(Note from Dennis Chandler: I wanted a song everyone can relate to. If there was one thing I would have done differently, I would have married my wife the day I met her! Other than that … it has been a wonderful ride so far. Thank you, Lord. What would you change … if you could?)
(Note from Liz Chandler: I loved this song … and so did the judges in an international song writing contest held back in the ’70s. Great minds think along the same lines?)
If I Had It To Do Over Again
Here’s a collage of us songwriters and the other award (for Den’s “Dancin’ to Bo Diddley” tribute song)
WHEN WERE … “DEN & GLENN TOGETHER AGAIN” … in the PAST?
2020: I found … A TAPE FROM 1969 … of a couple of songs done at a gig of a reunited “Pilgrims”. Who? One of Dennis’ early bands made up of fellow childhood chums Ron Harkai, guitarist Glenn Schwartz and bassist Pete Dragas. (GS and PD now of Blessed Memory). They had an offer to be the “first white band signed to Motown”. That contract went unsigned. Why? It wasn’t meant to be … because military duty trumped musical duty. A draft notice was served on guitarist Schwartz … the Air Force got drummer Ron … bandleader Dennis ended up in the Ohio National Guard. (More about that later) Bassist Pete Dragas was deferred.
Back to about the tracks recorded by me. They were from when Dennis and Ron had one of their gigs at LaCave. Since the iconic Cleveland venue was located in what typically was known back in the day as “a changing neighborhood” … (read: white flight) … it drew many lovers of diverse sounds. BTW: I found some very interesting info of an even earlier time … in that ‘hood. It had to do with Dennis’ family tree on the Weill side which included Groucho Marx … and other Vaudevillians … of the-extended-mishpocha-type. Perhaps why Dennis was drawn … to that ever entertaining area … wanting to do gigs there, too. Google … “E 105 & Euclid”. Also at Carlo Wolff’s “Invisible Soul” page … one can find some fun photos. I wish I had taken more pics … but I should be grateful I was given the wherewithal … to capture on cassette … these few tracks.
Speaking of capturing Den & Glenn Together Again … Look up on You Tube … to see and hear … the guys when they performed as “The Schwartz Brothers” band … (with Dennis guesting … hence the D & G together again theme). The group consisted of Glenn’s brother Gene Schwartz aka Geno and Paul O’Brien on drums. DC, GGS, GS playing together again was special indeed, to say the least. Just ask those olde loyal followers of SB band. And those reunion gigs seemed to take everyone to a higher place. Just ask those new followers of SB band. OR you can just ask the following club owners… Mike’s Barn owner Michael Yates, Beachland Ballroom & Tavern owner Cindy Barber, along with Major Hoopples.
Again … go to You Tube and search Glenn Schwartz and Dennis Chandler… see and hear for yourself. It was a great ride while it lasted. Rock on in Heaven, Glenn. The beat goes on for Den … maybe on … Zoom. Yeah, once I teach myself how to … Zoom. Zoom … Zoom is something I used for posts of Den’s classic car cruisin’ gigs. Like when he and Glenn got together again … at Annabelle’s Diner … (but that’s a story for another time).
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS BEGINS HERE…
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, (it WAS 1959) 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.(Last year, owners of Spatz Showbar got back in touch with Dennis. You can read more about that later in this article.)
Back to about Bo and Dennis getting back in touch, too. 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 props to Lady Bo).. Then Bo Diddley said with paternal-like pride, “DENNIS IS THE BEST EXPONENT YET OF THE DIDDLEY STYLE (besides my daughter) and BO KNOWS!”
In the fall of ’99, DENNIS AND BO RECOMMENCED THEIR ROCK ‘n’ ROLL FRIENDSHIP during a reunion before Bo’s appearance at the Crooked River Jazz and Blues Fest in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Their reunion was arranged by singer SASHA SIMS, (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 arrange the SURPRISE REUNION. Why was it so meaningful Bo be surprised? The last time they talked was years earlier and it was by telephone. The circumstances? It was while Dennis was recovering from chemotherapy for leukemia (type AML). Phone calls during his long and lengthy convalescence were precious reminders of the life Dennis had before cancer. Once recovered from the chemos, his focus was found to be towards 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 made Bo “very, very happy!”, he said. Sadly, Bo Diddley passed away on June 6, 2008.
By the way, talk about THE POWER OF THE INTERNET… and THE POWER OF A MEMORY… Recall the above-mentioned Cincinnati area nightclub, where Dennis met Bo? “SPATZ SHOWBAR”? Well, Dennis heard from the owners of the club, MR. and MRS. SPATZ! How it happened was that while surfing the net, their daughter came across this website’s mention of their place. Delightfully, Dennis has had numerous phone conversations with the Spatzs. He says that musical memories could flood back for others, too, if there was, what he calls a “Legacy Tape”, made of their many remembrances. What a way to acknowledge what the SPATZ FAMILY did in those early days. What better place to have the piece played… THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM. Seems logical, too, because being as it was located in Ohio (not far from CINCINNATI, THE LANDMARK SPATZ SHOWBAR was a stop for musicians ON THE WAY TO CLEVELAND, our home-of-rock-‘n’-roll-city. In annnyyyy case, as far as the Spatz Family, Dennis hopes to take them up on their kind invitation to visit them. (He would welcome a trip to Tennessee, away from our Cleveland winters!)
