Rock Hall Song
With the approaching anniversary of the 1995 opening of the Rock Hall… I post this from K. Michael Benz’s file…
THE SAGA OF THIS SONG… CHRONICLES IN DETAIL… VOLUNTEER DENNIS CHANDLER’S INVOLVEMENT IN THE GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGN TO BRING THE ROCK HALL TO CLEVELAND.
This song helped in a small way to bring the Rock Hall to Cleveland. Read the page for the complete story. The song says it all.
April ’84: WHK Radio (aka 14K) was made Cleveland’s oldies station by Malrite Communications and introduced over the airwaves as “Their very own special houseband, The Stratophonics, led by musician Dennis Chandler.” What influenced WHK Radio to hire him? He had played with another houseband, years earlier (’64) at Detroit’s legendary CKLW. Aptly named for the times, The Pilgrims (Glenn Schwartz, Ronald Harkai, Pete Dragas and Chandler) had a good blend of what Dennis called “Roots Rock ‘n’ Blues”. (A blend that brought them a promised contract to be the first white band signed to Motown, until a couple of untimely draft notices issued to Schwartz and Harkai disbanded them.)
Bringing back that blend into ‘the ’80s made for some interesting songs, some interesting gigs and for some interesting people, too. The Dennis Chandler Band became the 14K Stratophonics… or as I like to call the various and sundry talents… Dennis’ fraternity-of-a-band. Very interesting, indeed. For example…
Nov. ’84: How Dennis came to write the Rock Hall Song. The High School Reunion of Carl Hirsch saw the then-president of Malrite Communications bring in as Master of Ceremonies the legendary WHK disc jockey, Johnny Holliday.
While doing musical duty at the reunion, Dennis chatted on break with Holliday, who had worked at WHK in the ’60s. They talked about how “they told us years ago that rock ‘n’ roll would not survive”. Dennis added, that for him, “rock and roll has never been more alive”. (History was repeating itself for DC. Here he was serving as houseband for another regional radio powerhouse and doing backup for many of the same great rock and roll pioneers he worked with back in the ’60s at CKLW.) By the time they went back up onstage, Dennis had the opening lyric line of the song. He sang it and the crowd loved it. Johnny Holliday encouraged Dennis to finish writing the song. He did.A Week Later: WHK Benefit Sock Hop with the legendary Johnny Holliday again as Master of Ceremonies. He returned to Cleveland to emcee another event at which Dennis and his band would again be performing. It was Kismet. Dennis had finished writing the song. Holliday asked him to have the band play it. They did. The crowd loved it.
As it turned out, NBC-TV3 reporter Dale Solly was doing a live remote from the Sock Hop, wrapping up his Five-Part Series on Rock ‘n’ Roll. Being a musician who booked out with Dennis as a duo and often played with the Stratophonics band… he was a quick study. Solly sang the song live on-air (and again later for the above-mentioned series of his).
Then into the studio we went… out came the song… and everybody was ready to roll…or … rock on, as Disk Jockey Norm N. Nite always says.
In ’85 The First Petition Drive / USA Today Phone Poll Drive put the song to good use. WHK “broke” the song at the first petition drive. Then all the radio stations joined the bandwagon by playing it for the USA Today phone poll drive. The locally played song didn’t escape national notice. Hall of Fame Foundation Executive Director Suzan Evans along with fellow New York rock hall board members telephoned Malrite CEO Milt Maltz about it… who called Malrite executive John Gorman about it… who called WHK radio’s then-director of promotions, Cathy Bee… who called WHK radio’s then-program director, Chip Bender. Requests for the song came and copies were sent to then-Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar, then-State Representative Pat Sweeney, then-Governor Dick Celeste, then-Mayor George Voinovich, Chamber of Commerce then-president Bill Bryant, and Growth Association then-executive vice president K. Michael Benz aka Mike Benz. Plus copies to Ahmet Ertegun and Rolling Stone editor / publisher Jann Wenner… were put in the mail. Yes, Youngins’… there was no email back in those days… just snail mail. But, they got it and we got it… the Hall of Fame in the CLE!
