You may know that I’m originally from the Chicago area, even though I don’t sound like it. I left five years ago and I remember being happy to go somewhere new because I don’t like to stay in one place for long. You know the saying “distance makes the heart grow fonder”, well that’s how I feel about Chicago now. I look at my years there in a more positive way, thinking of all the happier times: hanging out with friends, spending time with family, going to restaurants, going to concerts, going to the museums, going to the record store, walking around Millennium Park, going thrifting, and taking pictures of the beautiful architecture. I haven’t been back since I left in 2016, and I want to write a little tribute to my time there since I spent half my life in that area, well I’m originally from a town near Wisconsin, so it’s debatable if that’s even the Chicago area. People from the city proper acted like I’m from Wisconsin.
What better way to pay tribute to a city I love than to write about music from there?
Quick Intro: Chicago’s Music
Chicago is a very diverse city, however it’s the most segregated city in the US. Being the third largest city in the US, you can expect some great music coming out of there: blues, R&B, soul, jazz, rock and roll, and in more recent years – punk, hardcore, and house music. Chicago has many bars and venues where you can hear some great music and is home to so many festivals: Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, and Riot Fest as modern day examples. Chicago is also where Soul Train started before moving to Hollywood.
One common theme you will see in many of the black musicians from Chicago is that many of them were born in the south and moved to Chicago. They were part of something called the African-American Great Migration, which occurred between the 1910s and the 1970s. Black people left the south for the north for better opportunities and to escape the segregation and racism all over the south. One thing to keep in mind is that this doesn’t mean that the north had no segregation or racism. There are still inequalities that exist to this day because of the effects of redlining and racist “war on drugs” and “tough on crime” laws. Even during the Jim Crow era there was still segregation in the north. One story from my grandmother I’ll never forget is when she first learnt about segregation at home. She lived in a fancy hotel in Chicago and her nanny was black. They were incredibly close. When she and her nanny came home, my grandmother was told that she couldn’t go in the same lift as her nanny. My grandmother was so upset. There was another racial incident that happened to my grandmother, even though she was white. She tanned very easily and deeply. Whenever she and her nanny walked around together, they were mistaken for mother and daughter.
After the musician bios, you’ll find a playlist of music from Chicago. A lot of variety and I’m sure you’ll find some things you like!
Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah: You might know this band because you heard “Lake Shore Drive” in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. It’s a classic song about Chicago and the song perfectly describes the famous scenic motorway that stars on Hollywood Avenue and goes from working class areas to wealthy areas in downtown. Every time my family came back to Chicago, we’d always make it a point to take an LSD trip, Lake Shore Drive trip that is! The song itself wasn’t about drugs, but “The Snow Queen” is about cocaine.
They were a soft rock trio made up of Mitch Aliotta, Skip Haynes, and John Jeremiah. John Jeremiah didn’t join the band until 1971, after their first album Aliotta Haynes Music. All three of them passed away: John Jeremiah passed away in 2011, Mitch Aliotta passed away in 2015, and Skip Haynes passed away in 2017.
The American Breed: Rock band from Cicero, Illinois best known for the hit “Bend Me Shape Me”, the best known version of this song in the US. British readers might know the Amen Corner version better. They were originally formed as Gary & The Knight Lites in 1958. They appeared on American Bandstand quite a few times and were on the same episode as Pink Floyd once.
The band broke up in 1970 and the members went on to form Rufus (originally called Ask Rufus, after an advice column in Mechanix Illustrated), the band that launched Chaka Khan’s career.
The Artistics: R&B vocal group formed by students of Marshall High School in Chicago. They performed at the 1960 Democratic National Convention and sang backup on Major Lance’s recordings. They finally got signed to Okeh in 1963. They got their first local hit with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Get My Hands On Some Lovin'”. In 1965, they reached the top 30 on the R&B charts with “This Heart of Mine”. Their biggest hit though was the top 10 R&B hit “I’m Gonna Miss You”. Their songs are loved in the Northern Soul scene, which is a scene in England where people play DJ sets of rare R&B records and dance to them.
