"An Interview With the Interviewer" by Mojo (from the Euclid Observer, January 2004)
Radio talk show host Denny Carleton interviews musicians in the Cleveland area. Over the last year, he's provided this paper with top notch features on Alan Greene and Ernie Krivda. But Denny Carleton is a solid entertainer and musician in his own right. So I thought it would be a good idea to interview the interviewer.
We met at John Christie's and while he ate (and I drank); he talked to me not so much about his activities, but about his perspective on life, Cleveland's music, and the local area. A familiar face in the East 185 neighborhood (he lives there), people probably know him best from his show on 1330 WELW AM, where each week since 1999 where he's been featuring someone or ones impacting northeast Ohio's music scene.
Most people think of the station as only polkas, but there's a good 'oldies' format -- '50s/'60s -- that plays from 4am to 4pm as well, and lots in between. "Why radio?" I asked him. "I was frustrated with the music scene," he told me. "Same sound bytes, same bands over and over. So when I ran into Ray Somich [of WELW] at the [185th] Festival, I pitched the idea of a different kind of radio show, one that would tap into the music world that most people never see or hear. And Ray said okay."
The mission statement of WELW is to give a voice to people who never had one. And that's exactly what Denny's been doing for the last three years. "I'm not trying to be a Dick Clark or Wolfman Jack," Denny said. "I bring in people that are interesting and that I believe will be interesting to my audience. The show is really my life, who I know, and my perspective."
Denny Carleton is a musician with a solid reputation in this area. He began performing for audiences in the 1960's when he was part of "The Choir" and the "Lost Souls". His music blends original material with an eclectic blend of classic folk, rock and acoustic influences. He has been teaching guitar at the Willoughby Fine Arts since the early 1980's. He is a prolific songwriter in the folk, rock and gospel field whose music has been played on 300 college and public radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. And he has composed music for four plays.
The show really is an offshoot of Denny's music. A little bit underground, a little off the beaten track. "I was in Great Lakes Mall this one day," he said, "and met a string quartet (three violins and a cello). They'd been playing together for a few years and they were all thirteen years.old. I invited them on to my show. "To me, mainstream is okay. But the more obscure, the better. I've interviewed over 200 people and they tell me things about their lives and their music that they normally wouldn't talk about. In a sense, the show has gone beyond me. By that I mean, it really has given a voice to people who never had one."
It's probably Denny's style of interview. Like most radio hosts, he tries to find the human interest side and entertain his audience, but in Carleton's mind, the show is bigger than that. He uses it to educate and to raise awareness of the arts as well. A while back, Denny ran into a gentleman at the Willoughby Art Gallery who himself brings in musicians from around the world. The gentleman told Denny in a heavily accented English, "Cleveland is a great intellectual center. I bring great musicians in and they play 'Home Concerts'." The musician the gentleman was bringing in at that particular time was Csaba Cirolly from Hungary (pianist). Denny's reaction? "I've got to get this guy (Cirolly) on my show." And he did.
Radio is tough to measure, but somehow WELW must know it has a good product in Carleton's show. When it won the contract to air the Lake County Captains' games, a lot of shows had to be cut. But the station kept Denny's.
Last summer Denny got involved in yet another venture. Together with a couple of friends, they staged a Christian Coffee House at the Mentor Arabica. One hundred and twenty people showed up. That led to a "Gospel Sunday" at the Lake County fair in August. And in September when Arabica re-opened (it had closed), the new managers called on Denny and his co-host Linda to ask if they'd like to start it up again. They agreed and now every Friday night, about seventy people regularly gather for an "open mike", straight out of the '70s, coffee house. Denny said. "It's a Christian format, but not in a traditional sense. All kinds of people and musicians show up and perform. It's very mysterious."
In addition to his own music, the radio show and the coffee house, Carleton has one other passion - East 185 and the surrounding neighborhood. "This is a great neighborhood," he said. "It's honest. It's gritty. It's eclectic. But while the neighborhood is doing well, the street is struggling. East 185th the business district does not reflect the vibrancy of the neighborhood. But it could. It could be like downtown Willoughby, which is booming." When I asked why he thought that was, Denny gave me his perspective. "It's more cohesive between the local businesses and their politicians. They're working together toward a common goal. Both sides are committed to the same vision for the area."
Like everything else in his life, Denny has jumped in to help the street's resurgence in the best way he knows - music. During the Sidewalk Sales he volunteered to play at Rick's Music Emporium, and was joined by other minstrels right there in the store and out on the street.
Over the years, in everything he's done and is doing, Denny Carleton has brought himself into the mix. And that means that he's brought people into the mix - their voice, their talent, their perspective. WELW is a perfect home for this talented musician, because like the station, Denny sees himself as a vehicle whereby people that never had a voice, have one.