The Big Man behind Slade and their success: Chas Chandler

Everyone who knows anything at all about Slade's long career will know that there is one associated name that comes up more than any other and that is that of Chas Chandler. Chas was, of course, the man who found Slade when they were no more than a promising club act with a good singer, a strange set list and a very ballsy sound - and whatever potential it was that they were endeavouring to hide so well ... he could somehow see it. Without Chas Chandler's guidance, there is no question that the group would never ever have developed the way they did or have had anything approaching the same prospect of massive success.

Chas Chandler was born Bryan James Chandler in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne, on December 18, 1938. He went to school locally, but was soon drawn towards the thriving pop music scene on Tyneside. Chas started his working life as a turner in one of Newcastle's shipyards and later joined The Alan Price Combo in 1963, which featured Hilton Valentine on guitar, Chandler on bass and John Steel on drums.

The group played regular Saturday night sessions at Newcastle's Downbeat Club and also at the Club A Go-Go. Eric Burdon had joined them on vocals and  Mickey Most signed them up and changed their name in 1964 and they were to become a serious British alternative to the dominant American music artists of the time, when their hit 'House of the Rising Sun' topped the charts around the world. At four and a half minutes in length, EMI resisted its release, but were grateful later on, when the single became such a massive success. It sold over a million copies in America, where the group toured successfully on the back of it.

It was a gritty antidote to the rather tame and soppy excuse for rock music that had been in the charts up until then. A lot was owed to Eric Burdon's great voice, Alan Price's organ and Hilton Valentine's guitar, but Chas' bass underpinned everything solidly and fluently.  

He was no bass virtuoso and didn't want to be, as any really good bassist knows that their job is to keep it solid and play the low notes firmly and authoratively - which is just what he did. He was very modest about his bass playing and refused to play in front of Jim Lea, because he was supposedly 'embarrassed about his so called shortcomings'.  Whatever he felt about his own playing, some of his bass lines still are marveled over by players today - try to keep up with his intro to 'We gotta get out of this place'. What a great piece of work. 

'Baby let me take you home', 'Gonna Send You Back To Walker', a cover of Timmy Shaw's 'Gonna Send You Back To Georgia', and 'I'm Crying' were their other big hits in 1964.

Alan Price had left the group following an apparent dispute about the songwriting royalties from 'House of the rising sun' -  a song that none of them actually wrote, but to which Price was said to have claimed the rights. The group carried on regardless and were no less successful without him. The group had several hits all over the world until Eric Burdon left in 1969. 

When there was no group to fill his time, Chandler turned to applying all he had learned in the music business to finding some talent and developing it to its full potential. On the band's travels he had seen and heard many acts that he believed he could handle better than their managers.

While in a New York coffee bar, he heard Jimi Hendrix playing a guitar and was so taken with his talent, he approached him about taking him to London. The emigration was not immediate. But shortly after bringing Hendrix to London, he launched him on a career that was to make him a legend. Hendrix made his first appearances at cunningly chosen and important venues in London, where Chas had lots of influence. 

The likes of The Beatles, along with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend (all very highly regarded and flamboyant guitarists at that time, just as they are now) were totally flabbergasted by what they saw and heard. Hendrix was readily accepted by rock's royalty at the time and the following chart success was inevitable. Chas helped him to put together his band, 'The Experience' and the rest is history.

Hendrix eventually left The Experience behind and parted company with Chandler. Shortly before Hendrix's premature death, he had talked to Chas about reviving his fortunes by going back under his wing and getting himself together again. Sadly, he didn't make it back to Chas.

Chas' next smart move was to take on management of Ambrose Slade. He guided them into writing songs, cutting their hair (along with Keith Altham, who apparently actually came up with the idea) and took them to world-wide success. He produced their best records and they were also their most successful records. 

Of course, as Hendrix had done, the band parted with Chas, as they were not prepared to take the blame for writing a few duff singles and an album that would have been right for its time five years later ('Whatever happened to Slade').

I actually met him once at Wolverhampton Civic Hall and I got his autograph. He was standing at the side about halfway back on the right hand side and I recognised him instantly. He looked about 8 feet tall. He was very nice and was pleased to sign an autograph and was obviously chuffed to see Slade in front of a full house on their home turf, which is just what they deserved.

