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The Managers

Chas Chandler

Article from International Musician & Recording World, March 1985

Chas Chandler unleashes some tales of yore and gives some astoundingly simple tips for would-be managers

Greenwich Village, New York, 1966. Late afternoon at the Cafe Wha and a shell-shocked Chas Chandler, bass guitarist with The Animals, sits chatting to an unknown musician shortly to take the world by storm.

"When I saw him," Chandler remembers, "he was simply awesome. If I ever wanted proof that I should quit being a musician, then just watching him was it. He was light years ahead of anyone I'd ever heard.

"Now, I never regarded myself as a great musician — although I'd played some pretty good stuff with some pretty good people — but this guy just left everyone I'd ever seen anywhere in the world on a different planet."

The player was Jimi Hendrix. At the time, Chandler was about to begin an American tour with The Animals but, having grown tired of the road and weary of the band, he'd already decided to throw in the towel when the shows were over.

"After seeing Jimi and talking to him," he explains, "I knew what I wanted to do; I had to work with him." The tour finished, Chandler swiftly returned to New York, took his discovery to England and, for two years, managed and produced Hendrix.

During their time together, Chandler helped create Hendrix classics like Hey Joe and Purple Haze, but when he went into the studio to begin work on the Electric Ladyland album, he realised it was time to break up the association while the going was still good.

"Why?" says Chandler, "well, Jimi and a guy who'd been involved with us started to take an awful lot of acid. I thought it was a disaster area.

"They were sniffing a lot of coke, too — but I didn't find out about that until long after I'd split with Jimi. I had no idea about it; I thought he was just doing acid, pot and some booze.

"The pair of them were really into a lot of drugs and it had really become an ugly scene. They were getting out of their heads. Jimi would turn up at the studio with about 10 or 12 hangers-on and, instead of making a record, he'd be wanting to play with them.

"Because of all those drugs, the environment became peculiar. I was married to my first wife at the time — she was expecting a baby — and I just looked at things and thought... I don't want my kid to grow up in this fucking set. It was as simple as that. Good bit of judgement that, I think."

But, despite the drug abuse, Chandler remembers Hendrix as a model musician.

"We shared a flat for two years, and Jimi was terrific. He was great company and intelligent. We never had an argument, we just used to talk music 24 hours a day.

"We'd go to gigs, I'd stand in the audience, and then go backstage and we'd compare notes at the end of the show. We'd be in the studio, and then come back home and play the tapes all night until we'd figured out exactly what we were going to do the next day. We just lived and breathed his career for two years.

"He was the easiest guy in the world to manage. He used to get erratic at times — but he was a pro; he'd been playing in bands for years, he knew the discipline of the road.

"He'd blow off steam and things but, when I was working with him, he never failed to turn up for a show — and he was never out of it during one. 15 months after we parted, Jimi was dead, I've never really been able to talk about it, it's hard to when that happens to somebody so close. It's all still locked up inside my head."

Unearthing Hendrix hasn't been the sole slice of musical shrewdness from Chandler, an imposing 6' 4" native of Newcastle with a thick Geordie accent and a laugh like Frank Carson.

Within months of leaving Hendrix, and having seriously intended to drop out, exhausted from the business, he'd dug out some more raw talent from a tiny Bond Street disco. "They sent a shiver down my spine," he recalls. "They were called Ambrose Slade."

Drop the Ambrose and you know the rest; Chandler managed and produced the Wolverhampton rockers through their most successful, history-making period — which included six number one singles and three number one albums.

"Slade were fantastic to manage," he says. "But we did have our rough patches career-wise. You couldn't get arrested with them at one time, they went so cold. Nobody realised just how hard-working a live band Slade were.

"But then, in the late '70s, there was the Lincoln Festival — they wiped the floor with everybody. It was like taking candy from a baby. I mean, they simply out-experienced all these legendary bands who'd done about eight gigs in the last six years; Slade had been working 200 nights a year!

"The same thing happened three or four years ago at Reading. I'd tried for years to get them on at the Festival, but the organisers wouldn't touch them, then, that year, Ozzy Osbourne pulled out — and suddenly we were asked to do it.

"I had to talk the lads into it because they were going through a period where things were so slow they were on the point of breaking up. I just said to them 'If you're going to break up — so what? At least do it and have your last concert on a big stage. After all the success of Slade, do you want to look back on your last gig being at the Scene Club in Middlesborough? Don't you think you owe it to your memories to go out with a bang?'

So they did it — they went on stage after five years cold and wiped everybody away. Within four months we had a record back in the top ten."

But soon after Chandler packed in Slade.

"None of us could see the forest for the trees any more," he says. "Our association, instead of being strict — like manager and producer — had become blurred. After 12 years, we knew each other too well, inside out.

