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The Legendary Charlie Chesterman

music that inspired people × the man inspired love

 
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Important FAQs from Pete Weiss

Confused about Charlie’s music and how to purchase it? We don’t blame you! It’s sometimes a bit convoluted, but here is a handy question-and-answer guide to help you navigate these murky waters…

Q: How many solo albums did Charlie release? What are they? And where can I get them?

A: Short answer: seven. (Longer answer below*) Here they are, in chronological order, with links to where you can purchase them for download:


From the Book of Flames

1994
by Charlie Chesterman
The debut album, featuring songs such as Sexy Rickenbacker and Pink Lemonade.

Buy It at: CD Baby

Buy It at: iTunes


Studebakersfield

1996
by Charlie Chesterman
The lush and sprawling sophomore album includes Mona’s Prayer, Mister Blue, Trash, and other favorites.

Buy It at: CD Baby

Buy It at: iTunes


Dynamite Music Machine

1997
by Charlie Chesterman
The third album features a raucous, live, early 1960’s sound. Contains Goodbye To You, Bread & Butter, and others.

Buy It at: CD Baby

Buy It at: iTunes


Ham Radio

2000
by Chaz & The Motorbikes
Charlie’s first self-released album, after his contract with Slow River/Rykodisc ended. Contains Beatle Boots, Tigerman, and 11 others.

Buy It at: CD Baby

Buy It at: iTunes


Skunk On The Loose

2005
by Chaz & The Motorbikes
Another raucous collection, but with a radio-friendly sound, Skunk On The Loose contains faves such as Tarzana and Question Mark.

Buy It at: CD Baby

Buy It at: iTunes


Well, My Heart Went Boom

2005
by Chaz & The Motorbikes
A collection of live-in-the-studio performances for WMBR’s “Pipeline” show, featuring many Motorbike live staples.

Buy It at: CD Baby

Buy It at: iTunes


Solid Gold Electric Chestnut Dispenser

2013
by Charlie Chesterman
A collection of hard-to-find compilation tracks and previously unreleased rarities such as King Size Cigarette and Jack Hammers. Also includes Charlie’s last studio recording from the summer of 2012, Carolina Blue.

Bandcamp Link

(note: Bandcamp features comprehensive liner notes and thoughts from Charlie himself):

Buy It at: CD Baby

Buy It at: iTunes


*Longer answer: Some of Charlie’s music appeared on numerous compilations in different parts of the world. Also, in 1996, Rykodisc issued a kind of “Best Of” collection of Charlie’s songs called Hit This, Kick That, culled from the first two albums, with a few rarities thrown in. It was decided NOT to make that album available online since it duplicated so many songs from the first two albums. The rarities from that album, along with the previously-mentioned compilation tracks, were all collected and included on the Solid Gold Electric Chestnut Dispenser album. So… basically, everything Charlie ever officially released as a solo artist IS available within the above seven albums.


Q: Are they available on CD?

A: They were originally released on CD, but are not currently available in this format. This may change and we’ll make an announcement if it does.

Q: Why are some albums under Charlie’s name and others under the name Chaz & The Motorbikes?

A: Charlie’s band as a solo performer was known as The Motorbikes or sometimes The Legendary Motorbikes. His first three albums, though prominently featuring the Motorbikes, were credited to Charlie (probably for marketing purposes — they were released by Slow River/Rykodisc Records). When Charlie’s contract with Slow River ended, he self-released his next three albums and wanted to give credit where credit was due — to his musical comrades The Motorbikes. The only unfortunate thing about this is that in order to find ALL of Charlie’s music online, you’ve got to search twice… once for “Charlie Chesterman” and once for “Chaz & The Motorbikes.”

Q: How about The Harmony Rockets?

A: The Harmony Rockets’ only widely-distributed release was a 7” single, “Skeleton Man” b/w “Big Day” and “Tony” released in 1993 by Rockville Records. This is currently out of print. The band contributed an instrumental “Thunderchicken” to a 1993 Zippah Studio promo compilation “Caught In The Zippah” and recorded a handful of other songs in Albany that were availble briefly on cassette. “Kid Gloves,” from the Albany sessions, as well as “Thunderchicken” are available on Charlie’s “rarities” collection, Solid Gold Chestnut Dispenser.

Q: And what about Scruffy the Cat? Those are great records, but impossible to find!

A: Good news for STC fans… Since the band’s official catalog went out of print (and become collectible) in the early 1990’s, Sony Music has stepped up and plans to reissue the entire thing — 38 tracks covering 2 LP’s and 2EP’s — as Time Never Forgets: The Anthology (’86-’88) in late summer 2014. We’ll pass details on as we get them.

