The Chesmann Square

Interview I
After being voted top band in Kansas City for three years straight (1964, 1965, and 1966), the Chesmann Square replaced guitarist Dave Huffines with Jimmy McAllister in 1967. Though McAllister missed perhaps the group's heyday, he was a member for their only recording, as well as for an appearance in a low-budget exploitation movie. He was also a later member of the Beckies with Michael Brown of Left Banke fame, but it was his time playing in the Chesmann Square that we primarily focused on.

An Interview With Jimmy McAllister (60s): How did you first get interested in music?

Jimmy McAllister: My parents were not musically inclined so the only records around the house when I was young were show soundtracks. I liked a lot of the classical stuff on those LPs as well as movie soundtracks of Fantasia, West Side Story and others. My mother and sister took piano lessons and I picked up on a little notation reading from them but realized I could figure out songs quicker by ear. As far as radio in Kansas City in the late '50's and early '60's, all I was exposed to was Top 40 so I liked Elvis, Motown, and Brill Building songs. I was hooked on guitar through the Ventures, Shadows and other surf music instrumental groups. Then the Beatles hit and it was all over. I had to be a rock musician.

60s: Was Chesmann Square your first band?

JM: My first band of substance was Bartoks Mountain out of Ft. Lauderdale in '67. I played bass in that band for four months and we did a lot of Rascals, Bluesbreakers and R&B tunes rock-a-fied. The guitar player of that band, Ken Gemmer, was my mentor and I really learned a lot being around him. Our drummer, Tom Staley, went on to join NRBQ. South Florida was a real scene in those days. There's a book called SAVAGE LOST that documents all the bands down there from about '66 to '72.

60s: Where was Chesmann Square formed, what year, and by whom?

JM: Chesmann Square was formed in Kansas City. Ron Hodgden formed the band with brothers Steve and Gary, and Dave Huffines in the later part of '64, I believe. The misspelling was due to a misprint on business cards, which Ron decided to keep. It became Chesmann Square after I joined in the fall of '67.

60s: What does the name mean? Is it an actual location somewhere?

JM: Ron named the band. He had bands in the late '50's and early '60's - The Premiers was one. The name, Chessmen, sounds like a band name from that era so maybe that's how he came up with it.

60s: You joined the band after its formation. How did you hook up with them?

JM: My parents basically forced me back to Kansas City from Florida to finish high school. Ron was friendly with Mike Wagner's band, 19th Century Sound Affair, who were old band mates of mine that I hung with. Ron was looking to replace Dave Huffines and I was in the right spot at the right time.

60s: Were you very familiar with them prior to joining them?

JM: I was a big fan of the Chesmann previously but my Florida trip inspired some new ideas I wanted to try besides just the Kansas City Mersy-side thing. Ron was looking to expand the band's direction a bit as well so I guess we hit a common ground.

60s: Could you please recap the band line-up for me, and include the instruments each member played?

JM: Ron Hodgden - lead vocals, guitar, keyboard; Steve Hodgden - vocals and bass; Gary Hodgden - vocals and drums; Dave Huffines - lead guitar ('64-'67); Jim McAllister - lead guitar ('67-'74). (NOTE: The Hodgden brothers changed their last name to West after the Chesmann split up)

60s: Where did the band typically practice?

JM: In the early days we practiced in the Hodgden's parent's basement. In later years we practiced in Ron's basement/garage.

60s: Where did the band typically play? Did you land the customary schools, parties, and teen club gigs?

JM: We played at all of those types of gigs and more. Pop festivals were starting to emerge when I joined so we did some of those. We'd do a week stint at whatever beer joint during the slow seasons. We played about 200 times a year.

60s: Did you play any of the local Missouri teen clubs? Were there many?

JM: The early days in Kansas City there was the Sock Hop, Johnson Co. Rec Center, and The Hullaballo. When I joined we played the Place, Aquarius, One Block West, Red Bridge Auditorium, and Ranchmart Auditorium to name a few. Outside of Kansas City the list is to lengthy to go into. I don't remember most of them, but some of them were The Red Dog, Hilltop, Tower Ballroom, and Corn Crib.

