Bo Diddley: Dennis’ First Guitar Teacher
An original song written & recorded by Dennis in tribute to Bo… and an American Song Festival Winner.
The Kid Who Wouldn’t Take… “No”… From The Man Who “Knows”
When as a teenager Dennis Chandler 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.
He had that certain beat. He had a unique lead-and-rhythm timing. Bo based it on that hambone rhyme… “Shave and a haircut… two bits”… Da Da Da Da Da… pause… Da Da. That sound Bo recorded on his albums… intrigued Pianist Dennis. He was already playing that syncopated style on piano. But, he wanted to learn how to play it on guitar. What did Dennis do? He went to the source… Bo… who was doing gigs in a ‘hood down near Cincy. That’s where Dennis got “schooled up”, so to speak. How it happened…
While attending Miami University, Dennis would steal away nightly to catch Bo’s act. The iconic Roots Rock ‘n’ Bluesman… was performing at SPATZ SHOW BAR in nearby Hamilton, Ohio. From the stage Diddley noticed this (how shall I put it)… collegiate-looking guy. DC was the only person not of color… (it was 1959). He was sitting in the audience… dead center in the front row. Student-Dennis was doing homework of another kind. He was studying Bo’s hands…
After a few nights Bo invited him backstage. Bo challenged Dennis saying, “FIGURED IT OUT YET?.. I’LL SHOW YOU BUT ONCE… LEARN IT RIGHT!” Bo found out he did NOT have a guitar of his own… so he’d loan Student-Dennis that famous “square” Gretsch guitar of his. Each and every night he had it to take back to school… for overnight practice. His room mates shared how he drove them nuts… with the noise of that hambone rhyme. “Shave and a haircut… two bits”… Da Da Da Da Da… pause… Da Da. But, once the-OCD-in-him… kicked in… he got it good. And so did the dorm. Adding to all the headiness… Bo Diddley came to Dennis’ dorm… to play an impromptu concert!
That was 1959. This collage is from 1979 when Bo and Dennis got back together again. In the years since Spatz Showbar… Dennis learned to do Diddley… and to do him right, so to speak. He could not wait to thank his guitar teacher. He wanted to be “tested” by Bo, too.
It came about at one of the Agora nightclubs (there were 17 of them, I believe). Cleveland was the one chosen as the concert’s location. Attorney Avery Friedman approached Bo to do a benefit for fair housing. “The Dennis Chandler Band” was booked to back Bo. How did that happen? Dennis was asked to do backup by Buddy Maver. Who? Den’s dear friend from their youthful days of playing together… in the group they called “The Quantrells”. I mention them here because Buddy is writing his own book. He says he will include stories about bandmates Bobby Maenza (Sax), brother-in-law Don Comella (Bass), the late John Tymkewicz (Bass) and Dennis (Guitar & Keyboards). Back to ’bout Buddy… drummer-extraordinarie. He “Knows Bo”, (to reference that old iconic Bo Diddley advertising campaign… Google it). To be specific… Buddy knows BO’S BEAT. What’s that?.. a BACKBEAT. FYI… not all drummers can do a backbeat. Ernie Nachtigal did it this night… much to Bo’s delight. (Favorite percusionist from the past? The Pilgrims’ metronome aka Ron Harkai. That’s how he got his groove!) So back to about this gig. Maver-the-Maven was Vice President of the Agora chain. He said he thought of DC right away as he booked Bo. So, it pays to have friends in high places… in the right frame of mind… and in the right groove.
The next time was 1985 when Den and Bo got back together again. A year earlier “The Dennis Chandler Band” began serving as houseband for Malrite Communications’ Radio Station WHK. The band was renamed “The Stratophonics” (go to this website’s page with that name to learn more). The band was also advertised by the station as the “14K Stratophonics”… in support of their Oldies Music format… “14K Solid Gold”. They got to do many promotional events and concerts like the one written about below. It was at Dewey Foward’s “Peabody’s” in Cleveland’s Flats… that they opened… then backed Bo Diddley.
First read the review from ICONIC ROCK CRITIC JANE SCOTT. Then scroll down for more pics… from that fun, fun night.
Another fun-filled time Den and Bo had was when Bo Diddley was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame. Ceremonies for “The Class of 1987” were at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. We were tickled to be invited… to be guests of another inductee, B.B. King. Needless to say, we were thrilled when we got to watch Poppa BB honored.
Three of Dennis Chandler’s most favorite musical mentors / teachers… Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and B.B. King… were together all in one place. Plus seated at the same table beside Bo… was another inductee, the legendary Carl Perkins. At B.B.’s right was another inductee, Hank Ballard (of “H.B. & The Midnighters”) and music pioneer Sam Phillips. (We could go on and on. You really had to have been there).
