Stress Relief Comes To Cleveland Blues Icon Mr. Stress
Bill Miller or Mr. Stress as he has come to be known to blues lovers around Cleveland has been a legend among blues music fans since he began playing harmonica back in the mid 1960s. Since then he and his bandmates have shared the stage with the likes of Cream, Three Dog Night, The MC5 and Golden Earring. Stress and company have worked at the fabled Grande Ballroom in Detroit, Michigan and have also held long term residencies at the Brick Cottage and the Euclid Tavern. They have also worked every two-bit dive in between.
The Mr. Stress Blues Band was one of the first, finest and longest running blues bands to work in and around Cleveland in a style patterned closely after that of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Miller recalls "being moved to tears after hearing Paul Butterfield play harmonica on that first Butterfield Elektra Records LP release back in '66."
In the 4 decades since that life-changing auditory event, Mr. Stress has earned a place in the Cleveland Blues Hall of Fame and in the hearts of music lovers across this great city.
When the word went out that Mr. Stress needed help, a Who's Who of Cleveland Musicians answered the call. Within a few days I had received over 50 songs for a proposed CD I was planning from Cleveland's top working bands (past and present). Additionally I began to receive copious checks and cash donations earmarked for Mr. Stress.
What began in earnest as a single "Benefit" CD titled "Stress Relief" instantly morphed into a 4-disc collossus comprised of music from such luminaries and friends as Michael Stanley, Alex Bevan, Robert Lockwood Jr., Wallace Coleman, Blue Lunch, Becky Boyd, Kristine Jackson, Hillbilly Idol, Alan Leatherwood, Austin "Walkin'" Cane, Armstrong Bearcat, Becky Boyd, Billy Sullivan, Rich Spina--the list goes on and on. Over 58 artists donated songs. Additionally the 4 disc compilation boasts several rare and previously unreleased classics from Bands like the Blackwelles from 1966, Richie Green and former Tiffany Shade/Mink DeVille keyboardist Robert Leonard. Several unheard Mr. Stress acetates also make their first appearance in public as well. The 4 discs are housed in a DVD style case and is augmented by a 20-page full color booklet featuring never-before-seen photos from Mr. Stress' personal archives dating back to the early '60s as well as song credits, liner notes and a brief history of the Mr. Stress Blues Band. This limited edition collection will prove to be a wonderful addition to the library of collectors and music fans alike.
So how did this "Stress Relief" Project begin? In November 2013 Mr. Stress was residing in an apartment in Lakewood, Ohio on Madison Avenue. At some point in November the 73- year-old was handed an eviction letter. As Stress puts it "those bastards didn't even have the decency to read it to me." Stress is legally blind as a result of macular degeneration and has very limited eyesight. He needs extra large type and text in order to be able to read anything and has several expensive machines in his apartment to assist him in these endeavors. "They just handed me a piece of paper and walked away."
As the eviction date approached Stress, along with longtime friend Joe Dwyer began the monumental task of packing the apartment in preparation for the move. Then, on Thursday, December 12, 2013 the unthinkable happened. Mr. Stress suffered a minor stroke. The fact that he was Skyping with some friends from across the country at the time of his stroke quite literally saved his life. During the Skyping session his friends noticed that Bill was not communicating as lucidly as he had been. They called 911. That long distance assessment and phone call saved Mr. Stress' life!
The paramedics and police gained access to the apartment and rushed Mr. Stress to Lakewood Hospital where he was treated for a minor stroke.
On Monday, December 16, I received a phone call from Jeff Beam, a mutual friend of Mr. Stress and I, informing me of Mr. Stress' situation. I went to visit the harp legend but was unprepared for what came next. As I stood in the hospital room with my daughter Sophia by my side I listened as Stress' ordeal was laid out for me.
He was being evicted. While he was recovering in the hospital the apartment management was threatening to place all of his worldly possessions out on the curb. The moving company that was hired to move Mr. Stress via a government contract with social services showed up on Monday, December 16 but refused to move anything due to the sheer volume of belongings, the fact that it was not completely packed and there was nowhere to move the items to. It seems the new apartment on the east side of Cleveland where Stress had hoped to move would not allow him to even apply for a lease until the evicting apartment in Lakewood signed off on his being moved. In a cruel and malicious act the evicting apartment refused to acknowledge that Mr. Stress was moved out (even after we moved him out!) To complicate things even more, the new apartment required copies of Stress' birth certificate, Social Security card and state ID to simply start the lease application process. None of these documents could be located and were presumed lost.
At that point I stopped everything. I obtained Mr. Stress' social worker/case managers name and phone number from Jeff Beam. I then called her cell phone from the hospital room. I told her my name is Colin Dussault. I am friend of Bill Miller's. My family also owns Dussault Moving & Storage Inc. I said we will move Mr. Stress the next day on Tuesday morning free of charge. We will also store his belongings free of charge for however long we are required to so as a favor for our friend. The first thing we need to do is to get his belongings safe and secure and out of harm's way. Once that has been accomplished we can address the myriad other issues facing our poor and vulnerable friend.
