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“Clean Gene" Lohman spun some of his favorite tracks at the Gulch Saloon on Friday afternoon, May 27, just as he does every other Friday at the bar. Earlier this month, he was recognized for his decades of DJing in Yellow Springs when he received the annual presented Village Inspiration and Design Award. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Artist Profile | Clean Gene and his record machine

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You’ve heard him at the Gulch Saloon, or at Peach’s Grill. You might have even heard him at Ye Olde Trail Tavern once upon a time. Perhaps you remember hearing him in the old student union at Antioch College back in the day. And for a couple of decades, you likely heard him everyday, broadcasting on the airwaves of 91.3 WYSO.

There’s no mistaking local legend “Clean Gene” and his record machine.

For over half a century, at a number of local venues, bars, dances and stations, longtime villager and renowned disc jockey Gene Lohman has filled the sonic spaces of Yellow Springs with his eccentric and eclectic record spinning.

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Earlier this month, the 75-year-old disc jockey was formally acknowledged for his decades-long contribution to the local music scene. On Friday, May 20, at the Antioch College Foundry Theater, the Yellow Springs Public Arts and Culture Commission awarded him with the Village Inspiration and Design Award, or VIDA.

“I’ve been around long enough, and I feel like I’ve made an impact. Evidently others do too,” Lohnman told the News in a recent interview. “It feels good to get recognized for [DJing]. It’s not why I do it, but I’m tremendously grateful that people value what I do.”

As commission Chair Amy Wamsley said at the award ceremony, what Lohman “does” is more than your typical, run-of-the-mill jockeying. He creates something novel when he steps behind his turntables, giving generations of villagers and visitors alike lasting memories and meaningful experiences while collectively enjoying music.

Quoting a written statement from commission member Werdell Kirk, who was absent for the VIDA ceremony, Wamsley proclaimed: “[Lohman] has affected the moods and spirit of so many, where music has been his medium, and our spirit has been his canvas. … [He] has embodied the historical culture of Yellow Springs and has provided great representation as an ambassador and icon of Yellow Springs.”

Now, the traveling VIDA trophy — a metallic “V” affixed to a 4-foot pedestal made by local sculptor Jon Hudson — proudly stands outside Lohman’s Home, Inc., apartment on Dayton Street.

Wamsley noted at the ceremony that it’s unusual for the annual VIDA to be given to an artist who doesn’t work with physical media. In the past, the VIDA has gone to Sandi Sharp and her “walk-by” fine art exhibit space on Winter Street, the now-deceased Alan Macbeth for his brickwork and artistry at the Oten Gallery, Tim and Kelly Callahan for their rock sculptures, and others.

“For the most part, we look at the creation as something physical, something we can hold,” Wamsley said, again reading Kirk’s statement. “In thinking in terms of a creator who can influence and impact others in magnificent ways, this has been and is ‘Clean’ Gene Lohman.”

“I’m honored,” Lohman said at the ceremony. “I really, really am.”

The makings of a music man

Lohman was born in Providence, R.I., in 1946, into a family he described as being “somewhat neutral” about music.

His father was a physicist — “and a pretty damn good one, too” — and his mother was preoccupied with taking care of six children. As such, Lohman’s parents were often too busy to bother with music.

However, Lohman said he learned much later in life that his father would occasionally find time to enjoy classical music — Ravel and Debussy, in particular — and his mother would secretly tap her toes to the big band tunes of the day.

Little Lohman wouldn’t find his passion for music until he and his family moved to Arlington, Va.

There, he got his first exposure to pop music from “Your Hit Parade,” “The Ed Sullivan Show” and other TV programs that featured live musical performances.

“Along with the rest of the world I saw Elvis perform on Ed Sullivan [in 1956],” Lohman recalled. “It just amazed me.”

But the real turning point for Lohman was when he was bed ridden with measles as an 11-year-old. To keep his mind busy, his mother got him a little table radio.

“I started tuning around and, for the first time, heard the rhythm and blues,” Lohman said. “I was hooked. Looking back on it, that time basically recharted my whole life course.”

