Saturday, October 17, 2015

Cornerstones Of Chicago Rock - Taking A Look From Another Perspective

From what we've heard by all accounts, last night's taping of The Cornerstones of Rock was nothing short of incredible.  All of our local heroes came home to perform together again, everybody was in top form and the audience loved it ... and, best of all the entire proceedings were taped for all posterity.  (There have even been some rumblings that, depending on how well this program is received when it finally airs in a month or two, they may just take this act on the road so that other fans across the midwest can enjoy it too!) 

While one might think that coming on the heels of The Benefit Concert For Marty Grebb, organized by Dennis Tufano, former lead singer of The Buckinghams and staged at The Arcada Theatre back in May of this year, this incredible reunion of all our local greats might have lost some of its impact.  After all, many of us had just seen most of these same artists perform their biggest hits a few months before.  But this obviously wasn't the case as the audience rose to its feet again and again as each and every act wowed them with the music we all grew up loving here in The Windy City.   

Some of the biggest drawing cards this time around were the facts that it was all being filmed for broadcast and included some of the great Chicagoland artists overlooked at the earlier event such as The American Breed (who haven't performed together in close to 40 years!) as well as tributes to both Chase and Aliotta, Haynes and Jeremiah. 

As mentioned in our piece yesterday, the inclusion of some non-Chicago artists like The McCoys and The Standells takes away some of the focus from the super-active Windy City Music Scene of the late '60's and early '70's.  And, even at that, other deserving and notable acts like The Mob (featuring Jim Holvay, who wrote four of The Buckinghams' biggest hits ... how the heck did Carl overlook inviting THIS guy?!?!), Spanky and Our Gang, The Flock, Jamestown Massacre and several others who dominated the club scene despite not making the charts were not included in this '60's celebration.  (Sadly one of MY personal favorites ... and one of the most dynamic performers I've ever seen ... Jimy Rogers of The Mauds ... couldn't be there to enjoy his spotlight moment ... as he passed away a few years ago.) 

Chicago is very proud of its rich pop music heritage ... we've executed our "bragging rights" here in Forgotten Hits for YEARS now ... so the concept really isn't all that new.  In fact, thirty years ago Photographer Michael Bush reunited most of these very same acts to appear at a local record convention.  
(Of course, it's been awhile since this happened ... and the comradaree between these participants was at a much higher level back then ... sadly, far too many of these artists have been nurturing long-standing wounds over the past several decades ... so it HAS been nice to see some of these folks bury the hatchet every now and then and make nice with one another again ... even if it is just for a special "one night only" occasion.) 

Last year, The Ides Of March hosted "The Cornerstones Of Chicago Rock" as part of their 50th Anniversary (although truthfully the premise was pretty bogus at best ... but then again, as we've learned recently, for all of his incredible talents, loyalty isn't one of Jim Peterik's strong suits ... even when it comes to artists he's been friends with for forty years or more!)  

Billed as a tribute to the lead singers, Ray Graffia, Jr. of The New Colony Six ... one of the original founders of the band ... and the guy who STILL fronts the band in concert to this day ... was left off the bill in favor of Ronnie Rice, who joined the group midway through their second album.  (Truth be told they BOTH should have been there, a wrong that was finally corrected at the WTTW taping last night.)  Without question it was the music of Ronnie Rice that put the band on the national map ... but these days you've practically got to pry a New Colony Six song out of him in concert ... while Ray has continued to perform the complete hit collection (seventeen in all on the Chicagoland charts) on a regular basis.

Also snubbed last year was Dennis Tufano, the guy who sang every hit The Buckinghams ever had.  Sure, Carl Giammarese has kept the "brand" going for upwards of 35 years now ... and he's done an excellent job of doing so ... but everybody knows that the voice on all those hit records belongs to Dennis.  For The Ides to build a showcase around the premise of saluting the lead singers who set the tone of the Chicago music scene ... and then NOT invite Dennis Tufano, was nothing short of insulting.  