60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?

JM: Our territory was about a 200-mile radius from center point Kansas City. We did occasionally get up into the southern most edge of South Dakota and to the south in the Little Rock area.

60s: Did Chesmann Square participate in any Battle Of The Bands?

JM: The Chesmann might have done a battle of the bands in early days but not after I joined. Already established as we were, there was not much reason to do so. From what I remember, the winners of those contests didn't win much anyway. We probably made as much money for a real gig than what the prize from one of those was.

60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What band's influenced you?

JM: With the Hodgden brothers' great vocal blend, they really nailed the Beatles, Hollies, Zombies, Kinks, and Animals. The Hodgden's/Huffines Chesmann from '64-'67 were like the Beatles of Kansas City. They even had the look.

60s: Did Chesmann Square have a manager?

JM: The Hodgdens' mother, Delores, kind of played that role but she would book a lot of gigs through other agents per area: Irv Goldman (Kansas City), Mory Drey (Omaha), Stu Rosenberg (Topeka), and others. She even got a couple agents started in the business by giving them some of our gigs we couldn't play because of being already booked. For the most part we were self-managed with Ron being the CEO.

60s: How popular locally were you able to become?

JM: The Chesmann were voted Kansas City's top band in '64, '65 and '66 (via a poll done by the Toon Shop). They didn't have that poll when I joined but if they had, we might have lost. Times were changing fast and a lot of good bands were coming up. Kansas City audiences were a little fickle and tended towards the flavor-of-the-month mentality. We outlived most of the newcomers so people would come back to supporting us after going astray. We were very tight from all the constant gigging so on a good night we could be most impressive to people - even if they didn't like some of the songs in our set list. And vocally, I think we were always up there with the best of the Midwest.

60s: What were some of those other local groups that you especially recall?

JM: The Blue Things were at the top of the list for sure. But back down on earth there were plenty of good ones: Jerms, Burlington Express, Chontels, Emeralds, Morning Dew, Goldilocks & The 3 Bears. The Thingies somehow wound up in Florida when I was down there. Others were Mystic Number National Bank, Fab Four, Classmen, Next of Kin, and Nation.

60s: The Chesmann Square released one single that I'm aware of: Circles (Instant Party) b/w Try. Where was the single recorded?

JM: Those were recorded at a studio in Columbia in back of the Corn Crib. Goldilocks of Goldilocks & The 3 Bears owned the studio. I can't remember his (real) name. I think they were recorded on a two-track Ampex. We stayed up all night after a gig to record those. When we arrived there at 1:00 AM, the Morning Dew's drummer was asleep in the drum booth. I did the lead guitar on Circles with a Vox Wah-Wah - one of the first lots made. Ron adjusted the tone variance on it and it sounded great. I wish I still had it. Unfortunately, deejay Johnny Dolan at WHB thought it sounded too psychedelic and wouldn't play the record much at all. Pete Townsend wrote Circles/Instant Party and Ron and Gary wrote the flip, Try. Later in '69, Steve and I were in New York shopping our tapes for deals and met with Tommy James who loved Try and wanted to sign us to Roulette. Roulette head boss man, Morris Levy (cigar and ban-lon shirt thug), felt slighted by Tommy's attempt at playing A&R Guy and ended that. Tommy's last words to us were, "you guys don't want to be a part of this shady organization anyway."

JM: Ron had already been writing when I joined and Gary was coming on fast with some good stuff. Steve and I starting getting a few things recorded later in '71 when we recorded in Nashville for the Starday-King label. Lieber & Stoller owned Starday, and King was James Brown's label.

60s: Do any other '60's Chesmann Square recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings?

