Denny Carleton

Welcome To My World first chapter



     After playing and speaking at Sacred Heart Parish in Oberlin, Ohio, the pastor, Father Robert Cole, wanted to say a few words to describe my performance. He said “I have never seen Denny’s ministry before, but while Denny was talking and playing, I had this image come to my mind.  His style is like you are boiling water for your favorite dish and it gets so hot it boils over making a mess all over the kitchen.  Thanks Denny for messing us up!”

     My hope in writing this autobiography is for the readers to come away with something positive; something of value to them. I have given much thought to the diversity of my audience: friends, family, acquaintances and fellow musicians; those who know me and those who do not.

     I have tried to be honest to what I believe, hoping not to offend anyone.

Love you all.

Denny Carleton


In My World


     Once upon a time and the time before that

     People used to think the world was flat

     Then they got frightened by a big old cat

     Where did they ever come up with that?


     Then they started singing Gregorian tunes

     Once they landed a man on the moon

     Along came a child's balloon

     It couldn't have come too soon



     In my world, everybody’s forgiven

     In my world, everybody keeps giving

     My world resentments are distance


In My World


Denny Carleton’s song from - Get Back to the Garden CD


     Welcome to my world. Over the years, many of my friends have urged me to write a book comprised of my stories and experiences in music, writing, spirituality, church, teaching and life.

     I received confirmation that I should write a memoir after I had written music for a children’s play, The Phantom Tollbooth.  I decided to present the music to a prominent theatre company in Cleveland. I submitted my work along with a twelve-page booklet outlining my history in music. I was somewhat surprised when the director told me he did not have any interest in the play or the music, but that my history was almost interesting enough to act out on stage.

     The director identified “making it” in the music industry to be my highest priority, and that my goal of being successful in music was not enough to be interesting.  He told me if I stood for a higher purpose, like wanting to change or save the world, it would be a great story.  I thought I did (stand for something greater than just myself).  Perhaps I have not been clear enough.  This is my story -- this is my song.


  My name is Denny Carleton.  I was born on June 28, 1949 in East Cleveland, Ohio.  I was raised by great parents who provided a very stable and secure family environment for me and my three siblings, Dave Jr., Judy, and Diane.  My father, David Wesley Carleton, came to Cleveland from New Jersey and my mother, Alma Irene Wolkens, came with her parents to Cleveland from Louisville, Kentucky.

     My dad was a typical blue-collar, hard-working man and my mother was good with the household finances; clipping coupons, etc.  She provided us with everything we needed.  Because our basic needs were provided for, I never realized I was poor.  I guess from God’s point of view, which is what really matters, I wasn’t poor.  I would later learn in a social studies class while attending Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) that my social status had been on the very low end of middle class.

     I grew up on Monterey Avenue in North Collinwood, which is a part of the east side of Cleveland.  My childhood on Monterey was rather uneventful.  I remember my sisters and brother, who were between five to ten years older than I, dancing the jitterbug to all the popular songs of the time. I fell in love with Laverne Baker’s song Jim Dandy to the Rescue, Clyde McPhatter’s songs, That’s my Desire, Smoky Joe’s Café and many others.  I would play DJ while the kids danced, and come to think of it now, this could have been one of the doors to my music career. I remember my mother saying that she wanted to watch a new entertainer, Elvis Presley, whom she liked a lot. I also recall watching Elvis for the very first time and really liking his performance.

     I would later have the privilege of knowing and working with Bob Santelli, the educational director from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  While working at Tri-C, I was performing as well as helping coordinate music history shows at the Palace Theatre.  Bob asked if I would help him as he wanted to get the Cleveland music community involved in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Bob asked me if I knew of anyone who could link the local music community and teachers to the Rock Hall.  He needed musicians to demonstrate different types of music for school tours and wanted to bring the teaching community into the Rock Hall experience.  He also wanted to establish a summer concert series with local musicians performing.  I assisted him in this networking effort.

     I assisted Bob for nine months when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame first opened in Cleveland in 1995.  The first time I heard Bob speak, he said he was raised in a family who liked rock and roll and thought it was fun as well as good.  I have a similar background in that I was also introduced to rock music as being good and fun.

