A Trove of Misc. Articles + Reviews of DC by Writer Rod Ice
Writer Rod Ice … waxes poetic … with Dennis Chandler in mind …
Liz Hear: A bromance like theirs began … with this first article by Rod Ice …
SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2007
DENNIS CHANDLER & THE STRATOPHONICS
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2007
“Liz Meets Liz: A Tale of the Backwards Gibson”
c. 2007 Rod Ice
All rights reserved
Note to Readers: Recently, Gibson Guitar Corporation has offered an interesting ‘Guitar of the Week’ series of instruments. These limited-edition items became collectable from their first day out of the factory. For example, week number 29 yielded a ‘Reverse Flying V’ with the traditional 1958 body shape inverted. Instead of looking like an arrow, the electrified twanger has the guise of a twin-horned, tonal antenna. I never expected to lay hands on one of these, since the production run was limited to 400 units. But something strange happened, one evening in Solon…
My erstwhile editor, Bob Lipkin, used to say of writing professionally: “It could be worse. I could have a real job!”
Such thoughts reverberated recently, as Liz and I made a journey to interview one of the area’s most enduring and prolific performers. It was another moment when duty and pleasure took a similar course.
Over the summer, I covered a local appearance by Dennis Chandler and the Stratophonics. Their show inspired a pair of newspaper features, and some entertaining cyberspace chatter about rock history. But our interaction produced something more – an invitation to visit the Chandler homestead in person.
My wife, Liz, was rightly impressed. She reckoned it was a great opportunity for wordsmithing on my favorite subject, music. It also seemed likely to help ease the effects of chronic G.A.S. – Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. By commiserating with a fellow collector, I would be less inclined toward seeking out expensive relics on eBay, to ease my symptoms. Her logic was persuasive.
Still, work responsibilities kept me from following through for several weeks. I was busy with a long-term project, in Jefferson. Liz continued to remind me of the offer, while suggesting dates to meet. I corresponded with Chandler, and spent clandestine moments searching for vintage axes in cyberspace. Fortunately, I was outbid on every item. There were no ‘accidental purchases’ I’d have to explain later.
Finally, the moment arrived on a Wednesday.
I fumbled with my notepad, pens, camera, and spare batteries, while we headed for Solon. It was a comfortable, fall evening. Nearly surreal in its stillness.
Liz was amused as I sorted tools of the trade. “Why are you so jumpy?”
I snorted. “Just want to do a good job on this. Ask the right questions, and take good notes. Don’t you understand?”
She giggled. “Stop worrying, Rodney. This is your kind of story. Hometown rrrrrrock ‘n’ roll!”
“Yes, it is,” I agreed. “But I just want to get it right.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Of course you’ll do well, Mister Roving Reporter! Take a deep breath. This will be fun!”
We arrived soon after her admonition for calm.
Dennis Chandler met us at the front door. He was gracious, and relaxed. A fit, physical example of rock as a positive lifestyle. I remembered his confident ease from the show in June. But now, he spoke with the directness of a true ‘edu-tainer.’
Liz squeezed my arm. She whispered into my ear. “Here we go!”
We followed him to the living room, which boasted a 1904 Sohmer concert grand piano. My eyes widened as I recognized the instrument from a photo on his website.
“This all began during my stint in the Army National Guard,” he reflected. “They say you’ll never forget your first Platoon Sergeant. Mine didn’t like music. During my first weekend off, I was at the Koppel Service Club, on base at Fort Knox. They had a piano, plus a 1965 Gibson SG guitar, and a Falcon model amplifier. I played tunes until a senior guy approached me, who looked to be in his forties. He wore a business suit, so I didn’t recognize him. He asked if I could give his thirteen-year old daughter lessons, and I agreed to teach her for an hour on the following Saturday. When his car arrived, it carried the I.D. plates of a ‘Bird’ Colonel. My Sergeant was not happy!”
By now, Chandler’s wife had joined the conversation. She was maternal, yet elegant and hip. Her voice buzzed with energy.
We all laughed out loud at the story.
“After that, I gave the girl guitar lessons through the remainder of basic training,” he said. “My Sergeant would say ‘Look, there goes Chandler the musician!’ whenever I was nearby. I ended up winning awards for best individual entertainer, and best combo, with a bassist and drummer. Besides the musical recognition, I was named best military trainee. Later, I went on to Officers School. I do the best I can in everything.”
He gestured toward his wife after finishing the tale. “Goo Goo, do you remember where my awards are? I’d like to show them off!”
