As 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 Impressions. In this part, you can read about musicians in alphabetical order from Jerry Butler to Young-Holt Unlimited. As I said in that post, I spent about half of my life in the Chicago area, so I can confidently say that it’s very much home to me. I miss it a lot, well not the winters!
Jerry Butler: Original lead singer of The Impressions, the group he was in with friend and neighbour Curtis Mayfield, who he sang in church with. He left the group in 1960 to pursue a solo career. His younger brother, Billy Butler, was a musician too. Some songs he wrote include “For Your Precious Love” (with Arthur Brooks and Richard Brooks), “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (with Otis Redding), “He Will Break Your Heart” (with Curtis Mayfield and Calvin Carter), “Only The Strong Survive” (with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff), “Hey Western Union Man” (with Gamble & Huff), and “Never Give You Up” (with Gamble & Huff). In the 60s, he was called The Iceman by Philadelphia DJ Georgie Woods. He left the music industry in the 80s to work in politics, with him being a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners from 1986-2018, when he retired. He also made TV appearances on PBS specials about doo-wop and R&B.
Jody Williams: Influential blues guitarist and singer and an important, in demand session guitarist in the 50s, working for Chess Records. Sadly though, session musicians don’t get the recognition they’re due because their names aren’t always on the credits and they’re treated as a hired hand. He was born in Mobile, Alabama and raised in Chicago, with his family moving there when he was 5. He was originally a harmonica player, but he was inspired to play guitar when he saw Bo Diddley play at a talent show he was also playing at. Bo Diddley was a mentor to him and taught him the basics. The two of them would play music on the streets in the early 50s. Later, he worked as Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist. He also tried releasing music of his own. He grew disillusioned with the music industry after his guitar riff for “Billy’s Blues” was ripped off in Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange”. Chess Records sued, but no money went to Jody Williams. So he left and worked as a technical engineer for Xerox for 25 years. For years he didn’t touch his guitar, but after hearing an old tape of his guitar playing he picked up his guitar again and played gigs between 2000-2014. Due to poor health, he stopped playing. He died of cancer in 2018.
Junior Wells: Blues singer best known for his classic “Messin’ With The Kid” and his work with Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. He even once toured with The Rolling Stones! As a kid, Junior Parker and Sonny Boy Williamson II taught him how to play harmonica, and by the age of 7 he was really good at it. In 1948, he and his mother moved to Chicago and he started going to parties and wanted to play music professionally so he joined blues band The Aces. His biggest harmonica inspiration was Little Walter, who you could say was the Hendrix of Harmonica.
Koko Taylor: Blues singer known for her rough, powerful vocal style. She was born and raised in Tennessee and moved to Chicago with her truck driver husband and started singing in blues clubs. One day, Willie Dixon heard her singing and was really impressed and she got opportunities to record professionally. She got her big break when she recorded a version of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle”, which sold a million copies. Touring, rather than album/single sales, was how she got recognition and in the 70s she got even more recognition when she signed to Alligator Records and got multiple Grammy nominations for her albums. Millennials may know her from her guest appearance with Taj Mahal on an episode of the PBS kids show Arthur. She died in 2009 at the age of 80.
Little Walter: Blues harmonica player and considered the greatest of all time in blues harmonica. He was born in Louisiana, but didn’t have a birth certificate. When he applied for a social security card, multiple birth years were listed from 1923-1930. He left school as a kid and worked odd jobs and was a street musician and always on the move, living in various states in the south. He finally got to Chicago in 1946 and while he played guitar as well, people were more interested in his harmonica playing. Starting in 1947 he recorded professionally.
Like Jimi Hendrix did for guitar, Little Walter pushed the boundaries of harmonica playing using new technology with him pushing the amplifiers beyond their limits resulting in a great sound. Before rock guitarists were distorting their guitar sounds and making them fuzzy, Little Walter was using electronic distortion on his harmonica. He died in 1968 months after completing a European tour.
Lou Rawls: R&B and soul singer. He was raised on the South Side of Chicago by his grandmother in the Ida B. Wells housing projects (which have since been demolished). He grew up singing in church and that’s how he met Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield. He sang with the former in a group called The Teenage Kings of Harmony, and later the Holy Wonders. He later moved to LA and joined The Pilgrim Travellers, but he had to leave when he enlisted in the Army in 1955, but he rejoined them. In 1958, he got into a severe car crash, where he was pronounced dead before reaching the hospital, was in a coma for 5 and a half days, and miraculously pulled through and survived. It took over a year for him to recuperate and get his memory back. By 1959, he was back performing and he marked this new beginning by performing at the Hollywood Bowl with Dick Clark as MC. His most successful years were in the late 60s and early 70s with hits like “Love is a Hurtin’ Thing”, “Dead End Street”, “Your Good Thing (Is About To End)”, and “A Natural Man”. Millennial readers may have heard his voice in cartoons like Hey Arnold, Captain Planet, and The Proud Family. He died of lung cancer in 2006.