Click here to go to the official Scruffy website

and official Facebook page
 

Charlie Chesterman, 53,
effortlessly cool roots rocker

Steve Morse

In Boston’s thriving rock ’n’ roll scene of the 1980s, Charlie Chesterman’s dynamic performances as a singer and guitarist with the roots-rocking Scruffy the Cat were legendary as he helped guide the band each year through 250 to 300 shows, many of them in area clubs such as the Rat, T.T. the Bear’s, the Channel, and Jonathan Swift’s.

“He was born to write songs and perform them,” said Burns Stanfield, who grew up with Mr. Chesterman in Des Moines before following him to Boston to join Scruffy the Cat. “He tapped into this joy and he took the rest of us along for the ride.”

 

The band’s first album, 1987’s “Tiny Days,” was ranked No. 4 in the Village Voice’s poll of critics and made Rolling Stone magazine’s list of Top 10 college records. All the attention left the likable, happy-go-lucky Mr. Chesterman bemused, at least in retrospect. “In the grand scheme of things, I don’t know where Scruffy fit in,” he told the Globe two years ago, adding that “We had a really good time and people connected with it that way.”

Mr. Chesterman, who was known for leading the band through high-energy, marathon performances, died of colon cancer Nov. 4 in his Dorchester home. He was 53.

“In Baltimore, we played a two-and-a-half hour set,” said Stephen Fredette, a guitarist who founded Scruffy the Cat with Mr. Chesterman, “and when we went back to Baltimore, the club owner put the opening acts on very early so we could play another two-and-a-half hour set.”

Mr. Chesterman, who came to Boston after hearing about the vitality of the music scene, turned Scruffy the Cat shows into joyous affairs and would do anything to rev up a crowd. Once he removed a shoe and placed it on his head during a WBCN Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble show, then tossed it into the audience and played the rest of the set wearing one shoe.

Admired by many for his effortless sense of what was cool, Mr. Chesterman loved Rickenbacker guitars, Vespa scooters, and vintage sweaters. Among the musicians he admired, his holy trinity was Chuck Berry, Hank Williams, and the Ramones, and he was thrilled when Joey Ramone saw Scruffy the Cat perform at the Ritz in New York.

“Charlie was always happy,” said his older brother, Ted Austin of Des Moines. “He enjoyed whatever was around him. And he never took a music lesson.” Mr. Chesterman did become an Eagle Scout, his brother added.

Starting out in Des Moines by playing in the Flashbacks, a 1950s cover band, Charles E. Chesterman went on to form the Law, a band he brought to Boston in the early 1980s before founding Scruffy the Cat.

For Relativity Records, Scruffy the Cat recorded two full-length albums, “Tiny Days” and “Moons of Jupiter.” The band also recorded two EPs, “High Octane Revival” and “Boom Boom Boom Bingo.”

The band broke up in 1991, partly from the exhaustion of touring so often while traveling great distances. Scruffy the Cat would perform across the country and then go into Western Canada, while sometimes sharing tours with bands such as the Replacements, Yo La Tengo, and Los Lobos.

After Scruffy the Cat, Mr. Chesterman formed the Harmony Rockets and Charlie Chesterman & the Legendary Motorbikes, recording six more albums in the process, three of them for Slow River/Rykodisc Records.

“For me, it all started with Charlie’s voice,” said George Howard, who owned Slow River at the time. “He doesn’t always sing on key, but it’s one of the most distinctive voices you’ll hear. He doesn’t sound like anyone else.”

He always recorded on his own terms and “never sold out,” said Pete Weiss, his longtime producer at Zippah studios in Brighton. “He stuck to his guns.”

As was the case during live shows, Mr. Chesterman was prone to spontaneity while recording. He once tried singing in a cardboard box for a song about being boxed in. Another time, he wanted a microphone placed in the middle of the floor while his drummer rode circles on a bicycle, sounding its bell for added effects.

“He also had a knack for writing songs that were very simple and would nestle into your brain,” Weiss said, “but if you pulled them apart they were more complex than they seemed.”

Above all, Mr. Chesterman had an electric stage presence. His sister, Nancy Covington of Des Moines, recalled seeing him play at his middle school in Des Moines “and the girls were screaming. I knew he had found something he wanted to do.”

Mr. Chesterman’s wife, the artist Juliann Cydylo, said his immense will to live kept him alive longer than expected.

“Charlie was stubborn,” she said. “He lived two and a half years longer than the doctors thought. He was in bed since June, but we would listen to music together.”

She added that “being with him was an extraordinary experience right until the end. He was a gentle soul, and very romantic.”