Seeing the joy that little radio gave his son, Lohman’s father eventually helped Lohman upgrade to a bigger Magnavox console radio with a 12-inch speaker and controls to modulate bass and treble. From his Arlington home, Lohman was able to pick up five regional R&B stations — one in Annapolis, one in Washington, D.C., and three in Baltimore.

“I was in seventh heaven, man,” Lohman said with a grin. “When I came home from school, I’d listen to those stations all night. I’ve always said I got my education through four-letter words. WLAC, WEBB, WOOK and others.”

For the next five years, Lohman plunged headfirst into the soulful power of R&B, the rollicking energy of rock ‘n’ roll and the finger-snapping verve of Motown. Ray Charles, James Brown, Bobby Bland, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters; the teenaged Lohman loved them all.

Onward, to Yellow Springs

Beyond his parents’ liberal leanings, it was the co-op program that attracted Lohman to Antioch College in 1965.

“It just made sense to me — getting an education that would lead me straight into a career,” he said.

Although he never officially declared a major, waffling between studies in paleontology, earth sciences and communications, Lohman still pressed ahead in his own personal musical education.

He said that in the mid-’60s, the culture and music scene at Antioch, and in Yellow Springs, was jarringly different from the southern surroundings he was used to.

“It was very much the jazz and folk revival era in Yellow Springs,” Lohman said. “Rock ‘n’ roll and R&B were kind of looked down upon — which is crazy because that was the golden age for that stuff. So when I came here, I sometimes thought, ‘What the hell am I doing out here in all these cornfields?’”

Invariably, Lohman still found a way to enjoy “his” music.

Lohman learned that by pressing his portable AM radio up against the metal struts in the windows of the coffee shop — often referred to as the “C-shop” — the entire room would act like a giant antenna.

“Sometimes it’d work, sometimes it wouldn’t,” Lohman said. “Every night, I’d try to listen to this legendary radio station out of Nashville called WLAC. It went all the way up to Canada, so it came in clear as a bell here.”

It didn’t take long for his antenna trick to pique the attention of others.

Soon the community manager of the college suggested to Lohman to start DJing in the C-shop on a regular basis. So, Lohman got a turntable and a small cache of records — what he now calls “the best of Clean Gene’s music” — and by broadcasting out of the amplifier of the house jukebox, he was off and running, spinning vinyl for his classmates six nights every week.

He said that in the beginning, there were only a few people cutting the rug to his music. But in no time at all, “Clean Gene and his record machine” would pack the house each and every night.

“It sounds like I’m bragging, but really, I was just in the right place at the right time,” he said.

Lohman spoke at length about the winter of ’66 — a time he remembers affectionately as his favorite era of DJing. By a stroke of luck, he managed to get his hands on the British release of The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” album. Unlike the American album, with only 12 songs, the British version had 14.

“‘Rubber Soul’ is hands down the best dance record The Beatles ever made,” Lohman said. “‘Drive My Car,’ which wasn’t on the American version, was the hit of that winter at Antioch. The rest of the country had never even heard of it! And I made sure to play it at least once every night.”

Clean Gene Lohman and Sherry Novick at the 91.3-FM WYSO studios in the 1970s, when Lohman hosted “The Rhythm and Blues Express.” (Photo courtesy of WYSO)

By 1967, Lohman began branching out. He began DJing on 91.3-FM WYSO, with a regular show he called “The Rhythm and Blues Express,” that, naturally, was narrowly focused on the ongoing genealogy of his favorite genre. Lohman’s show would be on the air for the next two decades.

“That’s where I really learned how to be a disc jockey,” he said. “Queuing up records, running the mixer, running and reading the meters to make sure you weren’t under or over power and on frequency — man, I caught onto all of that immediately.”

According to him, the greatest part of working for WYSO in those days was the independence — a rarity in the world of broadcasting, he said.

“I basically ran the station when I was on the air. I was the man,” Lohman said. “I decided what to play, what to talk about, all in my own style. As a result, my program was the most popular around — and that’s just a fact.”

Eventually, Lohman took his record machine farther down the road.