She returned quickly, with an armload of vintage trophies.
“They wanted me to re-enlist for three years, and continue to entertain my fellow soldiers,” Chandler said. “But right about then, I met Liz…”
My wife was speechless. But her surprise was visible.
An instant of silence passed as everyone considered the strange coincidence.
My wife, and Mrs. Chandler were both named… Liz!
Somehow, I found a puff of air still in my lungs. “I don’t believe it… Liz meets Liz! What a story!!”
Once again, everyone laughed.
“I still support the National Guard,” Chandler concluded. “Their people give freedom to everyone.”
I was scribbling notes when he shifted gears.
“So, you’d like to see some guitars?” he smiled.
Liz and Liz began a conversation of their own, about WJW, and local celebrities like Big Chuck & Little John.
I dropped my pen with anticipation. “Guitars? Uhhh… yes!”
Chandler disappeared for a moment. He returned with a long, black Gibson instrument carrier in hand.
“When they released this one, I had to order two,” he admitted. “Tell me if you’ve ever seen one like this before…”
Dramatically, he opened the case.
My mouth dropped open. It was a beautifully recreated ’58 Flying V, but tweaked with a dash of ‘Weird Science.’ The body had been reversed, transforming its tailfins into jutting, sculptured horns.
“This is sort of like Link Wray’s Danelectro Longhorn,” he observed. “Call it a Shorthorn!”
I pondered their similarity. The guitar felt finely-crafted, and solid.
After regaining my composure, I returned to ‘journalist mode.’ “So, having worked for Gibson, how do you feel about their current products?” I asked. “Do they match the instruments from Kalamazoo?”
I knew the question would spur deep consideration. Gibson had endured a period of ownership by a company called Norlin, between 1969 and 1986. Their quality and designs suffered during this dubious era. Eventually, the original Michigan factory closed. All production transferred to a newer facility in Nashville. Thankfully, changes at the boardroom-level rescued this storied manufacturer from ruin.
Budget-conscious templates were scrapped immediately. Confusing models like the S-1, Marauder, and Sonex received a quick dispatch toward oblivion. Their presence had cheapened the brand image without attracting much revenue. Those at the helm were determined to erase the memory of Norlin from consumer consciousness.
Classic instruments were lovingly revisited and recreated by the modern Gibson company. The Les Paul, SG, and Firebird were built with care and affection for their legendary personalities. The ES series of hollowbody guitars were offered with a taste of yonder glory. Custom items from their ‘Guitar of the Week’ program reverberated with commitment to fully revive the make.
Chandler bowed his head while considering my question.
“They are very close now,” he answered at last. “Very close.”
I felt electrified by our conversation.
Liz and Liz were busy discussing details of the household. My elation made their discourse echo like splashes of rainwater in a barrel. I was on a natural high.
Suddenly, Chandler broke the spell with his voice.
“Are you ready to see some more?” he said.
My senses were overloaded. “More?”
Liz C. connected with the thought, immediately. She pointed toward the doorway. “Oh yes! Take them to the studio!”
With surprise, I realized that our class in rock history had only begun!
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Thursday, November 15, 2007
“Grits and Maple Syrup”
c. 2007 Rod Ice
All rights reserved
(11-07)Note to Readers: Jay Wright is the author of ‘G. A. S. – Living With Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.’ His book speaks about the need to constantly hoard plectrum instruments to the point of madness. Though Wright is a resident of South Carolina, his perspective is universal. ‘G. A. S.’ is alive in Geauga County, and everywhere!It was late on a Wednesday night. Liz, my wife, had succumbed to the need for restful bliss. But I was awake, and at the household computer. The darkness offered a gentle cloak for my restless task. I searched for a dose of ecstasy. One random strike of fortune that would illuminate the night with a glow of quiet rapture…
Of course, my hunting ground was eBay!In the morning, I would be busy preparing for a visit with Jay Wright. But slumber refused my supplication. I could focus on nothing but the chase. It was the perfect moment for conquest.Entries popped up in a rapid succession. Yet nothing offered the emotional reward I sought. Then, something unique appeared, at last.A Mosrite ‘Serenade’ acoustic guitar!I blinked more than once. Such a curious axe had never been on eBay before. It looked authentic, but surreal.Mosrite instruments were the product of an unconventional fellow named Semie Moseley. He was handsome, personable, and gifted. But flawed as a business director. Moseley first achieved notability by crafting a doubleneck guitar for Country & Western performer Joe Maphis. Later, his company struck a deal with The Ventures that helped promote the brand to legendary status. But deals went wrong. There were counterfeit models, factory fires, and trademark issues.I’d seen many stylish Mosrite guitars. But never a flat-top acoustic. Still, my need had been satisfied. I was ready to collapse!On Thursday, Wright and his friend John Geraghty arrived in the area without difficulty. My wife provided directions to our restaurant of choice. There, we joined Dennis & Liz Chandler, the ‘First Couple’ of Northeastern Ohio Rock ‘n’ Roll.It was a family dinner of sorts – if your blood brothers were Orville Gibson and Leo Fender.After introducing ourselves, I offered a brief bit of praise for Geauga County, maple syrup, and the Northcoast. Then, the topic of discussion went to pluckable treasures. Wright professed his affinity for G & L guitars. Chandler countered with an endorsement of Gibson, his erstwhile employer. I offered own my predisposition to Fender products, and off-the-wall, budget models. Our conversation echoed throughout the eatery!I mentioned the uncommon Mosrite. But no one was familiar with its existence.