     It is very strange to me now looking back that really my whole life has been on the same path and yet still waiting to see its destination and fulfillment.  My mom said that my first word was Jesus; why?  I don’t know, but that is what she told me.  Also, some of my earliest influences were spirituality and music.

     I was seven years old when my dad was laid off from his job because of politics.  This was a very stressful time for my family.  Mom was nervous, dad ­was depressed, and me, well, I began to escape into a world full of creativity that I would never leave.  This became apparent years later when I filled out annulment papers to dissolve my first marriage.  As I answered questions in the annulment process trying to find the root of what led to my divorce, with the help of prayer, and, I believe the Holy Spirit, I tried to look into my heart to see if I could identify some character flaws.  As I prayed, it came into my mind rather clearly that during the time my father was depressed I started to write stories.  I had found my escape through writing at the age of five.  I identified this period to be the beginning of my creative work.

     At first, I started to write short stories, produce little newspapers and draw pictures for illustration purposes.  I then began to write editorials critiquing them myself.  This was a creative world that would become my world of comfort.  It was almost as though I heard the Spirit tell me that I had escaped into a creative world which has been transformed into something good and holy; that I was not as good in the real world as in the creative world and that the distinction between imagination and reality had been blurred at the beginning of my relationships.

     I had a near-tragedy during this time in my life.  It involved a car, a bike and me.  My sister was playing inside the family car while I was riding my bicycle in the space of driveway on the side of our parked car.  In one instant, Judyaccidently bumped the driving gear from park to neutral; the car rolled backward knocking me off my bike as it rolled over my legs.  As I lay there in excruciating pain, I watched the car (seemingly in slow motion) roll over my legs and down to the bottom of the driveway right into our mailbox.

     My mom and dad came running out of the house and, of course, were panicked as they scooped me up and rushed me to the hospital. My legs were totally black and blue; a real mess. The doctor looked worried and took x-rays.  When he read the results of those x-rays, he said it was a miracle that not one bone was broken.  I went home and was told to walk for exercise. My mom would motivate me by promising candy and treats if I would walk from Holy Cross Church to Monterey Street which was about one and one-half miles. It may seem like there should be more to that story, but no – that was it.  I have not, to this date, had any physical problems due to this accident.

     I started kindergarten and then decided to quit halfway through because some of the kids got to play on the monkey bars and I did not.  I was too young to know about asserting my rights, so I just dropped out of school until first grade at which time I attended Holy Cross.

     Basically, I was a happy kid having every baseball card known to man at that time.  When I was older and became a little out of line, my father would say “Whatever happened to you, you were such a nice happy kid with no problems.”

     I often tell younger people that my generation had no idea that someday baseball cards would be worth lots of money.  We were sort of the Neanderthal when it came to collector consciousness and evolution.  We put the cards in the spoke of our tires on our bikes, and we also flipped them against the wall.  We traded valuable Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron cards for Cleveland Indian cards with names like Willy Tasby or Willie Kirkland.  At some point, I grew tired of collecting because I thought I had outgrown it.  I gave all my 1950 and 60 cards to my nephew who then also outgrew them and threw them in the trash.  We are talking Mickey Mantle cards boys and girls – BIG American dollars!

     When I was about ten years old, my parents moved from Euclid to Willoughby, Ohio, which was pretty rural back then.  I found out that it was tough to move in the 6th grade.  I had to start all over again in a new neighborhood and it seemed like a very big deal to me.  There are those of you out there who can relate to this.  I did adjust however and made a lot of great new friends.  Our gang in the neighborhood reminded me of the Peanuts gang.  There were lots of bullies in this new neighborhood.  My buddies and I liked to play these bullies in football or baseball to see if we could upset them.  We did beat them and quite often too.  These bullies constantly harassed me.  They threatened to beat me up and made up fake arguments in the playground to try to get me to fight them.

