Op Art light shows, go-go girls, splotchy cravats, Vox amps, Rickenbackers and a mad mod following! The Chessmen were Hamilton’s garage band in the late 80’s playing original songs influenced by the Kinks, Who, Beatles and Stones to name some well known bands but also deeply routed in more obscure way-out sounds.
The Chessmen launched one self titled album on ZAP records in 1989. The sound was more thin than their live acts and shortly thereafter they went psychedelic with longer songs like Follow the Path, Floating Down the River and Garden of Earthly Pleasures. They disbanded still friends and did a few reunion shows like the Baron of Time show at Amigos in Hess Village. Time Machine and several other songs were featured on garage compilations from around the world: Time Machine Mr. Garager’s Neighbourhood
Rod Fuzzfiend (Rick Blythe) and Dan Zen had seen one another out at dance clubs in the 80s and started jamming together before Dan Zen went off to Europe for nine months to hang out with garage bands – the cool side of the indi-pop movement – squatted with My Bloody Valentine and went to Spacemen 3 gigs to see the mop-top opening bands like the Surrounds, Jamie Taylor Quartet and Aardvarks.
Rick did back-up vocals and played Rickenbacker bass (being a Stranglers follower) with local legend, the late Randy Steele on Guitar, and Musicologist, Mike White on the skins. Dan Zen went CHANG CHANG on a solid body Rickenbacker, sang, and wrote the songs – what primitive lyrics – a little raw or adolescent for his standards now but certainly all about girls coming and going, smiling and dancing. He also did light shows and managed the band. Soon after forming, Warren Cavenagh took over Bass with his little hofneristic boingbinger. Rick moved to Guitar for a double Rickenbacker front line. This was the album line-up along with Jamie sessioning ards. There were also a number of gogo dancers – Glynnis, Erin, RA, Angie, Melanie, Sue, and so forth.
Op Hops were the main gigs – dances put on by Dan with posters and light shows, etc. Mods would scooter from Brantford and Toronto to Hamilton locations like the Terra Nova Theatre on Dundurn (where the Taco Bell was put and then kaput), Patsy’s Banquet Hall on James St. N. and the Corktown. Empty Hours, The Captives, Ten Commandments and the likes would work up the crowd.
After parties would happen on Grant just up from Grant Avenue Studios. The Gruesomes would hang out and all sorts of garage bands from around Canada – the Frankenstien Five, Sherlocks, the Minstrels, from the States, the Cynics, even some friends from Britain – the Thanes, the Offhooks and Surrounds. There would be jams in the attic where the Chessman practiced above the Op Art and Surreal Rooms. Various feasts like the Medieval, Beatnik, Space and Psychedelic parties transpired along with mystery parties like Baron Digbody’s Castle and the Lady with Brooch beatnik art theft and car rallies around the dozens of waterfalls in Hamilton. We’d walk in woods at night doing silly walks playing pass the documents. Late at night we would tell stories a sentence each and dance in strobe lights waving ties like snakes. Below are some people – missing Samantha, Andrea, Valerie, Sandy, Suzanne, Keith, Mark, Myra, Jen, Dave, Bam Bam, Michelle, and many other fun folks!
After the album, Rick went back to bass with Andre LaPointe from the Captives coming in on guitar and backing vocals. Gaven Dianda also did a stint or two on bass when Rick was away. When the band disbanded Dan and Gaven went on to form the Swinging Gurus and later Thee Gnostics along with Andre and Thomas Monte from Sublimatus as we were all hanging around at these parties listening to early Pink Floyd, late Miles Davis, Hawkwind, Soft Machine and Orphx. Mike moved off to Vancouver and then Toronto to work in Musical Media, Warren became Michael and travels the world helping the needy. Rick and Dan both married their lovely girlfriends at the time RoseAnne and Ada and are still best friends in the Hamilton area working with latest technologies.