Baby Huey: Soul and R&B singer born James Ramey in Richmond, Indiana. Before going solo, he was in Baby Huey & The Babysitters, a short lived soul band who played a lot of clubs in Chicago. Curtis Mayfield liked Huey and only wanted to sign him to his label, Curtom Records. At 19, he moved to Chicago and sang in various groups. Because of a health condition he had, he weighed 350 pounds. By 1970, he was addicted to heroin, was an alcoholic, and was gaining weight. One of his later inspirations were Sly and the Family Stone and their psychedelic soul sound, which you can hear on his only album The Baby Huey Story, released posthumously in 1971. He was a big influence to hip hop artists with his rhymes. He died at the age of 26 of a drug related heart attack.
If you’re looking for some good tracks from The Baby Huey Story, I recommend “Mama Get Yourself Together”, his version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”, “Hard Times”, a funky instrumental cover of “California Dreamin'”, and “Running”. It’s a good album to listen to as a whole.
Barbara Acklin: Soul singer born in Oakland, but raised in Chicago. Since she was a child, her family encouraged her to sing. Early on, she sang in churches and some clubs. Before releasing her first single in 1966, she worked as a backup singer at Chess Records, singing backup for Fontella Bass, Etta James, and Koko Taylor. Her day job was working as a receptionist at a couple of record labels. She decided to take a chance and submit a demo to Brunswick Records, where she was working and she got signed. Her biggest hits were “Love Makes a Woman” and “Am I The Same Girl”. The instrumental for “Am I The Same Girl” became a hit when Young-Holt Unlimited recorded it as “Soulful Strut”. As well as singing, she wrote songs that became hits for other musicians like “Two Little Kids” for Peaches and Herb and “Have You Seen Her” for The Chi-Lites. Her music is popular in the British Northern Soul scene.
From the Brunswick A’s and B’s compilation I particularly liked “I’ve Got You Baby”, “Love Makes a Woman”, “Just Ain’t No Love”, “Am I The Same Girl”, “Be By My Side”, “I’m Living With a Memory”, and “I Can’t Do My Thing”. “What’s It Gonna Be” is a great song from Someone Else’s Arms – love the guitar on it. You can find more songs I like in the Spotify playlist linked at the end of the post.
Betty Everett: Soul singer and pianist best known for “Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)”. She was originally from Mississippi and grew up playing piano and singing gospel music in church. In 1957, she moved to Chicago. Her first few singles were not commercially successful. Her first bit of commercial success is when she sang a bluesy version of “You’re No Good”, a song that was a hit for Linda Ronstadt in 1974. Her most successful years were in the 60s with hits like “Let It Be Me” (with Jerry Butler), “There’ll Come a Time”, and “I Can’t Say No To You”. She retired from music in 1980.
If you want some great songs to listen to I liked “Better Tomorrow Than Today”, “1900 Yesterday”, “Sugar”, and “Been A Long Time”.
Big Bill Broonzy: Blues singer-songwriter and guitarist and very influential to many classic rock guitarists, especially in the UK. Not rock and roll, but important to talk about because of his influence and importance in Chicago music history. He was born in either Arkansas or Mississippi to a large family of 17 children. He made his own fiddle and learnt from family how to play spirituals and folk songs. Before working as a musician, he worked as a sharecropper and was a preacher. In 1920, he moved to Chicago for better opportunities. It was in Chicago that he started playing guitar. In the 20s, he worked various odd jobs to support himself, but his true passion was music, of course.
Even in the 30s, he was still working a day job because record sales weren’t good (could be because of the Great Depression or poor marketing from the record label). Things started looking up for Big Bill Broonzy by the end of the 30s with his recordings becoming better known, touring with musicians like Memphis Minnie, and in 1938 he filled in for the recently deceased Robert Johnson at the From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall. In the 40s, he diversified his sound and established himself as the most versatile blues musician, playing ragtime, country blues, urban blues, jazz, folk, and spirituals. In the early 50s, he worked as a janitor at Iowa State University and in 1951 he toured Europe for the first time and the crowds there loved him. After that, he toured with folk musicians like Pete Seeger and Brownie McGhee. Finally by 1953 he was able to live off the earnings from his music. He died in 1958 of throat cancer.