Eventually, Chandler’s professorial knowledge glowed with integrity. Like students, we peppered him with questions and observations about the craft. Finally, Jay Wright pondered a comparison that I’d mentioned, before.
“How do you think the modern Gibsons stack up against those made at the original factory in Michigan?” he asked.The veteran artist and instructor considered his answer carefully.
“I would say that guitars from the custom shop are very close,” Chandler reflected. “It is a matter of how long these instruments will last. That question hasn’t been answered, yet.”We traded raised eyebrows.“When I worked for the company, they had a Quonset hut full of aged woods,” he explained. “The natural method of drying could take many years. Today, manufacturing often employs the use of artificially processed wood. As a result, we don’t really know how long a guitar will endure. Ten years? Twenty-five? Fifty? There is no answer.”Everyone nodded. Now, we had grasped the concept!After the meal, we were invited to join Chandler at home, for a session of authentic guitar abandon. The trip took only a few minutes. Once inside, the best part of out visit began.I was moved to consider Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…”
Wright and Geraghty literally spent hours mumbling unintelligible phrases connoting sheer delight. We were treated to a holiday parade of gold, silver, maple, and mahogany. Guitars of every sort dazzled us with their complex beauty.
Finally, Chandler produced the twang-box I’d anticipated since the evening began. It was his 1908 Gibson L-1.
“RoJo,” his wife said with a smile. The axe looked incredibly similar to one used by blues progenitor Robert Johnson.
Each of us touched the relic with careful glee. It was dark, resonant, and musky. An undeniable ‘vibe’ flowed from its pores.
I felt as if all of us were standing at the proverbial crossroads.
Our night ended with a whisper. We were drained, but happy. I passed out newspaper copies before we disbanded. The cool night cleared my thoughts with a brace of reality. I promised to meet Wright and his friend in the morning, for a tour of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
After our lively session in Chandler’s studio, thoughts of the ‘Hall’ felt tame by comparison. Yet the visit was a perfect way to conclude this adventure.
I arrived first, on Friday morning. Key Plaza was bathed in playful reflections of lakeshore sunlight. Humming melodies, I wandered through the forest of oversized guitars that led to the glass pyramid.
Suddenly, a drifter interrupted my tuneful introspection, with a plea for spare change. He was suspiciously well dressed, and held an empty paper cup from Starbucks. It seemed a poor choice for one who was trying to evoke poverty. Still, his candor made me smile.
I couldn’t help but flash on the refrain of ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.’
Mr. Starbucks waved his cup for emphasis. He wore layers of athletic garb, and stylish sunglasses. “Ya’ll help a man out, today?”
I brushed him off, politely. But half-an-hour later, my new friends still hadn’t arrived. Once again, Mr. Starbucks circled across the plaza. His cup remained empty.
“Ya’ll got some spare change?” he implored. “I’ll take anything ya got. Help a man out.”
This time, I shifted gears.
“Hey, I need some coin myself,” I responded. Drama fit the moment. “I don’t punch a time-clock, either.”
He froze. Sunlight smeared electric streaks of color across his shades.
“No, really?” he exclaimed.
“I’m a freelance writer,” I continued.
Mr. Starbucks looked truly puzzled. “How long you been doin’ that?”
“Twenty-five years,” I answered. “When I get published, it’s cool. When I don’t, it ain’t.”
He smiled. “Well then, I’ll pray for you, man. I will pray for… you!”
We parted company with him still promising to petition God on my behalf.