You can not imagine how they all felt… about the importance put upon such rock ‘n’ roll recognition. Let’s just say, “Look at the photos taken at the after-jam”. They give a hint how happy the music made everybody.
There in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom were so many artists Dennis had worked with… or played back of… from Den’s days as bandleader of The Pilgrims and The Stratophonics (those two previously mentioned radio housebands).
In the fall of ’99, Dennis and Bo recommenced their rock ‘n’ roll friendship. It was during a reunion before Bo’s appearance at the Crooked River Jazz and Blues Fest in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It was all arranged by singer Sasha Simms (a native Clevelander who sang backup for Wayne Newton and later Belushi’s Blues Brothers). The outgoing and personable Sasha convinced concert promoter Tony Rubino to let her plan the surprise.
Why was it so meaningful to Bo this surprise visit? The last time they talked was years earlier and it was by telephone (on our landline… there were no cell phones back then). Patient-Dennis would wait with baited breath for Bo to call. That gave Dennis something to do. The circumstances? His long and lengthy convalescence from chemotheraphy for LEUKEMIA – type AML. Phone calls were precious reminders to Dennis of his Life before Cancer. Once recovered from the chemos, he found his focus… mending in other ways, too, (i.e., financially). It was a long, long coming out of the woods, so to speak. Seeing Dennis so healthy-looking was what made Bo say, “I’m very, very happy!”
BTW: a Video of all this was requested by Bo… he even loaned his then-new video recorder to our friend Marty Puljic to use. GOOD NEWS is that MP not only captured their conversations but Bo’s concert, too. BAD NEWS is that Bo took the tape with him… back home to Florida. He promised to make copies for us. Plus for MP… whose daughter’s recital was on one of his spare tapes… that he offered to use when Bo performed past his scheduled time. (No good deed goes unpunished… Mrs. MP was NOT pleased). SAD NEWS is that Bo passed away before those promised copies were made. MORE SAD NEWS is that all items from THE ESTATE OF BO DIDDLEY… went missing. We presume so did Puljic’s tapes. Maybe Mrs. Puljic can pull some strings… as in heart strings. Her daughter would get to see her tape. Bo’s fans would get to see how Bo used to make a JOYFUL NOISE. An executor at the estate might have enough empathy to start a search. Then we can again give credit where credit is due… with Diddley.
1999: On a lighter note… the next time Bo and Dennis got together was the concert at the State Theatre in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. It was titled “At The Swing Cat’s Ball: A Tribute to Louis Jordan”. The tribute was planned by Robert Santelli, then the Director of Education at the Rock Hall of Fame & Museum.
RHFM graciously invited Dennis to attend by way of thanks for they said they “got B.B. on the playbill because of Dennis Chandler”. Well, truth be told, they had B.B. at the mere mention of Louis Jordan. Why? He was a musical mentor to the King of the Blues. But, Dennis was delighted to have helped. Headliners were Ruth Brown along with Bo Diddley, B.B. King and Robert Lockwood.. three of his teachers.
Shown in the below photo are Ruth Brown, Bo Diddley, B.B. King and Robert Lockwood, onstage at the Swing Cat’s Ball. They look so serious about who should start off their number… but they really were absolutely delighted to be together again. (As was Dennis!)
After the Ball is over… backstage.
Sadly, Ruth Brown, Robert Lockwood, Bo Diddley and BB King have passed on. What Lights.
It must be mentioned here … that back in 2010 …we got to meet two musician members of Bo Diddley’s extended family. LADY BO and her husband bass player WALLY MALONE. They were taught by Bo … firsthand. They played with him, wrote for him and recorded with him. Read about LADY BO. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0540493/bio
How Harry met Sally… err… how Dennis met Lady Bo… and Wally? It happened at the 2010 International Convention of the American Federation of Musicians held at The Riviera in Las Vegas. It was at one of those nightly after-jams held after business was done earlier in the day. What a week it was. Sadly, Lady Bo is gone … but we have the memories.
How priceless for youth-Dennis… to have learned firsthand from these very same bluesmasters… and in the manner in which they were taught… by their mentors. The time-honored Oral Tradition. What’s that? First… practicing… then playing what was shared… sitting at their knee. Student-Dennis said there was always the kindly “Good, good… now try it this way”. It is a style teacher-Dennis aka “The Ed-U-Tainer” incorporates whenever he shares the music, too.
On his gravestone it is written how… Bo Diddley truly cared about people.. as you can see… Bo knows… people… And he knew us…. And we knew him… We were blessed… Bo Diddley… What a Light.
Bo passed on June 2, 2008. Here is a link to Bo Diddley’s gravesite on You Tube:
Liz Chandler aka “Mrs. Dennis” , Web Writer
Here is a link to Bo’s obituary in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/02/arts/02iht-02diddley.13403665.html?p