March ’86: A “Mary, Mary” Honorable Mention. The rock hall songs that were written, recorded and played on radio also got a lot of attention in print, too. Like when Cleveland media’s most influential, the late revered reporter Mary Strassmeyer wrote about them. (Her Plain Dealer column was so popular; oftentimes-daily transit commuters could be seen turning directly to it to find out what was happening in our fair city.) Whenever warranted, she would always give credit where credit was due… in her column. With that playful-but-petulant tone of hers, Mary, Mary acknowledged all the then-recent rock hall recordings (i.e., Eric Carmen’s ‘The Rock Stops Here’, etc.) But, then came between the lines a “how-soon-they-forget” tone when she reminded readers that, “The Granddaddy of all the rock hall songs is ‘Can You Feel It (That Rock ‘n’ Roll)’ written back in ’83.” Hardly a mention but not taken lightly when it was a mention by Mary, Mary. For over three decades she covered society. Well, here she was covering the waterfront, sorta: The Rock Hall sits on the Cleveland’s lakefront.
On a personal note… “Strassy” has since passed… but I post this collage honoring her. She supported many in the Arts… including my musician-hubby, Dennis. She often would go to hear him perform as “Pianist Dennis Chandler”. She particularly enjoyed hearing her favorites from his “Masters of Melody” songbook. M,M would marvel whenever he broke out with his brand of blues, rock and oh, that boogie woogie! As for me… I considered her one of my writing mentors… a scribe pal for whom this spy never minded to be corrected. M,M would teach, “Just don’t be BORING”. Plus whenever theatre goer-Dennis had a gig… she was my seat mate. As a matter of fact, M,M was responsible for a great number of playbills in our collection of Theatre Programs.
BUT, BACK TO ABOUT THE ROCK HALL… Mary, Mary was responsible for raising the awareness of her readership and in no small way, I’m sure… helped to raise that Rock Hall you see… on the waterfront. (Oh, that reminds me of a song!)
1st Gig) The Reception to Welcome the National Media & New York Board Members of The Rock Hall saw Dennis booked as the event’s sole entertainer. His booking was the brainchild of a couple of producers for ABC affiliate WEWS /TV5, Jane Temple Forman, Carol Story and Terry Moir. They wanted “a subtle New York style cocktail hour setting” but with “a heart-of-rock-n-roll-in-Cleveland vibe”. So while watching people being wooed and wowed by the hall-of-famers, Dennis deemed what was appropriate to play from his vast repertoire of their rock ‘n’ roll songs. That day in the historic Halle building many Clevelanders held court, but Dennis later held sway… and he included some not-so-subtle rock ‘n’ roll piano playing, too. (read: boogie woogie).
2nd Gig) The Moondog Coronation Ball (held at Terminal Tower since renamed Tower City) Worried Dennis would be late to the second of his three gigs he had that day, K. Michael Benz squired him in a rented limo (reserved to haul leftover hall-of-famers from the reception to the ball.) By the way… Mike Benz was the main man… called “The $100 Million Man”… for he raised the funds for the Rock Hall (and all in one day). Mike made sure Dennis arrived in time to hit the stage. (More about Boss Benz below.) On stage at the ball… Dennis and his band … booked and billed as the “14K Stratophonics”… opened for headliner Chuck Berry. Malrite executive John Gorman, who had the contract for Chuck’s performance asked for the WHK houseband to open and then back Berry. Of course when asked, bandleader Dennis told WHK promotions director Cathy Bee that he knew “every last song the iconic rocker might do and then some!” It was “Game on!” Opening and then backing Berry recalled many fun gigs Dennis had done in his days spent playing around the Detroit/ Windsor area in the 1960s (as bandleader of the earlier mentioned radio station houseband “The Pilgrims” for the legendary radio powerhouse CKLW). But, it was a real blast to watch Berry here in Cleveland, Chandler’s hometown. Especially when Chuck called, “Chandler… my favorite white piano player!”
Years later Chuck and Dennis reminisced about the above gig. That’s probably why Chuck started to date his inscription to Dennis with one from “19–“. (“Remar”k”able’ is what that reads to me. What you see? Cheers, Chuck. Thanks for the memories).