It remains a metter of record that Chas tried to persuade Nod and Jim to dump Dave Hill and Don Powell in favour of other unspecified and presumably 'sexier' musicians. This was one of the major sticking points that led to the final parting of the ways with the band. He argued with them over some of their recordings - he didn't see the point of the awful 'Knuckle Sandwich Nancy' (one nil to Chas) for example.

It's quite sad that Chas and the band parted company after all the success they had seen with him as their manager. A lot of people would say that that if there was a definite flash-point that could be identified, then that was possibly where Slade lost it. They never recaptured that success, despite valiant attempts and their own attempts at self-management appear only to have assisted their eventual demise.

Chas also helped negotiate Slade's RCA deal (described as the band as 'a very sweet deal'), which he certainly didn't have to do.

Chas went on a 'never again' tour with The Animals in 1977 (to promote their 'before we were so rudely interrupted' LP on his Barn label) and again (!) in 1983. He even played alongside Alan Price for old times sake.

Chas was good enough - he didn't have to do it - to coax Slade back together (and to twist Dave Hill's arm up his back when he flatly refused to have anything more to do with Slade) to play one last gig before a big crowd at Reading festival in 1980. We all know what that led to.

Chas was the first to sign Nick Van Eede to his label  for a single 'Rock'n'roll fool' / 'Ounce of sense' (Barn 2014 128, 1978). He put Nick out on tour with Slade. Nick later formed the immensely successful band Cutting Crew.

The total of 67 hits from the Animals and the other bands that he had managed, shows that he certainly knew what he was doing.

The 11,000+ seater purpose built Telewest Arena, Newcastle (formerly the Newcastle Arena) was the last great venture of Chas (and his partner in Park Arena, Nigel Stanger). It opened in November 1995 with Basketball and Ice Hockey, and the first concert was on Thursday December 7th 1995 featuring David Bowie.

Since its opening in November '95, the Telewest Arena has quickly established itself as a superb venue and major North East landmark, alongside the Tyne Bridge and Hadrian's Wall. It has already played host to millions of visitors to concerts, exhibitions, conferences, Super League Ice Hockey and Premier League Basketball.

Concerts - 11,000 
Basketball - 6,500 
ICE SHOWS - 5,500

Some of the biggest names in the entertainment world have paraded their talents, featuring the likes of: Oasis, Shirley Bassey, Wet Wet Wet, Phil Collins, Simply Red, Neil Diamond, Diana Ross, AC/DC, Elton John, Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance and the internationally acclaimed Riverdance, Disney on Ice, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and Cher - to name but a very few.

Chas died from a heart attack on July 17, 1996 aged only 57 years. He was survived by his wife Madeleine, a former Miss UK, by their son and two daughters, and by a son from a previous marriage.

His funeral took place on Monday, July 22, 1996 at St George's Church, Cullercoats, a stone's throw away from the Chandler home.

It followed a private cremation attended only by his family and was attended by many of the figures he had worked with over the years; Slade, Nick Van Eede, Jimi Hendrix's father, Al Hendricks (the correct spelling). The Buddy Holly music that Chas loved so much was played to those gathered.

According to Chris Charlesworth, when various of Chas' friends stood up to talk about him Noddy referred to Chas' ability to argue long into the night. At his recent 50th birthday party, Noddy and his former manager were, at 5 am, the last to leave, propping each other up, still arguing over what was wrong with the music industry. "We'd been having the same argument for 20 years," said Noddy. Many hilarious 'Chas' stories were exchanged, and it was evident that 'the big man' – Chas was 6' 4" – was held in great affection by anyone who had the good fortune to spend any time with him.

Chris Charlesworth, who wrote about Chas' funeral for Record Collector, wrote a most affectionate and moving piece and I have taken a number of the above details for this page.

To quote him directly : 'Chas Chandler loved rock and roll and those who played it, and he dedicated his life to them. He was immensely proud of his Geordie roots, a plain-speaking, honest and hard-working man, and he could cut through bullshit like a knife through butter. His legacy will linger on in the music of The Animals, in the extraordinary records he made with Jimi Hendrix, and in the cheers that will ring out as future generations of rock stars appear on stage at the Newcastle Arena. I hope they build a statue of Chas directly outside the building'.

I don't think you can say fairer than that.

Melody Maker - October 7, 1972

Chris Charlesworth talks to CHAS CHANDLER, ex-docker, ex-Animal, ex-manager of Jimi Hendrix and now manager of Britain's hottest band, Slade

"One day I had a call from a guy who told me about this group called Slade and that they wanted a manager.

