Yet sometimes even the most powerful success stories and hard-working individuals in our community go unnoticed. The Valentine Richmond History Center annually recognizes everyday citizens and outstanding organizations that are making significant contributions to the greater Richmond region. Honorees are announced in September and celebrated at a gala event in October.Click here to visit the Valentine's web site and read more about this worthwhile undertaking.
While I applaud this effort to appreciate "everyday citizens," when I read about the five categories I was a little disappointed. The five were restricted to education, innovative solutions (whatever that means), regional cooperation, social justice and building stronger communities. There was no category for cultural contributions. Zero to do with art or music.
You see, when I heard about this History Makers promotion, I thought I'd like to nominate my old pal, Chuck Wrenn (depicted in the illustration), for his outstanding contribution to Richmond's live music scene over the last 40 years.
No name rises above Wrenn's in an informed discussion of Richmond's rock 'n' roll music scene. Click here for some background in a magazine feature I wrote about Chuck in 2002.
Here's an excerpt from that piece:
Twenty-two years ago, when it was generally accepted that large-scale outdoor Rock ‘n’ Roll events couldn’t be staged in Richmond, Chuck Wrenn put three fully-amplified bands, including the impeccably authentic Memphis Rockabilly Band, on a flatbed trailer in the cobblestone alley behind his back yard. It was the fourth edition of High on the Hog, Libby Hill’s live music and pork-worshiping festival.
The 1980 event featured a serendipitous, career-defining moment for Wrenn: it began raining. Rather than lose momentum by shutting off the electricity and waiting out the downpour, host/emcee Wrenn broke out rolls of heavy-gauge transparent plastic. Soon, with the help of many happy hands, he had improvised a canopy to protect the stage and cover a good part of the yard. In effect, he wrapped the whole shebang.
Yes, the show went on. With electric guitars wailing in defiance of the chilly rainstorm, the sense of common purpose felt by one and all was remarkable.Chuck's contributions to local popular culture go back to his role in promoting the "first psychedelic dance" in Virginia (according to the Richmond News Leader) in August of 1967 at Tantilla. His silkscreen poster for a local Child concert (early Bruce Springsteen band) is a sought-after collector's item. Wrenn, a VCU-trained artist, has displayed his talent for graphics with hundreds of handbills and posters that have been seen by too many live music aficionados to count.
While employed at two trend-setting Fan District businesses in the 1970s, the Biograph Theatre and J.W. Rayle, his influence had significant impact on the popularity of those places. Then he spent plenty of time in the late-'70s/early-'80s on stage as a performer in his two bands, Faded Rose and the Megatonz. He booked the talent at several clubs throughout the '80s and '90s, perhaps most notably Bird in Hand and his own Moondance Saloon.
Younger readers may know Chuck best as the emcee at High on the Hog parties, and for his bartender stint at Poe's Pub, where he booked the bands.
Ask around, there are musicians of all ages who owe Chuck a favor. In a business realm that isn't known for promises kept, Wrenn's handshake deals were as good as gold.
Yes, I could go on, but for now I'll wind it up by nominating Chuck Wrenn, 63, as the first member of The Richmond Imaginary Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. No one is more deserving to be the first.
Perhaps this post will draw a few comments from musicians willing to pay some of their debt to Chuck by seconding his nomination.