Denny Carleton

The Story Behind the Story Of the Making of the Song "Whiskey Island"

Many of my songs have long involved stories and here is one of them. I was taking a poetry class via the television through Cuyahoga Community College. During this time of studying the likes of TS Eliot, Mary Moore (to name some cool poets), I saw an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about the history of Whiskey Island, which is actually a peninsula on the near West Side of Cleveland - very close to the Cleveland Flats. In the article, the writer talked about the history of the island and the basic ambiance...woods and weeds, dogs and deer. It all sounded so poetic, probably because I was so saturated and immersed in poetry from my class. I read the article and in no time wrote the music and the lyrics to the song "Whiskey Island", in sort of a rough draft form.

About a year later, I was teaching guitar and one of my students, Terry, told me that he knew the man who had just purchased the island and that he might be interested in hearing the song if I'd record it. So I tightened the song up, recorded it and gave it to Terry to give to his friend. I had visions of the island selling the CD of mine as some sort of tourist trinket or souvenir.

Terry’s friend heard the song and his comment on it was, "It’s cute". That was all that was said. After this, I thought, "Well this is typical in my life; I have a new song and what motivated me to write it is now gone. But at least I have a new tune."

Fast forward two years later when I was again teaching guitar and a different student told me that he ran a bait shop near Whiskey Island. He said that he had an idea that and to his surprise it had been warmly received and had been put in motion by the powers that be. The Clevealnd Municipal Stadium, which had housed the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns for many years, was torn down to make room for the new Cleveland Brown Stadium. The original plan had been to dispose of all the concrete of the demolished stadium in a waste dump. Dave (the student), being a fisherman and owning a bait shop, had a better idea. Why couldn’t the government, after demolishing the stadium, put the concrete in lake Erie in selected spots to establish fishing reefs? It has been shown that concrete placed in the correct places in the lake would purify the water, increase the fishing and also increase the popularity of Lake Erie as a fishing destination. The Mayor of Cleveland liked the idea, plus the Governor and all the proper authorities said, "yes." So Dave's idea was used and they demolished the stadium and created the fishing reefs.

Media in Dallas and Florida then had contacted him, as well as ecology-minded groups from all over Ohio. He had become somewhat of a spokesman for environmental causes. For some reason, in my mind I then thought Dave should hear my song, Whiskey Island. he might say, "Hey, you write well, why not write some more songs about the environment and I’ll financially back you on an environmental CD?" I brought Dave the song to hear and he said, "You know, you write really well. Why don’t you write some environmental songs and I’ll back you? Then I can hand the CD out to people, when I do speaking engagements, etc."

So I said yes and began to write some environment al songs. The first thing I thought of when I began to write is that I didn’t want to be pretentious and obvious. I also remembered the Frank Zappa comment about if your not laughing and being entertaining when your trying to change how people think, your going to be boring. When Frank wanted to introduce avante garde instrumental pieces, he asked all the musicians if they would be willing to dress up and look really ugly. He did this for entertainment value because he knew it would be easier for the masses to take in an entertaning package.

The next song was "Environmental Girlfriend"; with a fast punk rock beat[lyrics], it was done acoustically. Then, came "Pick It Up", another acoustic song with a heavy metal structure. I tried to experiment so I wasn’t just standing there strumming up and down, singing boring songs. I realized some of my songs, like "Coney Island Blues" were loosely related to environmental concerns, so I put together sort of a collage of environmental songs like "Phleuger, Shakespeare and Mitchel" . When I was about done I realized that for me, being a Christian and believing that ultimate answers to life lie in the true Gospel, so I had to have a song that said Jesus is the answer. Helping the environment is good, but if you’re miserable because you do not have a relationship with Christ, it’s not going to do you any good in eternity. Hence, I wrote "Peter on the Water".

I looked up in the Bible as many references to water as I could find and sort of witnessed though the song. With that song finished, I presented the CD to Dave who then disappeared from my life. I thought, "Well, now I have an album and no one to back me, so I will put it out myself." So, in 1999 I put out the album, sold a few, gave a few away and performed the songs from the CD, live.

A few years later, my friend Dan told me that a lady was on WCPN Radio (National Public Radio) in Cleveland and she was talking about a book she had written called, "Whiskey Island". Emile Richard’s would be autographing her book in the Galleria in downtown Cleveland. Dan suggested that maybe I should meet her. I got in my car on that rainy day and went downtown, to meet her. I brought my CD and Emile was very nice and very pleasant. She gave one of her books in exchange for My CD of the same title. I asked her how she had gotten to idea to write the book. She said she had read the same article in The Cleveland Plain Dealer as I had. That must of has been some article to inspire both of us. I thought that it was quite a coincidence. I then asked if she was Irish, since Whiskey Island's history is the history of the Irish settling in Cleveland. She said no she was German, Irish, English, Welsh and French - which caught me off guard, because that was the first match I had ever met who shared my ethnic roots and I expessed that tidbit with her. We both looked at each other.

A few years later i did a local interview show on the Old WELW radio a small station in Lake County Ohio. i asked Emile Richards on the show by way of phone, played my song Whiskey Island and talked of her book and my song and the Islands History. One of the employees  asked me how i would get a guest like Emile on my show and I said it's a long story.