Once A Keyboard Player All Ways A Keyboard Player
Up and until his college years (and before meeting Bo) Dennis was strictly a keyboardist. Signs of his versatility on piano must have been already showing. While still just a student he caught the attention of a few of the renowned artists who came to perform concerts at Miami. (ANDRE PREVIN, FERRANT AND TEICHER; who invited Dennis to play for them. We’ll have to tell the backstory for each of those “concerts” another time).
It was ROGER WILLIAMS, (yet another famed pianist who heard him play and was so impressed with his potential), who told his teachers, “HE SHOULD GO ON TO JULLIARD”. Unable to find funding (or support from family) to attend that prestigious school; Dennis decided to intensify his music studies while at Miami University, (where he was majoring in Industrial Tech).
How does Dennis know so much about HAMMOND ORGANS? Well, he was blessed with a wonderful fellowship with the great Bill “Honky Tonk” Doggett. That happened later in the ’80s when their bonding as musicians was first kindled; then fueled into a close friendship. Bill called pianist Dennis “One of my all time favorite opening acts”. (What experience those times were… at Cleveland’s famed Theatrical Grill).
But, back to when Dennis first had to learn all things Hammond, so to speak. It started for him during his days at Miami. That’s when he found himself to be a music student but without a musical instrument. This time keyboard student without a keyboard. Then he went to work at WILLIS MUSIC STORE (in nearby Cincinnati) where he fortuitously found out they needed someone to DEMONSTRATE KEYBOARDS! How fortunate, too, that while at Willis he not only gained a great deal of practical piano playing, but also learned a lot about organ playing. He quickly learned how to handle different keyboards and in different settings, too (read: clubs, churches or synagogues). Another vital lesson learned? On-the-job-training meant getting paid to practice = getting paid to play. But, there was never enough time to earn full tuition and without funds he was forced to give up college.
Just when he was about to move from southern Ohio, Dennis went to watch another roots-rock-pioneer perform. GUITARIST LONNIE MACK. Again he was intrigued hearing a unique-sound (Mack, like Bo, played through a MAGNATONE amp). Again he was impressed seeing a unique-looking guitar (Mack played a FLYING V, Bo played a RECTANGULAR one). Again he wanted to be taught but had no instrument. But when he learned Lonnie was in need of a piano player he jumped on the job and JOINED MACK’S BAND PLAYING PIANO. Again he was BLESSED with another “TEACHER”.
Lonnie Mack’s lightening guitar licks, coupled with devastating-for-their-time-whammy-bar techniques, and “washed over” him, too. (Lessons learned from Lonnie early on prove requisite for many rockers. For example, Mack and his huge instrumental hit “MEMPHIS” influenced another devoted disciple, the late STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN. The popular guitarist would take Mack on tour with him to acknowledge this mentor-of-many. He turned his audiences’ attention to him, literally as he had him open his concerts. VAUGHAN called the “the GUITAR STYLE OF STEVIE RAY is a A METAMORPHOSIS OF LONNIE MACK’S STYLE!”, too.
From Pioneers To A Pilgrim On The Rocks
$ But Without The Rolls $
After college Dennis helped form THE PILGRIMS. As houseband for DETROIT’S LEGENDARY RADIO STATION POWERHOUSE, CKLW, they backed many groups LIVE like The Supremes, Four Tops, Temptations, The Isley Brothers, Mary Wells, Shirley Ellis, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Little Eva, Bobby Vee, Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Ronnie & The Daytonas, Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, Bobby Rydell, Bobbie Martin, Del Shannon, Dobie Gray, Freddie Cannon, Chuck Berry, Little Richard (to name just a few).
The boys in the band thought perhaps the prominence THE PILGRIMS enjoyed was due, in no small part, to being booked by the area’s REGIONAL RADIO POWERHOUSE, the aforementioned CKLW. But then band members GLENN SCHWARTZ, RON HARKAI, PETE DRAGS and DENNIS found themselves extremely well received by audiences. “Being that it was the early 60′s, BLUES AFICIONADOS were glad to have THE ROOTS OF ROCK’n’ROLL exposed by this pilgrim band. For that time and place they were APTLY NAMED!” said manager and CKLW PROGRAM DIRECTOR DAVE SHAFFER. (FYI, the radio station is where Dennis also began his friendship with popular onair personality “The Duker” aka Larry Morrow, who later came to Cleveland.) But back to about playing around the Detroit area. The music scene then taught him a lot; became his Music Graduate School, of sorts. The people… the places… helped him earn an early Doctorate in Diversity, so to speak. What he had learned served him well in those early 60′s and again in the late 60′s’ during that turbulent time of social unrest. (Translating into music, yielding the song he titled “FENCES”. More about that song later.)
