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.”

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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Friday, August 21, 2009


Staying in the country offers lots of opportunities for good image-taking with a handy cell-phone cam. Here are a few more examples:

Ruby Memorial Hospital - my temporary home-away-from-home

Late 70's/early 80's Jeep Cherokee - $1600. And we'll throw the rust in for free!

In mountain country, they think of everything

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I'm spending a couple of weeks away from the Icehouse Home Office, due to family needs. Already, it has proved to be quite an adventure...

The old porch swing - in our family for generations

Hometown Proud - IGA, your country supermarket

New muffler system - $400. Round trip to rescue your nephew - 125 miles. Posing for a photo with the pieces

Meanwhile, I will continue this column thanks to our new laptop. Best wishes to everyone back in Geauga County!

Friday, August 14, 2009

“Dennis Knows Diddley”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

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…

Life happened.

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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Monday, August 10, 2009


From left: Jake Kouwe (accordion), Paul "Odd Job" Coates (tuba)


The Chardon Polka Band, a group birthed in the halls of Chardon High School, is set to perform at Cleveland's THE BEACHLAND BALLROOM this coming Friday. The ballroom will make an interesting addition to the already eclectic list of venues the group has performed at including dance halls, nursing homes, parades, festivals, schools, plant nurseries, garden parties, and fund raisers. Noted for "not being your average polka band", the group is composed primarily of 20-somethings with the one exception being sixty-three year old drummer Paul "Pops" Magooch. Other members include mohawked tuba player Paul "Odd Job" Coates and eccentric long-haired accordion player Jake Kouwe. The band is ever energetic and entertaining whether they be playing for assisted living residents or on stage at one of various Ohio festivals.
Fridays show at the Beachland Ballroom will also feature local Chardon folk band, The Timeberwolves; and Heelsplitter, an americana group well known in the Cleveland music scene. Doors will open at 8:00, with a show start time of 9:00. Tickets are just three dollars.

(for more info contact Jake Kouwe at 440-554-4486 or Ken (Beachland Ballroom) at 440-537-1792)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

“Geauga’s Got Talent!”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

I had been in the Geauga Theater for almost an hour.

Setup preparations for the local talent-show broadcast were taking longer than expected. But now, we were almost ready to begin. Our host, celebrity figure Carrie Hamglaze, stepped from behind the curtains with a dazzling shimmer of metallic green.

“Everyone!” she announced. “Live from Chardon, it is my great pleasure to present to you… GEAUGA’S GOT TALENT!”

Cascades of applause filled the air.

I leaned sideways, and whispered. “Doesn’t this feel a bit like the old ‘Gong Show’ created by Chuck Barris?”

Both of my co-panelists snickered. The connection was undeniable.

Hamglaze continued her introduction. “Tonight, just like in the national competition featured on NBC. our performers will be critiqued by a three-person panel. If you will, please welcome them now. From The Burton Daily Bugle, wordsmith extraordinaire, Ezekiel Byler Gregg! From the Newbury Siren-Monitor, our own princess with a pen, Martha Ann Reale! And finally, from The Maple Leaf, in Chardon, columnist, author, and former department store janitor, Rod Ice!”

I cringed at her introduction. But Ezekiel and Martha Ann laughed out loud!

“Each judge has a buzzer at the ready,” our host explained. “If all three hit their buttons, the act will stop immediately.”

“Gonggggg!” I said in a hush.

My cohorts squirmed in their seats, chuckling.

Hamglaze turned toward the curtains. “First on our roster tonight is a schoolteacher from Middlefield. He has developed an act that combines history, comedy, and canine calisthenics… give a great Geauga welcome to… Jeffers Stantorek!”

I applauded with excitement.

A balding old man appeared with his trio of spotted puppies. Through thick glasses, he peered at the audience.

“I am going to read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address,” he boasted. “Meanwhile, my boys are going to show off their acrobatic skills…”

On cue, the young dogs began to do a series of wild flips in the air.

Stantorek bellowed with statesmanlike eloquence. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”

Our buzzers sounded almost immediately. Despite its uniqueness, the puppy-political performance act was cut short.

The restless audience booed this hasty decision!

Carrie Hamglaze bowed reverently. “Our next act comes from Burton. Please welcome… The Butter Brothers!”

A team of young men took the stage. They carried breakfast plates piled high with pancakes of all sorts.

“Thank you, thank you!” the troupe leader said, gleefully. His uniform was a yellow T-shirt, with brown stretch pants. “Tonight, my brothers and I will entertain you with the world’s most exciting ‘Flapjack Frisbee’ exhibition! Enjoy!”