In 15 years he recorded 224 songs, making him the second most prolific blues musician. To understand rock history, listen to the blues. In the playlist linked below, you’ll find some of his songs that I enjoyed like “I Can’t Be Satisfied”, “Long Tall Mama”, “How You Want It Done”, “Trucking Little Woman”, “New Shake ‘Em On Down”, and more!
Billy Butler: The younger brother of Impressions lead singer turned politician Jerry Butler. He formed the group the Enchanters when he was in secondary school and recorded some songs with them on Okeh Records. Some of his songs like “The Right Track” are popular in the Northern Soul scene.
Bo Diddley: Rock and roll pioneer and R&B musician who inspired pretty much every rock star who recorded after him. The Bo Diddley beat can be heard all over the place. Look at pretty much any classic rock band from the 60s and you can find at least one Bo Diddley cover. He was born Elias Bates in Mississippi, but later adopted the last name McDaniel from his mother’s cousin, who raised him. When Bo Diddley was 6, the McDaniels moved to Chicago. He played trombone and violin in church before switching to guitar when he was 18. Like many of his contemporaries, he worked a day job in the early days and played music when he wasn’t working or sleeping.
In 1955, he recorded his first songs at Chess Studios. He quickly got fame and performed on the Ed Sullivan show. He was asked to perform “Sixteen Tons”, but due to a mixup with the cue cards he played his self titled song instead, which you can see below.
You might know the following songs: “I’m A Man”, “Pretty Thing”, “Diddy Wah Diddy”, “Who Do You Love?”, “Hey! Bo Diddley”, “Road Runner”, “Mona”, and “You Can’t Judge a Book By The Cover” (this one was written by Willie Dixon). Bo Diddley didn’t just write hits for himself, he also wrote the Mickey & Sylvia song “Love Is Strange”. To truly appreciate rock and roll, I think you have to listen to and have an appreciation for Bo Diddley.
Buddy Guy: Blues guitarist and an important part of the Chicago blues scene, highly ranked on lists of best guitarists, and influenced a lot of British rock guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and Jeff Beck. He was born and raised in Louisiana and moved to Chicago in 1957 to pursue a music career. Muddy Waters was a mentor of sorts to him and he won a contest leading to his first record deal. His guitar playing in his live shows was really innovative, but Chess Records didn’t like that and sabotaged him by telling him to play guitar in a more conventional way because the boss, Leonard Chess thought his guitar playing style sounded like noise. Once again, record label executives not having good taste. For Chess, he mostly worked as a session guitarist for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Koko Taylor. Even in 1967 he was working a day job to pay the bills, but later on he was part of these all star blues rock concerts like Supershow in Staines in 1969 and 24 Nights at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990/1991.
I highly recommend his albums Left My Blues in San Francisco and A Man and The Blues.
The Buckinghams: A sunshine pop/garage rock band formed in Chicago in 1966. As the name suggests, they named themselves after one of the major Chicago landmarks, The Buckingham Fountain, but they also adopted this name because of the trendiness of the British Invasion. They started off competing in battle of the bands competitions and after winning one, they got a job as the house band on the WGN (local TV station in Chicago) show All-Time Hits. They rose to national fame with the hit “Kind of a Drag”, which reached #1 in the US and Canada. That wasn’t their only hit though, they also got top 10 hits with “Don’t You Care” and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and top 20 hits with “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)” and “Susan”. The band broke up in 1970.
I also like their version of James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy”, the fuzzy “Don’t Wanna Cry”, their version of The Beatles “I Call Your Name”, “Makin’ Up & Breakin’ Up”, their take on Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man” (a little Chicago garage rock does Chicago R&B, if you will), and “Don’t You Care”.
