Maybe Just Now I Don’t Understand
Tim Chandler, 1960-2018

I have a lot of things I could have written about this week.

New music continues to pile up, and I keep trying to plow my way through it. I have so many new albums that could make for strong columns, and the wave doesn’t seem ready to break anytime soon. This week we’re going to get a new Elvis Costello album, and I wanted to clear the decks a bit before that one landed.

There’s also the new Doctor Who, the debut of Jodie Whittaker in the role, and I have a lot to say about that. I was looking forward to examining the ups and downs of what was a pretty good first episode. (Short version: Whittaker was fantastic, her new companions quite good, the tone is completely different from anything we’ve had before, and the story was… you know, fine.)

Basically, I had plans for this space. And then Tim Chandler died. And the bottom fell out of my musical world.

I have no doubt that most of you reading this don’t recognize Tim Chandler’s name, and that makes this all so much sadder and more lonely for me. For nearly 30 years, Chandler has been one of my favorite musicians, toiling in near-total obscurity as the bass player for the Choir and Daniel Amos. (And DA’s alter ego band, the Swirling Eddies, but don’t tell anyone.) And since DA and the Choir are two of the most important bands in my life, his loss is a massive one for me.

How to explain Tim Chandler to those who have never heard him? We can start with the history. Chandler joined Daniel Amos, an absolutely foundational spiritual rock band, in 1983, just as they were leaving their country-pop past behind. His first album with them was Doppelganger, and it’s a masterpiece of jagged ‘80s new wave. He remained with DA ever since, playing on some of my favorite albums of all time, including Darn Floor Big Bite, Motor Cycle, Songs of the Heart and Mr. Buechner’s Dream.

In 1985 Chandler joined the Choir, probably my favorite band in the world. He’s present on their 1986 EP Shades of Grey and their subsequent 1986 album Diamonds and Rain, but he really began to leave his mark on the band with 1988’s Chase the Kangaroo. He then took two albums off but came roaring back with 1993’s stripped-down noise-rock extravaganza Kissers and Killers, and has been with the band since then, playing on even more of my favorite albums of all time, including Speckled Bird, Free Flying Soul, Burning Like the Midnight Sun and Shadow Weaver.

That tells you where to go to hear Chandler play, but it doesn’t tell you why he was special. How’s this, then: I can think of only a few rock bass players that play the way Chandler does, that can offer you a full and complete listening experience even if you mute everything else in the song. Paul McCartney is one. Colin Moulding is another. This is the company I put him in. I think he’s one of the most original players to ever pick up the instrument – he rarely plays what you’d expect him to, and very little of what he does ought to work, but it always does.

Here is a song from the most recent (and probably final) Daniel Amos album, Dig Here Said the Angel. It’s called “The Uses of Adversity,” and it’s by no means one of Terry Taylor’s best compositions. But man, listen to what Chandler’s doing on this thing. He’s all over the place – where any other bass player would be sinking back, letting the straightforward song be, you know, straightforward, he’s roiling underneath it, pulling out chromatic scales that shouldn’t work. This is pretty typical of his work with DA – here’s “Evangeline,” from earlier in his career with the band, and rather than ground this thing, he’s going crazy underneath it, gliding up to weird notes and practically soloing in places.

Daniel Amos is an aggressive, even combative band, and Chandler’s job was to put you even further off kilter. (Sometimes, though, he just rocked out – here’s “Youth With a Machine,” from Doppelanger.) The Choir is a different beast entirely, more concerned with beauty and fragility. Chandler could certainly play beautifully, but the Choir boys liked it when he muddied up their clear waters, tossing a splash of ugly into the mix. Here’s a song named after him, “Mr. Chandler.” Just listen to what he’s doing in those opening moments. That should not work, but it clearly does.

And here is “The Warbler,” one of my favorites for its sheer sound. Most of the time when I hear this song, I’m listening to Derri Daugherty’s absurdly gorgeous guitar tone. But listen to what Chandler does under it. That bass part is just astonishing – it shouldn’t complement this song in any way, especially as the only thing in it besides the fluttery guitars, but it works.

Oh, and he could rock out with the Choir too.

I could give you dozens of examples of Chandler’s genius. He’s contributed that genius to dozens of albums that, in a parallel universe, would have secured him a place in the pantheon. By all accounts he was a genuinely nice and humble man, too, an impish giant with a tremendous sense of humor. I only met him briefly a couple of times, and never really spoke with him. I wish I had.

Even without a personal connection, I can say that no bass player has affected my life as much as Tim Chandler has. Even if all he’d given me was Chase the Kangaroo and Darn Floor Big Bite, that would have put him in rarified company with me. I feel so fortunate that I have so much of his playing to revel in, and that two of my favorite bands kept on going long past the point where others would have thrown in the towel. Just this year Chandler played on Bloodshot, the new record from the Choir. It’s a sad and difficult record, even more so now that it stands as Tim’s final performance.

Tim Chandler was 58 years old, which used to seem pretty ancient to me. Now it’s just around the bend. He apparently had been in poor health for some time, and kept it quiet. My heart goes out to his family and his friends, some of whom are my friends. As for me, I’m going to listen to my old Choir and DA albums and maybe cry a little. As a wise band once sang, though, a sad face is good for the heart.

Rest in peace, Tim.

See you in line Tuesday morning.

a column by andre salles