Wright and Geraghty found the venue as I was taking pictures. Our tour of the ‘Hall’ seemed to pass in an instant. I added an autograph to their traveling copy of the
‘G. A. S.’ book, and then it was over. Quietly, I wished for a cold brew, and more time to chat.
Before leaving, Wright showed off his C. P. Thornton axe, made in Turner, Maine. It was exquisite in every sense. An instrument born of joyous craftsmanship, rather than factory production. I was in awe long after the case went closed.
Saturday morning brought a breakfast of fried ham, and grits. While dabbing with my fork, I wondered… did my Southern friend like grits? I hadn’t thought to ask.
It was a topic for future consideration – along with any new Mosrite guitars!
“Last Dance For A Diddley Daddy – Part One”
It was a humid morning on the Northcoast. A Monday full of promise for dreamers, and anguish for those on a schedule. My stance was pedal-down, and rolling – I had traded the home-office desk chair for a spot on the highway. The motor in my pickup defiantly gulped air and fuel as if gasoline hadn’t climbed to four dollars per gallon. But the need to escape couldn’t be denied. It came like a miraculous thunderclap of resurrection.
Voice-mail handled my personal business.
I was gone…
On the road, news crackled from my radio. Politics, business, hometown athletic woes, and the wayward acts of pop-culture figures. Then, something more… a multi-second soundbite that started my muscles twitching to the rhythm of an unseen guitar.
Bo Diddley had passed away.
My heel kicked the floor mat. I tapped out a syncopated rhythm on the steering wheel, while watching the telephone poles zip by with abandon. Silent music reverberated from door to door. Salty moisture burned in my eyes. All I could do was drive, and listen to the poetry of this working-class composer:
“I walked 47 miles of barbed wire,
Used a cobra snake for a necktie.
Got a brand new house on the roadside,
Made out of rattlesnake hide.
I got a brand new chimney made on top,
Made out of human skulls.
Now come on darling let’s take a little walk, tell me,
Who do you love,
Who do you love, Who do you love, Who do you love…”
Afterward came a greater flood of memories, and tears. ‘Mona’ and ‘Diddley Daddy.’ ‘You Can’t Judge A Book by the Cover’ and ‘Road Runner.’ ‘Bo Diddley’s A Gunslinger’ and ‘I’m A Man.’ These songs communicated the gritty, African-American experience to legions of developing young Rockers who were hungry for the kind of authenticity not heard from polished white performers of the age.
Yet in my own life, they were a sort of spiritual fuel. Such songs gave cause to breathe, and love… and hope.
I drove on, and reflected, with the city fading in my rear-view mirror. Diddley was magic in motion. But… how could I embrace his legend in a useful way for readers of this newspaper? It was humbling to consider.
Then, the answer struck like plucked note charged with tuneful, electric energy – Diddley’s legacy was accessible through The Edu-tainer, Dennis Chandler!
I’d written about this Cleveland icon before. Yet much remained for future days when those stories were finished. Now, I recalled that Chandler had bonded with Bo, during his formative, bygone days.
With purpose, I steered toward home.
That… was the connection I needed. A plug-in to the cosmic energy that exuded from this bluesy son of Mississippi by way of Chicago.
On the household computer, a cyber-trip to the Chandler website began to reveal clues about their relationship:
“The Kid Who Wouldn’t Take No From The Man Who Knows – When as a teenager Dennis first heard Bo Diddley, little did he know that he would not only meet Bo but also that Bo would become his first guitar teacher. That unique lead-and-rhythm timing technique Bo based on a hambone rhyme ‘shave and a haircut…two bits’ (Da Da Da Da Da pause Da Da) intrigued Dennis-the-pianist. Wanting to play that syncopated style; he wanted to learn guitar. But, how? While attending Miami University, Dennis would steal away nightly to catch Bo’s act at Spatz Show Bar in Hamilton, Ohio. Bo noticed him (the only person not of color) sitting front and center studying Bo’s hands. After a few nights he invited him backstage. He challenged Dennis saying, ‘Figured it out yet? I’ll show you but once. Learn it right!’ Bo’d even loan him that famous ‘square’ Gretsch guitar for overnight practice.”
I was rocking in the chair. Hours after learning that Bo had graduated to eternity, the patented Diddley beat still echoed in my head. Every strum touched my soul with purpose. I continued reading from DC’s biography, for greater understanding:
“It was many years after those first days together at Spatz Showbar that Dennis had the opportunity to be ‘tested’ by this ‘teacher.’ It happened when he and his band backed Bo for a concert in Cleveland (1985). He ‘graded’ him an A+. With paternal-like pride, Bo said, ‘Dennis is the best exponent yet of the Diddley style (besides my daughter) and Bo knows!’”
