T-Shirt Girl Remembers the Sahara

  Vol. 10-Issue 15

  By: Trenda Jones                                                                                                              

     Aug. 2010


Stone washed jeans and parachute pants. Madonna style skirts and oh yes, leg warmers. Yikes! No wonder our parents rolled their eyes at our choice of wardrobe. It wasn't just the girls who would dress up in their favorite spandex and do their hair as high as the hairspray would hold. Many of the guys would too, especially those with guitar or michrophone in tow.  Then, we were off to the club circuit!  From Spanky's in Painesville to the After Dark iin Mentor to the Flats in Cleveland, and in between stood a building at Routes 6 & 91 in Willoughby Hills, notable by the giant camel silhouette plastered to the façade in the shadows of a double palm tree sign, The Sahara Club. And Lighting the parking lot, for at least five decades, a simplistic black and white rectangle reading Sahara Lounge, perched just under the newer marker that became the club's famous logo. The eighties were a great era for entertainment in the Cleveland area. The flats hopped with fun and excitement, dancing the night away to the hottest local bands as well as national acts. I especially remeber enjoying dinner at the Watermark Restaurant then off to Peabody's Down Under to see such concerts as The Stray Cats, Eric Burdon (of The Animals) and Charlie Musselwhite. However, talk to any musician, bar employee or part animal of the era, and no doubt they will tell you The Sahara was the place to be! The bands loved playing there, the employees loved working there and the customers loved coming back night after night.

We had live entertainment 7 nights a week and that was unheard of. Where else could you go on a Thursday night to see the Wild Horses with 500 people dancing to "Funky Poodle"?! (uh-oh, don’t remember the fire capacity!)  We had outrageous special events including annual Mayhem celebrations and Anniversary parties when JJ the Camel (yes, a live camel)would make an appearance and benefits for such causes as Cystic Fibrosis as well as the very first fundraiser for the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. Also, I can’t forget the tough guys who would show up to prove their strength against Ceasar the Wrestling Bear.  Even celebrities would make it a point to stop in and relax. Bernie Kosar and fellow Cleveland Browns along with Indians players would sit pool side, enjoying Sahara’s Famous White Boy BBQ. Greg Allman played a show there in 1985 and would call in years to follow just to hang out while in town and of course, giving comp. tickets to his concerts. The Sahara’s Hall of Fame Concert Series also included such artists as Peter Frampton, Savoy Brown, The Bay City Rollers, Ronnie Love(of the Drifters), Badfinger, and Humble Pie featuring Jerry Shirley. Jerry then became our celebrity guest bartender, during his WNCX disc jockey days. I became involved with the Sahara in 1986 as the T-shirt girl, standing in my booth selling t-shirts, sweatshirts, and jackets in all sizes and colors. Everyone wanted a Sahara shirt, as soon as we got ‘em in, we sold ‘em out! Daffy Dan would even off his XL pink half shirts to me - no one else would take them! Then, after silk screening the latest Sahara design across the chest, we sold out of those too. Although, I have to admit, they were the last to go. I have to laugh when I remember spotting one of those pink shirts on a pretty big guy pumping gas somewhere. Only real men can where pink!

What fun it was watching the crowds pour in and the dance fl oor full all night long. The bands were awesome…The Cruisemasters with their old time rockn-roll, The Motion belting out the best of Motown, Doors Tribute-Moonlight Drive, and the theatrical rock of Fayrewether, just to name a few. A lot of talent stood on that stage. Some have moved on to bigger projects, some retired or sadly, have passed, but many are still out there doing what they love most, making music! Perhaps, the most memorable talent is the famed Sahara Singers. Anyone was welcome to be a Sahara Singer, first the waitresses, then the bravest of customers would jump up on stage to back up Tex (one of the owners) to end the night singing "Johnny B. Goode" or "Sympathy for the Devil".

