Music is the healing force of the universe,” says Barron Chandler. “Music breaks down barriers—it speaks a communal language.”
He should know. Chandler has been affiliated with some big names in rock and blues over the last 45 years, including Elvin Bishop, John Lee Hooker and the Outlaws. He’s also founded and played in a quite a few of his own bands.
For the last decade, the 70-year-old Narberth resident has been doing about 30 shows a year with Live at the Fillmore, an Allman Brothers tribute outfit that plays—as its name suggests—the influential band’s classic live album, At Fillmore East, recorded over three nights at the iconic venue in March 1971. “When we started, we weren’t playing the whole album, but we were called Live at the Fillmore, so people wanted to hear that,” says Dennis Manley, who was one of the group’s drummers, until his real estate career got in the way. “You get down to ‘Whipping Post,’ and half the people are going crazy.”
For Live at the Fillmore, Chandler partnered with Wynnewood’s Lou Maresca, who first recruited him as a soundman. “I don’t play electric guitar like the originals, not like [the Allman Brothers’] Dickey Betts—but Lou does,” says Chandler, who sings and plays acoustic guitar and harmonica. “This is the best band I’ll ever be part of,” he says. “Whether there’s 50 or 5,000 in the crowd, we show up. We take pride in this show.”
Raised in Gladwyne, Chandler credits a first-grade run-in with a box of classic RCA 45s for his eclectic musical taste. As a Main Line Times delivery boy, he once sold enough subscriptions to earn a free trip to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. Four years later, he graduated from Harriton High School, attending Georgia Tech for two years before serving with the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War from 1970 to 1973. As part of the Strategic Communications Command, he monitored and maintained communications in Southeast Asia. “We saved lives,” he says. “My work helped some come home.”
Chandler’s father was a PT boat commander and POW during World War II. When he was liberated in Manila after almost three years, his 6-foot-1 frame held just 88 pounds. A grandfather and an uncle were career naval officers. “There was no way I was going to disgrace my family (and not serve),” says Chandler.
In basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., 15 or so musically inclined trainees were sent on a special weekend assignment. The group was narrowed to five, and Chandler was one of them. The next weekend, they played a party on the base as a substitute for grenade training. “After that show, I could do no wrong,” he says.
After the service, Chandler met his second wife, Sabine Illias, at Penn State University. With school behind him, he began working full-time as a studio engineer for local and national acts. He also traveled as the soundman for two popular State College bands. Formed as the Rockets in 1979, Backseat Van Gogh played about 600 shows before disbanding in 1981 after an on-stage fight. With Tahoka Freeway, Chandler handled 250-300 gigs a year. By 1983, he was with another band, Rough Mix, but he and his wife wanted a family, so Chandler cut his hair and donned a suit. “Before that, it was like living in Neverland,” recalls Chandler. “Then I realized I wasn’t Peter Pan.”
Once in the business world, Chandler held regional sales and management positions at two Fortune 500 companies. He didn’t pick up a guitar for almost eight years. “I did sing in the car,” he admits.
By the mid-’90s, he was approached again to help with sound and mixing for Havertown’s Second Chance, a band that quickly faded. Along the way, he met Manley. Once the two discovered they were neighbors, they formed Zing Kings, who still play the Narberth July 4 fireworks show. “We’re a fixture there—a nice thing,” says Manley, who also joined his longtime friend for the 1999 CD Do Fries Come with That Shake? as the Chandler Manley Band.
As he was easing out of the corporate world, Chandler got involved with Steel City Coffeehouse in Phoenixville, helping with sound and bookings. He eventually became part owner before selling five years ago.
In January 2018, Live at the Fillmore was part of the Southern Rock Cruise, with the Marshall Tucker Band, the Outlaws, Molly Hatchet, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Wet Willie and Lynyrd Skynyrd. “The two guitars are the unique quality,” says Manley about Live at the Fillmore. “Above everything, Barron’s a great singer.”
Forever tinkering, Chandler has five “encouraging” bluesy rock tracks he recently recorded with musician Rick Baldassari. He has two children with Illias, who owns Narberth’s Nannygoat Antiques. A cherished T-shirt they gave their dad proves they know him pretty well. It reads: “I May Be Old, but I Saw All the Best Bands.”
And that includes the ones at Woodstock. “I still have the three-day pass that cost $18,” Chandler says. “Woodstock was a miracle. Everyone was nice to each other.”