Back to 1986: After the ball was over… songwriter-Dennis said it was particularly pleasing to hear the entire audience singing, anthem-like, “Can You Feel It”.
3rd Gig) Live TV Remote at Brooklyn High School’s Birthday Bash. After the ball was over… Dennis was at the hop. The high school dance commemorated one of the first sites where legendary disc jockey/promoters Bill Randle and the late Tommy Edwards had Elvis perform. (His first North-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line appearances.)
Since Dennis and The Stratophonics were headliners at the commemorative Sock Hop… they got to play the song often. Whenever the media had a live cut away, they requested the band reprise the song. In her coverage of the day’s events, Plain Dealer rock reporter Jane Scott wrote “One of the most popular songs of the day was “Can You Feel It (That Rock ‘n’ Roll)”. The crowds loved it!”
Jan. ’87: Rock Hall of Fame Induction Dinner at New York’s Waldorf Astoria. To help celebrate his induction, B.B. King flew us in as his guests asking for “adopted son Dennis” (as B.B. fondly often called him) to be there for him. Later at a private party in B.B.’s suit at the Waldorf, Dennis got to share his song. It delighted him that B.B. believed Cleveland should be home the home of the rock hall, too. The blues legend agreed “to do radio spots for the campaign and to donate a Lucille to the museum”. And as always, BB kept his word.
That’s how Chameleon Chandler also helped the rock hall campaign via his reprise of his godfather-Dennis role. The short back story is… while working for Gibson Guitar in the ’70’s, he did endorsement deals for B.B., helped design and made happen in ’80, B.B.’s signature guitar as a production line model. That’s when B.B. King dubbed Dennis… knighting him as “Lucille’s Godfather”. (To learn more go to the web page titled, “B.B. King/ Lucille”.)
Summer ’93: Reunion of The Secrets. After the ’60’s girl group reunited… there was another reunion. The girls who had the ’63 hit song “The Boy Next Door” reunited with the boy behind them- their past accompanist, Dennis.
That Secrets reunion session yielded a sort of mini-album, made up of original songs written by Dennis. Besides “Can You Feel It”, the other songs included were “Just a Rock ‘n’ Roll Melody” and “You’re Never Too Old to Rock and Roll”, (even more of anthem as done by Dennis and his band today).
Never actually released, these songs did get some airplay that year by the legendary disc jockey Norm Nite on his then-WMJI radio show. But, the program director felt forced to nix any more airplay. His reasoning? This material, albeit old sounding, was new and did not fit the format of oldies. He feared a floodgate effect of writers submitting unpublished songs.
Nonetheless, writer-Dennis was pleased that Norm Nite played the songs. After all, Norm was first to go to Ahmet Ertegun to “pitch” Cleveland as the home of the rock hall. He was pleased to hear on air again the… by-then-ten-year-old… specially written song. It was very fulfilling to hear feedback from listeners who loved the other old-sounding new songs, too.
Another request from producer Chuck Rambaldo, owner of the legendary Tommy Edwards Records… was to reissue the song. Dennis said, of course… “Yes”. And the song was released in the then-latest technology….on C.D. Now here on the Internet.
June 7, 1993: Rock Hall Groundbreaking Ceremony. Dennis was invited to attend by the rock hall’s then-executive director, K. Michael Benz. “Who’s Mike Benz?”, one may ask again. Dubbed “The $94 Million Man”, Mike Benz was responsible for helping make happen the hall, by selling that much in bonds! And he did it in one day! All to address concerns by the then-mayor, then-governor and the local members of congress at the time. The challenge? Rumored to be requests i.e., “Make the hall happen! It will help dispel jokes about our city for example that old, ‘Cleveland, the mistake on the lake’ “. Now that we have a museum on the lake… it’s hardly a mistake with the millions who make it to here.
