On Wednesday, July 14, 2004, Chuck Worden, the lead singer for the band ‘Chain Lightning’ became unresponsive after their show at the Moondance Jam in Walker, Minnesota and died of a heart attack back stage. If you don’t know Chuck, let me introduce you to a teddy bear of a man. He was the true epitome of a southern man in a northern land as he stated in the song “Southern Man” that the band wrote on stage as Greg pounded out a riff and Billy joined in on drums in the formative years of Chain Lightning. Chuck really believed in following his dreams. When times were tight and life was tough, he sang. He used songs to entertain, to remember, and to penetrate the darkness – his own and anyone else’s. All he ever wanted at the end of the show was to be satisfied with the knowledge that people could walk away with a song in their heart and a new outlook on life that presented new possibilities.
It all started in 1992 on the East Side of St. Paul at a bar called Peppercorn’s as he was working security and booking the room. The bar should have been a rough place, however, Chuck made many friends and was very close to the biker community. He earned the respect of many fellow bikers by being respectful and by listening and being fair when disputes arose. When time permitted and a friendly band was on stage, namely Damien, he would get up and sing. It was about that time that Chuck became friends with Greg Lee and Mike Rowe (alias Woodstock); Chain Lightning was born. Greg and Chuck developed a great respect for each other, in both each others talent and personality, occasionally fighting like brothers until their feet hit the stage, where the magic began and they grew to love the music in each others passion for the trade. They wrote great music together and they brought out the best of each other on stage. Chuck was a peaceful soul. His motivation was to honor some of his favorite music representing things like family, friends, honor and love. He loved southern rock like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, and Molly Hatchet. On a personal note, after so many years of listening to Chain Lightning, they sound more like Skynyrd to me than Skynyrd does. Chuck loved to sing Country, Southern Rock and even some Blues, his voice had a very powerful presence. He once blew the diaphragm out of a brand new microphone during a sound check when, Pud, the soundman asked him to give it a good growl. One night at Famous Dave’s in Uptown at Moses Oakland’s Blues Jam (www.moseso.com) – Chuck was on stage with only the keyboard player, a group of about 15 people were heading for the door as he began to sing ‘Walkin’ In Memphis’. I watched them freeze in their tracks and just stand and watch in awe as Chuck belted out the song.
Chuck had a good-humored, mischievous nature about him with a gleam in his eye. Take the night at The Blues Saloon, it was the Monday Jam led by Moses and Chuck was asked to sing ‘Wonderful Tonight’ so he could get out and dance nice and slow. With Moses off stage Chuck’s mischievous aura struck the band. At the end of the song the bass player (Bob Skoggins) began ‘Smoke on the Water’. It snowballed – and much to Moses’ dismay, it was damn powerful and brought the house down. All the college kids in the audience were awe struck. I’ll always remember the Bikers for Make a Wish Benefit a few years back when the drummer, Todd Silverstone and the bass player, Bruce Aitken, began the song ‘White Rabbit’ as a joke. Chuck just shrugged his shoulders and hit every note in the song – I was there and I couldn’t believe he actually did it. That brings up Bikers For Make-A-Wish, (the SRO Lounge, Kokesh MC) Chuck and all of the present and former members of ‘Chain Lightning’ were always very proud to donate time and gigs on their behalf. Chuck loved kids and dreams (a very good match for Make-A-Wish). I once saw Chuck calming a teething and very cranky baby. It took quite a while, but he just sat there rocking that baby to sleep with a smile on his face. Although, the guys would and did benefits for almost everyone and anyone, the kids were special to Chuck and the band. I can’t remember a night that Chuck didn’t dedicate the song ‘Dreams’ by Molly Hatchet and to the kids of Make A Wish. He always said, “It’s for the kids.”
Music and dreams kept Chuck going during the lean times, and there were quite a few of those. After one of his girlfriends died in the bar that they were playing, Chuck felt even though times were bad he must move on. When his partner, Greg, fell off a roof and broke his back, a few of the Chain Lightning family joined in just to complete the shows on the books until Greg was able to stand on stage in his body cast. Shortly thereafter, it was Donny’s turn, when he dropped his Harley on his leg. Chuck resorted to another Chain Lightning family member, Jay Jacques, to finish the gigs. Jay’s personality and awesome playing became a full-time member of the Chain Lightning outfit. Times seemed to get tougher as time went on but still Chuck held it all together. He loved to perform. He wanted to give good music to good people. He was currently working with John Mika, the keyboard player, at a shot for Nashville where Chuck and John had marketed their music several times. Things seem to be looking up down there until his untimely death. He wanted to share what God gave him, a wonderful voice. His goal was to get a record deal in Nashville. He had an agent interested, a producer interested and several big A&R people interested in hearing more. But as money was always a problem, it restricted his availability. As the years progressed and the band got tighter it brought opportunities for better shows and better venues culminating on the final night of Chuck’s life warming up on the same stage for ZZ TOP. It seemed to be a highlight of their career, as he was joined by four of the original members of the Chain Lightning Band. After ten years that seems like a good long run to me. Chuck is and always will be a hero to me as he died with his boots on doing what he loved. It just a crying shame the CD the band was working on did not get finished. He was encouraging to his friends and very direct if he needed to be. Chuck believed in being true to your dreams, your friends and your music. I think he would like us to remember these things and keep trying.
In the last few years, he was very blessed to find a soul mate and great love with his wife, Kelly. She became one of his greatest supporters and also helped him reach personal goals in his private life. The two of them were very in love. In the last couple of years she had even begun to sing backup with ‘Chain Lightning’.
Never give up; look for a way to work out your dreams. I think it’s time to raise a glass to Chuck. He did occasionally enjoy some Jack Daniels, but preferred a root beer or a tall, cold carafe of milk. I think I’ll go pour a glass of milk, grab some tissues and create a play list of tunes that describe Chuck and some memories. I expect tears and smiles. Here is my play list: Drift Away by Dobie Grey, then Dreams To Remember by Delbert McClinton. I’d have to then hear Dreams by Molly Hatchet (for the kids J}, next, CDB’s Simple Man, and Skynyrd’s Simple Man. Last will have to be Free Bird. It is time to press play now, as I raise the glass high.
Chuck I’m gonna miss ya bud, enjoy the new band and don’t raise too much hell.
Goodbye my friend,