Urgency swelled my heart. We had traded stories of vintage guitars, amplifiers, and vinyl records. Our shared heroes were many – Les Paul, Lonnie Mack, B. B. King, and Link Wray. Now, the sad moment of loss brought us closer, again. I sent him a query, then started working on my own improvised obituary for Bo:
“So much has already been written about this incredible icon of popular music. Along with Chuck Berry, he took the bedrock of blues guitar and forged it into something new. Something irresistible. Something kids in the 1950’s couldn’t embrace quickly enough.
Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Rock music was the soundtrack for a generational revolution. It helped spur masses of talented young people across the world to think beyond the strict paradigms that had bound their parents.
Diddley (Ellas Otha Bates / McDaniel) came from Mississippi to the hard streets of Chicago. There, like so many others, he ingested the culture of ‘electrified blues’ as it was reinterpreted in a northern setting.
The result was something familiar, but new. A chunky, syncopated beat rhythmically strummed on the amplified guitar.
The album ‘Two Great Guitars’ featured Diddley chopping out two-chord compositions, while Berry offered his own three-chord visions.
Together, the pair laid a foundation built upon by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and generations that followed.
Much can be said of this rebellious hero-with-a-supercharged-plectrum. But perhaps the best way to remember Diddley’s prolific and enduring career is through remembering the man in his own, colorful words.”
Shortly afterward, Chandler left a voice-mail message on my phone.
“Hey Rod… I’d be glad to help you because Dennis knows Diddley. I have pictures (and) I have every album he made, and every one of them is autographed…”
Now, I could be the pupil, once more. Chandler was my edu-tutor, in all things Diddley… school days were back in session!
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FRIDAY, AUGUST 14, 2009
“DENNIS KNOWS DIDDLEY” – (PART 2 OF 2)
Note to Readers: Dennis Chandler is a figure of much local renown. Over his long musical career, he has connected with a hero’s roster of Rock musicians including B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Lonnie Mack. Today, he performs regularly with ‘The Stratophonics’ and continues to enjoy collecting desirable goodies like Lionel Trains and Gibson guitars.
Writing professionally is an avocation best suited for those who like to remain constantly in motion. There is little time to ponder the worth of yesterday’s projects. A new deadline always seems to be near.
Material for this column typically has a shelf life equal to the duration of one published newspaper issue. By next week, other ideas have taken over. Only a handful of topics is durable enough to inspire multiple wordsmithing efforts.
But among those subjects blessed with lasting importance is Cleveland’s ‘professor’ of Rock ‘n’ Roll music – Dennis Chandler.
I first met this gifted performer while on assignment, two years ago. It was an encounter made possible by chance. Our paths might never have crossed, were it not for the fact that I had been asked to cover one of his concerts. Yet a sort of magic took hold as I listened.
The ‘Edu-tainer’ did more than simply entertain those gathered at that summer event. He educated them, with a song-by-song analysis one would expect in the classroom.
It was a performance that I would never forget.
From that day forward, Chandler was always in my thoughts. At first, I penned columns about his mastery of the electric guitar and keyboards. Then, I tried to offer a closer look at the journey he made from military service to on-stage prominence. Finally, when Rock legend Bo Diddley passed away in June of 2008, I attempted to chronicle their long-standing friendship.
It was to be a two-part creation, at minimum. ‘Chapter One’ appeared in print shortly after the iconic figure had passed away. And then…
Other points of inspiration appeared as I wandered through the months that followed. One year later, the promising tale still remained unfinished.
However, the first anniversary of Bo’s death brought a renewed sense of focus to the task. I traded e-mail messages with Chandler, while hoping for a burst of inspiration. But unrelated features again crowded my desk. Once more, I feared being stalled before the journalistic voyage could begin.
Then, Chandler called on a Tuesday night. I recognized his voice immediately.
“It’s great to hear from you!” I exclaimed. “So much time has passed. And I never finished our retrospective of the late Mr. Ellas Bates…”
“Dennis knows Diddley!” he promised.
I fumbled for my reporter’s notebook as every stray thought vanished completely. With passion and authenticity, he began to conjure up the spirit of yesterday.