Michael Charles, one of Mr. Chesterman’s best friends, said that “he never complained, even when he had cancer.”

Charles, who used to take long Vespa rides with his friend to Cape Cod and into New Hampshire, said Mr. Chesterman would “just say, ‘I’m going to the doctor. Let’s go.’ And that was it.”

A service has been held for Mr. Chesterman, who in addition to his wife, brother, and sister leaves two children, Clementine and Woolsey of Dorchester; his mother, Carolyn (Essington) Chesterman of Des Moines; and another brother, Dan Austin of Des Moines.

Charlie rocks it out at his own benefit concert. Many were not sure at the time of his condition. Charlie rocked out the night in classic Charlie Style proclaiming, "FUCK CANCER!"

Two years ago, musicians held a fund-raiser at T.T. the Bear’s in Cambridge to help Mr. Chesterman pay his medical costs. Among the acts who took to the stage were Ray Mason, the Upper Crust, the Weisstronauts, Raging Teens, and Roy Sludge. Even Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band showed up to sing.

In a phone interview with the Globe before the show, Mr. Chesterman was asked what it was like to be a guest of honor at such a benefit. A rocker who never quit, he let out a cackle and said, “That’s my answer — laughter is my answer.”

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KICK CANCER IN THE ASS!

Checks can be made out to "Friends of Charlie Chesterman"
and mailed to the below address.

Or Donate on line

Friends of Charlie Chesterman
C/O Michael and Amy Charles
48 Beaumont Street, Unit 1
Boston, MA 02124

 
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So it all starts with punk rock. But didn't most of the bands in the '80s?

Actually, it starts just a little before that with a '50s cover band called the Flashbacks (or some such name) that had these two guys named Tim Johnson and Charlie Chesterman in it. The band played at some high schools and the sort, but didn't do much. So they both discovered this new British music phenomenon and started developing an interest in it.

This led to a band that had about as many names as people in it (three) when Tim met this drummer Eric at a party. The Crayons (Tim's name for it if I remember correctly) practiced about three or four times in Tim's basement before it was decided that Eric was just not up to the task. So they went back to doing whatever until Eric hooked back up with a high school friend of his about the same time that the high school friend met Charlie (now AKA Chuckie Suicice). And so the first Iowa punk band was born.


White Lunch

White Lunch

White Lunch. It had Aaron Johnson on guitar and songs, Charlie on guitar and occasional singing, Tim on guitar and occasional singing and Eric on drums. Eric got fired for not being able to play a couple of nights before they were due to play on a local TV show. They got a drummer who could actually do silly things like keep time and after that White Lunch lasted about as long as Aaron's attention span, and Tim and Charlie were back to trying to get their own band going again. This led to The Law.


The Law

The Law were the biggest thing in central Iowa for a couple of years. They sold out the one club that would let them play every time they played (which was often). The were responsible for the formation of dozens of other bands. There was a great little scene in central Iowa that was a lot like the great little scenes nationwide that sprang up as a reaction to the punks.

The Law were: 
Charlie Chesterman: Vocals and guitar and most of the songs 
Tim Johnson: Guitar and shouts and some songs as well 
Kevin Hensley: Organ (a very, very cool Farfisa), saxophone, 
vocals and a song or two as well 
Mac Stanfield: Bass (and later Scruffy the Cat ) 
Tad Hutchinson: Drums (and later Young Fresh Fellows)

Oh...and pretty much anyone who jumped up on stage. The Law shows always had folks up on stage to sing along at some point or another.

So at some point the Law decided to go somewhere where they could get a bigger audience. So they packed up and moved to Boston. Within about a year or so they moved back. Played around for a while. Tad and Kevin went off to college and the band split up. Tim started his own band (he had become less and less interested in Charlie's poppier style) and Charlie and Mac took off back to Boston.


Which led to Scruffy the Cat. Eventually.

(This brief prehistory bio brought to you by the good people at Kriel Co.)

Scruffy's first appearance on record was the tune "The Oldest Fire in the World" on the Throbbing Lobster's Let's Breed compilation, which was released in 1984. After signing with Relativity, the band released two EPs and two full-length LPs.

The six-song High Octane Revival, which was produced by Dave Minehan of the Neighborhoods, came out in 1986. 1987 saw the release of the Chris Butler-produced Tiny Days and the EP Boom Boom Boom Bingo. Scruffy's swan-song, the 16-track Moons of Jupiter, was produced by the legendary Jim Dickinson and released in 1989. The band's lineup was pretty steady over the years. 