Mention is made here of Mike Benz aka Boss Benz because as a former boss (at Cleveland’s Chamber of Commerce aka the Growth Association) he was and still is a mentor to many, including Dennis. Mike’s always been gracious in rewarding civic effort. That day he showed appreciation for Dennis’ early involvement in the rock-hall-grassroots-movement, by thoughtfully having him included in the festivities of the day. Dennis’ history with the up-until-then-pseudo-rock-hall went a lot further back than the memory of some of his then-fellow chamber associates. Workers who wondered, “Why did Chandler get to go and as a VIP yet?” They had their curiosity solved the next day when they read in the papers… i.e., Plain Dealer reporter Mary Strassmeyer, was kind enough to again give Dennis credit in her column. In her coverage of the day’s events she wrote, “Mary, Mary admittedly a naysayer when it came to the building of the rock hall was among the crowd of 5,000 to 7,000 happy people at the groundbreaking yesterday when “Yea-sayers” had their day.”… Then the item titled Real Believers… “Liz Chandler stood right outside the VIP section for the festivities with a sign her husband, Dennis, had kept for seven years. It said: “Where The Rock Began to Roll… Let’s Bring the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to Cleveland”. The sign made by Malrite WMMS-WHK artists usually hangs over the Chandlers’ soda fountain in their home in Solon. Dennis, an account executive with the Growth Association, sat in the VIP section. A songwriter, Chandler wrote the first song about bringing the project to Cleveland, ‘Can You Feel It’ back in 1983.”
That big banner Dennis was “awarded” years earlier by Milt Maltz, not only caught the Malrite CEO’s eye that day but the eye of many a photographer’s camera, too. Especially when the locals recognized who was holding it. A singer from a ’60’s girl group, Karen Gray Cipriani. Who? Lead singer from The Secrets (they had the ’63 hit “The boy Next Door”). Back to explaining how a hubbub happened to put them on many a front page. KGC was helping handle the huge and, at times, unwieldy sign. Many recognized the sign. Why? Its artwork was the logo for the campaign, flown like a standard for the battle, so to speak. But, then they’d wonder why one of the girls looked familiar. A local Sun Media photographer who had done a story on the ’60’s girl group identified KGC to onlookers. That started a hubbub of activity from autograph seekers…along with some serious offers to buy the banner (that we still have). . But, that’s OK… now there is… Ebay.
After that flash mob of sorts… all turned their attention to the stars who started to come out (of the VIP tent). The girls wanted to tease VIP-Dennis with this tangible reminder of his grassroots days. Instead, the banner drew interested looks from hall-of-famers, The Coasters’ Carl Gardner and superstar Billy Joel. They stopped to ask about it and that’s how they all landed on the front page of many a newspaper. (Thanks to that photographer who just couldn’t keep a secret!)
Labor Day ’93: A Coaster Call of Encouragement. Back at the groundbreaking in June, VIP-Dennis really got to feel like one that day, but for other reasons. To explain, because of the day’s intense heat, many of the attendees were moved indoors… on board a huge ore freighter docked alongside the groundbreaking site. It was there that Mike Benz aka Boss Benz had Dennis host an intimate group that included some of rock’s earliest stars, Chuck Berry, Ruth Brown and Carl Gardner, among others. Chameleon Chandler got to be more than “a fly on wall” of that ore boat. Some very engaging and entertaining discussions were conducted. To Den… what tales they told… about their early days… of rock and roll.
Besides the above-mentioned down-below-the-deck discussions… Dennis really enjoyed not only reminiscing with The Coasters’ Gardner, but also meeting his wife, Veta Gardner. Later that fall, Veta phoned to say Carl, after hearing “Can You Feel It” and some of his other compositions said, “Dennis’ composing ability is every bit as good as Mike and Jerry’s”, referring to Leiber & Stoller! Veta told Dennis, “You have to play these songs for Mike & Jerry” and later… charged him to “keep this music alive!”
July 28, 1994: The Top The Rock Party. With so many new players becoming involved with the rock hall project, it was natural that some grassroots volunteers stepped to the rear, so to speak. Blending in the background seemed to better serve Dennis at the time, too. With rock-and-roll-boss-Benz out of the picture at Chandler’s day job (at the Growth Association) Dennis did his duty and kept it all business (like in membership-business). But, he said putting in an appearance just to mingle along with the crowd at the top-the-rock party made him marvel, too. He thought of his lyric line in the song, “It’s time you’ve got to start believing!”
