Metro-East Living

Keyboard player on ‘Cloud Nine’ with Temptations Review

Glen Carbon keyboardist now plays with Temptations Review

The moment Tim Chandler switched from drums to Piano
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The moment Tim Chandler switched from drums to Piano

How does an East St. Louis minister’s son with engineering and finance degrees end up traveling around country with a Motown group?

No one is more surprised than Timothy “T.C.” Chandler himself — except maybe his parents, the Rev. Eddie Chandler and his wife, Helen.

“We were hoping he would pursue the field of his degree, but this makes him happy, so we try to support him,” said Eddie, 72, of Fairview Heights. “He’s adamant about a career in music.”

Tim, 41, of Glen Carbon, is one of two keyboard players for The Temptations Review, a group led by Dennis Edwards, former lead singer for The Temptations.

During the week, Tim studies jazz piano at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. On weekends, he jets off to shows at casinos, theaters and other venues. Last weekend, he was in Niagara Falls.

“It’s kind of surreal,” said Tim, who has been with the group about a year. “When I show my mom video of Dennis introducing me on stage (after a keyboard solo on ‘I Can’t Get Next to You’), her reaction is just proud laughter.

“She was a Temptations fan. She remembers when that song was popular, playing on the radio. So to hear her son perform it and having Dennis introduce me, it’s just cool.”

Dream come true

The Temptations Review consists of five singers and 10 musicians. They travel mostly in the United States, but earlier this year, an overseas tour included Morocco, Belgium, Switzerland and Japan.

Almost as exciting for Tim was an elevator ride before his first show in Atlanta. He overheard fans talking about how thrilled they were to have tickets to a Temptations concert that night.

It was like, ‘Wow! It’s coming true. This is what I always dreamed about happening, and it’s really happening.’ It was so awesome. I don’t need to be the star of the show. It’s about being part of the process.

Tim Chandler on joining The Temptations Review

“It was like, ‘Wow! It’s coming true. This is what I always dreamed about happening, and it’s really happening,’” he said. “It was so awesome. I don’t need to be the star of the show. It’s about being part of the process.”

Dennis Edwards was a member of The Temptations from 1968 to 1976, 1980 to 1984 and 1987 to 1989, churning out hits such as “Cloud Nine,” “Ball of Confusion” and “Papa was a Rollin’ Stone.” Founder Otis Williams still manages that group and sings backup.

Dennis, 72, of St. Louis, formed his own group in the ’90s and — after a legal dispute with Otis — changed the name to The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards. Other singers include the son of original member Paul Williams.

“Dennis is the only surviving lead singer,” said musical director and bass player James McKay, 55, of Fairview Heights. “So when you hear this group, you’re hearing authentic Temptations. You’re hearing the voice that sang the hits.”

Gospel roots

Tim started playing drums at 3 and wore out several drum sets while growing up in East St. Louis. He performed gospel at Parkside House of Prayer, where his father still is pastor and his mother directs the choir.

Eddie also worked 34 years at General Motors. The Chandlers have three other children — Byron, Eddie Jr. and Le’Shawn Spruiell.

Tim taught himself to read music the summer before eighth grade at Clark Junior High so he could play snare drum in the school band under director Henry Burns, a pianist who later invited him to join his jazz trio.

“His name was appropriate because he could burn it up,” Tim said. “His fingers moved so fast, and I had never seen anything like that before. It changed my whole perspective.”’

Tim had taken up keyboards by the time he graduated from Althoff Catholic High School in 1992. He earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois and served as an Olin Corp. intern for four summers.

Tim spent two years designing ventilation systems for McGill AirFlow before returning to U of I for a master’s in finance. He performed with bands on weekends, everything from R&B to swing.

“I would drive from Peoria to Champaign to rehearse and play the gigs,” Tim said. “If we got paid, it would be 20 bucks a man, or we could eat free hamburgers at the bar. It wasn’t a money-making thing. I just wanted to play.”

Corporate pass

After graduation, Tim’s renewed passion for music prompted him to pass on corporate opportunities. He returned to St. Louis, played in bands and worked briefly at Southwestern Illinois College.

A turning point was getting to know R&B singer Julius Williams, who moved to Las Vegas and hired him as a keyboard player.

Tim ended up staying in Vegas seven years. He accompanied acts such as Gladys Knight, Tony Terry, Midnight Star and The Village People and worked on a Motown revue called “Hitzville: The Show.”

“You know that saying, ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?’” he asked. “Well, no, it doesn’t. It goes all over Facebook. It was a wild and crazy time.”

Tim’s next big adventure was entertaining on two Caribbean cruise ships, which allowed him to visit many tropical vacation spots.

On the second ship, Tim worked with a highly critical jazz singer, who made him wonder if he needed more formal training to master jazz piano. That eventually led him to enroll at SIUE.

“He’s making it work,” said Jazz Studies director and saxophonist Jason Swagler, 42, of Alton. “Most of his (Temptations) shows are on weekends, so he’s managed to balance his touring schedule with his school work. It’s a pretty interesting arrangement.

“He’s really talented. He has a lot of natural ability. He just decided at this point in his life, he wants to raise his level of skill on the instrument.”

All smiles

Outside of class, Jason performs with Tim in a St. Louis band called The Coleman Hughes Project with Adrianne. Their next gig is New Year’s Eve at Voce in St. Louis.

James McKay also speaks highly of Tim, noting he hired him for The Temptations Review not only because of his talent but his personality and character.

“Timothy is a great guy,” James said. “He’s a great player. He’s sincere, low-maintenance. I never have to look for him, whether it’s at the airport or for a sound check. He’s where he’s supposed to be at all times.

“That may seem small, but it’s important when you have 18 people navigating through the weekend. And Tim is pleasant. The glass is always half full.”

Tim was all smiles recently at Lucas Park Grille in St. Louis, where he played dinner music with fellow SIUE jazz students Clinton Twombly and Chris Meschede.

Wherever Tim goes, he hauls his portable electric piano, which is the size of a large coffin, along with an amplifier and speakers.

“It has 88 keys, and they’re weighted just like a piano, and that’s what I want,” he said. “It feels like a real piano. It also has other instruments — organ, clavichord, harpsichord, percussion and guitar, acoustic and electric. You can sound like Van Halen or James Taylor.

“I’m getting ready to upgrade right now, but I bought this in 2004 because I saw that Stevie Wonder had one, and I thought, ‘If Stevie Wonder says it’s OK, it must be OK. I’ll take his word for it.’”

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