The Chi-Lites: R&B/soul vocal group formed in Chicago in 1959 while the members were still in secondary school. Before being called the Chi-Lites, they were called the Hi-Lites, but they had to change the name since that name was already in use by another group. It wasn’t until 1968 that they got a record deal. They met Carl Davis of Brunswick Records and they released their debut in 1969 and got success with the hit single “Give It Away”. This was just the beginning for the Chi-Lites and they found even more success in the early 70s with big hits like “Have You Seen Her” and “Oh Girl”, those were their peak years. They appeared on Soul Train 7 times between 1971 and 1982 and on American Bandstand three times between 1973 and 1975.
If you’re looking for songs besides the hits to listen to, I liked: “Let Me Be The Man My Daddy Was”, “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)”, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”, “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)” (famously sampled by Beyonce in “Crazy in Love”), “Troubles A-Comin'”, “I Like Your Lovin’ (Do You Like Mine)”,
Chicago: Horn rock band formed in 1967 originally as The Big Thing, and later Chicago Transit Authority, in fact the title of their debut album. By the late 60s, they went to LA to further their music career, playing at the Whisky a Go Go on a regular basis. In an unconventional and rare move, their debut album was a double LP and it was a major success, going platinum, nominated for the Best New Artist of the Year Grammy, and getting them invited to Woodstock (although they ended up playing the Fillmore West as that was happening thanks to a contract with Bill Graham). Santana ended up replacing Chicago at Woodstock and played a fabulous set that launched their career. If you like guitar jams and jazz and prog rock, then this album is something you’ll like. I love the epic length track “Liberation”. After this album, they shortened their name to simply Chicago to avoid a lawsuit from the CTA.
Their second album, Chicago II was released in 1970 and it was another big success. This one has more prog rock elements with “Ballet For a Girl in Buchannon”, “Memories of Love”, and “It Better End Soon” and there were some big hits on this album like “Make Me Smile”, “25 or 6 to 4”, and “Colour My World” classic rock radio staples to this day. Chicago III has some funkier songs mixed in with some country influenced songs and prog/jazz rock songs. After that album came out, Chicago made history by being the first rock band to sell out a week at Carnegie Hall. The band were incredibly prolific, releasing an album a year throughout the 70s. In 1978, Terry Kath died and Chicago considered breaking up, but decided not to and changed their sound in the 80s from horns to power ballads.
Coven: Gothic/occult/hard rock band formed in the late 60s by Jinx Dawson and Greg “Oz” Osbourne. Early on in their career they opened for The Yardbirds, Alice Cooper, and Vanilla Fudge. In 1969, they released Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, a controversial underground album. There are some great songs on it like “Black Sabbath”, “White Witch of Rose Hall”, and “Wicked Woman”.
Unfortunately, since the Tate-La Bianca murders happened right before then, anything occult was linked to the Manson Family even if they had nothing to do with it. Still, the band had some success with the 1971 hit “One Tin Soldier”, quite different from their debut and not really reflective of their style since it was more poppy.
Cryan’ Shames: Garage rock band formed in 1966. They originally called themselves The Travellers, but they had to change their name. Cryan’ Shame came from Tommy Krein (whose name is pronounced like Cryan’) turning down an offer to join another band and the person saying it’s a “cryan’ shame”. They mostly did covers of songs by British groups and were best known for their cover of The Searchers’ “Sugar and Spice”, which reached the top 50 on the Billboard charts. “It Could Be We’re In Love” was a big local hit in Chicago, reaching #1 on the local charts. Sound wise, they have a Byrds-like jangle pop sound. You can especially hear this on “She Don’t Care About Time” and “Hey Joe”. You know I love a good Beatles cover and I love their version of the George Harrison-penned “If I Needed Someone”. If you want something more psychedelic, listen to “The Sailing Ship”. If you want something with a bit of a Beach Boys sound, listen to “It Could Be We’re In Love”. They broke up at the end of the 60s.
Curtis Mayfield: Former member of The Impressions and successful solo artist, well known for his political songs that many people call Civil Rights anthems. He was born in Chicago and first started singing in a gospel choir. Growing up in the Cabrini-Green projects and making it to fame, he was an example of a true self made success story. As a teen, he and Jerry Butler formed a group which became The Impressions, more on The Impressions later in the post.