JM: Of the recordings we did for Starday-King - about 30 songs - only one single was pressed and released under the name Hummingbird. Why we changed our name for that is too long a story to go into but obviously it was a huge mistake. None of our local following knew who it was and we actually had some decent airplay going on. The A-Side was Stomp, written by Steve Ferguson of NRBQ, and the B-Side was Just Grew Wings, by Gary Hodgden. The label was Agape, a subsidiary of Starday-King.

JM: HAPPENING was a Saturday morning AMERICAN BANDSTAND-type of show. I think the TV station was KCMO and we were on it about five times (2-3 times while Dave Huffines was in the band and 2-3 times was I was ). I remember we had to learn the sponsor's Pepsi Theme (Music To Watch Girls By) to use for introducing, bumper, and ending the show. On one show, we played the Yardbirds' Train Kept A-Rollin' and did the obligatory strobe light/smoke machine routine. It was a small studio and half the audience and studio techs started throwing up. It was the last time we were asked to play that show. I'm currently trying to get hold of those HAPPENING tapes. We also did a reunion show in 1985 that there's some footage of along with a studio performance (channel 41) of two or three songs. In '71 we were in a D-grade movie called OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS. There may be other footage but that's all I'm aware of.

60s: How did you wind up appearing in THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS?

JM: Wade Williams, who obtained rights to a lot of cheezy horror films from the '50's and '60's, produced the film. The film was about the Manson Family murder spree. Wade owned a mansion at 55th & Ward Parkway at the time and filmed a lot of the scenes there. The scene we were in was known as the "Devil Worship Dance" which was filmed at a rock quarry (which looked vaguely like a California desert) somewhere between Kansas City and Lawrence. Wade bus loaded a bunch of hippies from Volker Park, a Kansas City hippie hangout, to the rock quarry for shooting, and we played all day and all night while the hippies - many naked - danced, smoked, and generally acted stoned and goofy. The music for the footage is not by the Chessman Square, but rather is some dissonant psychedelic jam written by a guy from the Music Machine. I don't remember his name. (NOTE: Sean Bonniwell!) 60s: Why did the band break up?

JM: We split up in the summer of '74. We experienced ten years of constant one-nighters, frustrations with bad record deals, and all the usual ingredients that lead to strains in relationships and burn out. I've had people come up to me and say they used to come to our gigs just to see what kind of fight would ensue onstage. I had an offer to go to New York and play with Michael Brown (of the Left Banke) and asked Gary to go with me. The Beckies album came out two years later in '76. Ron moved on to briefly play with his sister's band, Thrush. I later married the sister, Patricia, in 1992, so the Hodgden brothers are my brother's-in law. After Thrush, Ron formed Missouri. Steve did some demos and performances as Stephan West for a while. After the Beckies, Gary joined Shooting Star.

60s: What was the basis for all the fighting in the band - simply the standard band strains, or was there more to it?

JM: It was the standard stuff and probably added strains/dynamics unique to a band of brothers. It's trite to say Midwest bands have an extra hard time breaking out nationally, but it was true then, and true now. Not being close to the industry people as you are on the coasts is an obvious disadvantage. We hardly ever had anyone from a label come to a gig and I think if we had, someone would have seen the potential. We were sort of forced to think along the lines of…get that commercial single recorded, pressed, played, and hope for a regional buzz that might get the attention of someone on the coast interested in releasing it nationally. It's a long shot at best, and it needs to be a great single if that approach is going to work. We played a lot of gigs with REO Speedwagon and I always thought we could have done well with a similar situation as they had. Kind of the long term development, and support they got from their label (Epic, I think). Their first few albums didn't sell much outside the Midwest, but the label stood by them, which helped build their following as a national act. Eventually, they got the hits. We were stuck playing proms and the like. It was depressing. A lot of the hipper-than-thou community in Kansas City thought we should just play all originals if we were to be taken seriously, but we had to survive. We all had houses, and Ron had a couple of kids. We couldn't get by with just playing pop festivals and concert gigs. A lot of the time there would be a specific reason that led to a fight, someone playing too loud or whatever, but I think it was mainly frustration. We had the dual identity syndrome: Cover band versus recording artist band. If we would have had a good label stick with us through a couple albums -who knows? The potential was there. The band's songwriting was progressing quickly. In subsequent bands after the Chesmann split - Ron's Missouri and Gary's Shooting Star - the writing talent was evident. Ron's Movin' On was actually a regional hit. It's a great song: simple, honest, and unpretentious. Gary had a real knack for good melodies. I also thought Steve had some very good ideas. I really liked his tunes in the Chesmann. They were different stuff.

