Dylan Reynolds The Chronicle-Telegram
LORAIN — For longtime attendees of Lorain Skate World, Johnny Sharp is likely a familiar face. Or, if his face doesn't ring a bell, his organ playing surely would.
Sharp, the rink’s original organist circa 1975, was back in the booth once again Sunday, setting the tone for skaters from around the region who reserved their spot in advance at Lorain Skate World’s extravaganza, part of its 45th anniversary celebration. Now a treasured piece of the rink’s history, the organist flies in from his Phoenix residence every time a big anniversary comes around. He returned for Sunday’s “pre-extravaganza,” so-called because attendance was limited due to COVID-19 precautions, and hopes to be back again on April 25, 2021 for the proper “organ extravaganza.”
Sharp was welcomed at Lorain Skate World by regulars and family members Sunday. His family has always been active in the sport, which played a big role in shaping his career, life and musical choices.
“In the first place, I've been a roller skater since I was 4 in the Cleveland area,” Sharp said. “Being a skater in the first place helped because I loved it.” He started playing organ before he could even reach the bass pedals on the floor. By the time he was 14 years old, Sharp landed his first gig as a roller rink organist in Painesville. That led to a job at a rink in Berea, which led to his nearly decade long tenure at Lorain Skate World beginning when he was just 19 years old. Sharp made a move to the radio industry after his time at the Lorain rink, but he would always come back to play during the holiday season. “I loved to play at Christmas time, so they’d book me a Christmas party and we’d have the music and the decorations and all of that,” he said. “I was doing that all the way through the ‘90s.”
He moved to Arizona in 2007 but has been back to play in Lorain three or four times since 2015. The 2018 loss of the Brookpark Skateland in Brook Park by a fire motivated Sharp to fly back to Ohio more often than he may have otherwise. “We absorbed a lot of the skaters from there,” he said. “I played there as well and wanted to be a part of making them comfortable here as well.”
As for retiring from performing, the longtime musician said he has no plans on quitting the organ until he physically can not play anymore. Although he recognized old faces Sunday from his original tenure in Lorain, Sharp said the more common occurrence is seeing those people’s grandkids on skates. “Roller skating is like that. You watch generations go through,” he said. Lorain Skate World is one of the rare roller skating rinks that still routinely features a live organist, said owner Alice Carter. She co-owns and runs the business with operator Brad Sprague and holds live organ sessions Thursday mornings, Sunday nights and on special occasions.
“A lot of them play organ music, because organ music is how skating got started originally,” Carter said. “But I think we’re the only rink in the state that has live organ.” In addition to Sharp’s return to the booth Sunday, the evening of skating also featured performances from in-house organist Mike Clemens as well as remote live performances, piped in over the internet, from Marty Dumic and Tom Zitkovic.
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