karaoke and arena rock.

He took on a gig writing a series of radio ads for the Cleveland Browns and hosted a Saturday morning radio show on WMMS, releasing a few records during that time.

He began working on a new album, “Watersongs,” which showed a more serious side to Bevan’s music and revolved around environmental themes.

The album served as a turning point for Bevan as he entered the ‘90s with an evolved outlook on his songwriting.

Nature becomes his muse

Over the next few decades, the folk artist released collections of songs that dabbled in genres like Americana while still holding true to his lyrical themes of nature and travel.

"My mom used to take me and my three sisters and drive from East Cleveland to Greensburg, Indiana, and she would make us all sing in the car together,” Bevan said. “I would go from city boy to country boy, then city boy and country boy over the years. Sometimes, I think they put me down in Indiana just to keep me out of trouble.”

In more rural settings, Bevan gained an interest in and appreciation for nature, how food is grown and taking care of the earth.

The Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center contacted Bevan to offer him a position working with elementary and middle school children in their residential camp, leading hands-on lessons in ecology.

“I was given the dream job of hiking around with kids, making up songs, testing them at lunch and dinner. It was fabulous,” Bevan said.

In 2023, Bevan released his album “Sparrow,” which contains 11 tracks inspired by local natural wonders like the Lake Erie islands and Northeast Ohio rivers.

Bevan has dabbled in homesteading, making bread and pickles and selling them on the side. But music remains his true passion, and he plans to continue as a self-proclaimed “analog entertainer for a digital time.”

“I could not do this without the help of my partner, the help of my friends and the help of everyone in Northern Ohio who has given me the chance to follow this little craft and become truly a troubadour,” Bevan said.

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.