“In 1960, I was a piano player,” he reflected. “But I was sick of instruments that were out of tune. I wanted to play guitar, something much easier to keep in tune. So I would practice (the instrument) – but my roommate hated it. Finally, he said ‘I’ll show you a guy that can play guitar!’ We went to Spatz’s Show Bar in Hamilton, Ohio. That was where I first saw Bo Diddley.”
My skin tingled. I could only imagine the sense of wonder that must have been present as these talented men met for the first time.
“Bo was eccentric and outspoken. He played with only a drummer, Clifton James, and Jerome Green (Bring It To Jerome, on the first album) played maracas,” Chandler observed. “His setup was impressive. Two blonde Fender Showman amplifiers, with a Magnatone amp in the middle. You could literally ‘feel’ the sound. It vibrated your brain! The Magnatone stereo vibrato oscillated between the Fenders creating a spatial echo effect. People were up on the tables (before long). It was incredible.”
My eyes widened with awe. The story represented a musical epiphany of sorts.
“I asked Bo to show me his style,” Chandler said. “And at first, he said ‘I ain’t showing you nothing!’ He wondered if we were with the Internal Revenue Service, because my friend and I were the only white guys in the place. But then, he stood right in front of me (at the edge of the stage) like he was saying ‘Okay! You want to see what I’m doing?’”
I couldn’t help chuckling at the thought of my friend eagerly studying Bo’s performance. In a real sense, it was an audience with greatness.
I felt eager to hear more.
“Buddy Holly raised awareness of his work by doing a cover version of ‘Not Fade Away.’ And Bo was happy,” Chandler remembered. “But he hated ‘I Want Candy’ (a mid-60’s song by The Strangeloves that mimicked his style) and he was bitter about being ripped off (by the industry). His distinctive rhythm came from African traditions where the accent goes on beats ‘one’ and ‘three’ rather than ‘two’ and ‘four’ as in most popular music.”
I mused on the Diddley approach to guitar. His was a stylistic romp that retained vitality, even in the 21st Century.
“Bo made a personal connection with me (that lasted over forty years). He called when I was battling Leukemia,” Chandler said. “And he contacted Fred Gretsch in 1999 to get me a couple of his signature guitars that were finally issued by the company. One is number seven of production, and the other is twenty. Three through six were given out for promotional purposes. And the first two went to Bo himself. So I was very happy with the first one available to the public!”
I took a deep breath. “So this iconoclastic hero literally helped to shape your own career?”
“Yes (with three other stars of that era),” Chandler replied. “I call them The Four Cornerstones of Rock. Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Chuck Berry. The difference with them (and the later stars of Rock ‘n’ Roll) was that they paid their dues, but it never got to their head. They were still willing to give back. There was never a barrier between them and us. They were ‘basic’ as people. They learned (everything) on the street. The music was passed along from one generation to the next.”
I paused, waiting for more. But we’d already been on the telephone for over an hour.
“So… that’s your music lesson for today,” he laughed.
My pen fell on the desk.
“Thank you!” I stammered.
“Let’s keep in touch,” he said. It was an invitation that made me feel grateful.
After our conversation had ended, I sat alone reading my notes. Each page dripped with scribbles of fresh ink. I had recorded everything that my mind could process.
But the time-warp adventure was over. My impromptu study at the Chandler ‘School of Rock’ had been completed for the day.
Now… it was time to work!
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THURSDAY, AUGUST 27, 2009
“Loving Les Paul”
c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved
It seemed that he would live forever.
Descriptive cliches lose their usefulness when describing this iconic tunesmith. He was a performer, composer, and innovator. A designer and historian. An inventor. A prophet. A living legend. An icon. A relic of glorious days. And above all, a toneslinging hero.
Les Paul influenced nearly everyone, even those who never heard his music. Even those who never played one of the many Gibson guitars christened with his name. Even those who never played a plectrum instrument at all.
He laid much of the foundation for modern music, through experimentation and brilliance. Yet without the taint of hubris. There was no self-importance in his character. No need to be worshipped. No desire for adulation.
He simply wanted to play guitar.
Pondering his death was a difficult exercise. It seemed proper to mark this passing with recorded music and introspection. Yet I yearned for some sort of personal connection with the man himself. Some tangible way to reflect on who he had been as an individual.
