Jukebox Heroes

Soundbites and Cobra Verde hit the tiles for a different kind of pub crawl.

Cobra Verde CD release show Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Road 9 p.m. Saturday, May 14; 216-383-1124; The show is free
Cobra Verde shakes a mean jukebox. - Walter  Novak
Cobra Verde shakes a mean jukebox.
John Petkovic has some good ideas about bad songs, which he makes clear as he scans one of the Beachland Ballroom's two jukeboxes.

"Hey, have you ever thought about buying some more contemporary 45s, not by underground bands, but by mainstream bands, like something from the '80s, a Journey single or Boston on vinyl -- that would be pretty funny," the Cobra Verde frontman tells the bar's co-owner, Mark Leddy. "You should always have like one or two things that do not belong in there, just to see peoples' reaction when you play them."

Petkovic follows his own advice on Cobra Verde's svelte new covers LP, Copycat Killers, where the stylish rock band detours into dirty stoner pop, shadowy new wave, and even disco. They strip the bounce from Pink's "Get the Party Started," rendering the tune as sticky and black as the resin in the popster's bong. They tar and feather New Order's "Temptation," turning it into a slinky, slithering kiss-off. They even make Donna Summer's once-ubiquitous "I Feel Love" sound new again.

Impressed by Petkovic's ear for quality tunes, we enlisted him and his bandmates to lead us on a tour of some of the city's finest jukeboxes, beginning with the Beachland (15711 Waterloo Road). The ballroom's vintage, vinyl-only juke is free to play and damn near the last of its kind in town. "Some people come in and they're like, 'Oh my God, it's a record' -- like they don't exist anymore," Leddy chuckles as he cranks Big Star's "September Girls."

The 1966 Grand Prix's catalog spans everyone from the Sonics (garage-rock legends), to honky-tonk icon Merle Haggard and the contemporary cut-ups of Bantam Rooster -- all from Leddy's personal collection. "It's cool to see a jukebox where you know there's just one person behind it, as opposed to a company that services it," says Petkovic. "It's good to have some personality."

Later, we meet up with two of Petkovic's bandmates -- drummer Mark Klein and guitarist Frank Vazzano -- at Parma's Alimony Jack's (5531 Pearl Road). The walls of the wood-paneled bar are lined with stills from Goodfellas and The Godfather, as well as autographed 8x10s of bikini models. "Come party with our new girls," beckons a sign out front. You can practically feel a thick '70s 'stache begin to overtake your upper lip as AC/DC and Skynyrd blare from the speakers. The only nod to modernity is Creed and Nickelback.

"I find it kind of funny," says Petkovic, "because you get guys who play Creed, and then the chicks ask them, 'Did you play this?' They're like, 'Yeah, I'm pretty cool, ain't I?' And then the chicks are like, 'Creed sucks! What a dork,' making fun of these dudes. It's a pretty funny scene. You see that Cleveland is not only divided along racial lines, but on aesthetic lines too."

Not so at Grovewood Tavern (17105 Grovewood Avenue), a small brick tavern/restaurant, where the bar sells expensive cigars and the menu boasts $18 desserts. The wine list has the heft of a Tolstoy classic, and you feel like a sap for ordering a Rolling Rock. Petkovic picked the spot because of its bebop-heavy jukebox. "There's jazz here; you can't really find that anywhere else," Petkovic says, as he flips through discs by Tito Puente, Django Reinhardt, Dave Brubeck, and Stan Getz.

Nor can you find too many bars with playlists that blend Insane Clown Posse, The Bagpipes of Scotland, and the black-metal shriekers of Cradle of Filth. But the juke at Little Kings Lounge (3061 Payne Avenue) is almost as out-there as the bar's decor. Velvet paintings of the devil taking a crap are mounted on the walls next to placards that announce "Real Men Eat Pussy." The ladies' and men's rooms read "Vicious Bitches" and "Rotten Bastards," respectively.

Oddest of all is the bar's Frank Zappa motif. Nearly a dozen Zappa posters line the walls, and the jukebox boasts half a dozen of his discs. "I just like to see a lot of people freaking out to someone like Frank Zappa," Petkovic says. "But I'm not a Zappa fan. I hate Frank Zappa."

It's past midnight, and Little Kings is bustling with large Mexican dudes in Ohio State jerseys and biker rats with Gandalf-worthy beards. Last time Vazzano was here, he nearly got into a fight, and the bar isn't a place where you'd want to stay for too long.

As we drive home, Petkovic recounts his conversation with Leddy from earlier in the day, when he offered to donate a Paul Anka 45 to the Beachland juke. "I just think it'd be funny if they had a couple of real doozies in there," he laughs, as this doozy of a night comes to an end.

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