Rock Hall Song
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.
THE SAGA OF THIS SONG… CHRONICLES IN DETAIL… VOLUNTEER DENNIS CHANDLER’S INVOLVEMENT IN THE GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGN TO BRING THE ROCK HALL TO CLEVELAND
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, Ron 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 an umtimely draft notice disbanded them.) Bringing back that blend in ’84 via The Stratophonics made for some interesting songs, some interesting gigs and for some interesting people, too. 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, “r & r 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 r & r 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!
A Week Later: WHK Benefit Sock Hop with the legendary Johnny Holliday again as Master of Ceremonies. His returning to Cleveland to emcee another event at which Dennis and his band would again be performing was kismet for the song. Holliday asked them to play the song. 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 who also played in his band, Solly sang the song live and then later on his series.
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. Suzan Evans along with fellow New York rock hall board members called Malrite CEO Milt Maltz about it. WHK radio’s then-director of promotions, Cathy Bee, along with then-program director, Chip Bender sent copies 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 Mike Benz. Plus copies went to Rolling Stone editor & publisher Jann Wenner and Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun.
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 the 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.)
March 21, 1986: “Cleveland’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Birthday Bash” was held. Dennis got to play the song live again- at all 3 of the birthday-bash-bookings he had that day…
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 then-ABC/TV5 producers Jane Temple Forman and Carol Story. They wanted a subtle New York style cocktail hour setting but with a heart-of-rock-n-roll-in-Cleveland mood. So while watching people being wooed and wowed by hall of famers, Dennis deemed what was appropriate to play from his vast repertoire of rock ‘n’ roll songs. That day in the historic Halle building many Clevelanders held court, but Dennis later held sway with: some not-so-subtle rock ‘n’ roll piano playing (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, Mike Benz squired him in a rented limo (reserved to haul leftover hall-of-famers from the reception to the ball.) Benz-the-$94-Million-Man (more about him later) made sure Dennis arrived in time to hit the stage. Then Dennis and his band The Stratophonics opened for headliner Chuck Berry. (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. Dennis then went from the Ball to the Hop. The high school hop 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 hop, so to speak, 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 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 in as his guests “adopted son Dennis” (as B.B. fondly calls him) and wife, Liz. Later at a private party in B.B.’s suit at the Waldorf, he got to share his song. It delighted him that B.B. believed Cleveland should be home to the rock hall, too. The blues legend agreed “to do radio spots for the campaign and to donate a Lucille to the museum”!
That’s how Dennis got to reprise his godfather role. (See bio on how, while working for Gibson Guitar in the ’70s, he did endorsement deals for B.B., helped design and made happen in ’80, B.B.’s signature guitar as a production line model; hence him dubbing Dennis “Lucille’s Godfather”.)
Summer ’93: Reunion of The Secrets. After the 60s girl group reunited; there was another reunion. The girls who had the 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”, “You’re Never Too Old to Rock and Roll”.)
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 song submissions.
Nonetheless, writer-Dennis was pleased that Norm Nite played the songs. After all, Norm was first to go to Ahmet Ertegen to “pitch” Cleveland as the home of the rock hall. He was pleased to hear on air again the by-then-ten-years-old specially written song. Fulfilling, too, was feedback that listeners loved the other old-sounding new songs, too.
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. 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 keep a rumored promise he made to the mayor, the govenor and local members of congress. The promise? Make the hall happen and in the future it would help dispell jokes like
“Cleveland, the mistake on the lake”.
Mention is made here of Mike Benz because as a former boss (at Cleveland’s Chamber of Commerce aka the Growth Association) and mentor to many (including Dennis) Mike’s always thoughtful 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-psuedo-rock-hall went a lot further back than the memory of some of his then-fellow chamber associates. Workers who wondered “Why did he get to go and as a VIP yet?” had their curiosity solved the next day when they read…
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 the yeasayers 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: The Secrets’ lead singer Karen Gray Cipriani. To explain, she 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 Karen looked familiar. The local Sun Media photographer who had done a story on the 60’s girl group identified her to onlookers. That started a hubbub of activity from autograph seekers (along with offers to buy the banner).
All turned their attention to the stars who started to come out (of the VIP tent). The girls wanted to tease VIP Dennis with a reminder of his grassroots days. Instead, it drew interested looks from hall of famers, The Coasters’ Carl Gardner and superstar Billy Joel. They stopped to ask about the sign and that’s how they landed on the front page of all the newspapers. (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 onboard a huge freighter docked alongside the groundbreaking site. It was there that Mike Benz had Dennis host an intimate group that included some of rock’s earliest stars, Chuck Berry, Ruth Brown and Carl Gardner, among others.
He 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! Vita 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 work, Dennis did his duty and kept it all business like in membership-business (his job at the chamber). But, he said putting in an appearance just to mingle along with the crowd made him marvel, too, thinking of his lyric line in the song, “It’s time you’ve got to start believing!”
Labor Day Week 1995: Opening Celebrations. Many were held that weekend, including one at Cleveland’s Hopkins Airport. 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 News Editor Bob Lewis, the man who counted. (Literally for Lewis was a Malrite Communications intern assigned to Dennis’ band during the campaign and 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: rocker Dennis got to play it and feel it, what with 10 gigs in 6 days that celebration week!
October 1996: Playhouse Square Theater Promotion to advance-plug their Broadway Series show “Smokey Joe’s Café”. Dennis said he felt musically privileged (again as the only invited entertainment) and when he was asked, “Could he play exclusively Leiber & Stoller songs?” He responded by proceeding to regale them with the entire Leiber & Stoller repertoire. (Plus on a more personal note, survivor-Dennis was pleased he could take part in this particular promotion, albeit only a musical part… for it was a Red Cross blood drive!)
Nov. 5, 1996: “Smokey Joe’s Café” 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 composrs Leiber & Stoller in attendance. Company manager Mitzi Harder of The NYC Smokey Joe Cafe Tour Co. contracted Dennis after he performed their music at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theater. He was looking forward to seeing Leiber & Stoller again for a variety of reasons…
… Inspired by the prospect of meeting them again, Dennis dug out a photo he 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. was inducted and, as the blues legend’s guest, Dennis was given great vantage point. One that made the inductions upclose and personal especially for Dennis: 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! So excited was he, that he forgot to capture them in a “Kodak moment”, so to speak. But he did remember his camera when Leiber & Stoller came onstage and he snapped them.
After his gig at the rock hall (that night of Nov. 5, 1996) Dennis got to show the shot to Leiber & Stoller, who loved the photo so much they both wanted to keep it. Wondering why he said he forgot about it all that time, Dennis offered how life took on different priority that year (’87 the start of his battle with 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.
Year 2000 & The 5th Anniversary Year for the Rock Hall:
That anniversary year saw Dennis named, not only one of the “Local Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll” but also named Music Director for the “Legends All Star Band “. Along with those honors came a request by producer Chuck Rambaldo, owner of the legendary Tommy Edwards Records to reissue the song. Included on Volume 1 of the “Local Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, the song can now be enjoyed in the latest of technology….on C.D. and on the Internet. That’s how Dennis-the-composer was found by Johnny-the legendary-disk-jockey-Holliday , in cyberspace! Looks like a new twist on the saying “What goes ’round comes ’round”. Or is it “Here’s Johnny… Johnny Holliday”, that is… the man who started it all (see the beginning of this saga) coming back into Dennis’ life. From sockhop to cyberspace, what a way to “chart” a song.