Magic Sam: Blues guitarist. He was born in Mississippi in 1932 and moved to Chicago when he was 19. He got his stage name from his friend who came up with a variation on his last name, Maghett, and because he couldn’t use his original stage name Good Rocking Sam, since someone else was using it. He recorded with musicians like Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, and Homesick James Williamson. He got drafted into the Army and had to leave music temporarily, but he came back in the 60s and got some success with his 1963 hit “Feelin’ Good (We’re Gonna Boogie)”. He toured Europe and famously played the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969. His career was cut short in 1969 when he died of a heart attack. He was only 32. The Butterfield Blues Band played a benefit concert for him at the Fillmore West in 1970.
Major Lance: R&B singer who had a big following in the UK thanks to the Northern Soul scene playing songs like “You Don’t Want Me No More”, “It’s The Beat”, and “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um” (a #5 hit in the US). Major Lance was indeed his real name and not a stage name and he was born in Mississippi, but his birth year is unknown, but is thought to be 1939. He was born into a big family of 12 children and raised in Chicago, going to the same school and living in the same area as Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler, and was even friends with Curtis Mayfield. He looked up to Jackie Wilson and loved playing basketball and baseball. In 1959, he released his first single, the Curtis Mayfield penned and produced “I Got a Girl”. It went nowhere and he had to work a day job for a few years before he got famous. He got signed to Okeh Records in 1962 and along with Curtis Mayfield, Carl Davis, and Johnny Pate they created a new Chicago soul sound. In the 60s, he toured the UK, backed by Bluesology, which had a young Elton John on piano. He came back to England in the 70s to capitalise on the revival in popularity of his music in the Northern Soul scene. He was considered one of the best live acts in Northern Soul. He moved to Atlanta in 1974. His daughter, Keisha Lance Bottoms, is the mayor of Atlanta. He died in 1994.
The Mauds: Garage rock band formed in 1964. Like The Buckinghams, they were inspired by the popularity of all things British to have a British inspired names, with their name being a play on the 60s Mod subculture. Music scenes being tight knit, The Shadows of Knight’s Jimy Sohns discovered them and became an early fan and supporter, helping them get gigs and signed to a label. The Mauds’ debut was a cover of Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming” and it reached the top 20 on the local charts. They even had a following in Japan with “Knock On Wood” topping the charts there. What made the band special and instrumental to the Chicago rock and roll sound was Jimy Rogers’ love of soul music and incorporation of those influences in his singing. Famous fans of his singing include Jim Peterik of the Ides of March, Al Kooper, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd.
Minnie Riperton: Singer known for her work in Rotary Connection and her solo work. She got a #1 in 1975 with “Lovin’ You”, the melody of which was based on a melody she’d sing to daughter Maya. Besides that, early on in her career, she sang backup on records by Etta James, Fontella Bass, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Muddy Waters. Sadly, she was gone too soon, dying at the age of 31 of breast cancer. Even while she was battling cancer, she kept recording and disclosed her diagnosis, making her one of the first celebrities to be open about their battle with breast cancer. She was born and raised in Chicago, the youngest of 8 children. Everyone in her family was artistic and loved dancing and music. From an early age she was in voice lessons and proved to have an excellent range. While she was trained in classical and opera, she had more of an interest in soul, R&B, and rock and roll. She started singing professionally at 15 when she joined a girl group called The Gems. They weren’t commercially successful, but it was good practice for her with her singing backing vocals as part of the group on the Fontella Bass hit “Rescue Me”. In 1966, she joined Rotary Connection, a rock group Marshall Chess (son of Leonard Chess) put together and they stayed together until the early 70s. The group’s debut album reached the top 40 of the albums charts and they were a backing band on Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud and Howlin’ Wolf’s The Howlin’ Wolf Album. Their music has a bit of a raga rock sound at times, so if you like sitars, you might like some of their songs. She married songwriter and producer Richard Rudolph in 1970.
