2021: Liz Hear … I found a CASSETTE TAPE from 1969 recorded by me of some songs done at a special reunion. It was at a then-popular place to play in Cleveland called “LaCave”. There they were together again … bassist Pete Dragas, drummer Ron Harkai, guitarist Glenn Schwartz and bandleader Dennis (doubling on guitar and keyboards). In the mid ’60s the regional band became popular enough to garner the attention of some special A&R types. But what really rocked them was when they visited HITSVILLE USA and received an offer to sign with them. They seemed aptly named for the time and the place. Why? The contract would have made them the “FIRST WHITE BAND SIGNED TO MOTOWN”. It wasn’t meant to be … for musical duty was trumped by military duty. How? A draft notice was served on Glenn … the Air Force got Ronnie … and Dragas was deferred. Bandleader Dennis enlisted in the Ohio National Guard and went on to Officer Candidate School. Mention of OCS is made here because Second Lieutenant Chandler caught some musical duty that (almost) made up … for missing out … on that MOTOWN contract noted above,(pardon the pun).
Back to about the tracks recorded by me in ’69. That iconic LaCave venue was located in what typically was known back in the day as “a changing neighborhood” … (read: white flight). The Cleveland club consistently drew many diverse music lovers from the diverse ‘hoods.
I found very interesting some info about … the Fairfax neighborhood, where KARAMU … the reknown theatre aka “The First African-American Theatre in the Country”. (Read about how Dennis got to perform there in 2000. It’s all on this website’s page titled “Karamu”.)
Other interesting info … from even earlier times in those ‘hoods? It had much ado with Dennis’ family tree. The Weill side… which included an acrobatic dancing act … Max & Maddy Weill. Plus some Marxes mixed in. Make that Groucho Marx (as in Marx Brothers).
Stories told included another Marx … Uncle Henry Marx. He and his wife, Bea Marx owned and operated Marx Dry Cleaners on Wade Park at E. 86th Street. There was talk of some traveling troubadours, whose clothing he ended up caring for, too. Those were the days of performers like Sophie Tucker, Martha Raye, Rudy Valle, George Jessel, Don Ameche and Mickey Katz, to name a few.
Many Vaudevillians and entertainers became extended-family aka mishpocha. They’d bring their duds along when they came, as they say in show biz, “out ta da house”. (Perhaps for a Piano Salon? Oh, to go back then … to be a fly on the wall or a carpetbaggin’ flea.)
Special, too … the tales they heard of how the WEILLS would come to Cleveland to “Hit the Hippodrome” a world-renowned venue … or… to “Play the Palace” (which they would do for weeks at a time).
Oh, what was said about what they did for fun, in their time off! Apparently they would … “Let the Good Times Roll” … at all the artistic havens of the day … like the Hermit Club , the Beau Arts Clu and Karamu.
Perhaps that is why Dennis was drawn to … that ever-entertaining-area, (pardon the pun). Chameleon Chandler caught a couple of various and sundry gigs… including the ones at LaCave. Place got you curious? Interested enough to do research? Time travel … Go on Google … “E 105 & Euclid”… and “Invisible Soul” Face Book page. Author Carlo Wolff has made available ads and articles of the many acts from that ‘hood.
(Makes we wish I had taken more pics. And grateful I got these tracks. I will post them … when I figure out how to … stay tuned!)
2012 Speaking of capturing Den & Glenn Together Again … Look up on You Tube … to see and hear … the guys. The billing was “The Schwartz Brothers” band with Dennis guesting, so to speak. (Hence the D & G together again theme). The group consisted of Glenn’s brother Gene Schwartz aka Geno and Paul O’Brien on drums. DC, GGS, GS playing together again … was special indeed, to say the least. Those reunion gigs seemed to take everyone to “A Higher Place”. Just ask those followers of SB band … OR … you can ask the following club owners of the places where they played … Major Hoopples, Mike’s Barn owner Michael Yates, Beachland Ballroom & Tavern owner Cindy Barber and Producer Nick Amster.
Speaking of “Asking Amster”. We can’t. Sadly, he passed in April of 2020. Footnote: Dennis would always run into dear Nick at Solon’s Get Go Gas Station. After an Amster Catchup … Nick would rush out to retrieve from the trunk of his car… numerous CD recordings NA made … to give DC. They were usually of their mutual bandmate … dear Robert Lockwood. Den returned home from one of those top-the-tank-trips … and I suggested some homework for his next visit with Nick. “Take him up on his offer … to make copies of those Beachland Ballroom / Tavern gigs”. I dubbed them, “Den & Glenn Together Again” and and Nick thought that a good title. Den did see Producer Nick often … but would forget to ask him for the dubs. Then one day, I saw Nick inside Solon’s Market District … I was about to ask him … but I saw he was busy bagging his groceries. I thought to myself, “Oh, I’ll catch him another time”. That was the last I saw of him. It’s almost a year since Nick Amster passed. But, his memory is a Blessing. Remember … Life is short … Time is fleeting. Capture all you can on tape … in pics … and post ’em.
