Here at Rare Rockin’ Records, one of our all-time favorite teen artists from the 60s is Kenny Chandler (real name: Ken Bolognese). Mr. Chandler has had a long and varied career, and although his music is only a small part of it, Kenny is such a nice person that he immediately agreed to answer some questions for the blog when we asked. It was a privilege to speak with him and we hope you find the article informative and interesting. Read on!
Kyler: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Kenny: Oddly enough, until the age of 12 I wasn’t interested in music at all. Once I heard the melodies and harmonies from the new music revolution (rock ‘n roll), I found that I could emulate those sounds vocally. I was hooked!
I found I was first inclined in grade school. I was sitting on a swing at sunset after playing basketball. The swings were just across the street from a girl I was infatuated with – but too shy to speak to. As I admired her from afar, I found myself singing “Crying in the Chapel”, a popular song by Sonny Til and The Orioles at that time. Later, I sang “Only You” by The Platters to a girl I took on a hayride. I pulled her aside, and said, “Hey, listen to this!” Her reaction changed my life forever!
These tunes were important to me as an artist and gave me the courage to step into this exciting new world as a professional singer. I was about to step into the big leagues.
Kyler: What were the circumstances of the name change to Kenny Chandler? Who decided it?
Kenny: Just before my first record on United Artists was going to be released, “Drums”, Danny Kessler came up to me. He was the business manager for Leiber and Stoller, with whom I’d hooked up with because they were a hot team at that time. Danny asked me if I wanted to use my own name on the record. Previous to this, the only solo records I had made were under the name Kenny Beau. Well….after growing up with people completely destroying my name, from Bol-Legged-Nese, Banana-Man, Mayonnaise, I’d had enough!
Also, at that time, it was in vogue to change your name. Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darin…all changed their names. Not to mention all the actors! As I was making the drive from New York to Harrisburg the weekend after Danny asked me what name I wanted to have on the record, I wracked my brain for a new name. At that time, an actor I really liked was named Jeff Chandler. Chandler seemed to fit well with Kenny. I had a match!
Kyler: Your first record under the name Kenny Chandler was “Drums” on United Artists. Did you like the song, and how did you feel about the finished record?
Kenny: Regarding “Drums”….I was working with the best people in the business on that record. Leiber & Stoller as producers, Stan Applebaum was the arranger, Brooks Arthur – best engineer around, and one of the finest studios, Bell Sound in New York. I wasn’t happy with my vocal performance on the song, to be honest.
My manager Herb Weiner saw the potential in the song. I must admit, I didn’t! I wasn’t as schooled in other forms of music besides doo-wop; I certainly didn’t know how to pick a hit song. I depended on Herb, as he had more experience in the New York scene. I was just a kid with a dream from Harrisburg. I guess I didn’t seem to appreciate the genius of Leiber & Stoller, nor how unique the arrangement was (for that time) by Stanley Applebaum.
Kyler: Did you ever hear the Jay & The Americans version – what were your thoughts?
Kenny: Yes, I did! I was happy to see that someone else recorded “Drums”, and I would have been really happy if it had been a hit for them. It would have validated my guilt of giving a bad performance. Oddly enough, no one else had a chart record with that song. I loved Jay Black’s voice and his vocal on “Cara Mia” – just great – and “She Cried” sung by the original Jay was also wonderful.
Kyler: One thing I wanted to mention is that your records all have a unique sound to them. On some of them you sound like Roy Orbison, others like Gene Pitney – was it intentional for you to try to sound like another artist, or was that coincidental?
Kenny: The fact that you say my records had a unique sound is something….at that time, that was not in my conscious. Unfortunately, I never really understood what it meant to be original; I just loved being a part of this great new world.
It has its good and bad points. Yes, I could sound like Gene Pitney! Yes, I could sound like Roy Orbison! Yes, I could sound like Frankie Valli! I have made records that imitated many artists and therein lays the rub.
Kyler: Around the time you signed with Laurie Records, Dion left Laurie to sign with Columbia. Did Laurie sign you with the intention of them grooming you to be the next Dion?
Kenny: That is an interesting question, and it is correct. Maybe not so much “grooming” me to be the next Dion, but Laurie had me in mind to be their next male star. I recorded many of my records at Laurie with the same group that backed Dion on his solo records, The Del Satins. Some of my records from that time have a ‘Dion’ sound to them, such as “Leave Me If You Want To” and “Gonna Make You Pay”. Maybe if Dion had stuck around, he might have recorded some of those songs and not me!
I also have some great memories of touring with Carlo Mastrangelo (who became the lead singer of The Belmonts after Dion left, and they had a chart record entitled “Come On Little Angel”), two years after the Winter Dance Party tour that featured Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper. We played the original Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Carlo was looking pale when we entered the venue. I went up to him and asked him if everything was ok. He said, “I’m freaking out, man! This is where we got the news that Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens were killed in the plane crash!!
We started the tour in Chicago and ended it in Chicago. When we were going back, many people were going to fly. I asked Carlo if he was and he just looked at me and said, “I don’t fly anymore”, for obvious reasons he didn’t have to state. I asked him how he would get back and he told me he would be taking the bus. So, I told him I would take the bus with him! We sat in the back, having a good time playing and singing our favorite doo-wop songs.