In 1968, he started his own record label, Curtom Records. In 1970, he left The Impressions to go solo. A year before Marvin Gaye’s socially conscious What’s Going On, Curtis Mayfield released Curtis, a psychedelic soul album with commentary on Black issues and politics of the time. He was unapologetically anti-war and his songs earned him the nickname “The Gentle Genius”. With the success of Superfly, he did more soundtracks. Below, you can see him perform “Superfly” on Soul Train.
Curtis, Roots, and Superfly are his best albums in my opinion and I especially love the songs “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go”, “We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue”, “Move On Up” (the full version is better than the shortened single version), “Miss Black America”, “Wild and Free”, “Get Down”, “Keep On Keeping On”, “Underground”, “We Got To Have Peace”, “Pusherman”, “No Thing On Me”, and “Superfly”. Definitely a good place to start when listening to Curtis Mayfield.
The Dells: R&B vocal group that formed in Harvey, a suburb south of Chicago. They were originally called The El-Rays, but changed their name to The Dells in 1955. Their first hit, “Oh! What A Night”, reached #5 on the R&B charts and sold a million copies. In 1958, the group got into a car accident that left one of the members hospitalised for 6 months. They broke up temporarily, but got back together in 1961. In the late 60s, they got hits with “There Is”, “Stay In My Corner”, and “I Can Sing a Rainbow/Love Is Blue”. The group stayed together throughout the 70s and 80s and were creative consultants for the film The Five Heartbeats, which was based on The Dells and bands like them.
Besides the hits listed above, I like “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher”, “Run For Cover”, and “When I’m In Your Arms”.
Donny Hathaway: Soul singer, keyboard player, and songwriter. He was born in Chicago and raised by his grandmother in St Louis. At the age of three he started singing gospel music and started playing piano. He was so skilled at piano that he got a scholarship to study fine arts at Howard University, where he met Roberta Flack – who he got a top 10 hit with “Where Is The Love”. He worked for Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Records as a songwriter, session musician, and producer before releasing his own music. His debut album, Everything Is Everything was released in 1970. One of his biggest hits, “The Ghetto” was on that album. He recorded albums until 1973, when his mental health problems got worse, tearing apart friendships and requiring him to be hospitalised. In 1979, he took his life, allegedly jumping off the balcony of his room at the Essex House Hotel in New York. He was only 33.
Earth, Wind & Fire: Originally an R&B/soul/jazz fusion group, but went more disco in the 70s, this band formed in Chicago in 1969 and are one of the most commercially successful music acts, winning so many awards, and considered very innovative. They took the sounds of Sly & The Family Stone and The Fifth Dimension a step further, essentially. Lester Bangs compared them to those two groups. Founding member Maurice White was a session drummer for Chess Records before forming Earth, Wind, and Fire. The origin of the group’s name comes from his astrological sign, Sagittarius, which is mostly fire, and has seasonal earth and air qualities (I don’t get it, but I don’t believe in astrology). The group’s peak years were between 1975 and 1979 with big hits that you know like “Shining Star”, “Sing a Song”, “September”, and “Boogie Wonderland”. Their early 70s albums have a jazz fusion and psychedelic soul sound and if you’re into that, check them out!
The Electric Flag: Short lived blues rock/soul group formed in 1967 and broke up in 1969, but reunited in the 70s. Guitarist and former member of Paul Butterfield Blues Band Mike Bloomfield was the leader, Barry Goldberg played keyboards, and Buddy Miles played drums. They did the soundtrack for the film The Trip, a counterculture psychedelic film starring Peter Fonda. The main character takes LSD after he gets a divorce. They released two other studio albums during their initial time as a band, A Long Time Comin’ and An American Music Band (Mike Bloomfield is not on this album). A Long Time Comin’ is a great album, a commercial flop, but excellent. Overall an album that you should listen to start to finish.
