Bryan James ‘Chas’ Chandler was one of the titans of the classic rock era. Born in Heaton, Newcastle, in 1938, Chandler became the bass player in The Alan Price Trio in 1962 and would enjoy a quick rise to fame, and by the end of the decade, he would be known as one of the ultimate musical svengalis and a man who had done it all.
When vocalist Eric Burdon joined The Alan Price Trio in 1963, the band renamed itself The Animals. They enjoyed a swift rise to fame, which was helped by their number one hit, ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’, which was released in the summer of 1964. Interestingly, Chandler’s basslines would often be overlooked in favour of Burdon’s husky baritone vocals or guitarist Hilton Valentine’s licks, but his opening riff on the group’s 1965 classic ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ only received huge praise in the years after his departure from the band.
Chandler also provided backing vocals for The Animals, and would intermittently write songs with Burdon. However, in 1966, after three years of touring, Chandler quit the band. He claimed that there was a lack of money for such a great personal expense, and was disillusioned. He said: “We toured non-stop for three years, doing 300 gigs a year and we hardly got a penny”.
Famously, in 1966, The Animals underwent personnel changes with Valentine, Chandler and drummer John Steel all departing. Chandler now set his sights on becoming a talent scout, artist manager and record producer. It was during his final tour with The Animals over in the US in which he witnessed an unknown performer playing at Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. He had been referred to the performer by Lina Keith, the then-girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. This encounter was to change both their lives forevermore.
The performer was a then-unknown Jimi Hendrix, who was playing under his earlier moniker ‘Jimmy James’. Chandler thought, “I could do something with this kid”, and he was right. In September that year, Chandler convinced Hendrix to accompany him to Britain. Ironically, it was The Animals’ manager, Michael Jeffery, who suggested that Hendrix ditch ‘Jimmy James’ and use his actual name.
Jeffery and Chandler would co-manage Hendrix for a time, and when they got to London, they hired bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell as the guitarist’s backing band. It would also be Jeffery who suggested calling the outfit The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
It is claimed that Chandler’s enthusiasm is what really galvanised Hendrix at the start of his career. Chandler’s decision to take Hendrix to London and remake him in the image of ‘Swinging Sixties’ of the English capital and then sell him back to America was genius. This was the same formula that culminated in The Animals gaining huge success in America by reinventing the traditional song ‘The House Of The Rising Song’.
Without Chandler, it is safe to say that Hendrix would not have been such an international sensation, regardless of the guitarist meeting Linda Keith or not. Chandler’s experience and contacts were critical in affording Hendrix’s talent the successes it deserved, and he also provided him with accommodation and personally financed The Experience’s first single, ‘Hey Joe’, which was released before the trio had secured a recording deal.
Chandler also introduced Hendrix to London’s premier guitarist at the time, Eric Clapton. From this, Hendrix was invited to play with Clapton’s band, the psychedelic rock trio, Cream, on stage, giving him huge exposure. It was also Chandler’s ingenuity that led to Hendrix setting his guitar on fire, which caused a sensation in the tabloids on both sides of the Atlantic. Even the legendary producer, Eddie Kramer, who worked on the first two Experience albums, said of Chandler’s presence: “He was his mentor, and I think it was very necessary”.
Chandler’s hands-on approach would also become the root cause of the end of his management of Hendrix. He became fed up during the recording sessions for The Experience’s final album, 1968’s Electric Ladyland, arguing with Hendrix that they were too self-indulgent and was irked by the Seattle native’s unwavering perfectionism. Of the sessions, Redding recalled: “There were tons of people in the studio; you couldn’t move. It was a party, not a session”.
In 1969, he quit as Hendrix’s manager, leaving Jeffrey to manage the now titanic rocker. That year, he came across the West Midlands band Slade, via his new business partner John Gunnel, the band’s agent. He became their manager and producer for 12 years and secured them six number one hits in the UK.
After the failure of the 1981 single ‘Knuckle Sandwich Nancy’, he relinquished his duties. However, he was instrumental in negotiating their next record contract with RCA, which lasted for three more albums. Later, Chandler bought IBC Studios in London and ran it for four years before selling it to Don Arden, the father of Sharon Osbourne. He then undertook a series of ventures, as well as enjoying brief reunions with The Animals in 1977 and 1983. The last significant impact he had on the world was helping to finance the development of the Newcastle Arena, a huge 10,000 seat venue that opened in 1995.
Chas Chandler passed away following an aortic aneurysm in 1996. A colossal character in life and death, his impact on music was huge. He gave us Jimi Hendrix, and through the iconic music he helped to produce and the Newcastle Arena, his spirit lives on.