Cleveland DJ icon Rob Sherwood suffered a heart attack and passed away on February 18. He was 54 and had recently battled prostate cancer. To celebrate Sherwood’s legacy, a party called Jane (Sherwood was known as Jane to his friends) has been organized at Sachsenheim Hall on March 31 by The Disco Mafia. The night will feature drag performances and DJ sets by Sherwood’s Color Blind production partner Mike Filly, Lady Miss Kier, and Kenny Summit.
Sherwood was a beloved fixture in the city’s club music community. He spun at numerous gay and straight venues — as well as one-off raves — including Nine of Clubs, Alterhouse, Aquilon, Lift, U4ia, Trilogy, Metropolis, the Church, and Freak. From the mid-80s on he navigated himself through countless musical trends, DJing around the US and living for a stint in NYC.
“I went to New York and lived every single DJ dream I ever had,” he once said. “All of my heroes were coming out of the studio at night saying, ‘I just cut a disc, I want you to play it’ – my heroes. Not just some guys, my DJ and producer heroes. Every club I ever dreamed of wanting to work at, I worked at.”
Sherwood, who contributed music reviews to Cleveland-based publications Underground News and Buzz, was an in-demand remixer in the ’90s and ’00s.
“He produced floor-filling remixes for Deee-Lite, Sparks, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, The Lightning Seeds, and Sagat,” says NYC-based dance-music label veteran Joe Berinato.
“Nightlife luminaries are rare breeds these days and none were like Rob Sherwood. The extent of immeasurable devotion, unwitting impact and ultimate legacy he left on DJs and club culture alike, not only in Cleveland but in many other cities across the country, will be honored and celebrated here on this night.”
Berinato remembers Sherwood as a “super passionate, talented, determined — hands down what you saw is what you got. Young curmudgeon with a heart of platinum. Captivating storyteller; he could talk about cleaning a stop sign and manage to get your attention. I loved hearing him bitch about the state of the music industry, how one bad remix after the next was driving yet another nail in the coffin of dance music. He was known for throwing outlandish parties. When he moved to NYC in the early 2000’s he wanted to celebrate his arrival by holding a dildo toss competition — ‘no holes barred’ lol, fuckin’ Sherwood.”
“Friends and strangers alike have been incredibly kind and helpful, and now we’re both really looking forward to celebrating our sister.”
— Tim Nezuka
The idea of presenting a tribute party evolved organically between fellow Cleveland club scene mainstays Tim Nekuza and Dick Russell after Sherwood’s passing.
“Rob died on the Sunday of Presidents Day Weekend,” says Tim Nekuza. “Dick and I were communicating, grieving, processing; and almost like a reflex, we just sort of moved into planning a tribute. We confirmed an event date the next day. A mutual friend asked me about what was involved in plotting a memorial for Rob Sherwood. Do you know what Jane would want? My reply was, ‘Well, yes. More importantly? I know what Jane wouldn’t want.'”
Nezuka says that they’ve taken great care in producing the party. “We just started putting together core elements of Rob’s aesthetic: provocative visuals and transcendent music. A combination of high and low culture. It’s been almost 20 years since Dick and I collaborated on throwing a party, but the pieces have mostly moved into place organically. It’s been a very rewarding experience so far. Long days. Mild anxiety. Zero arguments. Friends and strangers alike have been incredibly kind and helpful, and now we’re both really looking forward to celebrating our sister.”
When asked about his fondest memory of Sherwood, Dick Russell parses them into two buckets. “On the personal end, he introduced my performance of ‘The Art of Drag’ at my gallery,” he says. “He was emotional. And then he called me the week before he died to tell me how proud he was of me. Those are obviously very important memories.
“He could bring all walks of life together while making them feel comfortable. It crossed all barriers; no matter how much money they made, no matter who they fucked, no matter what color they were, what part of town they came from. The music brought them all together.”
— Dick Russell
“In the nightclub world? These edgy, mind-blowing, witty ideas just came to him. We’d fed off of each other and then he’d pull it all together with this amazing music. Once at Next, I was fighting backstage with a very tall, very ripped male dancer. Jane came in and announced, ‘You bitches are fired unless you wrestle in pudding next week to settle this.’ And that’s exactly what we did the following weekend.”
Russell says Sherwood’s demeanor attracted and united people. “We did an after-hours, Ms. E-Wreck-Shaun’s Breakfast Buffet,” he recalls. “The concept was simple: give acid and electric skillets to a group of drag queens. We cooked up scrambled eggs and pancakes and threw them down the dance floor to this fabulous music. He could bring all walks of life together while making them feel comfortable. It crossed all barriers; no matter how much money they made, no matter who they fucked, no matter what color they were, what part of town they came from. The music brought them all together.”
Do you have a fond memory of Rob Sherwood? If so, please share it in the comments section below.