He began DJing at high school parties, Antioch dances and many of the bars in downtown Yellow Springs. By the time he retired from jockeying at WYSO in 1987, he committed fully to DJing in the local bar scene.

“I think I stayed here all these years because of inertia,” Lohman said. “This is my home. All my people are here.”

Clean Gene, here and now

Nowadays, over 50 years since his start, Clean Gene and his record machine have gained a kind of mythological status in and around Yellow Springs.

It’s not uncommon to see Lohman toting his arsenal of CDs in a little red wagon to his next gig.

With his long white hair and wispy beard blowing in the breeze, he stands out on the sidewalk. In no small sense, he comports himself like a quintessential villager. He looks and feels a part of the texture of Yellow Springs.

“Culturally speaking, this place is very open,” he said. “I couldn’t play music the way I did and do anywhere else.”

Although he still spins his favorite R&B and rock hits from the ’50s and ’60s, he’s expanded the breadth of his musical lexicon considerably over the years.

“Sure, I quit keeping up with ‘modern’ music for a variety of reasons in the early ’90s,” Lohman said. “But I’ve moved into new genres. I’ve gone from rock ‘n’ roll and R&B to big band, then reggae, then jazz, hip-hop, blues, bossa nova. Really, my passion has become what’s generally considered to be Latin music — specifically Afro-Cuban.”

He added that he hopes to eventually integrate more classical music into his lineups.

Ultimately, Lohman said that his approach to jockeying is all about playing the widest variety of music he can — spinning discs that can appeal to everyone. His aim is a simple one: bring people together in shared spaces to commune, dance and love one another and what they hear.

“To me, music is living art — art in motion,” Lohman said. “Being able to hear a song, to know the history and the chronology, what labels they came out of, what studios recorded them — all of that is invaluable to me.”

In addition to DJing at the Gulch Saloon every other Friday afternoon, from 4–7 p.m., Lohman keeps his fingers on the pulse of the local music scene by religiously attending the weekly open mic event at Peach’s Grill. He said it’s the sheer variety of the performances that keeps him coming back for more.

“One night a few weeks ago, there was everything from a violinist to a rap artist. Every week it’s incredible there,” Lohman said. “Local music is so important to me — simply because I like knowing who the artists are. And that’s probably my favorite thing about playing live music, too: just being around people, you know?”

When asked about what he’s most proud of in his lifetime of spinning discs in Yellow Springs, Lohman didn’t hesitate.

“I have never sold out,” he said. “I’ve always played music exactly how I wanted, and I’ve never taken the commercial approach. It’s all about keeping people on the dance floor.”

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4 Responses to “Artist Profile | Clean Gene and his record machine”

  1. Janet Tomas says:

    When my husband Prentice and I lived out on Jackson Rd., we would have full moon parties. Clean Gene would play his tunes. He deserves this honor and much more. He is a big part of the past and the future of YS. He is knowledgeable of all different types of music and knows his stuff! I have so many great memories of him spinning his tunes at the local watering hole and having so much fun dancing to all the different types of music he played! Although I have not been back to YS for quite sometime and have not seen Gene for awhile. I will always consider him a friend and an awesome DJ! Congrats my friend!

  2. Claude Hudson says:

    I was invited to a few private dance parties at a friend of ours who lived in Yellow Springs, DJ’d by Clean Gene. They were always a blast and Gene always knew the best music to keep everyone dancing! He is definitely an icon in the Yellow Springs area and history. Kudos to Clean Gene, keep ’em dancing Brother!

  3. Jim Peters says:

    Clean Gene is a village treasure, often able to transport listeners and dancers to places they’ve never or rarely visited. His voice, his delivery, and the records he spins has put a smile on thousands of faces spanning four generations. I remember an end-of-quarter dance at Antioch in the late 60s when he progressively took the dance floor from the latest dance backwards to everyone doing the bunny hop.

  4. CoolBreeze says:

    Didn’t he DJ some sobriety events in Springfield many years ago? Name sounds familiar. Sounds like a terrific talent and how wonderful the Village recognized him! ((Blessings))

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