Those early days in Detroit made for some of Dennis’ fondest musical memories, too. Including the many personal appearances (more about those later). But, now we tell how nothing but good has come from one memorable musical moment or should I say 180 memorable moments? That’s how long the recording session was for the THE PILGRIMS REGIONAL HIT RECORD, “PLYMOUTH ROCK” (written by Chandler and Dragas). The flip side of that record has the song titled “MAUDY” written by John Lee Hooker and arranged by Glenn Schwartz. It was recorded in 1964 at KEN HAMANN’s CLEVELAND RECORDING STUDIO. In 2011, his son PAUL HAMANN contacted Dennis Chandler via FACE BOOK. He found the original master tapes! He asked Dennis would he “like to have a new mix on CD?” So, LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON… THANKS TO THE GRACIOUS HAMANNS, you can enjoy “PLYMOUTH ROCK” for the first time or for old times. Plus, thanks goes to PILGRIM drummer RON HARKAI, for again helping with putting music on this website. “YOU ROCK”, RON! Back to about PAUL HAMANN. He is a, (pardon the pun), masterful producer himself. He owns the renowned SUMA RECORDING STUDIO in Painesville, Ohio. Now, you get to listen to THE PILGRIMS, here in GOD’S CYBERSPACE. Enjoy.
Now about the Pilgrims’ performances. They played at WALLED LAKE CASINO. THE MICHIGAN THEATRE, THE TWENTY GRAND, THE GAY HAVEN, THE RED ROOSTER… Plus THE PILGRIMS OPENED FOR THE ROLLING STONES’ SOLD-OUT CONCERT AT COBO HALL… and watching THE SUPREMES RECORD THE VOCAL TRACKS FOR WHAT WOULD LATER BECOME THEIR FIRST HITS. Dennis recalls another unique HITSVILLE USA recording session where he witnessed men with 2x4s STRAPPED TO THEIR FEET TAPPING OUT RHYTHM TRACKS THAT WERE USED FOR MANY OTHER MOTOWN HITS, TOO.
Dennis had the pleasure in reminiscing and recalling even more memories with members of the legendary FUNK BROTHERS just a couple of years ago. It was down at the Local 4 Union Hall, when they were rehearsing for a concert held later at the Rock Hall.
Although the pioneering Pilgrims band seemed to have arrived, they did not land one special deal. A successful studio audition for HITSVILLE’s powers-at-hand brought a dream of an offer. At the same time guitarist GLENN SCHWARTZ missed his swear-in date with a NATIONAL GUARD officer (arranged via ARMY contacts Chandler made serving musical duty for the military). Thus went the band’s “chance at the Big-time”. With those untimely draft notices; A PROMISED CONTRACT FOR THE PILGRIMS “TO BE MOTOWN’S FIRST WHITE GROUP”, WENT UNSIGNED.
Where three of the four Pilgrims did land was in the military. But, before disbanding (pun intended) they also served as the studio band on other recordings, too. Since often times session work was just that (read: work), band members rarely recall details. However, for Dennis one studio session was made more memorable because he got to incorporate a syncopated guitar riff that BO DIDDLEY taught him. The song? “JUST LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET” by the vocal group called “THE REFLECTIONS”. Dennis said they were a JOY to work with; whether making music with them onstage (as backup) or in the studio (as a per-session scale-pay musician). So whenever fans of that HUGE hit share how much they enjoyed it; Dennis gets to recall the fun of doing it. (Which is good because he said often times one can’t be sure if the tracks that are recorded are the same tracks on the final mix. That happened a lot back in the day!)
Allways A One Night Stand For A Good Backup Man
That band wasn’t the only band he and fellow PILGRIM bandmembers would find themselves “almost making it” with. The next almost-made-it-with-them bands included Cleveland’s TOM KING and THE STARFIRES later known as THE OUTSIDERS. They had the hit record “TIME WON’T LET ME”. Those sessions at KEN HAMANN’S CLEVELAND RECORDING made for some lasting impressions. Or did they? After a falling out, drummer RON HARKAI WAS AIR-BRUSHED OFF THE ALBUM COVER. This for him must have added insult to injury because it was the drummer’s dad who had paid for that recording session. But, time heals all wounds for Ron was asked by the ROCK HALL TO DONATE HIS DRUMHEAD TO DISPLAY. He did donate the one with the OUTSIDERS LOGO; the one pictured on that album.
There seems be a fraternity forming of former members of these groups (Tom King & The Starfires, The Outsiders and The James Gang). Perhaps because of the power of rock songs from one’s youth and with the passing of time, there appears to be greater interest in the history of those early bands. So many musicians were involved that memories may seem blurred like through a revolving door. Dennis was once told by Starfires/ Outsiders lead singer SONNY GERACI that it’s fun to get another’s perspective given the distance of time. For example, every year there are more tales to tell at the annual CLEVELAND MUSICIANS REUNION. Also called the AGORA PICNIC it is hosted by the Agora powers-that-still-be, HANK LoCONTI and BUDDY MAVER. It’s the hottest ticket one CAN’T get because you have to be personally invited. It’s a grand olde party done by Buddy and Hank with more than a little help from their friends Carol Maver and Carol CJ Palladino (read: power-behind-the thrones). In Buddy’s backyard under a just-right circus tent it is a big top, of sorts. One can see many a musician finding past bandmembers to reaquaint with and compare notes with, pardon the pun. It’s like in the TOM HANK’S movie, “THAT THING YOU DO”, me thinks Dennis Chandler and company can really relate to that movie.