Muddy Waters: Father of the Modern Chicago Blues. He was born in Mississippi most likely in 1913. His grandmother raised him after his mother died right after he was born. His childhood nickname was Muddy because he loved to play in the muddy water of the creek. His first exposure to music was in church and in his teen years he played harmonica. Finally, at the age of 17 he sold a horse so he could buy his first guitar. Before moving to Chicago, he toured the south with Big Joe Williams. In 1941 and 1942 Alan Lomax recorded him playing guitar and singing. These recordings were later rereleased as Down on Stovall’s Plantation or The Complete Plantation Recordings. In 1943, he moved to Chicago and worked a day job at first and lived with a relative. He opened for Big Bill Broonzy in his early years in Chicago and it was one of his first times playing in front of a large audience and that experience made him purchase an electric guitar so he could be heard. What Willie Dixon loved about Muddy Waters is that he stood out from other Chicago blues singers because of his more optimistic approach to the blues and with it being post-WWII, it was time for some music to celebrate and to cheer people up. Things weren’t perfect, and music was an escape for black Americans and Americans of any marginalised group. In the 50s, Muddy Waters’ career took off with multiple hits, which would later be covered by or inspire British classic rockers like “Rollin’ Stone”, “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”, and “I Just Want to Make Love to You”. When he went to the UK for the first time in 1958, the audiences were mindblown because his music was so different from the acoustic folk blues they knew, like Big Bill Broonzy, because of his electric slide guitar playing. There was a generational divide in reception – older blues fans didn’t understand, but younger blues fans loved him. Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies (basically the fathers of British blues) especially loved Muddy Waters. Like many R&B musicians, his career had a bit of a lull because of a little thing called the British Invasion, but those British Invasion stars loved American R&B more than their American counterparts and that resulted in a revival of interest later on and Chess Records tried to get Muddy Waters to go electric and psychedelic, which was controversial (you could maybe think of it like when Dylan went electric: old guard were like what’s this? and younger people were like wow, this is amazing). In 1972, he recorded an album in London (just like Howlin’ Wolf did previously) with younger rock musicians like Rory Gallagher, Rick Grech, Georgie Fame, Steve Winwood, and Mitch Mitchell. He was good friends with Eric Clapton and his last performance was with his band in 1982. He died in 1983 of heart failure. He was 70.
Nat King Cole: Singer and jazz piano player. He was born in Montgomery, Alabama and raised in Chicago. His mother played organ in church and his father was a Baptist minister. His mother taught him piano and he took lessons in jazz, gospel, and classical music. As a kid he played in the Bud Biliken Club band for The Chicago Defender (a black newspaper in Chicago). As a kid, he snuck out to clubs to hear jazz music. At just 15, he dropped out of school to pursue music. Throughout the 40s, he was busy recording and playing shows. He recorded with musicians like Illinois Jacquet (who played the first R&B saxophone solo on the song “Flying Home”) and Lester Young (who worked with Count Basie and invented/popularised a lot of hipster slang). Starting in the late 40s, his music featured a string orchestra. In 1953, he famously played the Cavalcade of Jazz concert at Wrigley Field and in 1956, he broke barriers by being one of the first Black Americans to host a variety show, The Nat King Cole Show. Because he didn’t get sponsors (likely racism), his show was cancelled after a year. Still, the 50s were a successful decade for him with millions of records sold and him playing to audiences in Cuba. There were some controversies regarding race relations though. He still played to segregated audiences and that got him a lot of criticism from black activists and journalists. He died of lung cancer at the age of 45.
New Colony Six: Soft/garage rock band of the late 60s and early 70s. Their biggest hits were “I Will Always Think About You” and “Things I’d Like to Say”, but they had other local hits. Like their name suggests, they wore colonial looking outfits as their stagewear, like Paul Revere and the Raiders. In total, they made the national charts 14 times and to this day they still play shows.
Otis Clay: Gospel and blues singer born in Mississippi and raised in Indiana and Chicago. He sang gospel until the 60s, when he made the transition to secular music. He got a few minor R&B chart hits in the late 60s with “That’s How It Is (When You’re In Love)”, “A Lasting Love”, and “She’s About A Mover”. Besides touring the US, he toured Europe and Japan. He lived in the West Side of Chicago and got involved local initiatives like developing The Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville, on the South Side of Chicago.
Otis Rush: Left handed blues guitarist and singer-songwriter who influenced guitarists like Michael Bloomfield, Peter Green, and Eric Clapton. He was born in Mississippi and moved to Chicago as a teenager and was inspired by Muddy Waters. Before signing to Chess in the 60s, he recorded for a small label called Cobra, which went bankrupt. His biggest hits in the 50s were “Double Trouble” and “All Your Love (I Miss Your Loving)”. In the late 60s, he recorded songs with a sound that combined soul and rock music.
Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Blues rock band formed by its namesake, harmonica player and singer Paul Butterfield and guitarist Mike Bloomfield, another Chicago native. Paul Butterfield himself grew up in a well off family in Hyde Park. He was supposed to go to Brown University on a track scholarship, but because of a knee injury and his passion for the blues, he pursued music instead and befriended fellow Chicago musician Nick Gravenites, who would go with him to blues clubs to see blues greats perform. Record producer Paul Rothchild was impressed with this blues group and encouraged Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield to join forces and so they got signed to Elektra Records. The band then started recording, but early recordings didn’t impress Rothchild, but he still believed in them and got them to play the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Bob Dylan heard them and loved them and played a set with them, in fact his first electric set ever (infamous too because of that Electric Dylan controversy). That same year, after a few attempts, they released their self titled debut. Their next album, released in 1966, East-West incorporated some raga and jazz fusion elements. The same year Paul Butterfield recorded with John Mayall. Even though the group were successful, Mike Bloomfield left to form the Electric Flag. Over time, original members moved onto other projects. The Butterfield Blues Band played Woodstock, going on after CSNY and before Sha Na Na, on the last day of the festival. The band broke up in 1971 and Paul Butterfield performed with Better Days and then released solo albums. He died in 1987 at the age of 44.
Ray Manzarek: Since his music career was based in LA, I will keep this bio short. Keyboard player of The Doors. He was born on the South Side of Chicago. He studied Economics at DePaul before moving to LA and studying cinematography at UCLA, where he met future bandmate and film student Jim Morrison. He also met his wife, Dorothy Fujikawa at UCLA. She was studying art. They remained married until his death in 2013. She was always supportive of Ray and The Doors, even working before the band got famous.
Rufus/Chaka Khan: Rufus were a funk band who launched the career of lead singer Chaka Khan, who went solo in 1978. They were one of the best known funk bands. Rufus were made up of members of 60s band The American Breed and with a new decade and new band management came a new name, Ask Rufus – from an advice column in Mechanics Illustrated, which was later shortened to simply, Rufus. The band needed a singer and their original singers Paulette McWilliams and James Stella left, but McWilliams knew the perfect singer, Chaka Khan, who was previously singing with a local band on the South Side. Ike Turner noticing them was a big boost for the band. In fact, he wanted Chaka Khan to be an Ikette, but she turned it down. The band recorded their debut in 1973 and in 1974, they got big hits with “Tell Me Something Good” (which won them a Grammy in 1974 for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group or Duo) and “You Got The Love”. In 1975, they got their biggest hit with “Sweet Thing”.
Queen of Funk Chaka Khan was born Yvette Stevens in 1953 in Chicago. Her family were bohemian, artistic types and they lived in Hyde Park, a nice neighbourhood on the South Side, but was surrounded by some rough neighbourhoods. Her family attended civil rights rallies and she was friends with Fred Hampton, a revolutionary socialist activist, and was a Black Panther. At 13, she got her name, Chaka, from a Yoruba Baba, essentially a spiritual title that means father of the mysteries. She left the Black Panthers and dropped out of school to be a musician. Her last name Khan, came from her husband, Hassan Khan. In 1978, she got a big disco/crossover hit with “I’m Every Woman”. She reunited with Rufus in 1979 for the Masterjam album, which had the hit “Do You Love What You Feel”. In 1980, she had a cameo in The Blues Brothers, as a church choir soloist. She continued performing as a solo artist in the 80s and 90s. In recent years, she collaborated with Ariana Grande and choreographer Todrick Hall. She is a vegan. Prince inspired her to go vegan.
Sam Cooke: Soul and R&B legend. He was born in Mississippi in 1931 and raised in Chicago, since the age of 2. His father was a minister, who was supportive of him making his secular pop crossover in the late 50s. Before he was famous, he sang doo-wop and sang with his siblings. As a teenager, he was friends with Lou Rawls, who was in a rival gospel group. Before going solo, from 1950-1956, he was in a gospel group called The Soul Stirrers. Young women loved the group and especially Sam Cooke. He went solo in 1957 and in 7 years he made the top 40 charts 30 times! You might know his hits like “You Send Me”, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, and “Cupid”. To signify a fresh start for him, he added an e to the end of his name going from Sam Cook to Sam Cooke. He also was one of the first black musicians to get into the business side of music too, with him starting his own record label in 1961. He also wrote most of his hits. However, Allen Klein screwed him over with a bad deal he signed in 1963, which gave him the rights to his recordings. At the age of 33, he was shot and killed by a motel manager in LA. The manager claimed it was in self-defence, but Sam Cooke’s family say that wasn’t the case and they believe there was a plan to murder Sam Cooke. “Shake” and the civil rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come” were two posthumous hits for him.