"There's nothing special about my judgement. It's absolutely average, and that's the whole secret of this business"

"We were close friends and it became harder to be objective in any single way. We'd always talked on the level that, if it stopped working, then we would part. That's exactly what we did. We're better friends now than we were then!"

Today, Chandler is again battling in business — this time with 21 Strangers, a Newcastle band he asserts will sell more records than anyone he's worked with so far. Their debut single was released in January.

But before he struck up a deal with them, Chandler found time — in 1983 — to pick up the pieces of his own playing career when he took part in the much publicised Animals reunion.

"I hadn't touched a guitar for 17 years. It was bloody hard catching upon it again, like picking up a plank of wood. You know, what's this!", he laughs. "I'll probably look back on the experience with affection one day, but, at this point in time, the dust hasn't settled yet.

"The worst aspects are still bright in my mind — and finding I couldn't play had to have a bearing on my disposition! I just found Eric Burdon an aggravating son of a bitch. We're like oil and water now. By and large, Eric was just a pain in the neck. He's strange now, I don't find him very logical anymore.

"And as for performing, the first time I found it hard. I thought 'Jesus Christ!' I'm going to look a right mug up here.' But then you say to yourself 'Well, who the hell's looking?'"

These days, Chandler doesn't bother running his affairs from an office — "You don't need one" — but calls his shots from his Islington home, where he has a computer to aid operations. But his form of management hasn't altered.

"The first rule is to turn your act into professionals," he exclaims. "Make sure they understand as much as possible about the business. The more they understand about it — every wart of it — the more capable they'll be of surviving in it.

"I make my acts take an interest in everything; if we have road crew, I want them to train and find their own crew — so that they know better than the crew what should happen with their equipment.

"If you have to pay people to do those kind of things because you can't do them yourself, then you're going to end up putting an awful lot of money out. Economics rule an awful lot, so you've got to look at things carefully, strip them down and make it all as financially viable in all areas as possible. When you go out to do gigs on a very low level, before the band is known, you've got to break even as a minimum. You must not spend money to play.

"My kind of management does involve some book-keeping but, to me, the trick of that is to make the band look after themselves. That's what I try to do; teach a band to look after its own finances — because it's no good trusting me with their money, or me encouraging them to trust somebody else. They've got to know where their cash is themselves — because nobody else will look after it better."

What does he feel has helped him achieve so much commercial success over the years?

"Common sense and common taste," he laughs. "If I like a song, then the chances are that there's half a million people out there who'll like it as well. I'm fortunate in having those kind of ears, but there's nothing special about my judgement. It's absolutely average, and that's the whole secret of this business."

But, in spite of his reputation and wealth of experience, knowing the ropes didn't do Chandler many favours when he began hawking demo tapes around the record companies for 21 Strangers.

"Well, one of my sayings is that you're not in the record industry until you've got a record out — and it's surprisingly still difficult to get a record out in this country," he says.

"I mean, obviously I don't have as much trouble making deals as people first starting off, but I seriously pity those just beginning in the music industry. Because the personnel who work at the major companies are the most elusive people in the world!", he laughs. "A&R departments these days are far too busy dealing with aspects of business which somebody else should be handling. A&R people should be left free to look and listen for new bands.

"Thinking back to the early days — of trying to start without knowing anyone in the business — I don't think it's really possible any more. With 21 Strangers, I got in touch with some companies — and never even got in to let them hear the songs in some cases. Two or more companies never even bothered replying.

"Now, I've been in this game for 20 years professionally — and for 32 years otherwise if you count promoting my first gig when I was 14 — I've had 59 hits, yet at least a third of the A&R departments never even answered a telephone call. So how the hell does anyone else get treated?"

Chandler has tried his hand at most areas of the industry — he once owned a studio complex and a record label: I'll never do that again, it's too time-consuming and I don't need overheads anymore" — and confesses to being slightly startled by the changes within the industry over the years.

"The technological revolution has been enormous," he sighs. "When The Animals first started recording, all our hits were on mono. When you look at an SSL desk now... I mean, it's a bloody spaceship! But, for me, the secret of successful music is still the singer and the song — not the engineer in the studio. The stars are the guys that write the songs and perform them."

But Chandler remains the kind of man who doesn't run away from decisions: "My attitude has always been to take them — don't avoid them. The more you make, the less harmful any wrong one becomes."

A sound philosophy indeed, and at 46 years old, with a wife and three kids — "I get more respect from a Rock band than from my son of 15, he thinks I know nowt" — Chandler seems to have survived apparently unscathed.

When I suggest he's done well to keep his marbles amid such a long stay in an industry so rife with lunacy, over-indulgence and corruption, he grins hard and unwavering with a solid stare, eyeball to eyeball, and offers: "My 'head togetherness' could be a facade!" And then unleashes a manic bolt of laughter which could well hint that stranger things have turned out to be true.

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Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Mar 1985

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman


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