Den Asks: “Quick & Fast Ride With The James Gang?.. or Go Back to the Barn.. err.. Basement Band ”
As for The JAMES GANG saga, when GLENN SCHWARTZ returned home from overseas military duty he and Dennis formed THE BEAT RATS, briefly regrouping THE PILGRIMS, but then Glenn left for L.A. later joining the band PACIFIC GAS and ELECTRIC, who had the hit “GET READY”. That was after Dennis’ stint in THE JAMES GANG. To explain, an earlier configuration of the band saw Dennis preceding SCHWARTZ and JOE WALSH on guitar. Other bandmembers then were of course, founder JIMMY FOX along with DALE PETERS. If one wants to get the full list of those in the band’s history, google the local NBC3 produced “Sound Check” show. Fox and Peters give a list of their band members. Here are some of the names (not in any special order here) but they include Bill Jeric, Ron Silverman, Richard Shack, Phil Gilombardo.
This one funny footnote from Fox follows; it’s from a SCENE MAGAZINE INTERVIEW where JIMMY FOX muses “..then we had Dennis Chandler on guitar. All Denny wanted to do was play BO DIDDLEY songs and when we asked him to play them PSYCHEDELIC -he left!”
How About Those Other Bands
Dennis then played with WAYNE HRITZ whom he met while in basic training at FORT KNOX. By the way, he and Wayne along with two other trainees won 1st Place for BEST INSTRUMENTAL GROUP and DENNIS WON FOR BEST INSTRUMENTAL SOLOIST (1965 2nd Army Fort Knox Level Competition). The group back in Cleveland after the Army was a group called THE DEL RAYS, then Wayne & Den were together again in 3 RAIL TRAIN, BEACON RING, GEMINI. Then came NEIL COFFIN aka Neil “Crash” Coffin, STEEL and at times playing with fellow band members from earlier groups like THE QUANTRELLS (BUDDY MAVER) AND MR. STRESS AKA BILL MILLER, etc.
By the way, the aforementioned WAYNE HRITZ not only played guitar with Dennis; he also played Cupid when he introduced the Chandlers to one another (upon the guys’ return to Cleveland from Basic Training at Fort Knox).
Plus over the years Den had his fair share of work doing backup whenever rockers would come to town such as: Annette, Fabian, Jan and Dean, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lou Christie, Leslie Gore, The Jive Five, The Cadillacs, The Coasters, The Crests, The Drifters, The Rivingtons, The Regents, The Secrets, Brooklyn Bridge, Vito and The Salutations, etc.
But among some of his most precious musical memories are the ones made working with blues musicians. Why? Because this original American art form came to him from them: taught, in most part, in the age-old Oral Tradition, with invitations to “come, sit and learn” at their knee, so to speak.
Many musical maxims were learned from these most generous teachers. His lessons were hard-learned but well-taught with the always kindly, “Good. Good. Now try it like this…” As a result he was invited to play with or backup for bluesmen like Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, Luther Allison, Albert King, James Cotton, Mike Bloomfield, Charles Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, Paul Butterfield, Jimmy Reed, T Bone Walker, and Johnny Winter.
Special, too, were the memories made when in 1974, while still a part of the ROBERT ‘JR’ LOCKWOOD BAND, Dennis played at the ANN ARBOR BLUES AND JAZZ FESTIVAL IN EXILE (Canada). There he got to perform twice and with two of his favorite musical mentors, B.B.KING and ROBERT JR LOCKWOOD, (along with another longtime friend, bassist GENE SCHWARTZ).
Dennis finds the welcome he was given then, still holds true today. Sadly, however, with the passing of time, there remain very few originators left. “All the more reason to pass on the lessons and the music”, he says. “The Ed-U-Tainer” is Dennis’ personal musical motto. His band called, “THE STRATOPHONICS” also profess they like performing under an imaginary banner… that reads “ENTERTAIN BUT, EDUCATE, TOO!” and to borrow actor Samuel L. Jackson’s line, “Edu-tainment”. It has given more meaning to the rest of the bandmembers’ musical involvement, too. Hence folded into the band’s mix of music is a history lesson or two that audiences can take home as food for thought, so to speak.
Dennis also truly “pays” tribute to his teachers (buying) and playing onstage some of the model guitars made famous by his guitar-mentors, BO DIDDLEY, LONNIE MACK, B.B.KING and LES PAUL.
Between A Rock and A Hard Place… Plus… Out of Sight = Out of Mind
Doubly blessed is how Dennis felt when he got to play his “Godfather” role twice. The second time he wore the label was for something else both he and B.B. believed in: The Campaign to Bring The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum To Cleveland… How it happened…
Dennis had finished recording radio campaign spots of B.B. King’s endorsement to “Bring the Rock Hall to Cleveland” when the blues legend graciously offered to donate his legendary guitar. As a result “Lucille” is now viewed as legacy for two national treasures, B.B. King and the Blues.
This was a wonderful cap to Dennis’ earlier rock hall campaign “contributions”. Contributions that included his writing the first rock hall song. He wrote and recorded it for his Dennis Chandler Band a.k.a. The Stratophonics when they began to serve as WHK 1420am’s Houseband in support of their then-oldies format. Playing a key role in the early media campaign was because of rock hall board member and Malrite CEO, Milt Maltz. To quote Plain Dealer reporter Mary Strassmeyer from her Mary, Mary column “How soon they forget the early believers. The Granddaddy of all the rock songs was “Can You Feel It – That Rock ‘n’ Roll” used back in ’83 and later for the petition drive in ’85 and The USA Today Phone Drive.”
