Bill “Smoochie” Gordon / Bill “Honky Tonk” Doggett = Gabmen Extraordinaire
Always a Pleasure Meeting Down to Earth Perennial Souls
Gone but not forgotten… The dear, departed Les Paul JR. makes me recall other mutual musical pals who have passed on. For example, his dad, Les Paul SR… “Poppa BB” aka BB King… BB’s fellow Memphian… media broadcast pioneer Bill Gordon aka “Smoochie” Gordon…and musical/ media gadfly, Dick Posner. (Details about these fine folks follow…)
When my musician-husband Dennis Chandler first met the Pauls it was while working for Gibson Guitar. It was back in the ‘70’s and ‘80s when they all were attending various music industry trade show events. It’s immeasurable to describe what Paul did for the world of music. (Google him). He touched so many lives. Meeting the iconic Les Paul was such a Joy, to say the least.
We were also tickled to meet someone else we listened to in our youth. Another one of Paul’s pals… media broadcast pioneer Bill Gordon. He knew Les Paul and Mary Ford going way back in the day. Google Bill. His billboard name Bill “Smoochie” Gordon.
We met “Smoochie” because of another mutual media-type, car dealer Dick Posner (whose stations we wrote jingles for).
Plus Posner had pianist-Dennis playing for pals including those at Cleveland’s famed Theatrical Grill (owned by Mushy Wexler and the Spitz family).
Below are 3 photos from 3 different decades of the iconic eatery.
Gigs at the grill had Dennis opening for some interesting acts and audiences members, too. I’m thinking of Don King, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin and Woody Herman, to name just a few. But, two acts come to mind just now… Jazzman Glen Covington and renowned organist Bill “Honky Tonk” Doggett. Not only did Dennis get to open for them he often times would be invited to play piano right along with them. Priceless.
They were gracious always sharing their gigs and their fellowships, too. So when singer/ guitarist Gordon was looking for a musical director, Dick Posner suggested he use Dennis. He did. The rest is history. Chameleon Chandler joined Bill on stage and on the air. Most times it was live. But, it was always fun. Bill was such an ad libber. As his musical director, Dennis just strapped on his seatbelt and took “a ride on the wild side”, to paraphrase a song title.
Oh, no. An out of tune piano. (Perfect pitch can be a mixed Blessing!) What to do? A time out… to get the tuning kit out… for a tune up. Gordon was getting his face made up (by his TV show’s makeup artist). He stops to make up some on-the-fly questions. Those interviews… kept his guest stars in line, so to speak.
The show must go on… especially this one… Go, Gordon, go!
Before I write about when Les, Bill and Den got together again… (it was prior to Les’ heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in 1980)…
First, let me explain that Dick Posner also thought jogger-Dennis would enjoy learning from runner-Bill. They became running mates and ran in many local races.
With his winsome ways, Bill vastly influenced Dennis. Guru Gordon taught student-Dennis to enjoy all things healthy. Chef-Bill even taught him how to cook and eat, Vegetarian-style.
That desk pictured… we were Blessed to inherit from Bill. We find it has added good Vibes… for it belonged to Bill’s mother (from Memphis). He gave us that photo of her sitting at, it back in the day. She liked to call him, “Billy Boy”. Their name for me? “Liz Beth”. Whenever I sit at their desk… whether it’s to write… or read… or listen to the radio… I can almost hear Bill (or is that Mrs. Gordon I hear). Either Soul… their southern drawl brings me comfort (pardon the pun). What Lights.
And of course, Bill who loved all good melodic music… made Dennis even more appreciative of musicians like pals, Les Paul and Mary Ford. BTW, Bill asked to “test” the Les Paul guitars Rep-Dennis would get in. What better way to play Les’ music?
But when he wanted to “jazz” it up… Den thought a big box guitar would be better for Bill… so Dennis got Gordon his own Gibson Super 5 to play. He loved it!
