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Dr. Chow

dr. chow

“I’m totally entertained by the whole thing,” says Frank between chuckles. He’s talking about the Center Street Daze Annual Cart Race, which he’s emceed for the last five years. “I enjoy the ‘Born Losers’ who always lose.” “Hell On Weil (St.),” another recurrent entry, couldn’t live up to their name this year, however. The fire department had seen a Riverwest Currents photo showing the mid-street blaze they’d set last year and showed up, uninvited, to make sure the oil-spouting whale of this year’s “Hell” cart never flamed. Eyes twinkling, Frank declares, “Another good time in Milwaukee… ruined by the presence of the MFD.” Frank Chandek, a.k.a. Dr. Chow, sits in his living room near a wall hung with more than 20 masks from Africa, Mexico, Peru, other unknown places, and Classical Rome. From the opposite wall is suspended an approximately 7 by 3 foot banner, the black border encasing large Chinese characters in black on red. Frank translates, “Dr. Chow’s Love Medicine.” The banner, sewn by Amber, Frank’s partner of three years, with calligraphy by a good friend, graces every stage Frank can wheedle it on to. He’s not above offering bribes to get it hung in the most eye-catching spot. Frank loves music. And he loves to perform. At 13 he was heavy into the blues. Since his parents neither liked the blues style of music nor supported his interest, he had to feed his need on the sly. Most nights he’d plug his transistor’s earpiece into his ear, tune the radio to WYMS and groove to the midnight to 6 a.m. Manny Maudlin Jr. Blues Show. He picked up his first harmonica around that same time. Singing would come later with a voice that lends itself to the blues. “A blues growl,” is how Frank describes his vocal style as front man of Dr. Chow’s Love Medicine. Many years before Dr. Chow, Frank played with the Greens, a pro-peace, anti-war, eco-political folk/punk band. After The Greens broke up he played with the DeSotos. A sort of Rockabilly band, Frank remembers the DeSotos as playing “alternative country before it existed.” “I like to think we’d be really big now!” he adds, with another chuckle. Dr. Chow’s Love Medicine appeared on the scene six or seven years ago “too punk to play a blues club and too blues to play a punk club.” His fellow band members, guitarist Paul (Fly) Lawson, bassist Andy Kaiser and drummer Dan Glaser each have their own remarkable histories as members of other Riverwest bands including the Dummy Club, Freddie Lee, Rustle of Love and The Flat Rabbits. Together, in Dr. Chow’s Love Medicine, they enjoy playing both Country and Western with a rhythm and blues, psychedelic garage sound. “I really like British guitar pop!” says Frank, so he tries to infuse that, too. When Frank’s not being entertained or entertaining others he’s busy being Dad to two gifted kids, 14 year old Noel, the Metal drummer who just procured his first used drumset and Bonnie, 16, who sews, models and plays guitar. It’s hard to believe, with all this plus a plethora of friends including many Riverwest musicians who “really support each other,” that Frank has found time to be a full time garbage collector for twenty-six years. Out on the streets before most of us have even opened our eyes (How do you play music until 2 and get up at 5?) he’s emptied first cans, then carts, plowed and salted all over the city. Twice he walked behind the elephants and horses in parades cleaning up their messes. “You do it for the cheers,” he quips. Back in the seventies when he worked for Citizens for a Better Environment, Frank says he always knew he’d do his part. “We take all of the city’s crappy, smelly junk and get rid of it for them,” he colorfully explains, adding, “I’ve cleaned up my share of the environment.” Still, he wishes people were more conscious about the excessive waste they put out. “I see so much being thrown out. There should be a way to make use of stuff that’s not broken.” A scavenger by nature, Frank does his part in that sense, too. Many of the collectibles displayed in his house came from rummage sales and second hand stores. Of course, longtime friends with an eye for Frank’s taste contribute to the museum/funhouse decor of his home, as well. Living in Riverwest on and off for the last 30 years has been good for Frank. His friends live here, there are lots of places to play music, it’s very comfortable and “for now, it’s affordable.” There’s a tiny bit of worry in his expression as he utters those last words and continues, “We probably have more green space here than anywhere around — who’d want to mess with that?” Thus spoke Dr. Chow. And he’d also like everyone to come see the band play for Zappafest at Linnemann’s on the evening of December 10. “We’ll be a ten-piece band for that show!” You might also catch a glimpse of the infamous TLD’s (you’ll have to ask Frank about that). And, by the way, forget the story about the Chinese doctor who found the cure for the common cold, he’s Dr. Chow because he likes to eat!
dr. chow