     Speaking of Peanuts, years later as an adult, I worked at a Christian bookstore and had the opportunity to take home and read many books.  My favorite book, by far, was The Gospel According to Peanuts.  It explains in this book that Charles Shultz was a Christian and his entire comic strip was a parable.  The format of the book was to show a comic strip from Peanuts such as a castle made of sand being washed away and then Linus looking at his foundation ruined exclaiming, “There must be a message in here somewhere.”

     Another example would be one of the different characters proclaiming to anyone who will hear; “Believe in me, believe in me, believe in me.”  Then he would say “I just can’t get anyone to believe in me.”  The dissertation would then explain the comic strip or parable to say that this is, at times, how the churches approached evangelism.  No attempts to actually explain, just chant “Believe.”

     St. Anselm became a Catholic saint; the reason given was that he had the profound ability to communicate the gospel in the language of his times.  Father Chaminade, the founder of the Marianist tradition, also believed in discerning the signs of the times and communicating them accordingly. This dogma is also one of the tenets of Vatican II.

     In each discussion of the Peanuts parables, they would cite scriptures, theologians, artists, philosophers and entertainers.  Ah! a great book; helping me to shape my thinking using humor in a comic strip to proclaim the gospel in an entertaining way.

     In addition to playing sports and playing with the peanuts gang in my neighborhood in Willoughby, I invented my own games.  I had seen an ad about a game called Stratomatic Baseball.  In this game, each player has his own card and performs exactly as he would in real life.  I thought the game was out of my family’s price range; therefore, didn’t even think of asking for it.  So, I made up my own game where I divided hitters into home-run hitters or single hitters and pitchers into A, B or C pitchers.  My game invention wasn’t nearly as good as Stratomatic, but I invented it and it was free.

     Years later, I read about the inventor of Stratomatic.  He had a vision about what he wanted to do with his life.  His vision was to invent and market the game Stratomatic Baseball.  The game breaks down every player so that in a 162-game season, each would perform as if in real life.  The inventor had the game down to a science, including left and right hand pitching, errors by fielders, speed on the base path and range of the fielders. His creativity lives in infamy. Even beyond its infamy, many managers and coaches of the 80’s would cite Stratomatic as the catalyst to their interest in statistics.  It is even said that the sports statistics fixation can be traced back to this baseball game played with cards and dice.  I love the concept that through his creative vision, the inventor of Stratomatic changed the world through a dice baseball game.

     I believe in the power of creativity. Besides inventing, I maintain a passion for writing. Ray Bradbury, in his book Zenand the Art of Writing, wrote about his youth saying that some people told him to stop his affection for dinosaurs and just grow up. He said he tried that for a while, but became depressed. When Ray started thinking about dinosaurs again, the depression lifted.  He then concluded all those people were wrong. I have to say  perspective like that has fueled my own fire.


 I have tried to deny my passion for creative writing, but when doing so I began to experience depression.  So, I believe that if a person feels compelled to write, he IS a writer and should say he is a writer.

     While in the eighth grade and still living in Willoughby, I, together with others, tried to organize a band even though I could not at that time play an instrument.  I had some people play toy harmonicas and bang on a chair.  We made up a little band and I wrote my own songs.

     I also made my Confirmation that year. I remember saying to God that I couldn’t do everything that the priest was saying I had to do, but would try my best; I wanted to be honest with God.  I had a belief in and a relationship with the Lord in my own way.  I played sports until the tenth grade; first little league then class F, which is the baseball league you play after little league. The coaches weren’t playing me much so I asked to be either played or traded.  It seemed like there were cliques on the team, you know, those who didn’t attend practice but got to play in all the games anyway.  Truthfully, I wasn’t as good as they were.

     I quit organized sports and then came a big turning point in my life.  I graduated eighth grade from Immaculate Conception School in Willoughby and started high school at St. Joseph’s all boys, Catholic school in Cleveland.  It was a long bus ride.

     My sisters and brother are older than I and my sisters married early and had children right away making me an uncle at a very early age.  Diane has four children: Therese, Jeff , Tim, and Shawn, while Judy has three: Danny, Beth and Sheila.  Dave had one daughter Kristina. I consider all my nephews and nieces my friends and am quite proud of each one.




The Bands …………….1960’s