Again … go to You Tube and search Glenn Schwartz and Dennis Chandler. One can see and hear what a great ride it was. I like to think Producer Amster’s … helping Glenn Guitar … Rock on in Heaven … where there’s no dubbing necessary.
And the beat will go on for Den … maybe on … Zoom. Yeah, once I teach myself how to … Zoom. Oh, Zoom … Zoom was a term I used in the past for posts of Den’s classic car cruisin’ gigs. Like when he and Glenn got together again … at the Diner … (but that’s a story for another time).
Speaking of Another Time … Back to the Future
From Pioneers To A Pilgrim On The Rocks / But Without The $ Rolls $
Bears repeating … Cleveland musician-Dennis and a group of his hometown friends formed a band and called themselves, “The Pilgrims”. Perhaps the name was fortuitous for they seemed aptly named. Playing around … those places and in those times … in Detroit’s musical history? It was, “Priceless”, Dennis said.
First about the band members in “The Pilgrims”: There was the virtuoso guitarist Glenn Schwartz, with whom guitarist-Dennis loved sharing lead solos. Plus pianist-Dennis doubled on organ. Any rhythm chords he added, he said, “was pure pleasure” … for the band had an already pulsating rhythm section … what with Ronald Harkai on drums and the late Pete Dragas on bass. Together they were able to give, what mentor BB King aka Poppa BB … often described to “adopted-son-Dennis” … as that feeling of “What brung ya to the dance”. He answered, “Music that included … a walkin’ bass with a shufflin’ beat!”
So it was not surprising … once heard … the boys in the band were asked to back up many early rock and rollers. Which was what promoter Kermit Price predicted. Who? An owner of Ohio clubs i.e., “The Note” in Ruggels Beach, Rathskeller, Erie Inn in Sandusky, etc. Price’s connections helped seal some deals … with certain Detroit dudes who had to do … with HITSVILLE USA and MOTOWN RECORDS.
The Pilgrims became the houseband for the legendary powerhouse Radio Station “CKLW”. In support of the station’s musical format … they entertained at their many various live events and promotions. Musician-Dennis had even more opportunity to play for those diverse audiences. Plus pianist-Dennis also became arranger and accompanist at many after-parties, too. House parties of fond memory … included the ones at the residences of Rev. Cecil Franklin (Aretha’s father) and Hank Ballard of “Hank Ballard & The Midnighters”, to name just two. (Talk ‘bout “Stand and deliver”!)
But, Dennis’ “Baptism-by-fire” was via some of the originators of rock … the BLUESMASTERS themselves. Hard-learned but lovingly-taught lessons included the age-old Oral Tradition of “Good, good. Alrighty, now try it this way”. Those teachings … brought home … from Dennis’ days of playing around the Detroit/ Windsor area… showered him with inspiration. He wanted to learn as much as he could … whenever he would … come across someone who should offer. And they did offer … often … and he learned. (Boy, did Den learn!)
“I Got a Booking Way Cross Town”, (to reference a song title). Managing some of the band’s bookings was CKLW Program Director Dave Shaffer. He had them backing up many groups LIVE. To list just a few here … The Supremes, Four Tops, Temptations, The Isley Brothers, Mary Wells, Shirley Ellis, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Little Eva, Bobby Vee, Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Ronnie & The Daytonas, Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, Bobby Rydell, Bobbie Martin, Del Shannon, Dobie Gray, Freddie Cannon, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. By the way, Detroit is where Dennis first began his fellowship with popular onair personality Larry Morrow (aka “The Duker” on CKLW). When Larry later came to Cleveland … Dennis did more than a couple of music-related “Morrow Happenin’s” (including a Morrow marriage).
Those early days in Detroit made for some of Dennis’ fondest musical memories. Bandleader Chandler will be writing about them in the book he finally has started. It is thanks to the encouragement of Clayton Munsey, President of the Les Paul Society (Face Book Group). He has helped raise our awareness level again … that Life is short and Time is fleeting… so keep writing. Why again? Because THIRTY YEARS AGO … we made a pact to write more. To whom? Only the late, great Steve Allen and talented Jayne Meadows.