60s: How did you hook up with Michael Brown?

JM: My old high school bud, Scott Trusty, did a single with Michael called Quarterhorses (on Big Tree Records) in '69. On one of my visits to New York, Scott introduced me to Michael who at that time was attempting a reformation of the Left Banke. I played a bit with Michael, Steve Martin and George Cameron (Tom Finn was not around) and Michael asked me if I was interested in joining. At the time I was committed to the Chesmann Square and wanted to see it through. The reformation didn't work out for Michael and the boys and shortly after that he formed Stories. Michael left Stories after their second album and within a few months of that he was itching to start something new. Scott and Michael started planning a project together and they approached me about possibly joining them, and to bring a couple of Chesmann along. The Chesmann were in a kind of bad limbo at that time and I thought I was ready for a change. Gary went with me.

60s: What were your opinions of The Left Banke and Michael Brown before playing with him?

JM: I was familiar with the Left Banke's better-known songs: Walk Away Renee, Pretty Ballerina, and Desiree. I loved those songs and really enjoyed the classical influence of Michael's writing. After I met him I looked into some of the other Michael Brown compositions on the Left Banke album and on the Montage album. He was a prolific writer to say the least. I really got into Stories, especially the second album, Stories About Us. That was a real work of art.

60s: There are rumors that you also played in Stories. This apparently isn't true?

JM: I was never in Stories but knew those guys, especially Steve Love who I did many jingle sessions with in the late '70's and early '80's. I got into the jingle circuit in New York City in '79 as a session guitarist, which led to also writing and producing jingles and industrial soundtracks in the '80's…the most notable of which was writing and producing the theme for the WNBC 6:00 news show (and Live at Five) which ran in the New York City area for eight years.

After the Beckies, I joined Mick Ronson's band in '76, then joined Sparks later that year for one tour. I then played with Ronnie Spector briefly in '77 and toured with Desmond Child and Rouge in '78. In '79-'81 I recorded with Hilly Michaels (Calling All Girls on Warner Bros.), did a Left Banke reunion album (minus Mike) called Strangers On A Train (on Camamerica), Kristian Rex (Kathylene on Polydor), Roger C. Reale (Radioactive - English import on Phonogram), David Graham (on EMI). I recorded with The Beds (The Beds on Electra) in '82 and formed a band with GE Smith around the same time. By then I pretty much did just the jingle and soundtrack work full time but did my last tour in '86 with an English band called Belouis Some (on Capital/EMI) though I did not record on the album for that tour. I returned to Kansas City in '87 and did a few jingles here, went back to Connecticut in '88-'89 as part of a production company with Hilly Michaels and returned to Kansas City for good later in '89.

60s: Do you play at all today?

JM: I'm not currently playing live though that could change at any time. I have my own business exporting surgical instruments to Japan, so most of my playing, writing and recording is for fun, which gives me tremendous musical freedom and enjoyment. I still do jingle and soundtrack work in association with Nelson Creative Works. Recently, I've been going to New York about once a month to record with Michael Brown. Also, a couple of CDs came out last year thatI was involved with: David Graham - The Power Station Sessions 1982-1986, and Roger Reale' new band, The Manchurians. Occasionally, I'll go to Ron's studio and record which is always a good time with the old bro.

60s: Looking back, how do you best summarize your experiences with Chesmann Square?