Shadows of Knight: Garage/blues rock band formed in the suburbs of Chicago in 1964. Their biggest influence was British rock and roll heavily inspired by American R&B, with them describing themselves as the reverse, or rather a response to the Rolling Stones, Animals, and Yardbirds took the Chicago blues and giving it an English interpretation: taking British blues and bringing it back to Chicago. They originally called themselves The Shadows, but there was already, funny enough, a British band of that name (you’ll know “Apache”), so they added the “of Knight”, which came from their secondary school’s mascot, the Prospect High School Knights. They got their start playing shows in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Opening for The Byrds when they played in Chicago in 1965 was their big break and they got a record deal from that. At that show, they played a cover of Them’s (Van Morrison’s band) “Gloria”. Their cover of “Gloria” was one of their biggest hits, reaching the top 10 and doing better than the original on the American charts. They didn’t have another hit that big, but their version of Bo Diddley’s “Oh Yeah” just about made the top 40. Shortly after “Gloria”, the band broke up. Also didn’t help that one member got called to be drafted and ended up running away to Canada. I’ll leave you with one song recommendation, very underrated “Shake”, from 1969. Very energetic danceable garage rock, perfect for a party! Shows how they brought the British Invasion back to Chicago.
Spanky and Our Gang: Female fronted sunshine pop band led by Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane. Their name comes from Hal Roach’s Our Gang movies and the fact that George McFarland played Spanky in those films. The Little Rascals might be more familiar to you and that was based on Our Gang. The band released only two studio albums and broke up after that after their guitarist Malcolm Hale died at the age of 27. The band got multiple hits with “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”, “Lazy Day”, and “Like to Get to Know You”. They were known for their vocal harmonies. In 1968, they released a political song about racial equality called “Give a Damn”. Because of the title, it was banned on a bunch of radio stations.
The Staple Singers: A soul and R&B family band. Patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples sang with his kids: Cleotha, Mavis, Pervis, and Yvonne. The family were originally from Mississippi and moved to Chicago after oldest daughter Cleotha was born. The rest of the siblings were born in Chicago. The father worked blue collar jobs while the kids were growing up. As children, they sang in various churches in Chicago and in 1952, they got their first record deal, singing gospel-folk music. Bob Dylan famously said that he loved their version of “Uncloudy Day”, released in 1956. He called it the most mysterious thing he’d ever heard. When they later signed to Epic Records, they made their secular crossover. They even touched on social justice in their music with “Freedom Highway” being about civil rights. They then signed to Stax, but the label shut down in 1975. Still, the early 70s was their peak in popularity with hits like “Respect Yourself”, “I’ll Take You There”, and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)”. After that, they signed to Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label and released a big hit “Let’s Do It Again” and performed with The Band on The Last Waltz, contributing vocals to “The Weight”, a song they covered earlier. Mavis Staples is the only surviving member at the time of writing this post.
Styx: Prog/hard rock band formed in 1972. As children growing up in the 60s, twins Chuck and John Panozzo played music with their neighbour Dennis DeYoung. As time went by, the band’s lineup changed with other members coming in and leaving and they continued playing together. While in university, they met John Curulewski and James Young. The group wanted a new name when they got signed to a label in 1972 and a bunch of names were suggested, but they picked Styx because it was the only name they didn’t hate. In the first few years, they only had a local following, but that all changed when “Lady” became a hit on local radio station WLS before being picked up by other stations nationwide. It reached the top 10. In the mid-70s, they switched labels and John Curulewski left the band. Southerner Tommy Shaw became his replacement. They got another top 10 hit in 1977 with “Come Sail Away”. By the late 70s, they moved in a more mainstream direction and got even more popular with hits like “Renegade”, “Babe”, “The Best of Times”, and “Too Much Time On My Hands”. In 1983, they released the concept album, Kilroy Was Here, which has a sci-fi plot where rock and roll is illegal, sort of like Rush’s “2112”. It went platinum and “Mr Roboto” reached #3 and “Don’t Let It End” reached #6. When Styx toured the album, they put together a theatrical type show for it with costumes. The band broke up in 1984 and reunited in the 90s and toured in the 2010s.