Back to about getting Gordon to be more open-minded to going to the hospital to visit pal Les Paul….
When dear Les began to have health issues, his buddy Bill was taken aback. Guru Gordon was called a “Health nut” by many of his media fans. He considered it a badge of honor and would often offer health advice, unsolicited. But, Bill did not know what to do when Les called him.
As mentioned above… Les, Bill and Den got together again at the Cleveland Clinic in 1980. Les came for heart surgery. At first, Bill Gordon did NOT want to go visit Les. He told us, because “Les is in a HOSPITAL! No way, I’m going to a HOSPITAL! I’m never going to a HOSPITAL!” Bill said that… for himself… when the time came… he hoped he would NOT die in a HOSPITAL… with people peering at him. (Sadly, in 2008 after suffering a massive heart attack, Bill died. But, perhaps God gave Gordon his wish… no one was peering… for Bill was home alone).
How we finally got Gordon to the hospital to see Les…
At the time Bill got a call from Les Paul, SR… Dennis got a call from Les Paul, JR. aka Rusty. He asked Dennis who was still working with Gibson to “Bring a guitar or two”… “Dad hasn’t played for awhile. He’s a little anxious about his bypass. Maybe if he sees a guitar, he’ll play it. Make ’em Les Paul (models), Dennis!”
As inferred… Gibson Guitar Rep Dennis had access to many model guitars, including Les Paul models. But, the one that he grabbed this time… was Dennis’ very own Les Paul… called “The” Les Paul. (One accented the word as if it were spelled “thee”… it was a marketing thing). So Rep-Chandler thought that endorsee-Les Paul would enjoy seeing again his “No. 1”. FYI: it was marked that way for the first in a production line model typically goes to the artist for whom it is named, in this case Les Paul. But, through a fortuitous set of circumstances… we came to own it. Oh, I wrote “again” because earlier in its life, Les played the LP #1 then let the luthiers from Gibson take it back… to fine tune it, so to speak.
Les loved the neck on that particular LP. He also loved calling it, “that lucky guitar”. Why, “lucky”? It was the one that opened the door for Dennis… to get the Gibson job… that got the ear of the president… who gave the OK… for DC to do the deed… that started the process… of getting the King of the Blues. his very own production line model, “The BB King / Lucille”. “Poppa BB” called it “Lucky”, too.
Here’s the back story of the happy ending or happy beginning, for Bill did visit Les at the Clinic.
So Dennis grabbed Bill Gordon and told him, “YOU’RE GOING TO THE HOSPITAL… FOR PETE’S SAKE, it’s YOUR PAL, LES PAUL… LES ASKED YOU TO COME… RUSTY ASKED ME TO COME… and to BRING SOME GUITARS… I HAVE TO GO… YOU HAVE TO GO… WE’RE GOING!”
Well, they both went. They had a wonderful visit. They got to make some miraculous music, too. How? When Les saw that LP Number 1 again … he recalled how much he “LOVED THE NECK ON IT!” Always thinking of others… the ever generous and gracious Les Paul… while still in his hospital gown… turned to Dennis and said, “Chandler, let’s entertain these folks here. They need some cheering up!” He was referring to the other heart patients (and visitor buddy-Bill, too). Les grabbed the #1… told Dennis to “play that OTHER LP”. (Thank goodness Rusty suggested bringing a couple of LPs.)
After his successful surgery, Les’ heart surgeon Dr. Floyd Loop told what we already knew… “It was wonderful to see (and hear)… how music can help heal”.
After that visit … Gordon never minded to go to hospitals. Even later in ’87, when Guru Gordon got word his health student Dennis was battling AML LEUKEMIA, but, that’s another story … read about it on webpage titled “The Journey” on www.dennischandler.com)
Thank you, BBK, Doggett, Gordon, Posner, and all the Pauls. What Lights… all!
Liz Chandler aka “Mrs. Dennis”