James Donadio is your textbook scene veteran. Since moving from Kent to Cleveland in 1992, the man known around town as Jimmy D has served time in far too many projects to itemize completely. But among them are two of the area's more formidable underground entities in recent years: Speaker/Cranker, the acid-wash space rockers who released two excellent albums around the turn of the century, and the Flat Can Co., a noise-rock behemoth starring Miss Melvis, a guitarist who dressed like a naughty nurse while unleashing hot-licks feedback like Black Flag's Greg Ginn.
Most recently, Donadio is exploring industrial beat-n-buzz under the moniker Prostitutes, whose debut album came out earlier this year.
A boisterous teddy bear stuffed with twisted humor and gruff crankiness, Donadio also possesses encyclopedic knowledge of every bizarro band and freaky musician the area has belched up since the late 1980s. Lend him an ear, and the Rust Belt patriot will soak your brain in meandering stories of the mythical Sockeye, a twisted outfit from Kent that helped establish the "retard rock" genre; the infamously unhinged Dan "Supie T" Theman, a punk performance artist whom Donadio backed as a member of the Getdown Airwaves; and thrash-noise terrorists False Hope, Chris Smith's band before Keelhaul. "I used to follow them around like a puppy," Donadio admits with a vigorous laugh.
Donadio's latest venture, a curiously named record company called stabUdown, merges his twin skills as musician and archivist of regionally manufactured sonic weirdness. The label, having dropped a half-dozen releases and counting since 2006, is a means, first and foremost, of chronicling his myriad projects. "I don't pursue many outside groups," he says. "I want the label to be a personal statement."
StabUdown's first three releases — two CDs and a juicy slab of vinyl — are by the Flat Can Co. The group slayed local audiences for five or so years, then slipped into hiatus after Miss Melvis fell in love with Texas troubadour Alejandro Escovedo, ditching Cleveland for Austin in 2010.
For stabUdown's fourth release, Donadio dipped into his private vaults, putting together The Complete Recordings, a compilation of tracks from Dutch Rub (in which he played drums). The "pseudo band" — which in the early 1990s rarely left its practice space above Legends, the gay bar that once stood where the Walgreens at Detroit and 117th now does — specialized in snarling low-fi rock with fractured riffage, featuring a singer-poet by the name of Bob Max who woozily screeched like an ostrich huffing lighter fluid.
Listening to Donadio spin the tale of Dutch Rub is just as fun and profoundly head-scratching as listening to their outlandish sounds or, for that matter, gazing at the CD's nonsensical cover art: a defiled facsimile of the VHS box for Corrupt, a barely B-grade crime flick from 1981 starring Harvey Keitel and punk icon John Lydon.
Despite the thick coat of abstruseness covering Dutch Rub, The Complete Recordings has found its way into a handful of radio playlists around the country, including a few at New Jersey's WFMU, arguably the nation's No. 1 station for left-of-the-dial music.
Exposure like this is all the more impressive when Donadio's utter disregard for promotion is taken into consideration. In an age when the smallest of underground labels attempt to cultivate global hype via social media and online distribution, stabUdown remains stridently insular. Don't try following the label on Facebook or Twitter, and don't visit CDBaby or Bandcamp in search of merch. Your two best bets to keep up are through an infrequently updated blog (stabudown.blogspot.com) or, even better, by kicking-it old-school and walking into a record store and asking the flesh-and-blood human behind the counter if he or she carries any titles.
With any luck, the label's next release — All You Need Is Toilet Rock by Sockeye's Poopy Necroponde — will be slipped into your paws.