Kyler: “Heart” was your biggest hit. I know you’ve told the story before, but how did you first come across that song?
Kenny: Before I made records under the name “Kenny Chandler”, I worked with The Tree Swingers –their hit record was “Kookie Little Paradise”. I wasn’t on the record, but I was hired to do a promotion with them on tour. Art Polhemus was one of the members of that group. Jump to a couple years later, I got a call from Art. He was now a recording engineer, and he had just engineered a demo session for Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil for a song called “Heart”. He told me it was a fantastic song, and that it would be perfect for me. But, Bobby Darin was producing Wayne Newton at that time, and he had an exclusive on the song!
Eddie Mathews, who at that time was the National Promotional Director at Laurie, told me that if there was a lead sheet at the Library of Congress, anyone could record it, and sure enough, it was there. We recorded it and beat out Wayne Newton.
Bobby Darin was good friends with Dick Clark. The day I was scheduled to lip-sync “Heart” on American Bandstand, Darin used his influence to bump me from the show and have Wayne Newton on instead! Maybe if I was the one on Bandstand that day, it would have had an even higher chart placing.
Kyler: How do you feel about the Wayne Newton version compared to yours?
Kenny: I liked my record better – not my performance, though. I always loved Wayne’s voice; one of my favorite records of his is “Danke Schoen”.
Wayne and I had the same booking agent, Frank Barcelona at the GAC Agency. I’m in his office and we were just finishing up our discussion. The receptionist calls Frank and tells him Wayne Newton is waiting. Frank asked if I would like to meet him. Of course, I said yes!
We go out into the reception area and Frank introduces us. “Wayne, this is Kenny Chandler…” Wayne looked down at me (he’s a tall guy – and at that time he had the short hair, baby fat, and looked like a kid on steroids!). He said, “Oh, you’re Kenny Chandler”, very coldly – so I said, “Oh, you’re Wayne Newton”. And that was it! If it was the old wild west, we would have had a shootout! How funny.
Kyler: The B-Side of “Heart”, entitled “Wait for Me”, is one of my all-time favorites. Any memories about that?
Kenny: Even though it was a Ricky Nelson imitation, I always liked it!
Kyler: I Can’t Stand Tears At A Party – your third Laurie single - was that meant as a Lesley Gore “It’s My Party” answer record?
Kenny: Absolutely! I was personal friends with John Gluck Jr, one of the writers of “It’s My Party”. They never came back to him and the other writers of “It’s My Party” for a follow up for Lesley. My “answer song” used some of the same arrangement styles of “Party”, including the way the horns and drums sounded. It must have come out around the same time as “Judy’s Turn to Cry”. We never had a chance!
Kyler: “I Tell Myself” was the B side – any memories/thoughts?
Kenny: “I Tell Myself” is memorable because it was my first arrangement. I had the entire arrangement in my mind before I got to the studio. As an arranger, in the studio, with all these wonderfully creative musicians with whom I had worked with on so many sessions was incredible. Who knew a kid from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania could find himself producing a session with some of the best musicians in America and quite possibly the world…what a rush! I thought it was amazing and I learned so much. Sadly, this record never received any airplay.
Kyler: Did you sing live with the band or would you overdub your vocals after the tracks had been recorded?
Kenny: I did both! If we needed to come back, after hearing the dub, and felt we could improve it…that’s what we did. In my case, if my live performances were recorded I would have been better represented than my studio recordings. I never was happy with my studio sessions. It took me many years to learn how to be a studio singer.
Kyler: I’ve read that in 1964, you lost your voice – is that true?
Kenny: Very true. I credit Burt Bacharach for my recovery. He sent me to a great doctor who was the only one who got results. I had gone to the best doctor in the biz, Dr. Rosen – who was Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme’s doctor….nothing. It took me a year of searching until I ran into Burt and he sent me to Dr. Berberich. 6 months later my voice returned. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was. I had thought my professional singing career was over.
Sometime later I had an opportunity to thank Burt. It was at my first recording session since the loss of my voice. I saw Burt going into the men’s room at the same time I was. I had to call his name twice and he said “who is it” I said Kenny Chandler, he popped his head around the corner and said “Hey how are you” I told him I was so thankful to him for sending me to Dr. Berberbich, that I was there to do a session and that he saved my recording life. By this time, Burt had become a huge success.
Kyler: What are your favorite recordings of your own?
Kenny: I was never really happy with any of my recordings. I am very proud of my latest single, “In the Still of The Night”, which has been released through TuneCore and is available to purchase through Amazon and other internet retailers. However, I feel the best is yet to come!
I’d like to thank Kenny for taking the time to graciously provide the memories and stories for the interview.
You can buy Kenny's latest singles, "In The Still of The Night" and "Little Darlin'" on Amazon - just CLICK HERE.
Rare Rockin' Records current release is David Gates - The Early Years 1962/1967 (Songwriter Masters Series). You can purchase directly from the RRR online store....all you have to do is CLICK HERE for more information.
Until next time, rock on….