The Emotions: This Grammy-winning R&B/soul group are considered one of the most influential girl groups. The members were in a gospel group called The Hutchinson Sunbeams before being renamed The Emotions. They had a decent following in Chicago and before they got famous, they performed with Mahalia Jackson. In 1969, they got signed to Stax and released their debut album, So I Can Love You. The title track reached #3 on the R&B charts. In 1975, Stax went out of business and so The Emotions had to find a new label. Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire and Charles Stepney produced their 1976 album, Flowers. It was a success and reached #5 on the R&B albums charts. Notably, The Emotions and Earth, Wind & Fire collaborated on “Boogie Wonderland”. The Emotions went to #1 in 1977 with “Best of My Love”.
Five Stairsteps: A family band formed in 1965. Before The Jackson Five, who people call the First Family of Soul, there were The Five Stairsteps – the Burkes: Alohe Jean, Clarence, James, Dennis, Keni, and for a short time – Cubie. All brothers, with one sister. The group got their name from their mum noticing that they looked like stairsteps when they lined up by age. The original Cingular: Raising The Bar? Their biggest hit was “O-o-h Child”, from 1970. As someone who loves The Beatles, I loved their covers of “Getting Better” and “Dear Prudence” – definitely check those out! Their early 70s work has a bit of rock and roll in it, like in “Because I Love You”.
The Flamingos: Doo-wop group formed in 1953. Best known for their hits “I’ll Be Home”, “I Only Have Eyes For You”, and “Lovers Never Say Goodbye”. The members of the group met at a Hebrew Israelite congregation. By the end of the 50s, the band splintered, some members became The Modern Flamingos (also known as The Starglows), while new members replaced them and The Flamingos continued even into the 70s. Their last R&B hit was “Buffalo Soldier”, released in 1970.
The Flock: Short-lived jazz rock band. They didn’t have nearly the same success or fame as Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears, but they had a more true jazz fusion sound. They formed around 1966 and from 1966 to 1968, they recorded some singles for a local record label, but those didn’t go anywhere, but were later released on CD. One of their biggest influences was Miles Davis, particularly the Bitches Brew album. My favourites on their self titled debut are “Clown”, “Tired of Waiting For You”, “Store Bought – Store Thought”, and “What Would You Do If The Sun Died?”. The second album, Dinosaur Swamps has a more experimental sound, not exactly my cup of tea, but it has a cool album cover.
Freddie King: Blues guitarist and one of the three important Kings (none of them are related) of blues guitar: Albert King and BB King were the other two. He was born in Texas and moved to Chicago at 15. At the age of 6, he started learning how to play guitar. His style of music combines Texas and Chicago blues. When he got to Chicago, he liked sneaking into blues clubs and was inspired by the music so he formed a blues band called Every Hour Blues Boys with Jimmy Lee Robinson and Frank Scott. After being rejected by Chess, he signed to Federal Records in 1959. At the beginning of the new decade, he released his debut single “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” b/w “You’ve Got to Love Her With a Feeling”. He also released a blues instrumental called “Hide Away”, which reached #5 on the R&B charts and #29 on the pop charts. In the early years of his career he toured with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and James Brown. In the late 60s, he changed record labels and went on his first European tour. He expanded his horizons and played alongside rock stars like Eric Clapton and Grand Funk (the latter name dropped him in “We’re An American Band”). He was a hard working musician who toured a lot, being gone as much as 300 days a year, maybe two months a year at home. That would exhaust anyone. Being on the road, it’s hard to live a healthy lifestyle and his health deteriorated. He died in 1976 at the age of 42.
Some other good songs by him are “San-Ho-Zay”, “The Stumble”, “”Just Pickin'”, “Funky”, and “Palace of the King”.
Gene Chandler: Best known for “The Duke of Earl”. He was born Eugene Dixon in Chicago and started performing in the 50s. After being drafted into the army in the late 50s, he returned to Chicago and rejoined his group The Dukays. They recorded “The Girl is a Devil” in 1961. In that same session, he recorded “The Duke of Earl”, which was released in 1962 and sold a million copies in a month. It was such a big song for him and he bought a costume and marketed himself as The Duke of Earl and appeared in the Chubby Checker film Don’t Knock The Twist.