I went down to see them at the Rasputin Club in London and they knocked me out. I was impressed as when I first saw Slade as when I first saw Jimi Hendrix. "I wanted to find something different from the Blues. The Animals had been mainly blues and Jimi was the same thing but Slade had a ball on stage. After watching them work I had to sign them". Chas signed them up and shortly afterwards left Stigwoods to form his own company and concentrate entirely on Slade. He has no plans to manage any other acts.

"Slade were very young when I first met them - much younger than the Animals when we came to London - and they were getting screwed just like we had been. As far as publicity was concerned they weren't very successful in the early days but they were still earning good money. The business was taking every opportunity to knock them because of the skinhead thing, but they were slowly building up a very big following". Slade, originally on the Fontana label switched to Polydor and the rest of the story is too recent to recount again. America is Slade's next goal and already they have received rave reviews from around the country - unlike T. Rex.

"Slade are far and away better musicians than the Animals ever were. Hilton Valentine couldn't play a guitar like Dave Hill and I could never hope to be able to play as well as Jim Lea. I have a guitar now and I bring it out once a year. "My attitude as a manager is to get as much success and as much money for the act I am managing and my experiences as a musician have helped me a lot. I never try to analyse my own actions which are mainly inspirations based on experience.

"That's how I picked up Slade".

Chas Chandler Interview From Guitar Player Magazine April 1984

When you left The Animals in 1966 were you already planning on getting into the business end of music?
Well, I didn't see any future in being a solo bass player. I'd seen Hendrix before the last Animals tour started and I knew what I was going to do when the final tour ended. When we finished the last show, I just flew right to New York, picked up Jimi Hendrix, went back to England and formed the Hendrix Experience.

Did you and Jimi find the musicians for the Experience?
We checked out a lot of guys. As it happened, Noel Redding came up to the office looking for a gig as a lead guitar player with the New Animals. I said, "well that place is filled. You fancy playing bass?" He had the same haircut as Jimi, and it looked right, you know. So he borrowed my bass and did a little audition with Jimi, and that's how he came to be in the band. Then there was a toss-up between Aynsley Dunbar and Mitch Mitchell on drums. We couldn't make up our minds; we just flipped a coin on that. Mitch had been playing with Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames.

Linda Keith, who introduced you to Hendrix, has said that it took you a couple of visits before you decided to work with him.
Not at all. I met him that afternoon. We went and had a cup of coffee and planned it all out there and then. I was leaving the following day to go out on tour, my last Animals tour. And I arranged to come back to New York immediately and pick Jimi up and get things underway. That's exactly what I did.

Was he just playing blues then, or did his music incorporate any of his electronic effects?
Well, he was a monster guitar player. The weird thing was, I was going out with a girl in New York at the time, and the night before I saw Jimi, she had played me this record called "Hey Joe" by Tim Rose. It'd been out for eight months or so and had never been a hit. I said, "Wow, I'm gonna find an act and record that song in England. That's going to be a hit." When I saw Jimi Hendrix at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village, the first song he played was "Hey Joe."

Was it hard producing him?
I had a lot of trouble with him on his singing, because he didn't think he could sing at all. We used to have big head-to-heads about how far forward his voice should be on records.

Was Hendrix' first album, Are You Experienced? engineered by Eddie Kramer?
No, no. He had nothing to do with it. We did it in about six different studios, anywhere we could get in with cheap time. We didn't meet Eddie Kramer until the second album, Axis: Bold As Love. Even then, Eddie wasn't the contributing factor. Eddie was the engineer, but the tape operator was a guy called George Chikantz. He was a real whiz kid. He kept coming up with different ideas for sounds, not Eddie. George came up with most of the ideas for the actual electronic things-the automatic double-tracking and phasing.

How much of the electronic guitar sounds on record were a result of Hendrix' innovations as opposed to your own ideas or George Chikantz'?
Well, we used to go to the studio and just switch on the machines, practically. We spent a lot of time in rehearsal. Jimi and I shared a flat, with Jimi's girlfriend and my wife. We just spent 24 hours a day concentrating on the music. He would come up with songs, and we'd sit and discuss the changes, and then get down at rehearsal and try it three or four different ways with the band. It was music 24 hours a day for two years-totally blinkered. We didn't look up.

