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In Memoriam
Terry Hartman






After a short illness, Northeast Ohio lost one of its great original musical artists in late August. Terry Hartman, most recently a key member of the internationally recognized Deadbeat Poets and long one of Cleveland’s most accomplished and creative songwriters, passed away at 72. He will be sorely missed by his wife and sons, friends, former band mates, and the creative community he impacted.

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A native of Fairview Park, Hartman was an only child and spent a dreamy, idyllic youth in a state of musical obsession, whiling away the hours on his beloved guitar in his bedroom in the leafy suburb. He was a pre-Beatles, pre-British Invasion, even pre-rock and roll kind of music fan, with an early interest in folk and country blues music and its roots. He quickly became a student of Bob Dylan, and by the age of 13 a Beatle and British invasion fan. Then there was the Byrds.... With his close childhood friend Dan Cook, he would listen to the hits on the radio while they played along on their air guitars in the garden shack. 

But later they got serious. Together, Dan Cook and Terry Hartman befriended Cleveland music legend Peter Laughner, who worked at a record store they frequented at Westgate Mall in Fairview. Hartman, by this time a denizen of downtown blues clubs and record stores, found a natural ally intellectually and musically in Laughner, though the friendship was placed on hold while Hartman was off to Germany as a member of the U.S. Army in the Vietnam era. When he returned, he, Laughner and Cook reunited as music and drinking pals.  On a fast track, Peter became a founding member of Cleveland’s legendary Rocket from the Tombs, which spawned Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, and sadly passed away at 24 as a result of his particular excesses. But Hartman had tasted a deeper direction, and in 1977 he and Cook, along with Dan's brother Chris, formally launched The Backdoor Men.

Affectionately known as BDM, the band represented the first time the boys really focused on writing. Hartman and Cook were very different writers, but nurtured each other’s styles and learned from one another. Between themselves, they wrote, arranged, and played out more than 100 original and a few choice cover songs in various Cleveland haunts, most notably Fitzpatrick’s Rainbow in the Flats.  For two years, with a revolving cast of bass players and original drummer Karl “Casey” Meers (now deceased), they were the Sunday Night House Band at “Fitz’s,” competing with the “hip” bands at Peabody’s Down Under just down the street and offering many other local original bands a chance to share their stage. Standing in odd opposition to the more well-known bands of the time like Pere Ubu and The Dead Boys, BDM described their music as “psychedelic pop.” It was an accurate label. Some of it was silly, some of it was very serious, and all of it was very entertaining. Rehearsals were chaotic. Little time was spent refining songs, as Hartman and Cook constantly brought in new material that took precedence over earlier tunes.

Yet always, the songwriting was strong, with several other bands of the time covering songs by Hartman, whose reputation was growing.

Eventually Hartman outgrew BDM’s moderate level of musicianship and decided to go for broke. He formed Terry and the Tornadoes in 1980-81 with guitarists Kevin Kierer and Mike Docy and drummer David Friedman, son of noted local entertainment entrepreneur Sid Friedman, whose family had a long relationship with both Cook and Hartman. The Tornadoes played a beautiful set of fresh material penned by Hartman, and were very well reviewed locally, but for a variety of reasons unique to rock and roll bands, it wasn’t to be. Hartman eventually found himself back with his old friends The Cook Brothers and drummer Paul Nickels, and reformed the remnants of The Backdoor Men under comical monikers like The Blue Marlins and, ultimately as Napoleon in Rags (NIR).

His songwriting was being continually refined. “The material generated for Napoleon in Rags was my favorite of all the stuff we did together,” Cook says. “We truly collaborated on every song, and the material sounds fresh and relevant to this day. It was a tight unit with Paul and Chris providing the foundational sound over which Hartman and I laid guitar and keyboard accents.”

NIR had a good run but time caught up, and eventually the boys moved on with their lives, becoming husbands and fathers. Terry himself became a Boy Scout leader while his son Tony was growing up. He loved it and he and his wife Laurie made some wonderful friends during those quiet years.

In 2003, the itch inevitably grew strong again and The Backdoor Men reunited to write and record the critically acclaimed “Mohawk Combover.” Hartman was dragged into the project with some reluctance (and, incidentally, named the record), but as it proceeded he began to supply fresh new original songs, and he was back in the game once again. And soon, he was to join up with an old associate, Frank Secich of Youngstown, in The Deadbeat Poets.

The Poets had a very strong run, and at this late stage in life, Hartman’s songwriting fully blossomed. He made many great contributions to the band’s excellent records, was a favorite of Miami Steve van Zandt on his famous Sirius program “Little Steven’s Underground Garage,” and even played in front of international audiences on a tour of Europe that included Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club. In the end, he grabbed the brass bell, and even collected some well-deserved royalty checks.

He was a curmudgeon to the end – a highly, mostly self-educated man with a big heart for his friends and a stony one for his enemies. He had a BS in entomology but realized after he graduated with it that most jobs involved exterminating insects, not enjoying them.

“Terry didn’t suffer fools lightly, and liked to see the world as being made up of Good Guys and Bad Guys, but would do anything for his friends and family, and was loyal to a fault. And his talent was immense and he shared it freely,” said his oldest friend Dan Cook. “He had a wonderful life and lived it on his terms, and he had a beautiful family and a perfect mate in his wife Laurie. While I will miss him as long as I remain on the planet, I will always carry him with me.”

Hartman made his final recordings during July 2021, shortly before his death, in support of his former drummer in The Backdoor Men, Paul Nickels, who replaced Meers in 1979. His contributions were both old and new, ranging from “Literary Tradition,” one of his true greats from those early years, to an electric version of “Pavlov’s Cat,” a folk tune he had written for his own ears a few years back. “He generously provided material and more importantly, time to the project, and did so joyfully and well,” says Nickels. “I didn’t know they’d be his final recordings at the time, but looking back, I am so proud of his effort and awed by his excellence. I will never forget the privilege of working with him."

In the annals of Cleveland original bands, there will never be another quite like Terry Hartman. He is survived by his wife Laurie and his sons, Nick, Tony, Bill and Kyle.