Through the 60s he switched record labels a lot. His mid-late 60s songs are very Northern Soul in sound and if you like that scene, you’ll love the music. I personally like “Here Come The Tears”, “Lonely Avenue”, “There Was a Time”, “Nothing Can Stop Me”,
While he wasn’t charting as high, he was doing work behind the scenes getting involved in music production. He produced the hits “Backfield in Motion” and “Good Guys Only Win in the Movies” for Mel and Tim. In the 70s he collaborated with fellow Chicago musicians Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler. In the late 70s, he tried his hand at disco with the album When You’re #1. The title track reached #31 on the pop charts.
Gil Scott-Heron: Chicago born poet/musician/spoken word performer. He wasn’t raised in Chicago, but it’s important to note that he was born there. He spent most of his childhood years in Tennessee and New York City. He started recording music in the 70s and even taught literature and creative writing. He was known for writing political songs and would often collaborate with keyboard player/flute player Brian Jackson.
The Growing Concern: Psychedelic garage rock band from the 60s. Great vocals by Bonnie MacDonald and Mary Garstki. Not much is known about them, but they released only one album in 1968.
Harold Burrage: Blues and soul singer who started his career by working as a session pianist in the 50s as well as releasing his own work as a solo artist. He worked with musicians like Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, Wayne Bennett, Jody Williams, Magic Sam, and Charles Clark. His biggest hit was “Got To Find A Way”, released in 1965 and reached #31 on the R&B charts. He died in 1966 of heart failure. He was 35.
Herbie Hancock: Jazz pianist and bandleader. He was born in Chicago and named after actor Herb Jeffries. Before playing jazz music, he was trained in classical music. He was considered to be a child prodigy. At just 11 years old, he played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He went to Grinnell College in Iowa and then came back to Chicago after he graduated. In 1962, he released his first album, Takin’ Off. Besides being a solo artist, he was in the Miles Davis Quintet in the 60s. Miles Davis personally sought out Herbie Hancock, who he said was one of the most promising jazz musicians. In the 60s, he started scoring movies, one of the most famous ones he did was Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up. In the 70s, his sound incorporated electronic instruments thanks to the influence of the famous Miles Davis album Bitches Brew. He also formed The Headhunters and VSOP. Those familiar with the 80s MTV era might know his song “Rockit”, a frequently played song on the network. The music video was directed by the famous Godley & Creme music/video direction duo (Kevin Godley and Lol Creme were formerly in 10cc). “Rockit” is considered to be the first jazz/hip-hop song and it won the Grammy for best R&B instrumental performance. It was also the first hit single to feature “scratching”, a common technique you’ll hear in hip hop. Always great to see musicians innovating and trying new things throughout their careers, that’s what makes someone an artist.
Howlin’ Wolf: One of the best known Chicago blues artists and a big influence to classic rockers. Like a lot of the other Chicago blues artists, he was a transplant from the south, born in Mississippi. He got his stage name from his family who said that the wolves would get him for being reckless with his grandmother’s chicks. His childhood was difficult, being moved around a lot and sometimes getting kicked out, but he ended up at his father’s house, where life was better. His mother didn’t approve of him being a blues musician. In fact, when he visited her at the height of his success and tried to give her money, she refused it because she thought R&B was the devil’s music.
Before he was famous, he met Charley Patton and got guitar lessons from him. Ike Turner heard Howlin’ Wolf play in West Memphis in 1951 and brought him to record music at what is now known as Sun Studio. At the time, Sun Records didn’t exist, so the recordings were licensed to Chess Records in Chicago. At the end of 1951, Leonard Chess signed Howlin’ Wolf and so he moved to Chicago. While in Chicago, he worked with a lot of different guitarists: Jody Williams, Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy, and others. Howlin’ Wolf was very good to the musicians he worked with, making sure they were paid well and on time and gave them benefits. His biggest rival was Muddy Waters. He worked a lot with songwriter Willie Dixon, who wrote quite a few of his biggest songs, many of which were covered by big British rock bands. Chances are, you’ve heard a version of “Smokestack Lightnin'”, “Spoonful”, “Killing Floor”, “Back Door Man”, “Little Red Rooster”, or “How Many More Years”.