Where did Hendrix 'psychedelic side', as evidenced by some of his lyrics, come from?
I got him involved with science fiction books. I've always been a science fiction freak. When he moved to England [in late 1966], he started reading these books, and "Stone Free" was one of the first songs he ever wrote. That was the B side of "Hey Joe," and then he wrote "Purple Haze", and we went in and were determined to make it a sound effect thing. It was a progression. And by the time we sat down to complete the first album with a couple of singles and odd songs in the can his style had evolved to the point of things like "Third Stone From The Sun".

Do you think he was influenced much by the life-style in London as opposed to America?
I would think so, yeah. It.was entirely a different life-style than what he was used to. He was hanging out with people who thought he was the tops. That sort of respect helps to make an artist blossom.

Did he hang out with many of the English guitar players?
Oh yeah. Clapton was always around the house. He and Clapton were great friends.

Why did you and Jimi part company after only two years?
When we started work on Electric Lady*land, things had changed somewhat. Here the guy was a big star; he didn't want to listen anymore. I felt that the first two albums had been done relatively quickly. We started working on Electric Ladyland, and he would turn up at the studio with 20 or 30 hangers-on and start playing for them, you know. He was showing off a bit to them, instead of getting on with work. We'd spent about ten days in the studio, recording songs that I thought we'd gotten on the first takes. I just sat there and thought, "This is ridiculous. There are things I want to do, things I want to see." My wife was expecting a baby; I didn't like the crowd Jimi was hanging out with; he was getting into acid a lot. He wasn't listening to a word that was said by the producer, so I just said bye-bye. Because there's a big wide world out there, and I know enough about the business. I'll do it with somebody else.

After you and Hendrix split, did you stay in touch at all?
Yeah. About seven months after we parted, he came 'round the house and asked me to manage him again, but I told him I wouldn't work with Mike Jeffries, so we forgot about it. Then two days before he died, he came to the house in London and asked me to produce him again. This time we agreed to do it. I was going up to the northeast of England to see my family, and he was going to go to New York and bring back all the tapes he'd been working on since I'd split with him. When I got off the train to see my family, my father was waiting for me and told me Jimi was dead.

When you met with him, was he in good shape, physically and mentally?
He seemed very together, very happy that we were going to work together again. He came by ostensibly to see my oldest son, because he'd been born after Jimi and I parted company. We had a really good night-like old times again. He was going to go back and get the tapes, and we were going to start work again on the following Tuesday.

How soon after your split with Hendrix did you start producing Slade?
About five months. I went back to England and found Slade and signed them up. And it took me two years to get a hit. After that they had 23 hit singles in England .

Why do you think the Slade phenomenon never translated into American sales?
I think it had a lot to do with what was happening in America-Nixon, Watergate, Vietnam. And the secret to Slade onstage and on record was a sense of humor - a take off on heavy metal and all the rest of it. That was the underlying thing that made Slade a hit in so many countries, in 15 different languages-Germany, France, Holland, Switzerland, Japan. But I think America at that time had lost its sense of humor. Now, of course, you've got Quiet Riot with a Slade record in the Top 10, "Cum On Feel The Noize."That was #1 in England for Slade in 1973. That year I started Barn Records, which I owned 100% until I sold it in '82.

Why did you sell the label?
Time of life, I suppose. I just wanted a complete break. I'd become an administrator, had five studios operating. But I wasn't doing any music myself. So I sold everything and was going to drop out for a couple of years and try writing a book, because that's always been my other passion in life, reading. I read about five books a week. So I bought meself a computer with a good word processor, and started doing that. I enjoyed it immensely. Then this Animals thing came along, so after much soul searching I shelved it. I thought, "Well, I can write a book next year, but I can't go on tour with the Animals," But I intend to get back to writing.

If you came across another great undiscovered talent, would you be tempted to try your hand again at producing?
I'd love to do it again. You've just got to see somebody that really knocks you dead. I can't work with somebody that I don't think is a blinder. We have a young guitarist on tour with us named Steve Grant, who I think is the best musician I've seen since Hendrix. He's a blinding keyboard and synth player as well. He's signed to me, and we're going to do an album when we get back to England.

Of all the things you've done in the music business, which would you say has been the most rewarding?
I think overall I enjoyed my time with Slade the most. They were very young lads when I met up with them. I'd been in a successful band myself; I'd produced and managed a successful artist and saw him die. I had a lot of knowledge of the business, and I laid down a lot of ground rules that they went along with. They were successful because they kept their heads together very well; they were tremendously professional; and they applied themselves and worked extremely hard. Working with them was the most enjoyable experience of all the things I've done.