I then telephoned the evicting apartment and spoke to the manager and very politely explained that we would be there the next morning to move Mr. Stress.
On Tuesday, December 17 I once again called the evicting apartment's manager to let her know we were on our way with a truck and crew of 6 movers and would be there by 9am. To my astonishment the manager said, "I don't like the way you are forcing things and moving so quickly and rushing through all of this." She said "you are not allowed in this building." I told her "Ma'am you have been trying to evict this gentleman for the past month. It is quite plausible that your treatment of him caused him to have a stroke and now you are going to prevent us from moving him and getting him out of your life? He has granted us full authority to move him. His Social Worker is with us and will vouch for this and quite honestly at this point you have two choices. You can either buzz the buzzer to let the movers in or you can call 911. Your days of abusing and mistreating our friend are over. His belongings WILL be removed from your building and placed on our truck within the next several hours and you will no longer be permitted to harass and intimidate our friend!" Needless to say we got in and successfully packed and moved Mr. Stress.
While we were doing all of this Bill's condition improved exponentially. So much so that on Wednesday, Decemeber 18 he was transferred to Crestmont North Nursing facility in Lakewood for observation and treatment. The wonderful staff at Crestmont took great care of Bill. As he recovered Jeff Beam and I set about getting Bill new copies of his birth certificate, Social Security card and state ID. All the while his condition and disposition continued to improve. I took him to the Belle Avenue Barber Shop and got him an "old time shave." Bill then asked to go to Drug Mart to purchase some cologne. "Lagerfeld," he said. "Only the best for this old face!"
Over the Christmas holiday Jeff Beam and I along with my 6-year-old daughter Sophia visited Bill two and three times a day. We took him to my family's Christmas party at Grandma Dussault's apartment in Lakewood. Bill also received many other friends who came by to check on the legendary harp player. Friends like Harp legend Wallace Coleman, Indians Drummer Johh J. Adams, former Tree Stumps guitarist Kendall Stauffer and original Stress bandmate dating back to the earliest days of the band-pianist Mike Sands were among the many visitors who stopped by to check up on Mr. Stress while he recuperated at Crestmont.
On New Years' Eve I drove my band van to Crestmont North and we picked Mr. Stress up. We took him with us to our gig in Akron at the family-friendly First Night Akron event we have worked every New Year's Eve for the past 16 years. I felt it was my duty to bring Mr. Stress with me. After all, New Year's Eve is also Bill Miller's birthday and it broke my heart to think of an old soldier sitting alone in a nursing home on New Year's Eve AND his birthday. Besides, a musician's place is on the stage. I knew he would enjoy hanging out with the band. Driving to the gig and joining in the banter, chatter and ball-busting that takes place in a band van did him some good. He didn't miss a beat! I knew he would enjoy being around music and musicians even if he couldn't play. Imagine the joy I felt when, after introducing Mr. Stress to the crowd and paying my respects to him and all he has accomplished, he joined us onstage, played harmonica and sang a tune with us. That was as special a song as any I have ever played over the course of my 25-year-career as a band leader and professional musician!
By January 10 we had successfully acquired not one, but two copies of Bill's birth certificate and the new apartment was STILL trying to dissuade us from getting Bill his new apartment! We got a new copy of his Social Security card and we got him a new state ID from the license bureau. Finally Bill Miller signed the lease to his new apartment at Musicians Towers in Cleveland Heights.
We moved Mr. Stress into his new apartment on January 14. I then spent 2 weeks fighting with AT&T and U-Verse attempting to move forward with the seemingly simple task of setting up a landline telephone and internet service. Dealing with AT&T made working with the Government/Social Security/Dept. of Vital Statistics seem like a walk in the park! What a colossal and monumental waste of time and energy. In my opinion they are one of the absolute worst and most feckless companies I have ever encountered.
By January 20 Mr. Stress was all set up and comfortable in his new home. Through the generosity of friends and fans he was given a vacuum cleaner, coffee maker and new bedding. Dussault Moving donated two old desks for his apartment and many friends have continued to check up on him, shop for him and make sure he is doing OK.
The 4-CD compilation "STRESS RELIEF" will officially be available on February 20, 2014. Pre-sale orders have already topped 158 with people eager to reserve their copies of this historically significant and limited edition assemblage of Cleveland bands. Orders can be placed by visiting: www.mrstress.net or www.colindussault.com. The collection will also be available at all live appearances by Colin Dussault's Blues Project Band until they sell out. Information on those live dates can also be obtained at: www.colindussault.com
The diverse collection of music and musicians who contributed music to the "Stress Relief" project is an amazing testament to the lasting and powerful influence that Mr. Stress has brought to this city through his harmonica playing and singing. It is also another shining example of how Cleveland artists and musicians band together to help their brothers and sisters in times of need.
All profits from the sale of this CD will go to help us help Mr. Stress.
February 3, 2014
Musician/Bandleader from Lakewood, Ohio