Survivor: Hard rock band formed in 1978 by Jim Peterik (of the Ides of March) and Frankie Sullivan. They joined forces with the bassist and drummer of Chase, a jazz-rock band that Jim Peterik worked with previously. The band’s name, Survivor came from him narrowly escaping death when he didn’t make an appearance at a Chase concert that was supposed to happen in Minnesota. Chase didn’t end up playing the show because Bill Chase and his band were on a plane that crashed. He and most of the band were killed. The band’s biggest success was the 1982 hit “Eye of the Tiger”, famously used as the theme of Rocky III. Sylvester Stallone wanted a song like “Another One Bites The Dust” and so he asked Survivor to come up with something and that was the result. They won a Grammy for that song. While that’s their best known song, they weren’t a one hit wonder. “American Heartbeat” was a top 20 hit, “The Moment of Truth” was the the theme song of The Karate Kid, and they got multiple hits throughout the 80s.
Tyrone Davis: Blues, soul, and R&B singer. he was born in Mississippi, but moved to Michigan with his father before moving to Chicago in 1959. Before he recorded music, he worked as a chauffeur for Freddie King and sang in local clubs. One day, Harold Burrage heard him and liked what he heard. Local producer Carl Davis signed him to his label Dakar Records, and suggested he change his last name to be more marketable, so Tyrone picked Carl’s last name. In 1968, he released his debut single “Can I Change My Mind”, which was originally the b-side for “A Woman Needs to Be Loved”, but it got more attention than the a-side. It did well on both the pop and R&B charts, reaching #5 and #1, respectively. From 1968 to 1975, he released 25 singles for Dakar and they were mostly successful on the R&B charts. Success continued for him in the late 70s and MTV called him the King of Romantic Chicago Soul. He died in 2005 at the age of 66.
Walter Jackson: Soul singer born in Florida and raised in Detroit. He got polio as a kid and had to use crutches for the rest of his life. He auditioned for Motown, but didn’t get in. In 1962, Carl Davis noticed him and liked what he heard and convinced him to come to Chicago. He sang songs written by Curtis Mayfield and Van McCoy. His best known songs are “It’s All Over”, “Suddenly I’m All Alone”, “It’s An Uphill Climb to the Bottom”, and “Speak Her Name”. He died in 1983 at the age of 45 of a cerebral haemorrhage.
Willie Dixon: Blues musician and songwriter and one of the most influential in all of Chicago Blues. You know Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”? Well that was originally his song – “You Need Love”, first recorded by Muddy Waters in 1962. He was born into a large family in Mississippi: 14 children! Early on, he heard a lot of rhymes for his mother and he started to rhyme a lot too and it led to him becoming a songwriting legend. As a child he got into blues music and singing in church; he looked up to jazz/boogie-woogie pianist Little Brother Montgomery. He was very big and tall at 6’6″ and over 250 pounds. He moved to Chicago in 1936. When he first got there, he got into boxing, but left after disputes over money and one day at a boxing gym he met a musician named Leonard Caston who encouraged him to consider a career in making music. From there, he learnt to play guitar and double bass. He didn’t want to serve in the Army because he didn’t want to fight for a country that still has racist laws on the books and institutionalised racism. Because of that, he was imprisoned for 10 months. He played with some groups before being signed to Chess Records, but most of his work with Chess Records was behind the scenes stuff like songwriting, producing, talent scouting, and session musician work. He worked with a lot of the R&B and soul musicians talked about in this blog post and in the previous one in this two part series. He was an incredibly prolific songwriter with over 500 compositions and chances are you know a bunch of them.
Young-Holt Unlimited: A soul and jazz instrumental ensemble made up of Eldee Young and Isaac Holt, formerly of the Ramsey Lewis Trio. Ramsey Lewis is a prolific jazz composer and pianist from Chicago, considered one of the most successful jazz pianists because he has mainstream appeal. He still records and is active in the jazz scene, hosting TV and radio programmes to this day! The trio eventually joined up with Chess Records. The Ramsey Lewis Trio were active from 1956 to 1965, when after their version of “The In Crowd” made the charts, Young and Holt decided to split from Lewis and do their own thing. Young-Holt Unlimited are best known for their iconic instrumental “Soulful Strut”, the instrumental of Barbara Acklin’s “Am I The Same Girl”. Sadly, they never replicated that success and they broke up in the 70s and continued to play in small Chicago bands.
Below is a playlist I made that is a companion to this blog:
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