JM: I have very fond memories of my time with the Chesmann Square. My first recording experiences were with them and doing such a variety of gigs we met a wide cross-section of people and were involved in a lot of interesting life situations. I enjoyed the camaraderie with the Hodgden brothers that developed through being in the band for so many years. All the fast moving changes in music and attitudes of that period in rock - we experienced together, and were a part of together. There were a lot of rough times, but as I said before, on a good night we were a great band.

Interview II
As a result of last month's interview with Jimmy McAllister of Chessman Square, we were contacted by Ron West (nee Ron Hodgden), keyboardist and guitarist for the band. Ron is currently in the midst of preparing a CD of Chesmann recordings, tentatively titled The Lost Chesmann Tapes. Ron graciously provided more details on that reissue, as well as additional insight to other similar projects and interesting band tidbits...

By Ron West

I changed the name to Chesmann when Jim got in the band because I was looking for something to designate a change - something new - about the band. We'd already been a household name in Kansas City for four years and Jim help us go in a lot of different directions because he could perfectly play almost and kind of lead: Hendrix, Zeppelin, Clapton, even Moby Grape...note for note perfect. He's the only lead player I ever saw who could play so many different styles. I went over to another band's house one day and I was scouting out a new lead player. I was talking to some guys about something when I heard Jim playing note for note...Moby Grape. He was only 15-years old. I immediately said, "Hey! Wanna join a band?" That was it...we were off for another five years of gigs.

I think now I should have left the band name Chesmann, but the Beatles were once The Silver Beetles which they got from that first 1950's Marlon Brando movie called THE MISFITS. Marlon headed up a Motorcycle gang called the Beetles with gang member Lee Marvin getting drunk and scaring the towns people to death. COOL movie. I am glad we kept the spelling. It took away from the all too common name, Chessmen, which I'm sure every band in every city in the world used at one time or another...along with a few million other common band names. I had been playing since 1958. Some time in late '63 I walked into a specialty record store and saw a sign that read, "The Beatles Are Coming". I was thinking, "What a stupid name for a band..."

By the next year we were the first group in Kansas City to sport long hair and do all the British Invasion stuff. If you check the Chesmann pics on the site, you see what I'm talking about. During the early years, we had Hofner, Rickys, Super Beatles...even a Vox organ...and a Hohner John's old one. Those were the days, right?

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The Chesmann songs weren't in very good shape after 30 years laying in a box in my basement. I do have a big PC now with Waves Bundle and Sound Forge 6.0 with about 100 plug-ins. I just happened to be working them over this week. It seems to be bringing them back to life, although there's not much I can do about backround tape hiss.

I had taken the mp3's off my site a year ago but had decided to put all this stuff back on: The Missouri CD and all the Chesmann stuff. This way, at least somebody could hear all of it. There are 25 total Chesmann tracks, recorded from '68, starting with Circles - written by Pete Townsend, who is probably going in circles right now over his child porno charges; ha - I think he was just curious...I hope? I was the oldest brother, lead singer and - I guess - leader of the group. I started writing in 1966 two years after the band was formed. We recorded some things that year and sent them around to major companies. There were four songs, which we sent to RCA. Our contact told us we had a sure album deal with RCA in 1967, and we had just been on a small tour with Paul Revere and The Raiders, so we thought we were on our way.

Nothing ever came of the deal and sometime later that year, The Monkees released a new song, Pleasant Valley Sunday, on the Colgems label with a suspiciously similar intro, beat, chord changes, keys and harmonies but with new (different) words (than the song we recorded). Carol King and Gerry Goffin were listed as writers. They were then staff writers for RCA. Their job was to come up with songs for The Monkees since The Monkees didn't write. We were introduced to the cutthroat world of the music business. Colgems was a subsidiary of RCA, and somehow those tapes were lost. RCA didn't send them back and we never saw them again. They're most likely in a box in somebody's dusty basement or (have been) recorded over.