They extracted a promise. How so? Like many of that early television era … we watched their various TV shows … growing up. They came into our respective living rooms … where they seemed to be performing to an audience of just one. We both felt that way. So years later at the 1990 Leukemia Telethon … Steve Allen asked to interview Dennis (the only featured adult survivor). To meet these two cultural iconic characters felt so right. To be in their presence … just like family … was NOT at all intimidating. Even when Steve requested Dennis play the piano (that they were both seated at).
Even when SA commended DC’s ability to improvise. Even when SA told DC, “I envy your versatility”.
Even when SA told DC that he wished he, “could read music”. Dennis exclaimed, “But, you wrote all those songs! To which Steve Allen replied, “Yes, but I can’t read music”. That’s when Dennis said, “I’ll teach you how to read music!” And Steve shot back, “And I’ll teach you how to write a book!” (Allen asked about how he came to be such an enigma … liking and making all the music that he loves?)
So we returned home to Cleveland … not knowing what Steve had proposed to Dennis … “I’d like to see what you will write” … “God brought you back for a reason!”… “You should be here in L.A.”. Upon returning to normal … Life happened … and we were intimidated by our circumstances (read: medical expenses) Only a … novice … novel writer would let that happen. Well, no more. Truth is stranger than fiction. Now we aspire to be expert … at non-fiction (Lord, don’t test us again). We both will keep our pact. (Hence, I hope Dennis’ book attempts to explain such “enigmatic entertaining tastes”, as I call them). After all … a promise made … will be a promise kept … in this lifetime, yet! Better late than never. To be continued …
Back to about how we got a copy of the Pilgrims’ regional hit record, “Plymouth Rock” (written by Chandler and Dragas). It was thanks to Paul Hamann of Suma Recoring Studio. Who? The son of Ken Hamann who recorded the band at Hamann’s Cleveland Recording Studio in 1964. FYI: The flip side of that record has the song titled “Maudy” written by John Lee Hooker and arranged by Glenn Schwartz. In 2011, his son Paul Hamann contacted Dennis and became a Face Book Friend. PH found the original master tapes. He asked Dennis would he “like to have a new mix on CD?” So, thanks to the gracious Hamanns, you will be able to enjoy the song for the first time … or.. for old times. Sadly, in 2017 Paul Hamann succmubed to cancer after battling for years. When you listen to the link above … think about how the Hamanns helped many musicians (like Pilgrims and Outsiders bandmember Dennis)
Now about where the Pilgrims performed … back in those Windsor/ Detroit days. They played at WALLED LAKE CASINO. THE MICHIGAN THEATRE, THE TWENTY GRAND, THE ROOSTER TAIL, to name just a very few. Plus at COBO HALL … THE PILGRIMS opened for a sold out ROLLING STONES CONCERT. On a past road trip to Detroit … we came across one of the many fun places that the Pilgrims played. Sadly, the nightclub called THE GAY HAVEN wasn’t so … for it was shuttered long ago. (This photo’s from the ’70s).
Another fun place was MOTOWN. In HITSVILLE USA RECORDING STUDIO A … Dennis watched THE SUPREMES RECORD THE VOCAL TRACKS for what would later become one of their BIGGEST HITS … “Come See About Me”.
Dennis recalls another unique HITSVILLE session where he witnessed men … with 2x4s STRAPPED TO THEIR FEET … TAPPING OUT RHYTHM TRACKS THAT WERE USED FOR MANY OTHER MOTOWN HITS, too. Not too many years ago Dennis had the pleasure of reminiscing and recalling even more memories … with members of the legendary FUNK BROTHERS. They were down at Cleveland’s AFM Local 4 Union Hall (rehearsing in advance of a concert at the Rock Hall of Fame). Plus more of those memories … of watching music being made at Motown … he shared with one of THE SUPREMES … MARY WILSON. It happened while attending a Rock Hall affair titled, “A Girl Groups Tribute”. Here are some of the photos from that weekend …
Back to the ’60s … Although the pioneering band seemed to have arrived, they did not land one special deal. As mentioned above … a successful studio audition for HITSVILLE’s powers-at-hand brought a dream of an offer. At the same time guitarist GLENN SCHWARTZ missed his swear-in date with a NATIONAL GUARD officer (arranged via ARMY contacts Chandler made serving musical duty for the military). Thus evaporated the band’s “chance at the Big-time”. With those untimely draft notices; A PROMISED CONTRACT FOR THE PILGRIMS “TO BE MOTOWN’S FIRST WHITE GROUP”, WENT UNSIGNED. Speaking of Motown and records…
Back home to Ohio for fun gigs in many a ballroom like this one at Geauga Lake Amusement Park.