Enlightenment came through friends who shared a passion for music, and the electric guitar. As a group of performers, authors, and adventurers, they provided the perspective I needed. Their stories painted a portrait of Les, with linguistic verve:
JAY WRIGHT (AUTHOR OF ‘GAS-LIVING WITH GUITAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME’) – “John Geraghty and I met him in his NYC Iridium Jazz Club dressing room just before he turned 83. I took him a signed book and got him to sign my copy of my book. John and I had attended his 10pm – midnight show. It had been announced that Les would not be signing autographs since he was tired – he had gone about 30 minutes over. It was a good audience and he just was having fun. Wore himself out. I asked his bass player to take the book to him as a gift and was sorry I wouldn’t be able to meet him. She waited until the lounge had cleared, then led us to his dressing room where we visited for about 25 minutes. What a night – beyond all expectations.”
JOHN GERAGHTY – “I guess Jay has told you this, too… but here is a memory of mine. Two years ago, when Jay came up to NY to meet me for a ride up to Chuck Thornton’s guitar building shop, which resulted in our owning some we hadn’t planned on – no surprise! – we came back to my place in Pearl River, and the next evening, we went to NYC to the nightclub where Les Paul played once a week – a thrilling drive down and through Manhattan in the process. We went to the 10 o’clock to midnight show, because that was the one with the best possibility that he would have the time to meet people afterwards. We brought our copies of GAS and several extras, hoping for an autograph on ours and to give the others to him and his associates. The show was incredible. No reserved seats, but we were at a table next to his stage and less than twenty feet away from him – and cheered when he said ‘two weeks until my ninety-third birthday’. He had great comedians, musicians, and some who could do both, including Nicki Parrott, who played with Muriel Anderson on her DVD, ‘A Guitarscape Planet’- a great DVD, by the way. After the show, we went to the back of the stage along with a group of other fans, and we were all told that Les Paul wasn’t feeling all that well, so he wasn’t going to meet any folks that night. They all left, but we waited around a bit, just in case. After a bit, Nicki Parrott, who was really friendly, came up to us and said hello. I told her I was glad to meet her since I really loved the Murial Anderson DVD, and she appreciated that, and noted that sometimes the best thing is to wait. So we did, while she went into the dressing room. A few minutes later, she came out, and said that Les Paul was feeling better, so we were welcome to visit for a few minutes. We went in, had a nice chat with him and some of the members of his group. They received GAS, and we received a pair of autographs along with some really nice conversation.”
DENNIS CHANDLER (ELDER STATESMAN OF CLEVELAND ROCK ‘N’ ROLL) – “Les Paul was more than an innovator, inventor and musical genius. He was genuine, an inspiration, an American treasure. He was a musical mentor to me. I will miss him. I met him in 1978 while working for Gibson. We became friends. He taught me how to play Somewhere Over The Rainbow in the key of A! I was with him when he had his bypass surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in the early 1980’s. I brought him a Les Paul Recording model at his request so he could entertain the doctors, nurses and patients prior to his surgery… we saw each other several times in the last 31 years. His memory was impeccable. His mind was always sharp. His wit was timeless. His intensity was unrelenting. He was truly a ‘star’ of stars. His achievements on and off the stage will never be equaled.”
(Liz Hear: I took the liberty of interjecting the following … adding a link with the collage BELOW … to explain the ABOVE. Signed, “Sec’y Liz” aka “Mrs. Dennis” aka Archivist)
BOOBIE AUTEN – “A kid played for him one time in the 80’s. (That era) had its share of the new breed heavy metal hair band rock when it came to showing off guitar skills. Thanks to the innovative style of Eddie Van Halen, many guitarists went to finger tapping and dive-bombing. So this kid pulls all the whistles and stops and wants very much to impress Les Paul. When he finished his display of guitar mastery, Les told him he was very good but asked him ‘Would your mother recognize you on the radio?’ The lad sounded like a million other players who had no ‘signature sound’ to be identified with. Les Paul believed in less is more when it is required. He believed in that one good note to be pulled off more than many mechanical doodlings.”
DAVIE ALLAN (LEGENDARY CALIFORNIA GUITARIST) – “He was a hero to all of us guitar hacks! And what about the genius of multi-track recording. Where the heck would we be without that?!”
With these images in mind, I began to sort through my own collection of Les Paul’s recorded works. So many compositions seemed to demonstrate his genius. But a film of him using the ‘Les Pulverizer’ was most perfect. The device allowed him to capture and manipulate tracks while performing live.
I played it over and over.
Though he may be remembered in many ways, by generations of creative souls around the world, one thing endures beyond all else.
Les was a visionary. And we have all been bettered because he lived to dream.
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Article by Rod Ice titled, “Thoughts at Large”
His review of the World Premiere of the Musical titled, “Just We Two”. Lyrics by Playwright Larry Brenner & Music by Composer Dennis Chandler.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 04, 2011
Readers of this column have heard many stories about my long-term friendship with Cleveland music icon Dennis Chandler.
