#514: What’s Causing This Sensation by the Chessmen

Peak Month: May 1966
8 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN chart
Peak Position #4
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube.com: “What’s Causing This Sensation

In 1959 Guy Sobell became a member of a Vancouver band called The Ken Clark Trio. They drew inspiration from The Shadows, The Beatles and Sweden’s instrumental group the Spotnicks. For the first few years the trio subsisted by playing at frat parties at the University of British Columbia. In 1962 Sobell decided to form a new band. Among the musicians responding to an ad was Terry Jacks, who was 17 years old and studying architecture and a member of a band called The Sand Dwellers. Jacks band had released a single called “Build Your Castle Higher”. Written along with bandmade John Crowe, it was Jacks’ first recording. It was covered by Jerry Cole and His Spacemen as a track on their debut album, Outer Limits. The track was retitled “Midnight Surfer” and Jerry Cole went on to be part of Phil Spector’s group of now legendary session musicians called the Wrecking Crew who played on over 40 #1 hits in the USA. Prior to His Spacemen band, Jerry Cole was a member of the instrumental group The Champs who had a #1 hit in 1958 called “Tequila”. I don’t know if The Sand Dwellers got any royalties from Jerry Cole and His Spacemen.

In addition to Terry Jacks, there was bass player Bill Lockie and Erik Kalaidzis who was the bands singer. Kalaidzis played chess with Guy Sobell and so they were inspired to call their band The Chessmen. By the time Kenny Moore became the bands’ drummer, Kalaidzis had left the band and Terry Jacks became the lead vocalist. To begin with the band played at UBC fraternity houses for $40 a night. They played coffee houses in greater Vancouver and in 1964 released a double-sided instrumental 45 called “Meadowlands” b/w “Mustang”.

From there the Chessmen toured British Columbia playing at roller skating rinks, sock hops and school dances. Meanwhile, Terry Jacks wrote “The Way You Fell”. At a Brenda Lee show at The Cave in Vancouver, Terry Jacks got acquainted Brenda and her manager, Dub Allbritten. Soon after Dub expressed an interest in being the manager of The Chessmen. They agreed, and Allbritten got them a record contract with Mercury Records in the USA. On September 24 and 25, 1965, The Chessmen played two shows at the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) along with The Castaways, Charlie Rich and The Beach Boys. The Castaways were from Minneapolis, Minnesota, had a song called “Liar Liar” that peaked that October at #4 in Vancouver and #12 in the USA. The Beach Boys were fresh off their August Top 3 hit, “California Girls.” It was the fourth single to reach the Top Ten in Vancouver. “Do You Wanna Dance” peaked at #11, while “Help Me Rhonda” peaked at #2, “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Warmth of the Sun” each peaked at #6.

On November 5, 1965, The Chessmen were the opening act for Buddy Knox. Then on November 28th, The Chessmen opened a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre with Roy Orbison as the headliner. The Chessmen’s concert appearances ended the year as openers for Gary Lewis and the Playboys on December 29, of “This Diamond Ring” fame. The concert seemed to help the headliners as their hit, “She’s Just My Style”, spent the first two weeks on January 1966 at #2 on both CFUN and CKLG’s weekly record surveys. The Chessmen travelled to Nashville and cut several more singles. The first of these was “Love Didn’t Die”. The single climbed to #6 on the pop charts in Vancouver.

Next, the Chessmen released “What’s Causing This Sensation”.

What's Causing This Sensation by the Chessmen

“What’s Causing This Sensation” is a song about someone who is puzzled by their physical responses to someone else. The sensation in question is causing a pounding in their heart and emotional frustration. They also hear the voice of the person who is on their mind. But when they turn around that person isn’t actually physically present. The sensation is perpetual: “night after night, day after day.” The person so affected in the song wants to ask the person they are hung up over why this is happening.

The lyrics don’t tell us why the sensation is happening. They just tell us a few of the symptoms. It could be that the person is so much in love that they are hoping that the love is returned. And in such a state of hopefulness (even desperation) they anticipate the object of their desire calling out their name. But hit could also be a sign of something more than anxious anticipation of someone matching their desires. On the psychiatry website MDEdge.com, they explain that auditory hallucinations can be the result of 1) dehydration, 2) sleep deprivation, 3) starvation, 4) extreme stress, 5) strong thoughts or emotions, 6) fever and/or illness, and 7) drug and alcohol consumption. Better to check if any of these seven plausible causes are prompting the auditory hallucination of hearing ones’ name being called out by the object of your desire.

Of course, in the infatuated state this person is going through in “What’s Causing This Sensation” they are more than likely having strong thoughts and emotions in relation to the person they have desires for. And given they relate that a primary emotional impact of the sensation is emotional frustration, this is not a sustainable trajectory. Especially since it is occurring “night after night, day after day.” Clinicians faced with a patient who has frustrating or troubling auditory hallucinations may ask “When did the voices start? Where are they coming from? Can you bring them on or stop them? Do they tell you to do things? What happens when you ignore them?” MDEdge.com counsels that “When patients ask why they hear… voices, explain that many voices are buried inside our memory. When people hear voices, the brain’s speech, hearing, and memory centers interact. That said, calling auditory hallucinations “voice-thoughts,” rather than “voices,” can reduce the stigma. It is important to try a few therapeutic interventions to help a patient discover if they can control the voices they are hearing. In this way the person would not end up hearing the voices “night after night, day after day.”

“What’s Causing This Sensation” climbed to #4 on CFUN and #8 on CHUB in Nanaimo (BC). After it fell off the CFUN chart in early July 1966, the Chessmen dissolved. After the band split, Terry Jacks was asked in a 1966 Chatelaine Magazine interview if success had changed The Chessmen in any way. Jacks replied, “No, we all still eat raw eggs for breakfast!”

Terry Jacks went on to form The Poppy Family with Susan Jacks, his new wife who he met at a taping of Let’s Go. The Poppy Family had numbers of hit records in Vancouver and internationally, as well as solo releases by Susan Jacks and Terry Jacks. The latter’s biggest hit was “Seasons In The Sun” in 1974. He would go on to produce records for other recording artists including Nana Mouskouri, Valdy, George Jones and Buddy Knox. Jacks remarried and moved to Haida Gwai on the northwestern coast of British Columbia. He has worked on a number of environmental films over the years. In 2016 he suffered two strokes.

Guy Sobell went on to be a producer and married recording artist Denice McCann. He also produced, arranged and played guitar on an album titled Snakebite by Canadian recording artist, Mya, in 1975.

Canadian Bands.com comments that in 2009 Regenerator Records released a best of collection of The Chessmen.

February 24, 2020
Ray McGinnis

Chris Bishop, The Chessmen, Garage Hangover.com, December 1, 2009
The Chessmen, Canadian Bands.com
The Spotnicks, “Orange Blossom Special,” 1962
Jerry Cole and His Spacemen, “Midnight Surfer,” 1963
Guy Sobell credits, Discogs.com
John Mackie, The Many Seasons of B.C. Singer Terry Jacks, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver, B.C., April 1, 2016.
Terry Jacks bio, Canadian Bands.com.
Terry Jacks bio, The Canadian Encyclopedia.ca.
Edwardson, Ryan. Canuck Rock: A History of Canadian Popular Music. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Ontario, 2009.
C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, May 28, 1966.
Morton D. Sosland MD and Narsimha Pinninti MD, “5 Ways to Quiet Auditory Hallucinations,” MDEdge.com, April 4, 2005.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

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