The above-mentioned “key role they played” was behind this accolade: “Chandler along with his band, “THE STRATOPHONICS”, was responsible for over 200,000 of the 600,000 signatures collected for the petition drive!” When he heard MALRITE NEWS ANCHOR DENISE DUFALA quote her NEWS EDITOR, BOB LEWIS, Dennis said, “Oh, that’s the man that counted!” Literally, for Bob was the MALRITE COMMUNICATIONS INTERN assigned to Dennis’ band during the campaign and to quote BOB LEWIS, “I KNOW HOW MANY! I HAD TO COUNT THOSE SUCKERS!” (Talk about dues paying.)
There was renewed interest in that song. After being named by his peers as one of the “LOCAL LEGENDS OF ROCK”, Dennis was also asked by PRODUCER CHUCK RAMBALDO (owner of legendary Tommy Edwards Records) to include the song on their charity C.D. project. Because of the reissue of “CAN YOU FEEL IT (THAT ROCK’n’ROLL)”, one can learn, what Paul Harvey would call, “the rest of the story”, on the page titled, “THE ROCK HALL SONG”.
It’s Just a Jump From The Blues To The Gospel…Or… From The Frying Pan Into The Fire
Besides B.B.KING’S son, REV. ROBERT EDWARDS encouraging Dennis to “MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD”, another reverend made for another illustrious musical memory from the past: The one of playing “AMAZING GRACE” for the REVEREND JESSE JACKSON. It happened at a rally where the reverend was the featured speaker and Dennis was (again) the SOLE ENTERTAINER. Good musicianship did not go unoticed. Halting his exit, Rev. Jackson stopped Dennis’ playing to reach across the piano, to warmly thank him. A photograph of the moment reads: TO DENNIS, YOU ARE A CONQUEROR. NEVER SURRENDER. KEEP HOPE ALIVE. SIGNED, JESSE JACKSON.
Oh, It’s A Long, Long Weill From May To December
But The Days Grow Short When You Reach September
When Dennis was younger and performing out as a musician he was always told by both his parents that they did not approve of his wanting to do music for a living. Consequentially, he had to work hard to win their favor. But what earned their respect was what he accomplished in the world of business not music. Like many others in the arts, a pattern was set for life: the hyphenated life of business and music.
The nightlife saw him playing at times, CLANDESTINELY. Why? Because among the types of music Dennis enjoyed playing was BLUES MUSIC. Among the PEOPLE he enjoyed playing with were BLUESMEN. Interest in what is commonly called “AMERICA’S ORIGINAL MUSIC” was NOT AS ACCEPTED THEN, AS IT IS NOW. His parents joined the bandwagon, but not as readily as he would have liked. Sadly, his late father never took Dennis up on his invitations to come and hear him play. It seemed PROVIDENTIAL that a BLUESMAN, (B.B. KING) offered “to play a second-father role to you”, (and for these past nearly 50 years, Poppa BB has).
In all fairness, some encouragement did come from Dennis’ mother (belatedly and just prior to her passing). It happened when he expressed that he wanted to write SHOW MUSIC. His life-long passion for music included performing in local theater and as a director he very much enjoyed teaching drama, too (at GATES MILLS STRAWHAT THEATRE in Gates Mills, Ohio). So he was curious to try his hand at composing. That’s when his mother noted that creativity ran in her family. Marge Weill Chandler shared, albeit late in life, amongst distant relatives were VAUDEVILLIANS like her UNCLE MAX WEILL along with his wife, MADDY WEILL, THE MARX BROTHERS and COMPOSER KURT WEILL. (Scholars call WEILL, “ONE OF THIS CENTURY’S MOST INFLUENTIAL COMPOSERS” and undoubtedly due, in no small part to his and BERTOLD BRECHT’S “THREEPENNY OPERA”. Go to www.kwf.org That’s THE OFFICIAL KURT WEILL WEBSITE to learn more. But, Dennis found his family unaccepting of the music he liked to make. It would amuse Dennis to remind his family that A SONG THEY LIKED FROM “THE THREEPENNY OPERA”, “MACK THE KNIFE” as recorded by singer BOBBY DARIN, is considered… ROCK ‘n ‘ROLL!”
Dennis Gets to Try His Hand at Composing Stage Music for “Ruling Passion – A Musical Comedy About Richard III”
What with Dennis wanting to do stage music, the timing seemed right when B.B.King introduced him to Detroit area entertainment critic DEBORAH OSMENT RYAN aka DEBORAH OSMENT now. Her idea of a MUSICAL COMEDY ABOUT RICHARD III appealed to the Composer in Chandler. Work was begun on her play when cancer struck Dennis down. After his incredible battle, he completed the score. For Dennis, this play’s music is particularly meaningful. It also seemed fittingly titled (“RULING PASSION”), for he began the music before he began the treatments for leukemia. Rounds of ravaging chemotherapy left him listless physically but not mentally. Desire to write the-music-in-his-mind gave Dennis a much-needed positive focus.
For Deborah Osment, the play took on a less favorable focus. To explain, after moving from Detroit to L.A., (she reasoned that relocating out West might bring opportunity for her to do more creative writing), she set goals that would have been for her, easily attainable: Become a screenwriter, do movies that make money so she could mount plays. (Not just her own but those of other writers, too). Her dream lost its luster when one of her sons was killed (tragically in an accident caused by a drunken driver on a Hollywood freeway).