And, as far as new and unique concert concepts go, truth be told, Jim Pilster of The Cryan' Shames has been presenting "Chicago Gold" as part of his Cryan' Shames concerts for at least 10-12 years now, often bringing up guest vocalists like Ronnie Rice, Dennis Tufano, Jimy Sohns and Jimy Rogers while The Shames provided the back-up sounds of the music that helped shape our lives back in the '60's, much as The Ides Of March did last night on The Channel 11 stage.  (Jimmy and I have been talking for at LEAST that long about trying to get a WTTW / Soundstage television special together to pay tribute to all these excellent musicians ... but it never went anywhere.)  In that respect, kudos to Jim Peterik for finally pulling it off.  This is a special that needed to be made.  (It still would have been nice to tape some special interviews ... and edit in some of the original clips from back in the day to show all of these acts when they were in their prime.  Hopefully WTTW has a few tricks and surprises up its sleeve in this regard that will do even further justice to this great heritage of music before it officially airs.)    

That being said, the distribution of songs allowed on the program was a bit distorted.  The biggest news of the day was the fact that all four original members of The American Breed were reuniting on stage for the first time in over 40 years.  So, under the huge national spotlight, they brought up Gary Loizzo, Al Ciner, Chuck Colbert and Lee Graziano and then allowed them to perform exactly ONE song together.  (Now granted, it was their biggest hit, "Bend Me, Shape Me", a #1 Record in Chicago as well as in Record World Magazine ... but shouldn't they have been given a little bit more of the spotlight after waiting this long to return to the stage?  And then, after all of that, they didn't even play their own instruments ... The Ides Of March backed them up instead!!!)  Simply put, this isn't something you're going to see every day ... it would have been nice to give the band a little more time.  The reunion of The American Breed was a major coup ... these guys just haven't done any of these "nostalgic" shows. Lead vocalist Gary Loizzo retired from performing to take a seat behind the console, producing much of Styx's early work ... so to see him embrace this opportunity to once again take center stage was a true delight.  Who knows if it will ever happen again?  I believe they should have been able to enjoy a longer moment in the sun.    

The Ides Of March did a great job of filling the role of the "house band", providing back up for all of the various singers who took the stage that night.  The only other group allowed to perform on their own was the current line-up of The Buckinghams. NOBODY out of Chicago had more national hits than these guys did in the '60's ... FIVE Top Ten Hits!!!  They were voted the #1 Group of 1967 by no less an authority than Cash Box Magazine.  (Keep in mind that 1967 was The Year of The Monkees, The Summer of Love and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" ... so there is NO way to over-emphasize the importance of this honor!!!)   

I will admit that it was really nice to see Carl Giammarese extend the olive branch and invite former lead singer Dennis Tufano up to sing a couple of songs as The Buckinghams' Special Guest at the end of their set ... I have seen few concert attractions more heart-warming than watching Carl, Nick, Dennis and Marty performing together  at The Marty Grebb Benefit Concert a few months back ... it was truly something magical, especially since, by Carl's own admission, he's spent the bulk of the past 35 years trying to make audiences forget Dennis ever even existed!  (My understanding is that inviting Marty to participate in last night's taping was considered as more of an afterthought ... but Marty was already booked for another gig at that point.  It would have been REALLY nice to see HIS performance permanently documented on film, too.)  

It was great, too, to see Aliotta, Haynes and Jeremiah honored with a finale reading of their classic hit "Lake Shore Drive".  Having lost two of their three members recently, it was especially fitting to see them included in this Chicago salute ... and represented by Skip Haynes, the song's writer, and Ted Aliotta, Mitch's brother and one-time member of the band.  Photographer Jack Mongan told me that Skip Haynes said that, other than the original recording, the band had never performed the song live before with the iconic violin part that so dominates the record.  Thanks to the incredible Anne Harris, this, too, has now been captured for all eternity.

Squeezing in songs by The McCoys and The Standells (does anybody other than me even remember tracks like "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White" and The McCoys' version of "Come On Let's Go"???) cut into time that could have been spent on our local heroes.  (Even the group-ensemble finale of "Louie Louie", while certainly fitting in the context of a garage band program, took precious time away from the guys we really wanted to see.) 

