R.I.P. BRIAN CHALMERS, ROCK ’N’ ROLL ARTIST

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57f9/1245776633-chalmersheadshot.jpegFormer Scene and WMMS artist Brian Chalmers — best known for drawing the rock radio station’s iconic “Buzzard” for much of its life — died suddenly last weekend. He was 54.

From former Scene editor Mark Holan: “I met Brian Chalmers (B.C., as most of his friends called him) at the first Scene Christmas party I attended (when I was delivering the mag on Thursdays) back in ’77-78. We got inebriated together and immediately bonded as kindred spirits embracing life, rock 'n' roll and good times. He was manic, impetuous, hilarious, creative, in short everything about the ’70s rock scene that made it so exciting. He had been schooled to be Scene's art director by Tom ‘Cowboy’ Schmidt, a country rock fanatic (Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson — way before alt-country) and followed Tom as Scene's art director around 1979 (which is when I started full-time as Scene's assistant editor).

“Those were the golden days of Scene (in my humble opinion). We were putting new and old bands on the cover, designed by Brian. He spent a lot of extra time on those covers. He wanted them to be perfect because he put his ‘B.C.’ on them.

“The basement offices of the Scene (1314 Huron Rd.) at Playhouse Square underneath Publix Bookstore were like a bunker of rock 'n' roll rebellion. We were too established (having been around since 1970) to be cool for the burgeoning underground music scene but too "rock 'n' roll" for big advertisers. We worked well with the Belkins, the record companies and the House of LaRose (Budweiser distributors), and that was enough to survive.

“Brian used to have to fight for raises. He'd call a liar a liar, and one time he and the late Jim Girard actually had to be physically separated because Brian claimed Jim had lied to him about something. Brian had wrestled in high school (North Royalton) and loved to get physical if need be.

8c09/1245775831-chalmersmarriott.jpg“One of Brian's favorite bands was Humble Pie, and he loved Steve Marriott above all rockers. He even drew a storyboard based on the Small Faces' rock 'n' roll fairy tale from Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. One of the characters was "Happiness Stan," and when the latter-day Pie played the old Cleveland Agora (on East 24th Street), one of Brian's greatest joys was to present Marriott with his drawings. For Brian, it was like meeting a Beatle. There are photos (taken by Bob Ferrell) of Brian looking very proud at the meeting.

“After Brian was unceremoniously fired (for not coming back from a vacation on the appointed day), he was welcomed into the arms of the Almighty Buzzard. David Helton, the creator of the Buzzard, had always been a good friend of Brian's, and he got him the job as his assistant, putting the Buzzard everywhere (Blossom, Nelson Ledges, Stadium, etc.) rock 'n' roll fans went. It was good gig for Brian, and he made a lot of friends at ’MMS. He survived while others went to the chopping block.

“When filmmaker Cameron Crowe came looking for bits of authentic Cleveland rock mementoes to put in his great Almost Famous film, Brian jumped at the opportunity to assist him and corresponded with Crowe and sent him old copies of Scene and WMMS gear and Buzzard stuff. They made it into the film for authenticity. Thanks to Brian, I have a Cameron Crowe signed Almost Famous poster. He was that kind of friend.

“Work at WKYC-TV followed. I was surprised to learn that he worked there for 10 years. I know he liked it and the people there, but it wasn't rock 'n' roll. He seemed happy, but Brian needed to feel like a part of a family, and Scene and WMMS had been his family.

“Over the last few years, we tried to stay close, enjoying beers and Mexican food at Luchita's every chance we got. After I became a father in 2000, I invited Brian to come over and teach my daughter Annie how to draw. He agreed to show her some techniques, but cautioned that she just had to draw what was in her heart. Spoken like a true artist. To this day, Annie always draws in a free, unrestricted style. I only wish he could have spent a little more time with her, and she with him. Brian was nothing if not childlike.

“In the past year, I had tried to reach out to him but he wouldn't return phone calls or e-mails. It was like he was sealing himself away.

“Saturday night I was driving on I-480 and happened to have a copy of Humble Pie's Greatest Hits in the car. For some strange reason, I punched in 'I Don't Need No Doctor' and cranked the volume. I thought of how much Brian had loved the Pie's Rockin' The Fillmore live album. He'd often imitate Steve Marriott's Cockney accent when we were together. It was pure Brian. ‘I Don't Need No Doctor’ will never sound the same again. Apparently, that was the day he died. I had been thinking of him at the time he died. He had come to put a smile on my face one last time.”

e892/1245781925-buzzard_b.c..jpgFrom former ’MMS music and program director John Gorman (originally published at his Buzzard blog): “WMMS was owned by Malrite Communications. It was a company that encouraged creativity and originality. The success of WMMS in Cleveland influenced other stations in our chain to be innovative. As the company grew, it acquired more properties and our Buzzard artist David Helton took on additional responsibilities, which included redesigning or creating new logos for several Malrite properties. … To do so, David had to find his day-to-day heir at WMMS. His first and only choice was Brian Chalmers, whose work we were familiar with from Scene magazine. … Brian worked with WMMS for well over a decade — through five ownership changes.” His freelance clients included Belkin Productions, Blossom Music Center, Cleveland Magazine, the Tri-C Jazz Fest, Case Western, and the Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau.

From David Helton, via Buzzard blog: “Brian Chalmers was one of the most creative individuals I have ever known and had the talent, insight and sensitivity of a true artist. His passion for doing great work will forever be an inspiration to me. He was my friend and I loved him like a brother, and I will miss him.”
After ’MMS Chalmers had worked as a graphic artist at Channel 3 for about 10 years, until being laid off last year.

A memorial service is planned for Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., at North Royalton Christian Church, 5100 Royalton Rd. (Route 82), just west of State Road.

More bio info and art here and here.

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