Monday, June 16, 2014

What Is "The Chicago Sound" ... Or Is There Such A Thing?

I recently received this email from FH Reader Shelley Sweet-Tufano ... and it got me to thinking ... is there really such a thing as "The Chicago Sound"???  

I posted on ChicagosownBuckinghams Facebook page, but people are shy there.  I am hoping your web page has bolder people.  I bought 'FlashBack', the cd you displayed on your site today.  As soon as it started, I said, "There it is! The Chicago Sound!"  Then I asked myself what I meant by that.  I am now looking for plain words and descriptions from others of what they think / feel the Chicago Sound is.  I can look up definitions, and techni-speak, but I want personal input; which may also include technical jargon.  Helping out the 'ole school marm' here please. 
Shelley J Sweet-Tufano  

Honestly, the more I thought about it, the more I felt unsure of just how I would answer this question ... especially at a level that would be acceptable for a school teacher to take to her students.  

Taken strictly in the context of her email, she was referring to The Buckinghams and the '60's ... but, as a school teacher, I'm sure she's looking for a broader scope and definition. 

"The Chicago Sound" ... 

We throw the phrase around quite a bit ... but what does it really mean?  (Chicago is the blues ... Chess Records ... Chi-Town Soul ... the whole "horn-rock" thing ... but it's also much more than that.) 

What defined us as a city and a sound that was uniquely ours? 

Food for thought? 

We put this out to a wide array of readers asking what THEY thought best defined "The Chicago Sound".  Over the next few days, we'll share some of the responses we received. 

And, we would love to hear from you, too ... and share your opinions with our readers.  

Is there really such a thing as "The Chicago Sound"?  I mean Detroit had The Motown Sound ... which became known as the Sound of Motor City ... but that was a very specific sound generated by a very specific label ... and most of those recordings featured music performed by the same block of studio musicians and written by the same staff of songwriters and arrangers ... so there was a "common thread" that linked all of this great music together.  But let's face it ... Detroit ALSO gave us Bob Seger and Ted Nugent ... and they don't sound anything at ALL like "The Motown Sound"!!! 

Certainly the music of California ran deeper than just surf tunes ... much as New York City provided us with more than street-corner doo-wop and songs cranked out by The Brill Building.  I don't know that you can accurately categorize ANY city as having a particular sound.  (OK, maybe Honolulu ... but somebody could probably prove me wrong there, too!!!) 

Then again, Nashville certainly had a sound ... if you were cutting a country record back in the '50's or '60's, odds are you went to Music City, USA to do so.

Ditto for Memphis and Muscle Shoals ... there was a certain sound created in those studios ... largely attributed to the incredible musicians on staff at these particular studios.  As such, artists as diverse as Elvis Presley and Dusty Springfield recorded there, trying to capture that unique "sound" of Memphis and/or Muscle Shoals.

By the same token, The Wrecking Crew played literally THOUSANDS of sessions in LA back then ... but they were such incredible, well-rounded musicians that in the course of 48 hours they could lay down tracks for Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, The Monkees and still slip in three or four television themes to boot!  There was no one single "unique", identifying sound that tied any of this music together ... they just played on EVERYTHING!

And what about Philadelphia?  Certainly Philly had its own sound ... they even NAMED it "The Sound of Philadelphia" ... and if a new release came out of this city, you pretty much knew in advance what that latest hit record was going to feel and sound like ... there was an expectation and a particular groove attached to it.  In Philly, they wore the badge of THEIR sound right on the record label!

But did we have a "sound" here in The Windy City? 

Consider this ... even our local heroes ... The Buckinghams, The New Colony Six, The Mauds and assorted others ... made it a point to record some of their tracks at the Chess Studios on Michigan Avenue.  Heck, even The Rolling Stones wanted to record there when they first flew over from London!!!  So maybe THAT was the "uniting" force that best defined "The Chicago Sound"!!! 

Then again The Guess Who came down from Canada to record at Chicago's RCA Studios ... not so much because they were trying to capture a specific sound or groove ... the studios here were just better than they were back home.  That's not to say that they didn't pick up a certain ambiance from the city ... but I don't think it influenced their sound in any way ... The Guess Who's sound WAS The Guess Who's sound.

Look at an artist like Creedence Clearwater Revival ... they were able to capture the entire essence of "Louisiana Swamp" / Bayou Music ... in the Fantasy Studios in San Francisco!  (And John Fogerty will be the first to tell you that the single greatest influence on his style were the great Sun Records that came out of Memphis, Tennessee!)
Tomorrow we take a more in-depth look at the Sound of Our City ... kicking off with a piece written especially for Forgotten Hits by Carl Giammarese of The Buckinghams!!!
Stay tuned!