Thus, BITTERSWEET WERE THE REWARDS of a 1990 SUCCESSFUL READING of the play (and BEFORE AN AUDIENCE OF SHAKESPEAREAN ACTORS, yet). Deborah called Dennis from L.A. to inform her then-convalescing collaborator that “the music was overwhelmingly received!” To quote the lamented, late NORM MAYBAUM, (then considered “the” PREMIERE THEATRE FIGURE AND POWER BEHIND THE FAMOUS WESTWOOD THEATRE), “Incredible music, who IS this composer?”
Now that time has helped to heal emotional scars, too, Dennis would welcome an opportunity to mount this play. He would dedicate it to Deborah and her son David Ryan… now both of Blessed Memory. What’s needed? Angels, of the BROADWAY variety (read: mega dollars).
Forget about Broadway angels for now. What about ENGLISH angels? Like those who might be living in the town in ENGLAND near where RICHARD III met his demise? MARKET BOSWORTH. An open note: TO THE-POWERS-THAT-BE-IN-BOSWORTH, “What say you to ‘A Staged Reading’ of ‘Ruling Passion’?” Just think, what better place than the PRESERVED BATTLEFIELD, where RICHARD III was felled. What better time? Then now, in these new turbulent times.
In 2013 there was a headline that read: “WORLD RENEWED INTEREST IN ALL THINGS, RICHARD III” Why? Because bones from an unmarked grave in England … was tested via DNA to be… the bones of KING RICHARD III. This play just might yet get mounted, so to speak. But in our lifetime? Talk about “timing”.
Looks Like We Made It Or A Picture Is Worth Ten Thousand Words
Surviving the first round of chemo for leukemia (type AML) and, more importantly, a near-death experience (“Go back! Your calling is on Earth, not in Heaven!”) brought about a profile for “P.M. MAGAZINE” (filmed by friend CHET ROBERTS and hosted by friends JAN JONES & MICHAEL STANLEY). After surviving consolidated rounds of new chemos, Dennis was asked to appear on the LEUKEMIA SOCIETY NATIONAL TELEVENT. As he waited in the wings of a Hollywood studio, he learned that HE WAS THE ONLY FEATURED ADULT SURVIVOR. About to be interviewed live by hosts STEVE ALLEN and his wife, actress JAYNE MEADOWS, he felt somber. (Things lightened when Steve started playing piano; Dennis joining in.)
Later Allen said, “I’D LIKE TO HEAR WHAT YOU WILL COMPOSE. GOD BROUGHT YOU BACK FOR A REASON. SUCH CAPABILITIES. (YOU SHOULD BE HERE, L.A.)” Sadly, Steve Allen passed away before Dennis could take him up on his kind offer to mentor him. Another “close encounter” whose effect is still deeply felt by Dennis.
Back To The Future = Back To School = Back To The Past
Or What Goes ‘Round Comes ‘Round
The marketplace of music isn’t the only place that’s seen an increased interest in roots music. For over 20 years, under the sponsorship of The Recording Industries of America and the American Federation of Musicians, Dennis had been giving his series of concerts called “BLUES IN THE SCHOOLS” at a number of schools from inner city to outer suburb, showing the students of today the origins of their music. These concerts had been among the most fulfilling experiences of his musical life. An invitation “to perform in Poland” was given by POLISH MUSICOLOGIST and CRITIC EWA BIGUS, who attended an inner city concert (spring ’96). A critic for JAZZI MAGAZINE, POLANIA RECORDS, Ewa especially enjoyed a jam held in her honor at his home. Enthused, she had ARTSLINK send an application with the proper touring papers enclosed. It was all for naught, as it was learned that funding from the NEA (National Endownment for the Arts) was cut.
Another One From Overseas – This Time It’s That Lady From Shanghai
Again good blues musicianship did not go unnoticed and unrewarded. But, this time it brought an invitation “to perform in China” and from a world class musician, no less. Dennis met SHANGHAI ORCHESTRA PRINCIPAL MA-XIAO-HUI, thanks to several mutual friends in the media and restauranteur DONNA HOM. How it happened… As the well known Asian-American community activist, owner of ASIAN PLAZA and the HOM restaurant chain, Donna Hom is in contact with many in the local media. Because her popular Asian Plaza LI WAH restaurant is located in downtown Cleveland’s Chinatown, she’s also acquainted with those who work nearby, like at the city’s daily newspaper, THE PLAIN DEALER.
So thanks to P.D. COLUMNIST WILLIAM F. MILLER and his wife, Maria, along with several other mutual friends, including IATSE Teamster William Taggart and baritone WEB FLEMING, Dennis had another “close encounter” (joyful moments of music-making). But, this time it was of the Asian variety, so to speak.
Go to the page titled Web Fleming aka HAK SAN aka BLACK MOUNTAIN and William Taggart aka IATSE Taggart aka Tag. It tells the story behind Dennis and Web Fleming’s love of making music, Asian style.
What Will The Boys In The Band Have?
Their answer: All that they can take, gigs that is. As for making music with his band, history keeps repeating itself again for Dennis, much to his and the band’s delight. It’s a little like it was in ’64 with THE PILGRIMS and a little like it was in ’84 when he got to form and lead the other radio station houseband, The 14K STRATOPHONICS. Recall, they served in support of the classic oldies format at Malrite’s WHK up and till the change to talk radio. By the way, often asked about the band’s name, Dennis explains he named his band because of the station’s reverberating sound, introduced back in ’59 as “STRATOPHONIC”, hence the origin of the name.