Discs of fried batter quickly filled the air. The team did an athletic dance while singing a polka melody. “Flapjacks, flapjacks, in the air! Sell them at the county fair! Flapjacks, flapjacks on the run! Maple syrup, yum yum yum!”

I was speechless. “This is insane!”

Martha Ann chided me for being negative. “You sound too much like Piers Morgan!” But then, she slapped her buzzer. Soon, Ezekiel and I joined in the bee-like chorus.

The audience hissed loudly. Our show was becoming unpopular.

Carrie Hamglaze gestured offstage, once again. “Thank you very much! Our next contestant is from Bainbridge. A student of Far East culture, astrology, and social habits of the insect world. Give a big welcome to… Solda Sunstream!”

Ms. Sunstream stepped confidently to the microphone. Her naturalist dress was knitted from strands of hemp.

“I am a poet, and performance artist,” she said, tossing a handful of spices into the crowd. “Please join me in the spiritual continuum…” With widening eyes, her poetic tirade began.

“Outrage! Campfires foul the air while moms and dads fail to care. What was my point? You well may ask. I am given to the task – of enlightenment about the environment! Outrage! Young minds prowl the muck yet their generation is stuck. Stuck where you say? I give you the answer. On the road to forever – fed on promise by a hi-tech Adonis. Outrage! Say the word. Sing the word. Let the word drip from your lips like the melted remains of sorbet with pomegranate chips! Out! Out! Out!”

Ezekiel leaned over our table. “Out, indeed! As in ‘out of this competition’ Ms Sunstream!” He swatted his buzzer impatiently. A cheer echoed through the theater.

Hamglaze tugged at her silk collar. “Well, we’ve certainly had an interesting variety of talent tonight…”

Growls and catcalls sounded defiantly from the crowd.

“This is turning ugly,” I whispered.

One after another, dancers, singers, and amateur comics paraded across the stage. Eventually, even our boisterous host was suffering from fatigue.

“Our final performer is from Parkman,” Carrie Hamglaze said with relief. “Give a warm welcome to… Gretel Hofner!”

The audience grew still as a petite young woman appeared, in denim overalls, a flannel shirt, and a straw hat.

Ezekiel sighed loudly. “Good evening, Miss Hofner. Tell us about yourself, would you?”

The farm girl smiled. “I help raise animals for my grandparents. They have a big herd of dairy cattle.”

The crowd began to snort and guffaw. “Loser! Loser! Loser!”

“Please!” Martha Ann pleaded. “Let’s give this girl a chance, okay?”

I rubbed my forehead. “Very good. So… what are you going to do for us, tonight?”

“Sing!” she giggled.

The audience was unconvinced. “Buzzer! Buzzer! Buzzer!”

“Stop it!” Martha Ann screeched. “Be still, all of you!”

I took a deep breath. “What will you be singing, Miss Hofner?”

Her face brightened. “It’s a tune that Grandma loves. Something she remembers from Frank Sinatra.”

There was open rebellion in the theater. “Throw her out! Throw her out! Throw her out!”

Ezekiel pounded his fist on the table. “Shut up, I say! Everybody shut up!”

Silence spread across the theater.

“The stage is yours, Gretel,” I said.

Sweetly, she began. “Next time you’re found, with your chin on the ground,
there’s a lot to be learned, so look around…”

The audience was stunned.

“It’s just like watching Susan Boyle,” I mused.

“Just what makes that little old ant, think hell move that rubber tree plant,” the girl sang. “Anyone knows an ant, can’t, move a rubber tree plant…”

Martha Ann had tears in her eyes.

“But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes,” Hofner intoned, melodically. “He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes!”

Suddenly, the three of us had joined the melody.

“So any time your getting low, instead of letting go, just remember that ant - oops there goes another rubber tree plant!”

The theater rocked with amazement. Everyone repeated the festive chorus.

“Oops there goes another rubber tree plant! Oops there goes another rubber tree plant!”

Hamglaze shouted with confidence. “I think we have a winner!”

“I vote yes!” Martha Ann agreed.

“So do I!” Ezekiel thundered. “So do I!”

“And it’s a ‘yes’ from me,” I said. “Well done, Gretel! I think we’ve proved tonight that Geauga does indeed have talent!”

Our host waved to the audience, and television cameras. “This concludes our competition. So from Chardon, Ohio, this is Carrie Hamglaze saying good night, and God bless all of you!”

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