Jim Cvelbar took partnership in the Sahara Club in August, 1983. From 1978 until then, he had partnership in The Euclid Tavern in Cleveland. Jim went to Willoughby Hills with a dream. He had a great location and building and the vision and creative ideas needed for a successful business. That very building is richwith history along with The Mounds Club, now LaVera Party Center, as one of the most popular and swank gambling houses in the eastern U.S. during the 1940’s-50’s. Gambling, gangsters, Italian Jazz and entertainers such as Benny Goodman, Elvis Presley and Rita Hayworth were rumored to have made appearances at these venues. During the seventies the Sahara was a polka club. Then came the rock-n-roll of the eighties. Cvelbar and his partners brought jobs to many and droves of people to the area, and now, memories of the "good ol’ days", despite disagreements with local government. I recently spent a reminiscent afternoon with Jim at the Euclid Tavern, he once again has ownership in the popular  establishment. We shared Sahara stories and much laughter as well as bittersweet memories of a few rough roads taken professionally and personally, and spoke of those we have lost overthe years. Jim reminded me of legal battles the business had regarding the sewer system and the fact that it became too costly to litigate. Contrary to rumor in certain circles, the famous night spot did not close due to illegal drinking activity.  In 1987, Jim decided the patio needed palm trees to adorn the four ft. deep in the ground pool. So what did he do?  What else?  He put He put his turbon on, drove to Florida in a big box truck and came home with live palm trees!  That's right!  We had those beautiful trees on the patio, and kept them alive all winter in heated huts made of Visqueen and 2x4’s.  Then, in spring the trees were ready for May’s unveiling.

At the end of our visit I asked Jim about the trees: "I still have them, two of them are right here!" sure enough, as we walked out to Euclid Ave. there on the sidewalk in giant pots, the Sahara’s palm trees. I said to him, "I have a live camel coming to the reunion, it would be great to have the palm trees too and Ted (Riser) has the old sign." He didn’t hesitate to say "No problem, I’ll put them on a trailer and bring ‘em out!" On September 12, patrons will enjoy a whole day of great music, food, raffl es, & prizes. We will also have an on-site photography studio set up. Anyone can have their professional photo done with old friends, the original Sahara sign and palm trees along with Rupert the camel (JJ’s cousin).

Singer/songwriter Ted Riser was also involved with the Sahara during the 80’s, as one of the most popular entertainers to play the club going back to his days with the band Eliminator. He later formed Ryzer, with which he performed manyoriginal songs as well as covers. "Bus stop" by British pop group The Hollies charted at #5 in both the UK and the US in 1966. Ted’s remake of the catchy tune was heard on the air-waves on WMMS and WNCX in 1990. Since then, Ted has stayed busy between recording in Nashville and opening for such greats as David Allen Coe, Marshall Tucker, 38 Special, Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet to playing all around as he wow’s audiences with his Triple Tribute Show.  Tribute bands include: Whipping Post-Allman Brothers, Long Hard Ride-Marshall Tucker and Hurricane-Neil Young. He currently works with a network of fantastic musicians; many have also played at the Sahara Club in various bands. Ted Riser & the Marshall Band continues to go strong, but the Triple Tribute is really something to see! Possessing such versatility as a musician, Ted also performs an acoustic show, with mellow and soft rock selections and sometimes adding a country fl air. Going back to the fashions of the eighties, check out Ted on You-Tube and you’ll see him in black spandex bike shorts with pink stripes down the side…again I say, "only real men can wear pink!"

When Ted and I began to plan the upcoming Sahara Club Reunion, we not only wanted to host the best party of the year, but to be able to give to a cause we are both passionate about. Domestic violence has shown its ugliness to both our families and friends. We need to raise awareness to the fact that there is absolutely no excuse for abuse of any kind, may it be emotional, verbal, fi nancial or physical. We will proudly donate a portion of the Reunion proceeds to WomenSafe in Geauga County. WomenSafe provides emergency shelter and support services for survivors of domestic violence throughout Northeast Ohio. WomenSafe is a non-profit organization that offers information, counseling, education, referrals and support to victims of domestic violence and federal victims of crime.

The Sahara Club closed its doors for the final time over eighteen years ago. Still, for those who were there, it will always be remembered as the #1 nightclub on the North Coast.  It has been quite an adventurous challenge contacting old friends and affiliates, but nonetheless, a great deal of fun. To those of you I have had the pleasure of speaking with, and to everyone Ted Riser and my self are looking forward to seeing Sept. 12; thank you, enjoy the nostalgia and remember… "Fun is our Business!"

The Reunion is taking place at: VFW Post 4358 located at 29412 White Rd. in Willoughby Hills on Sunday, Sept. 12 from 1-8pm. Advance  tickets are $10 and are available at the VFW Post, Euclid Tavern, and Cebar’s on 185th St.

Tickets will be $12 day of show. Music provided by Fashion Police, Ryzer, The Secret, Blue Jell-O and Buff & the Hooters see ad for further details.