It included: 
Charlie Chesterman, vocals and guitar 
Stephen Fredette, guitar 
Mac Paul Stanfield, bass 
Randall Lee Gibson IV, drums 
Stona Fitch, multi-instrumentalist



All of the band members were credited with writing songs, which makes Scruffy's consistent tunefulness that much more impressive. Fitch, I should point out, left the band sometime around 1987.

Like most bands, Scruffy did their share of touring. They of course had a rather loyal following in Boston, and the group was pretty popular in the mid-west. Despite generating a good deal of national interest (there was even an article in Time), Scruffy never really got their due, and sometime during the early 1990s the band called it a day.


The Harmony Rockets

The Harmony Rockets

After Scruffy the Cat broke up Charlie Chesterman began playing with a new band called The Harmony Rockets. The Harmony Rockets era appears to be from about 1990 to 1993. They released an ep for the song "Skelton Man," which included two songs written by bass player Mike County. In addition to an appearance on a 1991 Sonny Bono tribute CD, there was also an unreleased tape of four finished songs, one of which, titled "Thunderlizard," appears on a compilation from Pete Weiss's Zippah Records. Some of the Harmony Rockets songs have been re-recorded by Charlie and the Legendary Motorbikes for his later releases.

After Charlie broke up the Harmony Rockets (the very week their one and only 45 was to be released), he decided to record songs that he had written during the Rockets days and then retire from music altogether. His interest in motorcycles and vintage scooters had by then eclipsed his interest in playing in bands, and going 75mph seemed more fun then standing around tuning a guitar.


Charlie goes it alone, with all of his friends in tow.

So, with the help of Pete Weiss, Charlie entered Zippah studios and recorded six songs for posterity. These songs were in turn passed by Weiss to Slow River Records, who jumped at the chance to release them. Chesterman then suggested he return to the studio and record several more songs to make an albums worth of material. Slow River agreed.

With the prospects of a new release in his future, Chesterman decided a studio band was needed to flush out the raw sound of the recordings. Once again Pete Weiss helped by suggesting guitarist Andy Pastore, a good friend of drummer John Clarke, and, Wiesshimself, to play on the sessions. Charlie called other friends to supply talent as needed and the result was the 1994 Slow River CD"From The Book Of Flames"


The age of the Legendary Motorbikes! 

Charlie Chesterman, vocals and guitar
Andy "The King" Pastore, guitar and backing vocal
"Kentucky" Jim Faris, electric and upright bass
John Clarke, drums, "Book of Flames" thru "Dynamite Music Machine"
Gary "Jet" Gendron, drums from then till 2003
John Clarke returns
Hansome Bill Hanson eventually takes over the Bass duties.

Once Studebakersfield is released, the band starts playing Boston and New York as often as possable. To their suprise, the music begins to draw attention of club goers, and club owners too. The word on the street is that The Motorbikes are a band to watch and each time they play, more people come to see them. Shows in Washington D.C. and Philly as well as other hot spots in New England are set up. The label, which has become part of Rykodisc, is interested in yet another recording. Everything is looking up....

Not quite.....

The Motorbikes go back to Zippah with Pete Weiss yet again at the ready and commit to tape the most raw and exciting songs of their short and noizy history. Recording on a 16 track tape machine but sometimes only bothering to use 1 or 2 tracks, Charlie & company mash thru covers and originals alike in a mad live recording session that lasts most of one weekend. "Dynamite Music Machine" is fuled by coffee, beer, birthday cake, and the dream of putting together a classic rock & roll album. By the time things are all recorded everybody is sick and tired and in no mood to think about ever playing again.

But they do-for a time.

Rykodisc tries to make a big deal in releasing "Dynamite.." in the autum of 1997 but the hoopla falls on deaf ears. The band, meanwhile, is starting to feel the strain of the dredded 'musician with a dayjob' and things begin to flounder. Charlie is stuck without the possability of taking any time to tour and the others just dont feel like it . The label begins to backpedal on supporting the CD. By the time 1998 rolls around drummer John Clarke decides to quit music altogether and leaves the group. The Legendary Motorbikes are now without an engine, low on gas, and with a slow leek in the rear tire......Great.

Thankfully, we found Gary "Jett" Gendron to bail us out for a few great years on drums.

For reasons no one really understands, Gary is out of the band and off doing other things.

Chaz and the Motorbike play as a trio for about a year until the return of John Clarke.

Now what?... Well, time goes on. Great music is made, recorded and performed. We all grow older and move away, raise families, get back together. Andy and John continue to play with Charlie after Bill Hanson picks up the bass spot left missing when Kentucky Jim heads south to D.C. for family reasons.

That brings up to the modern times.