Photo: The band Missouri. Ron West (Hodgden) is in the front row on the left.
Chesmann Square and Missouri lead singer has moved on
By Diane Euston
I would always see him across the street tinkering in his front yard, paying little attention to what he did every day. I knew he ran a paper route, but his true story was unveiled over time. He would wave to me as he rode his riding lawn mower, his long hair, aviator sunglasses, and colorful button-down shirts only a small example of how he wasn’t like the rest of the dads on the block. He would go out of his way to talk to me when I was just a little blonde-haired kid, and I can remember my mom reminding me to talk just a little bit louder (translate: yell) since his hearing was less than stellar – his hearing loss was due to years of playing music.
My neighbor was a Rock Star.
He was a legend- a man living two different lives as a touring musician and a suburban father. Ron West was the voice and vision behind the Chesmann and later Missouri, two bands that showcased what is possible when you don’t give up on your dreams. My old neighbor, Ron passed away May 2nd at the age of 75, but his story of success in the music industry is even more exceptional due to his ability to balance a family life while still performing in front of thousands of people.
Although he was known in the music scene as Ron West, his given name was Ronald Hodgden. Ron was born in 1944 and was the oldest of four children. He learned to love music from his grandmother.
By his teenage years, Ron showcased his natural talent by playing the popular songs of the day on guitar. After joining a few bands, Ron’s life altered forever when he went on a blind date with a fifteen-year-old Bishop Hogan girl named Dayna. On the road with bands, Ron wasn’t the best at calling his love interest back. Finally, Dayna warned him, “If you want a relationship, you’re going to have to call me more than once a week.” Ron heeded the warning, and after he started up a new band, the 21-year-old married an 18-year-old Dayna in 1965.
The band that had begun was a family affair. The Chesmann Square (later known as the Chesmann) began in 1963 with his brother, Steve playing the bass. His wife remembers as they became more popular, Ron enlisted his eleven-year-old brother Gary to go on the road with them – in a van. Gary was a last-minute drum substitute after their original drummer couldn’t make it to play a fraternity party. The Chesmann became the most popular musical group in the area, and they looked, acted, and sang just like the Beatles. English invasion music was at its prime, and Ron wasn’t afraid to capitalize on it.
Ron was always a perfectionist in anything he did, and because of this, he could be hard to work for. For ten years, three brothers along with Dave Huffines and Jim McCallister played their music throughout a five-state area. Between colleges, fraternity parties, music festivals, and proms, the Chesmann were in high demand and booked a year in advance. The band was well-known, and many reading this may recall the time they danced the night away with Ron on lead vocals. In fact, the Chesmann were inducted in the Kansas Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
His wife, Dayna recalled, “They were fabulous. Everyone knew who the Chesmann were.” In the middle of sets, Ron would sneak in an original song, because his true love wasn’t imitating others- it was creating his own music. Not only did Ron pull off being in a band as a married man with daughters Christina born in 1966 and Jennifer born in 1971, but the brothers managed to stay together in a band without killing each other – and his wife was the glue that kept his own family together. “We didn’t beat the odds. We killed the odds,” Ron’s younger brother Steve recalled about his time with the Chesmann.
In general, Ron was able to defeat all the odds of a Rock Star life. This isn’t meant to suggest there weren’t tough years, as the life of a true musician is one of passion and the possibility of financial stability. In 1973, the Chesmann played their last gig. The youngest of the brothers, Gary, went on to play with Shooting Star and Ron played for a while with his sister’s band. In order to make end’s meet, Ron worked a paper route while still writing songs.
In 1977, life changed drastically for Ron when his newly-formed band Missouri released their first album through Panama Records. A song called “Movin On” was about the years on the road with his brothers as a part of the Chesmann and became a national hit. The song still gets airplay to this day.
With the blessing from his devoted wife, Ron was able to go out on the road for three months and perform with Missouri. In 1978, Missouri opened for Willie Nelson at Arrowhead. Two more albums were released, and Ron was able to live out his dreams of performing in large venues while also meeting some of the leading musicians of the day. By 1984, money was running scarce and a new record deal couldn’t be found. The band moved in different directions and Mr. Hodgden – the Rockstar- moved to my neighborhood and ran another paper route.
This may have been the end for some musicians, but not for this Rock Star.
In 1994, Dayna gave Ron the blessing to go ahead and pursue his music again. For a year, a newly-assembled Missouri toured for one last time as the airways continued to play “Movin On” until he finally hung up his guitar. I was lucky enough to listen to the band as they practiced in Ron’s studio across the street. Despite being sound-proof, those distant beats of music were a common soundtrack of our neighborhood- and we all knew it was special.
For the past eight years, Ron has suffered from a devastating disease that has limited his movement and his incredible talents. For decades, Ron entertained thousands of people while doing what he loved and often sacrificed time with his family in order to live his dream. For 54 years, his wife stood strongly by his side, and she was there for him in his final hours. “I never doubted that he loved me. And I never doubted that I loved him,” Dayna reminisced about their lives together.
He defied the odds of a Rock Star. He played for a decade with his brothers, never lost sight of his dream to make music, and developed a new band while staying married and raising two children. Without the unending devotion of his wife, Ron West wouldn’t have likely developed into the talented musician that he was. “The girl from Hogan held onto that boy, and there’s no doubt that boy loved her,” Ron’s brother, Gary spoke proudly at his memorial.
Ron’s words are prophetic. In “Movin On,” he writes, “And that road goes on and on into the sunset/ And my destiny is bound to move me on.”
To my neighbor who was destined to be a Rock Star- who lived just beyond what was “normal” and made no apologies for it- you were a part of a plethora of memories for so many people across a span of many decades. Your talent will live on in the lyrics you carefully choreographed and in your voice that sweetly sang for so many unforgettable years.
You have moved on, but your legacy will live on forever.
To learn more about Ron’s incredible life, go to his website,www.missouriband.com
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.