Curious about the original bandmembers? Many are often seen performing at the special events associated with early rock and blues. They enjoy rotating gigs with one another, which enables them to return to their love of making music but, the one who enjoys the music the most is Dennis. His calendar reflects his love of playing all the music he loves.
More Talk About “The” Web… Web Fleming.. That Is
Thanks goes to William Taggart for introducing Dennis to baritone Web Fleming. A former WINGS OVER JORDAN baritone he and Dennis debuted (to rave reviews) A SPIRITUAL AND GOSPEL PROGRAM. It garnered many invitations to perform. Performances like at Cleveland’s KARAMU HOUSE for BLACK HISTORY MONTH begot more than just bookings, fellowships, too. Bonding came easy with members of Fleming’s family after they performed at their “Home Church Anniversary & Family Reunion” (in Willard, Ohio). Why? When Web went to introduce “Accompanist Dennis” to “Cousin Dick”, he found himself reacquainting with DICK GREGORY. Dennis had met the renowned comedian turned humanitarian-activist years earlier via B.B. KING.
Small world but “What a Wonderful World”, to quote the lyrics from that song made famous by Louis Armstrong. Web Fleming does a great impersonation of “Satchmo”. (FYI, Dennis had met and heard the great Louie Armstrong, years ago. But, that’s another story. He also knew the composer of that song; the great George David Weiss, who served as a mentor to Dennis. But, that’s another story).
From The Sublime to the Ridiculous
Or Beauty Is In The Eyes of The Beholden
While low profile and low-key, he still enjoys lending whatever talents and abilities he can for local causes and events, too. Early specialty songwriting projects were for local media i.e., Dick Goddard, Bill “Smoochie” Gordon, Jan Jones, Joel Rose, Fred Griffith. Plus TV 5’s Morning Exchange, M.D.A., The Browns, The Indians, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and numerous jingles. Dennis also still lends ear as Accompanist and Musical Director to local media. (At times a piped piper because of the mixed-blessing of perfect pitch). For a partial listing of the jingles and specialty songs Dennis has written, read “ORIGINAL MUSIC”.
Saga Of The Song “Fences”
Back to the subject of diversity. To explain the beginnings of one special song, let’s go back in time (and tie up a loose end, too). Mention was made earlier of Dennis earning a Doctorate-in-Diversity, so to speak. You might recall reading about his bandleader days (with CKLW radio’s houseband “The Pilgrims”). That’s when he had the first of many wonderful opportunities to perform for so many different folks. Lessons brought home from those wonderful Detroit audiences in the early 60’s helped him to cope with social changes in the turbulant times of the late 60’s.
When it was time for those first waves of turbulent social unrest to hit home, here in Ohio, little did Dennis think he’d be seeing it firsthand as a member of the National Guard? He was called up from their Reserves to serve active duty during the time of the riots of Geneva-on-the-Lake, Hough, Glenville, Collinwood, at the truckers’ strike and Kent State. One day, while on duty in Hough, he found himself looking through a barbed wire fence when he saw some musician-friends with whom he played at the renowned Gleason’s and Leo’s Casino. Plus, there was MISS FANNIE MAE LEWIS aka COUNCILWOMAN LEWIS and local reporter LEON BIBB, who was covering the riots.
What started initially as a warm smile-of-recognition turned into a stunned look on their faces. Later they said that seeing a rifle cradled in his arms instead of a guitar was what did it. But, in down-home fashion, they didn’t miss a beat emphasizing their understanding he was “duty-bound to be there”. Then, together, they took down the fences.
Barriers between friends: Dennis came away from that encounter with an idea for a song titled “Fences”. But, he found that it would be many years before the song would move to the front burner of his brain, so to speak. When it did, it was after convalescing from chemos (during his battle with leukemia). Then once up and out again, another sort of healing happened. In ’90 he went to see a play titled “Fences” at the CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE. This play, written by THE BLACK POET LAUREATE OF AMERICA AUGUST WILSON, was the most honored in theatre history. Audience demand was high, which is why, this production was held over. Luckily for Dennis he got to see it (albeit barely for it was closing night) and he got to meet the cast after.
Well, the play’s cathartic effect carried home with him and translated into music that night. But, it was when cast members KIM HAMILTON, CLEBERT FORD, BILL COBBS along with CAROLYN RAY, came out to his home the next day, that he truly was inspired to finish what he started so long ago, his song about barriers or “Fences”. With these bigger-than-life characters off the stage and in his home, Dennis finished the song with Ford. Clebert played it back in New York for one special friend, MARY ALICE. She was the actress who was honored with A TONY for her portrayal of the mother in the BROADWAY PRODUCTION. She exclaimed “Oh, August Wilson should hear this, you really captured the play!” Sadly, AUGUST WILSON passed away and this past year we lost dear CLEBERT FORD.
Laughing Through The Tears
or Something Good Always Comes Out of Tragedy, Eventually
The woman called The FIRST LADY OF TELEVISION and also called THE GRAND DAME OF TELEVISION… the renown DOROTHY FULDHEIM “commissioned” Dennis to write for her then forthcoming musical of her book, “Three and a Half Husbands”. After several years of a sort of mental-block on tis subject, Dennis was reminded of the music he wrote the pioneer broadcaster. This music Dennis hopes will live in a new form one day.