Where three of the four Pilgrims did land was in the military. But, before disbanding (pun intended) they also served as the studio band on other recordings, too. Since often times session work was just that (read: work), band members rarely recall details.
However, for Dennis one studio session was made more memorable because he got to incorporate a syncopated guitar riff that BO DIDDLEY taught him. The song? “JUST LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET” by the vocal group called “THE REFLECTIONS”. Dennis said they were a JOY to work with; whether making music with them onstage (as backup) or in the studio (as a per-session scale-pay musician). So whenever fans of that HUGE hit share how much they enjoyed it; Dennis gets to recall the fun of doing it. (Which is good because he said often times one can’t be sure if the tracks that are recorded are the same tracks on the final mix. That happened a lot back in the day!)
All ways A One Night Stand For A Good Backup Man
That band wasn’t the only band he and fellow PILGRIM bandmembers would find themselves “almost making it” with. The next almost-made-it-with-them bands included Cleveland’s TOM KING and THE STARFIRES later known as THE OUTSIDERS. They had the hit record “TIME WON’T LET ME”. Those sessions at KEN HAMANN’S CLEVELAND RECORDING made for some lasting impressions. Or did they? After a falling out, drummer RONALD HARKAI WAS AIR-BRUSHED OFF THE ALBUM COVER. This for him, at the time, must have added insult to injury because it was the drummer’s dad who had paid for that recording session.
Fellow band members later went on to play in many a diverse band or two… too numerous to list now. But, briefly, we mention: the virtuoso guitarist Glenn Schwartz was in “The James Gang” (as was Dennis for a very short stint), then Glenn went with “Pacific East & Electric”. Drummer Ronald Harkai was in “Tom King & The Starfires” (as was Dennis) then “The Outsiders” (as was Dennis for a brief time). A bit more detail about the guys follows…
Below is courtesy of Nick Blakey. It is an excerpt from liner notes he wrote for his CD titled, “The Schwartz-Fox Blues Crusade featuring Mr. Stress”. BTW: Footnotes and the complete bibliography are are available in the extended liner notes online: http://smogveil.com/FBSCnotes (Thank you, Nick… for your efforts in support of all the musicians mentioned here, past and present. L.C.)
Sonny passed away Sunday, Feb 5, 2017. At that time, I wrote about what a Blessing it was … to hear about the MUSICAL COFFEE KLATCHES these two former band mates had (during Sonny’s time at Menorah Park). Those standing SMOOZE DATES were always up-lifting … no downer meals ala “Tuesdays with Morrie”, so to speak.
How the two rockers re-connected: DC discovered that SG was convalescing from major, major brain surgery … and was moved into one of the homes on the Menorah Campus. It happened that Pianist-Dennis had been performing “on campus” since 2000. When DC learned SG was housed right next door from where DC regularly played … he sought him out. After the initial first reunion, Sonny asked DC to return to see him … “the next time you’re in the hood”. Dennis did. He found Sonny to be very interested in … whatever music he had just played earlier (at his solo gigs there). Plus SG would always ask about DC’s band (“The Stratophonics”) … and whatever music Bandleader-Chandler had them play (on their last gig). So it seemed … this form of “music therapy” … for Sonny … was what the doctor ordered. It brought back memories … of their days of playing together (in “The Starfires” & “The Outsiders”).
Sonny LOVED to talk about singing. FYI, SG was the lead vocal on that iconic rock hit, “Time Won’t Let Me” … so naturally … he would talk all things vocal, (so to speak … pardon the puns).
2021: For the Youngins who asked:
Sonny would recall the lyrics he sang in the past … while Dennis recalled the music he played in the past … with him! On each and every visit Bandleader-Chandler made … he was always asked about arrangements … key signatures… band equipment, etc.
The hope was there … that “Time will let them”… make music together again … playing out. Dennis believed so … as did Sonny. Oh, the HEALING POWER OF MUSIC. Again, it was a Blessing to hear of those MUSICAL COFFEE KLACTHES. Thank you for the memories and the music, too. “Rest in Rock’n’Roll Heaven”, dearest Sonny.
Perhaps because of the power of rock songs from one’s youth and with the passing of time, there appears to be greater interest in the history of those early bands. So many musicians were involved that memories may seem blurred like through a revolving door. But, Dennis has learned that for many … “It’s fun to get another’s perspective given the distance of time!”
Signed. Liz Chandler, 2021