Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Chicago Sound - Wrappin' It Up

FH Reader Shelley Sweet-Tufano wanted to know how one would define "The Chicago Sound" so that she could better explain it to her students ... maybe even play them some examples to better illustrate the point.   

During the course of this little series, I think we've seen that it's almost impossible to categorize "The Chicago Sound" as any one thing. As Carl Giammarese of The Buckinghams pointed out when this discussion first started, ALL of their musical influences came together in creating The Buckinghams' sound.  That's why you had "I'll Go Crazy" by James Brown, "I Call Your Name" by The Beatles and their very own, distinctive-sounding "Kind Of A Drag" playing side-by-side on their first USA album ... right alongside "Summertime" from "Porgy and Bess"!!!  Anything ... and EVERYTHING worked ... once they put their own spin on it. 

But there wasn't any one sound that categorized Chicago ... The British Invasion groups that influenced SO many of our local heroes were themselves just recycling American music, applying their own unique interpretations along the way.  If you really stop and think about it, it's kind of funny in a way ... at that time, everybody was influencing everybody else ... yet all these artists were searching for their own special "niche" to stand out from the rest of the crowd.  That's why you had The Searchers doing an old Drifters R&B song ("Sweets For My Sweet") while Chicago's Cryan' Shames were picking up on a Searchers song ("Sugar And Spice") to launch their own chart career ... collectively, all these artists did their best to keep the circle going ... and each new discovery opened up another genre of music we hadn't yet been exposed to for quite a few of us ... which is how we learned to love it all.

Groups like The Rolling Stones, Them and the original Moody Blues were first influenced by the Chess sound coming out of Chicago ... but then The Rolling Stones begat The Shadows Of Knight and everything just continued to blossom ... and soon the "garage band" sound (the precursor to punk) was the latest rage.

The New Colony Six first formed as The Patsmen to compete in their high school talent show ... by singing a Beatles song!  But by the time they were cutting their own records you had everything from the garage band / early punk sound of "I Confess" ... to Bo Diddley's "Cadillac" ... to pure pop like "Love You So Much" and "You're Gonna Be Mine" ... to top-notch classic soft-rock ballads like "I Will Always Think About You" and "Things I'd Like To Say". 

The horn sound DEFINITELY became part of the "Chicago Sound" ... but this, too, first evolved out of the blues, soul and R&B that was so predominant in our area in the early '60's.  The Buckinghams laid the foundation and then Chicago took it all to the next level, capitalizing and improving on those sounds first created here by The Bucks.  The common link here was James William Guercio ... who produced both bands ... but, as Carl Giammarese so accurately pointed out, The Buckinghams were already recording that sound BEFORE they hooked up with Guercio ... and Chicago (as The Big Thing and CTA) had been perfecting it for YEARS in the clubs all around the area, before taking off for LA to try to make it there.  (It just blows me away that The Buckinghams never toured with a horn section back in the day ... ALL of their hits were so horn-heavy ... I can't even imagine going to a Buckinghams concert in 1967 and NOT hearing them sound like the records!!!)

The raucous, soulful sound of The Mauds was supplemented by horns on their biggest national hit "Soul Drippin'" ... and The Ides Of March literally reinvented themselves when they incorporated horns into their act and came up with the #1 Hit "Vehicle".  But while all of this was going on, soulful sounds by the likes of Jerry Butler and The Impressions and The Chi-Lites and The Dells were pleasing THEIR audiences with a completely different sound of the city.   And that doesn't even begin to take into consideration the smokey club sounds of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters!

Whereas Detroit did, in fact, have The Motown Sound, they ALSO had the likes of Bob Seger and Ted Nugent.  Saying that "The California Sound" was strictly surf music ... or that "The New York Sound" was simply the doo-wop groups singing under the street lamp on the corner doesn't even BEGIN to do justice to all the great musical talent that came out of these two cities.  Musicians like The Wrecking Crew and songwriters like those housed in The Brill Building encompassed EVERY musical style ... brilliantly.  There is no feasible way to pigeon-hole these artists.  Memphis had its own brand of soul ... but so did Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  Nashville was the Country Music Capitol of the World.  There are SO many factors that enter into an answer like this that pretty soon you find that there is really NO answer at all!  (Are you more confused than when we started???  I am!) 

Shelley, the best we can suggest is that you play examples from ALL of these different types and styles of music and influences and show your students that "diversity" just may be the greatest musical contribution of all!