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The early years of the Cleveland Cavaliers were not always pretty.
They dropped their first fifteen games and all but two of their first 36. Their downtown arena was an outdated venue and the Cavaliers were supplanted for their first seven games by the Ice Capades. Even their coach, Bill Fitch, quipped: “I phoned Dial-a-Prayer, but when they found out who it was, they hung up.”
But by their fifth season, the Cavaliers had started to forge their identity. Players like Austin Carr, Bingo Smith, Jim Chones and Campy Russell were making their mark in the NBA and so was the young Cleveland team. The franchise had recently made the move to Richfield and was just a year away from the Miracle that would take place there in the spring of ’76.
The fifth-year Cavaliers were playing in the brand new Coliseum. They had assembled an impressive young nucleus. Things seemed to be going well. But then-owner Nick Mileti thought they needed something more. And Mileti, who also owned radio station WWWE, knew just what that something was: a fight song.
The story of “Come On Cavs” begins with legendary local radio personality Larry Morrow who was, at the time, doing the morning show and writing jingles for 3WE.
“Nick asked me to write a song that would be synonymous with his team,” said Morrow, who now does communications consulting with the Larry Morrow Group in Beachwood. “Just like ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ is with the Harlem Globetrotters. And he wanted something ‘soulful.’”
So Morrow sat down at his piano and pounded out an opening refrain. ‘Come on, Cavs,’ the song began. He added a little ‘fast-break-action’ here and a ‘rally-two-by-two’ there. And a few hours later, what Cavaliers immortal, Austin Carr, calls “the best professional team fight song ever” was born.
The next step was to record the song in New York City and, of course, it wasn’t cheap. The cost of producing the song in 1974 was $10,000. (The price tag can probably be traced to the fact that 27 musicians were used to create it.)
After a couple rehearsals, the backup singers had recorded their ‘ain’t-no-way, never-surrender’s.
It was time for lead vocalist, Julien C. Barber (a local jingle singer) to do his thing. “He came into the studio in a snow white suit,” Morrow said, “just like LeBron on draft night.
“So I handed him the lead sheet but he really wasn’t getting the song right. Jim Stunek, who produced the song, said to me, ‘I’m not really sure he can read music.’ So I went to him and said, ‘I don’t want to embarrass you, but I have to ask, can you read music?’ He said he could. And I asked him, ‘Can you read this music?’ So I sang it to him and with him and we got the whole thing recorded. He didn’t sing the song exactly the way I wrote it, but I thought it still sounded really great.”
It was then time to bring the song back to Cleveland and play it for the Cavaliers’ board members. Nick Mileti loved it, but the tune still faced a tough crowd.
“I was worried because they were going to play this for a bunch of what I thought would be square guys,” Morrow laughed. “Nick was a kind of like a hip guy at the time. He would dress in a yellow banana suit that zipped up from crotch to collar. He’d wear Beatle boots. I knew he would like it.”
Mileti played the song for the board and came back to Larry Morrow telling him that they loved it and “Come On Cavs” was to be the new fight song. Morrow remembers seeing one of the board members in downtown Cleveland a short time later. “I told him: ‘I just wanted to say thanks. I heard you loved the song.’ And he replied, ‘We hated it.’
“But apparently Nick got his way. The rest is history.”
The 1980-81 season marked the beginning of the Ted Stepien era, and the song was indeed history. It was replaced with a polka.
Cavaliers’ broadcaster Joe Tait said, “Of the various fight songs we’ve had, I thought that one was the best. It fit the team and the time.”
It’s been nearly thirty years since “Come On Cavs” was created. A new expression of the wine and gold has returned but the team and the time have changed.
The song remains the same. Enjoy.