H.P. Lovecraft: Psychedelic rock band formed in Chicago in 1967. As you can expect from the name, their music has haunting, eerie, macabre themes. Later, they moved to San Francisco, which had a much better and larger psychedelic rock scene. There, they frequently played the Fillmore and Winterland Ballroom. They broke up in 1969 and some members formed Lovecraft, who were active for a few years in the 70s.
The Ides of March: Rock band formed in the suburb of Berwyn best known for their 1970 hit “Vehicle”. Singer Jim Peterik went on to be in Survivor and co-wrote their hit “Eye of the Tiger”. Fun fact, I actually met him while interning at a local TV station in Chicago and he said I looked cool in the TV station shirt and should model them! The Ides of March formed in 1964 as The Shon-Dels and they released their first single “Like It Or Lump It” in 1965. In 1966, they changed their name to The Ides of March, inspired by reading Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In 1967, a saxophone player and some horn players joined the band for that Chicago-like sound.
‘Vehicle” was released in 1970 and at the time was Warner Brothers’ fastest selling single. It reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #6 on Cashbox. After that success, they opened for Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Led Zeppelin. They were even part of the Festival Express train tour.
Sadly, they were a one-hit wonder. A really good one though! Besides the big hit, listen to their version of The Small Faces “Sha-La-La-La-Lee”, CSN’s “Wooden Ships”, “Bald Medusa”, “Aire of Good Feeling”, and “Symphony For Eleanor” (a cover of “Eleanor Rigby”). Common Bond also has some great songs like “Superman”, “We Are Pillows”, and “Tie Dye Princess”. If you’re a fan of Chicago; Blood, Sweat & Tears; and Gypsy (prog rock band from Minnesota formed by Enrico Rosenbaum), you’ll love The Ides of March.
The Impressions: R&B group originally formed as The Roosters in 1957 in Chattanooga, Tennessee by Sam Gooden, Richard Brooks, and Arthur Brooks. The three moved to Chicago and when they got there, Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield joined and they became Jerry Butler & The Impressions. The group’s lineup changed a bit over the years. Later on, Curtis Mayfield became the leader.
The group’s first hit was “For Your Precious Love”, released in 1958 and reached #11 on the pop charts. They once again found success in 1961 with “Gypsy Woman”, which reached the top 20 and was #2 on the R&B charts. By 1963 they changed their sound to a more soul sound with songs like “It’s All Right”. In 1964, the Curtis Mayfield-penned black pride/civil rights anthem “Keep On Pushing” came out and it was a top 10 hit. In 1965, the gospel influenced political and socially conscious song “People Get Ready” came out and reached the top 20. It’s been covered by so many musicians from The Chambers Brothers to Bob Dylan to Bob Marley (who modelled The Wailers’ harmonies after Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions) to Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck. In the mid-60s they were compared to Motown acts, like Chicago’s answer to the Temptations, Miracles, or Four Tops. “Can’t Satisfy” has some similarities to “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)”, but as it’s a lesser known song, it’s more popular in the Northern Soul scene. There was actually a court case and Motown sued Curtis Mayfield, so songwriters Holland-Dozier,Holland and Sylvia Moy got songwriting credits. They also reached the R&B top 10 with “Woman’s Got Soul”, “Amen”, and “I Loved and Lost”. “We’re a Winner” and “Choice of Colours” topped the R&B charts.
Curtis Mayfield left The Impressions in 1970 and the group kept going and released some albums.
Below, you can find a playlist that corresponds to this blog post:
Enjoyed Part 1? Now you can read Part 2!
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Angie – I really enjoyed all of the info re: these Chicago artists. I learned a lot including American Breed helping to form Rufus.
Keep up the great work!
Pete and Panda
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[…] promised, the sequel to my original post about the music of Chicago. In part 1, you can read about musicians in alphabetical order from Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah to The […]
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