We met while I was an editor for another newspaper, in Ashtabula County. Chandler had been scheduled to play at a local event, which was much like our beloved Maple Festival. I called to discuss his upcoming appearance, and a conversation about Rock & Roll history ensued.
It was my first encounter with the “Edu-tainer” – so dubbed by fans for his encyclopedic knowledge of the genre.
Over the years that followed, I wrote about our ongoing relationship. Chandler offered valuable insight into a surprising variety of subjects. He held strong opinions about pop culture, musical instruments, personal wellness, and the entertainment business. Eventually, he even provided advice on my career as a freelance writer.
I came to trust him as a teacher.
As summer drew to a close, he talked about a theatrical production that was in the works. With the skill of a composer, he had penned 22 songs for a musical play. Now, auditions were being held.
I tingled with excitement. The anticipation of a developing ‘good story’ was irresistible.
Chandler described the play as a family tale involving three generations. When the patriarch suffers a heart attack, everyone is brought together. Time, for that moment, stands still. And the whole is made greater by being tested.
It was the kind of happening that occurred in my own family, when my father battled cancer in the 1990’s.
Larry Brenner’s compelling story came to life at Tallmadge High School. As the curtain swept aside, I was immediately struck with the fact that his work comprised true ‘family’ entertainment in the classic sense. A performance for those of any age, to be enjoyed together.
With a grin, I remembered watching Ed Sullivan with my grandmother, parents, and siblings. It promised to be that kind of shared experience.
Joseph Goldberg is in a post-surgical coma. What unfolds around him are layers of familial drama that resonate with everyone. Wife Sarah frets while tending to her brood with maternal care. Son Norman remembers his youthful desire to be a writer, while grappling with marriage woes. Daughter Sandra hears the echoes of an unfulfilled love. Grandsons Stephen and Michael trade playground jabs while worrying about their elder.
Each songful reflection carries a good dose of Rock & Roll energy that keeps the audience greatly entertained, and focused.
Mysterious ‘Men in Black’ who wait outside the hospital add a sense of puzzlement and foreboding. Sarah paces back and forth, chattering and wondering, and waiting.
Finally, the stage clears with Joseph’s patient alarm sounding a note of dread.
What comes next? Everyone is left to wonder, on their own.
Throughout the intermission, I pondered Brenner’s story. Would the father survive and receive loving praise from his family? Or slip away into the afterlife?
We are returned to the hospital room. It is empty except for the ailing father, still and silent, in his bed.
Then, Brenner’s narrative takes an unexpected turn. Joseph sits up, and exclaims with joy about finally being alone!
There is much applause in the auditorium. I realize that I have been holding my breath.
From the edge of his bed, the old man has a colorful conversation with God. He admits to using the situation to ‘listen’ as his family works out their troubles.
It is a dramatic moment that leaves everyone breathless. In Act One, we were crying with concern. Now, our eyes are wet again, but from laughter.
At that point, we learn that the dark-suited men are FBI agents. Joseph Goldberg has operated a betting operation, to augment his meager income as a custodian. Now, he has become an informant to help snare organized criminals who have moved in on his shady business.
Sarah scolds her husband, upon finding him awake. Confusion and chatter fill the room. Yet the family is emotionally reunited in a way never possible before.
With confidence, Joseph proclaims from his bed: “Look at what I accomplished, by listening!”
The cast itself was delightful. Jeffrey D. Bachtel brought the character of Joseph alive with a sense of realism and humor that made the audience believe in his basic goodness and humanity. As Sarah, Julianne Protich effused an irresistible mood of maternal love. Mariah Nicole Queer played Sandra with the skill one would expect of a true Broadway actress. Tyler Mason brought us Doctor Tony as a humble, but lonely spirit. And Gordon Wall delivered the character of Norman with genuine vulnerability and soul searching.
Everything was tied together with a Rock & Roll ribbon provided by Dennis Chandler’s musical score. His compositions evoked the exuberance of classic, good-time music as it was in yonder days.
I left the Tallmadge High School auditorium with a sense that greater things were ahead for Brenner’s play. And, indeed, for those that helped bring it to life.
Just We Two (A Musical)
“For those who have laughed and cried with others and alone…”
Book and Lyrics by: Larry Brenner
Music by: Dennis Chandler
Choreographer: Danielle Shook
Directed by: Frank Chaff
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