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Dennis Chandler’s Fraternity-of-a-Band Called The Stratophonics
About the band: In 1982 WHK 1420 am Radio became “The Oldies Station” in Cleveland for Malrite Communications. Because of mutual Motor City contacts Malrite president Milt Maltz approached Cleveland musician Dennis about his band Steel aka Dennis Chandler Band becoming a houseband in support of WHK’s oldies format. It was Dennis’ suggestion to rename his band The Stratophonics aka later The 14K Stratophonics. It was in nod to something radio listener Dennis recalled from his youth…the station’s early “Reverberating sound“, (introduced in 1959). Approval came from executive John Gorman and another adventure in music began for Dennis.
The above invitation brought bandleader Chandler many opportunities to do musical duty. But, Dennis’ renaissance wasn’t new in ’82. History was repeating itself. Another group of his served as a radio station houseband, too. It was years earlier in ’64. That’s when he and a couple of childhood chums from Cleveland… got to work for the Detroit- Windsor regional radio powerhouse… the legendary CKLW. Those earlier Detroit days for musician-Dennis made him adept at… all the music. Chameleon Chandler was made capable by his past circumstances. Dennis got to do keyboards and guitar, along with guitar virtuoso Glenn Schwartz, drummer Ronald Harkai and bassist Pete Dragas. The Pilgrims appeared to be aptly named for that place in time said Program Director Dave Shaffer. So he had the very young band backing live performances everywhere. Artists such The Isley Brothers, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Ronnie & The Daytonas, Freddie Cannon, Del Shannon, Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, Dobie Gray, Little Eva, Gary & U.S. Bonds, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, to name just a few. Playing around the Detroit-Windsor area in those days, made that scene… Dennis’ Music Graduate School. It earned him an early Doctorate in Diversity, too, so to speak. (For more about that band go to the webpage titled “The Pilgrims”).
But, back to when Dennis Chandler left Detroit to return home to Cleveland. Becoming such a strong backup brought him lots of work (or shall we say play) with artists as diverse as… Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Vee, Fabian, The Cadillacs, The Coasters, The Crests, The Drifters, the Jive Five, Jan & Dean, The Rivingtons. He also got to play locally, briefly in Tom King & the Starfires later The Outsiders and then the early James Gang. His band was known as the Dennis Chandler Band aka Steel later aka The Stratophonics / 14K Stratophonics… got gigs backing… Leslie Gore, Lou Christie, The Brooklyn Bridge, Vito & The Salutations, The Secrets and The Regents, to name just a very few.
Ability to “stand and deliver” back of so many diverse acts brought that earned invitation from Malrite to become WHK Radio‘s Houseband. In turn, bandleader Dennis was delighted to be reunited with some of his early rock ‘n’ roll teachers. An added bonus was… while playing in musical support of the station’s oldies format… they were able to help collect over 200,000 of the 600,000 petition signatures for the all-media campaign to “Bring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum to Cleveland“. (For more info go to the webpage titled “Rock Hall Song“)
Those radio station gigs also reunited him with some of his very favorite musical mentors i.e., rock pioneers Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Lonnie Mack. Speaking of the legendary songwriter-singer-guitarist Chuck Berry… it was at the station’s “Moondog Coronation Ball” (after The Stratophonics opened and then helped back Berry)… that Chuck Berry told the audience, “Dennis is my favorite piano white piano player“.
Why Dennis Chandler was dubbed “The Ed-U-tainer“: The term is rooted in a philosophy much like the late Marvin Hamlisch had. Marvin-the-musician was called “The Entertainer”. No doubt it was in nod to the Scott Joplin song of the same title. That early composer’s music was championed by Hamlisch-the-producer to great success (as in numerous awards including Oscars for the Joplin-instilled soundtrack of the movie “The Sting”). But… most importantly, Hamlisch helped… to shine a spotlight… on how the earlier composers set the stage, so to speak, for America‘s original music. Marvin-the-entertainer’s example… espoused that philosophy of “Ed U-Taining“… that… “One must entertain but educate, too!” Thus teacher Dennis’ role is testament to the work Marvin and other mutual friends started back in the day… to recognize America’s musical roots.
By the way, it was in ’75 that the two entertaining-types first met… when they “played the Palace” (the one in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square). There was Dennis Chandler opening for Marvin Hamlisch, sort of. The dilapidated setting was just prior to Marvin performing a benefit concert (to raise funds to further the restoration of the Palace). So, what did the two teachers talk about?.. Which vaudevillians must have treaded those boards when they came to town? And what performers must have played “Uptown at East 1-0-5” while doin’ the Chitlin’ Circuit? Talk ’bout the Blues…
To this day, Dennis still shares that deep feeling about the Blues. It’s in whatever the band does musically… and at all gigs, big or small. It pleases him that the living-room-learning-format he utilizes to give… a little history behind those hits from the past… goes over so well… with audiences of all ages. Again, why Dennis was dubbed “The Ed-U-Tainer“. Speaking of “Ed-U-Taining”… a few years back in the ’80s and ‘90s, Dennis had done his brand of a “Blues in the Schools” concert / lecture series. Their “tour” took them from inner-city to outer-suburb, teaching children where the music of today came from… yesterday’s blues. That’s how he got to pass the music on. Music, Dennis was taught… in most part… firsthand by the bluesmasters themselves.
It was through their time-honored Oral Tradition, that bluesmen would invite Dennis to “Come, sit, learn” at their knee, so to speak. Albeit his baptism-by-fire, he holds precious the many memories that included lessons hard-learned but always lovingly taught, “Good, good… now try it this way”. Great respect was earned for America‘s original music… for the musicians who made the music… and for those who shared the music with him… Muddy Waters, Luther Allison, Albert King, James Cotton, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim, Mike Bloomfield, Charles Musselwhite, Paul Butterfield, Elvin Bishop, Bill “Honky Tonk” Doggett, Robert “Jr.” Lockwood. Of course, I’d be remiss to not list… Dennis’ “second father”, B.B. King. The King of the Blues was more than a teacher to him. B.B. said Dennis was, “A fabulous musician. I call him my adopted son ’cause I like to think I raised him” (and for over 50 years he did). How does one repay such caring? By helping to fulfill their wishes. Example… a promise made in ’65… became a promise kept in ’80. That’s when Dennis felt he perhaps got to pay “Poppa BB” back, a little. (Talk about an adventure… and what it took… for “adopted son Dennis” to help make happen the B.B. King Lucille Gibson Guitar production line model… go to the website page tiled “BB King / Lucille” to learn more). Now how does Dennis repay such sharing? Playing it forward.
In closing… Special thanks to all the horses in the stable… thoroughbreds that they are. And to those past, present and future members of DC’s fraternity-of-a-band called “The Stratophonics”. Playing such events associated with Roots Rock and Blues has enabled many of the original bandmembers to return often… to their love of making music. So… Let them “Ed-U-Tain” you… and as the song lyric sings… “And you’ll have a real good time!”
Liz Chandler, Web Writer