The way in which they met and the manner in which she asked him, makes for some interesting reading, we’re told. We go back in time to tell it here…. Dorothy Fuldheim heard the farewell song Dennis wrote for retiring MORNING EXCHANGE HOST JOEL ROSE. He was commissioned by TV5’s then producers CAROL STORY, TERRI MOIR and JANE TEMPLE. It was a song specially written in tribute and laid to video. On the day that it aired, Dorothy Fuldheim was a guest on the set when the video was played. She loved what he had written so much, that she asked Dennis to write music for her play.
How is it that Dennis came to be reminded of all this? During a replay of the final week of the MORNING EXCHANGE SHOW, several segments which Dennis wrote original music for were aired. On one tape, he saw himself standing, then being brought down to bended knee, so to speak, by Dorothy. A small woman (only in physical stature) she sunk low in the couch and was trying to get tall Dennis’ attention. Boy, did she ever, when she turned to him, shouting in what seemed like a gruff tone, “Did you write that?” He responded “Yes, what of it? Don’t you like it?” Dorothy shot back, “Yes, I love it! If you wrote that, we need to talk. I want you to be the composer for my play.” She then turned to Morning Exchange host JAN JONES and instructed her to “Bring him into my office right ASAP!”
Once Dennis was seated in her office, Fuldheim-the-interviewer began with her barrage of questions: “Who are You?… Dennis Chandler, why haven’t I heard the name before?… Such talent… Do you know how talented you are?… What’s your background?… What’s your story?… Do you know what to do with such talents?… If you don’t know what to do, how can you expect this town to know what to do with you?… Don’t do anything here… With Cleveland, it’s beyond prophet-in-own-town syndrome… this city eats its babies alive… So one has to make things happen out of town… Then make it look like a coming home thing… If YOU don’t know what to do with you, I KNOW what to do with you… I’M GOING TO BE YOUR CHAMPION!.. YOU’RE GOING TO BE THE COMPOSER FOR MY PLAY. Can you write me songs with these themes, Irish, Jewish? Chandler’s what kind of name? Scotish? What, your father’s Irish, then you can write Gaelic music. Do you know anything Jewish? What, your mother’s Jewish, then you can write Hebraic music. Good, good… now I know you can write me anything. A lost love theme, a chldrens’ song, etc!”..
Fuldheim continued… “NOW, GO HOME AND WRITE. But, wait a minute. First, GO MEET THE MAN WHO HAS MY PLAY, GO MEET VINCENT DOWLING!” Dowling was working as ARTISTIC DIRECTOR at the GREAT LAKES THEATRE FESTIVAL, later he left GLTF to run DUBLIN’S ABBEY THEATRE. Dennis did go to meet him. Although Dowling graciously acknowledged Dorothy’s referral, he seemed to be in a “New-York-state-of-mind”, that is, he seemed to imply he had a BROADWAY composer in mind. To Dennis’ knowledge, nothing was ever done with Dorothy’s book. So, then and there, Dennis decided he would compose BROADWAY-STYLE music, too.
After meeting the great Dorothy Fuldheim, Dennis couldn’t help but be movtivated to write, and write he did. Sadly, Dorothy never got to hear her music. She had a stroke and passed away before Dennis could play the music for her. He still hopes to one day do “DOROTHY’S MUSIC” as he still calls it.
BACK TO THE FUTURE (AGAIN)
The other musical Dennis did the music for “JUST WE TWO – A NEW MUSICAL” had its WORLD PREMIERE at the new beautiful “Theatre at Tallmadge High” here in Ohio on October 14, 2011. Both nights of this “Two day out-of-town tryout in Tallmadge” drew standing ovations and soaring hopes to take the show all the way to Broadway. Thank you to director Frank Chaff and the talented cast of grade schoolers, high schoolers, young college and community actors who helped to present this new musical. Special kudos to the professional musicians who did spot-on accompaniment.
Now what’s needed next are angels of the New York theatre-type (can you say Tom Hanks, Oprah, Whoopie or Harvey as in Fierstein?) .. OR.. Grants as in Genius-type grants (can you say MacArthur Grant?)
A critic’s review… “The music of “Just We Two” is magnificent! The music is great on its own, so it is inevitable that someone will rise up to the top of this show! BRAVO, composer Dennis Chandler and playwright Larry Brenner!” George Foster, NORTH CAROLINA OPERA
It appears these survivors “Know from whence they speak!”
ECLECTIC TO ELECTRONIC TO SPIRITUAL
As a guitarist and keyboardist.. utilizing computers in making and recording helps, but how juxtaposing for this pianist, who’s key daily pleasure is playing a 1904 9 ft. SOHMER Concert Grand. Thanks goes to an Angel named BOB ZAHTILLA (A to Z Piano) for finding it!
It’s said, “ALL THINGS THINGS FEED THE MIND”. Well, Dennis has enjoyed, in the past, various and diverse things, (from the old Lionel electric trains he started saving since 4 years of age… to the “olde stuff” fans have been kind enough to give him)…BUT…
BUT… Dennis NOW particularly enjoys (since being given back his good health again) GOD’S BLESSINGS of being able to make, not only the acquaintance of various and diverse people, but also to make various and diverse music for them, too.