From live remote, Dennis and his band were seen performing on all 5 TV new casts. After one post-performance interview, a sound bite had Malrite News Anchor Denise Dufala reporting that… “Back in ’85 Chandler, along with his band, was responsible for over 200,000 of the 600,000 petition signatures”. When Dennis heard that over the airwaves; it was news to him, too, until Dufala quoted her News Editor Bob Lewis as “the man who counted… literally… for Lewis was a Malrite Communications intern assigned to Dennis’ band during the campaign”. To quote Bob, “I ought to know how many. I had to count all those suckers. Talk about dues paying!” As far as dues playing… for rocker-Dennis… he got to play it… and feel it, what with… 10 gigs in 6 days. Now, that’s how he celebrates… that’s how he rolls… or is it rocks?
October 1996: Playhouse Square Theater Promotion to advance-plug their Broadway Series show “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”. Dennis said he felt musically privileged to again be “the only invited entertainment”. When he was asked, “Could he play exclusively Leiber & Stoller songs?”… Dennis responded by proceeding to regale them with the entire Leiber & Stoller repertoire. Plus on a more personal note, Dennis was pleased he could take part in this particular promotion, albeit only a musical part (as a cancer-survivor he could not donate). The promotion? A Red Cross blood drive.
Nov. 5, 1996: “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” Opening Night Reception & Cast Party for producer, cast, crew and composers. Dennis was again invited to perform their music but, this time at the Rock Hall… with the legendary composers Leiber & Stoller in attendance! How that happened was Chameleon Chandler performed songs from the Leiber & Stoller songbook at that above-mentioned promotion. It was held under the marquee and later in the lobby of Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre. There he was heard by Company manager Mitzi Harder of The NYC Smokey Joe Cafe Tour Company as she walked past. (“Good Timing”, as the song says!)
She immediately put him under contract to play ALL the Opening Night pre-curtain festivities… including the come in of the crowds … and of course the After Party for cast, crew and composers, too! Musician-Dennis was excited for not only does he love Leiber & Stoller’s music but he also was looking forward to seeing Leiber & Stoller… again for a variety of reasons. …
.. For example… Inspired by the prospect of meeting them again, Dennis dug out a photo we had taken back in ’87 of Leiber & Stoller onstage at New York’s Waldorf Astoria as they were being inducted into the rock hall of fame. It was the same night B.B. King was inducted and, as the blues legend’s guests, we were given great vantage point. One that made the inductions up, close and personal… especially for Dennis. Why? Three of his most favorite musical mentors and guitar teachers, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and B.B. King were all together… at one point that night… at the same table.So excited were we, that we both forgot to capture them all together in a “Kodak moment”. But we did remember the camera later. So when on stage came Leiber & Stoller for their award… we snapped them. Timing.After his gig at the rock hall (that night of Nov. 5, 1996) Dennis got to show the 1987 shot to Leiber & Stoller, who loved the photo so much they both wanted to keep it. They wondered why Dennis said he forgot about the photo all that time… up and til this booking. Cancer-survivor-Dennis offered how life took on different priorities that year (’87 was the start of his battle now victory over leukemia). Which is perhaps why the composers signed his copy with the inscription: “Dennis, You’ve survived a lot of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Best Wishes”, Leiber & Stoller.
So excited about this latest close encounter with Leiber & Stoller, Dennis forgot to do what Veta Gardner told him to do, “play this music for Mike and Jerry.” In any case, there he was in the rock hall where he not only could “Feel It (That Rock ‘n’ Roll)” but “be” it, too, sort of.Thank you, dear Chuck Rambaldo.. ….up in God’s Cyberspace. Dennis-the-composer was found by Johnny-the legendary-disk-jockey-Holliday… because of you. Looks like a new twist on the saying, “What goes ’round comes ’round”. Or is it… “Here’s Johnny… Johnny Holliday”, that is. So we celebrate these Good Guys who started it all. “From Sock Hop to Cyberspace, what a way to “chart” a song. Johnny Holliday… a real charmer…. a good luck charmer…
Liz Chandler, Web Writer & Photographer 2020