(The information) of when and where each song was recorded is mostly lost, too. When I put the CD together, I'll get with the guys and try to figure all this out. Some of the tapes were done in Kansas City, while one whole album was cut in 1970 at Patsy Cline's old studio in Nashville in1970 on Starday/King. As Jim said (in last month's interview), we were signed to Lieber and Stoller for a while. They wrote the song Kansas City and a bunch of hits for Elvis and other people. The name Hummingbird was tagged on us by one of those guy's girlfriend because "our harmonies were so sweet." (BARF). It was not a good idea. We were a hard rock band then. They released Stomp but did little to promote it or get product out. We were in Bobby Goldsboro's studio in Nashville for some songs and we did some more recording in 1972 at a big studio in Ft. Smith, Arkansas named BJ. I wonder what that stood for?

As far as gigs (jobs and dates), there were far too many to even talk about. We did warm up for every major concert in Kansas City surrounding towns for years and went on short tours with some major groups. There were too many to list or remember. (It was) nine or ten years of constant dates, every weekend, nonstop - unless once a year when we blocked bookings for a vacation. And so, put three brothers n a box like that and for that long and your going to get some real juicy arguments. It was more like WWF Wrestling than a band....but still very entertaining. After watching the Beach Boys story...I didn't feel so bad.

Jim really hit it on the mark. We tried to write while we were constantly doing gigs and recording and shopping for deals. To say the least, we were going through a lot of frustration. One year we finished some demos; Jim and Steve hit New York while Gary and I walked up and down Sunset Strip. We met a lot of important people and talked to some stars. We went into Brothers Records (Beach Boys) and ended up talking to Carl. They were three brothers - and another band they had called Flame had three brothers - so we thought we had it in the slot this time. Little did we know that they were having their own major problems with Brian while we were in Los Angeles that year. They accidentally sent us a tape copy of Pet Sounds before it was released, and Carl called totally freaked and asked us to quickly send it back. More tapes were made but, as Jim's story goes, things got bad and then got worse. I had a family so I took a job and played on the weekends. Jim and Gary finally decided to split for New York with The Beckies. Becky is Gary's wife's name. As I look back, I think I was more relieved than anything else.

I put my Gibson 1962 / 355 downstairs and didnt touch it for about nine months. I still have that guitar and had it refurbished like new. When I picked it up again, I was inspired and slammed out twenty original songs of which ten landed on the first Missouri album. It was actually me solo with a bunch of great musicians I picked. The band had never played together until the album was already on the radio. Thats the way to do and chicks for free.

The first album was put out by the local promoter mogul, Chris Fritz, and sold a respectable 100,000 plus. I then got a deal with Polydor/Ploygram for the second album. It also sold in the 100,000 range. At the end of that deal, I was dropped; the reason given was that southern-type rock was out and punk was in. The band played for a few more years and then I put it to bed in 1984 because my wife had reached her limit on "Ronzz band dayzzz." The only thing I've done since was to go out on short tours in the summer. The amazing thing is, since 1977, the hit song Movin' On has continued to play on stations all over the Midwest and in St. Louis and Kansas City for the last 25 years. That's something to feel fairly good about. I would have never guessed that. I do have a new CD in the stores, and I'm still recording and writing in my studio and planning to put out another new CD next year. But doing dates? I'm 58 now and I'm not that fond of the road when the money is not right and the motels smell. My wife certainly isn't either.

All in all, I could go on forever about dates and stories and fun, but all the really good stories are ones that can't be printed. I've been married to the same lady through all those bands. She needs a medal of endurance...right? And it's a good thing I used the stage name West; at least I get a calls from motels we trashed or a person claiming a (frivilous false) paternity suit. Whew!

So on that note, I'll hang it up for a while. The Chesmann songs sound great now, but I would go back and change the lyrics. We must have been on some special trip back then. Lyrics are too serious and mostly not sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. No wonder we didn't get any deals...

The Best of Missouri (2002), is being distributed by Harvest Media Group. You can get more information by visiting
And be sure to check out Ron's website at for the latest news on The Chesmann CD.

"Copyrighted and originally printed on by Mike Dugo".
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