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THE STORY OF LAW
by Steve Acker
From the 1950s through the late 1970s few areas of the country boasted a more dynamic or more exciting popular music scene than Northeast Ohio and Southwest Pennsylvania. The entire steel belt between Cleveland and Pittsburgh teemed with brilliant talent, great bands, and hundreds of clubs and concert venues for music fans of all ages. Many of the rock era’s most celebrated musicians spent their formative years in this area.
One of most popular area bands throughout the 70s was Youngstown, Ohio’s LAW. Formed in February 1971 by Steve Lawrence, Steve Acker and Mickey Williamson, the name was derived from their initials. From the band’s first rehearsals it was clear that LAW had a special chemistry and magic which very quickly garnered them a regional reputation as an exciting and original club and concert attraction. At the outset the band was determined to perform original material with the goal of securing a record contract. Even the cover songs they did were performed in their own original style.
LAW was known as a “boogie band.” A three piece power trio, they were quite similar to Z.Z. Top in performing blues-based hard driving rock, although they did not know it at the time. Within a year of their formation LAW was opening for national acts like Bob Segar, Edgar Winter’s White Trash and Alice Cooper. One notable performance took place outdoors at Lake Milton, Ohio before 5,000 fans. LAW not only opened the star-studded program, but also later performed as Chuck Berry’s backup band.
Family responsibilities forced Mickey Williamson to leave the band in 1973. Lawrence and Acker had developed a close friendship with Ronnie Lee Cunningham of Youngstown, who had just become available because of the breakup of his band Brainchild. They immediately called him from Florida and he accepted their offer to join the band as Mickey’s replacement. Ronnie Lee added a whole new dimension to LAW. They retained their energy and showmanship, but Ronnie Lee’s vocals and instrumental prowess, both on the bass guitar and keyboards, was incomparable. He was funky and soulful and he oozed charisma on stage and off. Soon, in order to free Ronnie Lee to play the keyboards, the band added the incredible John McIver of Macon, Georgia on bass. McIver, too, was a very charismatic figure and he contributed heavily to the band’s almost magical stage presence.
In 1975 LAW signed with Atlanta’s GRC Records and recorded its first album at the label’s studio. Produced by Miami’s famed Albert Brothers, the album was sweetened by the Memphis Horns and contained several fine tracks. However, it failed to capture the band’s live dynamics and was not successful. One song, though—Ronnie Lee’s show opener “Wake Up”--caught the attention of the Who’s Roger Daltrey. Daltrey and his manager Bill Curbishly signed LAW to their production company, put the band on tour with the Who, and in turn signed the band to MCA Records.
At that point, former James Gang singer Roy Kenner joined the band and it evolved into a tight, powerful, rock and soul unit that, for the next three years, opened for many of the era’s major acts from Boston to Jethro Tull to Earth, Wind and Fire all across the country. The band also developed several areas of strong regional popularity of its own, including Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Detroit, and New York City.
LAW concerts were driven, from the beginning, by the pile driving rhythms of drummer Steve Lawrence. It was literally impossible not to dance at a LAW show. Their music was a unique blend of funky soul and power chord guitar rock. Few bands in America were quite like LAW.
Many people remain who still fondly remember LAW as an important part of their youth in a different era, when great regional rock bands reigned and their shows were regarded as Events.
LAW broke up after the release of its second album on MCA, Hold On to It. Because of the multicultural nature of its music the band’s albums had a hard time finding a place on radio. With a lack of airplay, record sales were disappointing. Shortly after Steve Acker left the band in December 1977 LAW broke up for good.