Eric Burdon had the temerity to scribble the new loggia he’d designed for the Animals all over my virginal blotter. Bass player Chas caught my petulant sigh and turned his attention to Eric. “Draw some big ones for him, mon; he cannae get any impression from the little squiggles.” We laughed and kept on laughing over 30 years.
Chas (Bryan) Chandler learned management at the best school in the world, under the tutelage of Mike Jeffreys (who managed The Animals) and shrewd producer Mickie Most. He learned where the money went and how the cake could be carved up more fairly between the manager and the artist. He coupled this experience with an unshakeable belief in his artists, and discovered, managed and produced both the greatest electric guitarist of the millennium in Jimi Hendrix and the most entertaining chart band of the ’70s in Slade.
He was one of those big men with unlimited energy who’d sweep you along with the force of his conviction. It was this genuine enthusiasm for talent which convinced him to take the gamble on a relatively unknown black guitarist called Jimmy James, who was earning his bread playing in backing bands, and whom Chas saw performing solo at the Club Wha? in Greenwich Village, New York, just as the Animals were disbanding.
“Jimi sat down at a small table with me, wearing a black shirt, black trousers, black leather shoes and no socks. He was shy but amusing and intelligent and when he got up and played Tim Rose’s ‘Hey Joe’, which unbeknown to him I already had an obsession with. I knew we were meant to work together. He played like Clapton with an extra pair of hands.”
Chas recognised the pain and anger struggling to surface though Jimi’s music. He sold his own guitar collection and gambled everything on bringing Hendrix to England in 1965 and setting him loose. He organised a jam at Ronnie Scott’s with Eric Clapton. Jimi got halfway through ‘Killing Floor’ and Clapton left the stage and went back to the dressing-room. Chas worried that he had somehow been offended, and found Eric with his head backstage and a cigarette on red alert. “You didn’t tell me he was that fucking good, did you?” said Clapton. Chas knew he was well on the way to establishing Hendrix as the new God.
Hard drugs were the bane of Chas’s life, although he’d only flirted briefly with hallucinogens himself. He’d quickly decided they were mind-destroying rather than expanding and believed drugs had ruined the relationship between the Animals. It was Hendrix’s move onto harder drugs that caused their split after Chas had produced his first three major albums. “There was this dreadful collection of hangers-on and dealers who would drift into Electric Ladyland in New York and I could not deal with his sense of unreality, so I just walked away. My one regret is that he was a good friend and I sometimes wonder if he’d still be alive if I had not gone.”
There is an apocryphal story, much repeated, of how Jimi allegedly phone Chas at home on the night of his death leaving a message that he badly needed help. It never happened. Chas did not have an answering machine. However, he did meet with Jimi the night before and Jimi had expressed a wish to return under his wing for management. They were due to meet the day after his death.
When Chandler found Slade, they were an unfashionable Wolverhampton band known as Ambrose Slade who never played Top 20 material, but he liked their strangeness. He truncated the name to Slade and told them to keep doing what they did live until they could get that excitement on record. It was not instant. They took over a year under his management and four flop singles before they struck with ‘Get Down And Get With It’ in June 1971, and promptly scored 16 consecutive Top 20 hits and five Number 1s. Chas never gave up on his artists once committed.
Noddy Holder recalled that at his 50th birthday party in Prestbury only a few weeks ago, he and Chas were the last to bed at 5am talking about the good old days. “We owed our success to Chas because he gave us the confidence that was born of his own,” says Noddy. “He goaded Jim Lea and I into writing for ourselves and took us through the bad patches. He was a big man in all senses of the word and the most persuasive man we ever met.”
Chas’s great dream for his home town was a 10,000 seater auditorium which he part-owned and conceived and opened as the Newcastle Arena last year. It is his legacy to fellow Geordies, enabling them to see the best rock music in the world.
Chas was my friend for 33 years and I miss him like I would a brother.
© Keith Altham, MOJO, September 1996