"Denny Carleton's Local Connection" (Text Reprint, Dec 10-16 2001) by Deanna R. Adams
From Folk and rock, to blues and gospel, local singer songwriter, educator and radio personality Denny Carleton does it all and has stuck by his Cleveland roots. Few people can make a living in the Arts, be it as a visual artist, a writer or a musician. Most need to keep a "day job" to supplement an income that, as one musician put it, hasn't changed much since the Kennedy Administration.
Denny Carleton has been lucky. He's managed to grow from a teenage kid playing his guitars at local venues, to a grown man whose 30+ years career has included various aspects of the music business. The Cleveland native continues to perform both on the local circuit, and on his WELW 1330 radio program(Denny is no longer at WELW), Denny Carleton's Cleveland Music Connection, which airs Monday from 7-8 pm. He's also a songwriter, and a guitar teacher, who teaches the rudiments of the instrument to others who aspire to get where he has been.
"I started teaching in the early '80's because I was good at it and I needed a job," says Carleton, who teaches weekly at the Willoughby Fine Arts, and the Music emporium on East 185th. "I feel fortunate I've been able to do this for a living, I really enjoy sharing what I know.
Music has been his muse since 1965 when he and four other Catholic boys from Cleveland's St Joseph High School formed The Lost Souls. The group played local teen dances and clubs and became notable after performing at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium on the heels of the Beatle's 1966 concert. Soon, the Lost Souls was one of Cleveland's most popular rock bands, and sixteen year old Carleton was a local teen idol. Through the next two decades, he went through the typical revolving door of bands, including The Choir, Moses, Milk, Inner City and the Pagans, a unique band from the early Cleveland punk era. He continued in bands through the '80's, but his focus changed.
"I was in a band called the Surprise Band, which later changed to the Window" he says, But we were no longer thinking about 'making it big'. We were doing it to make money and have fun with it." During this time, Carleton found a way to distribute his music, both new and old, by starting his own record label - Green Light Records and Tapes - in 1984. That's when he released a cassette tape of Lost Souls music, which was favorably reviewed by notable San Francisco writer Ritchie Unterberger of Option Magazine. He steered away from playing in bands in the '90s when he and his x-wife, Theresa, became a singing duet.
"We'd perform at coffeehouses and small clubs throughout Ohio and Michigan," Carleton recalls. "We did that for about ten years and I enjoyed that time, but I was also becoming increasingly frustrated at how the current music scene was being presented by the media, or rather, not presented. Because what I was reading about how small the scene was etc. didn't coincide with what I knew or experienced." So in 1998 he decided to do something about it.
"I knew Ray Somich, one of the owners of WELW, from my church and I mentioned to him that I'd like to do something to promote local music and bring more awareness to the present scene, which I think is quite diverse and thriving. He told me if I could get some sponsors to back me, the station was open to something like that." That was all the encouragement he needed. Within months, Carleton gathered a list of sponsors, sought out prospective guests, and his show debuted in February 1999. In addition to all his varied job descriptions, Carleton was now a radio personality. "My first guest was Tom Pravensalle, lead guitarist for the local band, The Mersey Beats," he recalls. "I'd have a wide range of guests week to week to show the diversity in the music scene. And right from the start I got a lot of good responses to it."
"Back then I was pre taping the show, but I discovered that doing it live brings more immediacy to the program and I think it's more interesting." Though he had no prior experience in radio, he soon caught on to the job of interviewing. His hundreds of guests over the past three years have spanned the musical gamut. They include legendary rock band members from the Raspberries, Damnation of Adam Blessing, and Eli Radish, songwriter comedian Charlie Wiener, blues legend Mr. Stress, country singer Cletus Black, songwriter/producer and fellow teacher at the Willoughby Fine Arts, Larry Smith, reggae rocker Carlos Jones, songwriter/guitarist Jim Bidelman, pianist/jingle writer Jim Brickman and WELW co-worker and radio veteran (WIXY WMJI) Chris Quinn. And that's just to name a few.
Carleton also keeps in touch, both personally and professionally, with friends from his glory days, such as Jim Anderson of the Choir and Al Globekar from the 70's band Milk. "Right now were starting work on a CD for Denny," says Globekar, who has a home studio in Mentor and will play guitar as well as produce the recording. "I liken Denny to a Ray Davies-type of songwriter-that same kind of style. He's a real good songwriter and musician. I always joke with him, though because he always got a lot going on in his head that he sometimes needs guidance. Yet the guy can remember every single song he ever played, I swear. He's amazing. So when we get together to record, I as a producer, can guide the direction, and together we develop the song. I always enjoy working with him."
The long time musician plays out approximately 150 times a year, at churches, nursing homes, Borders Bookstores, and various coffeehouses, such as The Wickliffe Arabica. Since his recent divorce, he often plays solo, though whenever he gets a chance he'll hook up with some friends like Jim Anderson, and until his sudden death in September of 2001, veteran guitarist Greg Nelson.
"I feel so bad about that" he says, "Greg and I hit it off right away and we played together so well. We planned to do a lot more together, and then he was gone. I had a hard time with that one."
He may mourn lost friends, but he doesn't mourn his past. Carleton admits he's proud of the bands he's been associated with through the years, proud of making music, proud of teaching. But he has clear visions for the future. "I've always been a project person he says. I'm looking forward to doing more recordings. I've also been working on a play about my ancestor, Will Carleton, the Poet Laureate of Michigan, which will be performed at the Willoughby Fine Arts." And he says as long as WELW will have him, he'll continue to bring awareness to the local music scene via his weekly radio show. Those too far from the small station's signal in Willoughby, can log into their website at www.WELW.com <"http://www.WELW.com"> to hear his live show, or turn into Broadband cable network channel 28. Carleton's work, both past and present, is profiled in his website www.dennycarleton.com <"http://www.dennycarleton.com">, where his Cd's are also available.
In an era where many want to pigeonhole, a group or individual, Carleton says that's hard to do with him. "I think I've always been a bit confusing to people," he says. "I mean here I am a Christian, yet was in a punk band called the Pagans. But I've always found different areas of music interesting. And I don't mind the nostalgic thing. I think it's great that people remember I was in this band or that one. I just don't want to dwell on it. I want to grow and do different thing. And now with everything I've already done I have an opportunity to do it right."
(Deanna R. Adams is author of the "Rock n' Roll", "The Cleveland Connecton" from the Kent State University Press and Tonight Magazine.)