In my opinion, one of the greatest oversights of the night had to be allowing The New Colony Six only four songs ... it was THESE GUYS that broke down the door in getting local music played on AM Radio Giants WLS and WCFL back in the mid-'60's.  To only give them four songs (and not acknowledge the fact that, without them, we may never even have had the chance to hear all the great local groups that came along afterwards) is just plain wrong.  At the very least it would have been nice to see them squeeze in a couple more songs.  (In fact, Ronnie Rice told me that one of his biggest thrills last year at The Ides' 50th Anniversary Event was singing "I'm Just Waitin', Anticipatin'" accompanied by The Ides Of March horns ... he says the song never sounded so good.)  Yet fans in the viewing audience weren't treated to this one (which clocks in at all of under two minutes) in order to fit in more time for The McCoys and The Standells, two groups who aren't even from Chicago.  Similarly, it would have been nice to include Ray's 1968 hit "Can't You See Me Cry" as well as "You're Gonna Be Mine", the first song that Ronnie and Ray ever wrote together. 

Don't get me wrong ... sooner or later SOME band would have been the first to breakthrough (also the name of The New Colony Six's first album, by the way) on Chicago radio ... but the fact of the matter is that the ones that DID it were The New Colony Six).  Once they crashed the doors down, The Shadows Of Knight, The Cryan' Shames, The Ides Of March and The Buckinghams were able to walk through that door in 1966 and also stake their claim to local rock and roll sainthood ... but it was The New Colony Six that first opened that door allowing them to do so. 

(Many of these artists have spent a good amount of time attempting to "rewrite history" over the past 45 years.  "Gloria" was NOT the first Chicagoland Hit to breakthrough on the national charts ... and it did NOT go to #1 and sell a million copies.  A landmark recording?  Yes ... absolutely ... Rolling Stone Magazine even named it one of the most important recordings in rock and roll history ... but the guys who hit first were The New Colony Six.)  

Much has been made over the years about the evolution of The Ides Of March ... from the early, garage band sounds of "You Wouldn't Listen" to the sophisticated horns and driving beat of "Vehicle" just four years later ... without question, a remarkable feat.  But what about The New Colony Six?  

They started off as a true garage band in every sense of the word, performing songs like "I Confess", "I Lie Awake", "Dawn Is Breaking", "At The River's Edge" and others, all precursors to a genre we would eventually call punk rock twenty years later.  Then they went into their "pop" period with hits like "Love You So Much", "You're Gonna Be Mine", "I'm Just Waitin', Anticipatin'" and "Treat Her Groovy" before hitting it large with the ballad phase of their career and soft-rock hits like "I Will Always Think About You", "Things I'd Like To Say", "Can't You See Me Cry", "I Want You To Know" and "I Could Never Lie To You".  Then they came back again to wrap things up with the balls-out, up-tempo rocker "Roll On" followed by two of the most beautiful ballads most people never heard, "Long Time To Be Alone" and "Never Be Lonely".  Over the course of their career, these guys explored four or five different genres of music and succeeded at every single one of them!  Certainly ANY one (or two or three) of those songs would have been more fitting to include than "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White" by The Standells!!! 

If The New Colony Six are the band most lacking in respect for their contribution to the evolution of the Chicago sound in the '60's, then The Cryan' Shames have to be the guys most grossly ignored.  Between 1966 and 1969 they churned out some of the best-sounding, precisely executed music to ever come out of The Windy City ... yet despite totally dominating the Chicagoland Charts, they barely made a dent on the national scene.  You couldn't find better harmonies out there ... several other groups of this era have often admitted that they aspired to be "as good as The Cryan' Shames" ... including The Ides Of March and The Buckinghams.  Hits like "Sugar And Spice", "I Wanna Meet You", "Mr. Unreliable", "It Could Be We're In Love", "Up On The Roof", "Young Birds Fly", "Greenburg, Glickstein, CHarles David Smith and Jones" and "First Train To California" as well as key album tracks like "Dennis Dupree From Danville" and "Cobblestone Road" insured that they were always on the radio during this era.  Reuniting original members Jim "Hooke" Pilster, lead vocalist Tom Doody and guitarist / chief songwriter James Fairs was a dream come true for any Cryan' Shames fan who grew up in the '60's. 

Add in The Shadows of Knight and tributes to Chase and Aliotta, Haynes and Jeremiah and this was a pretty killer night of Chicago rock, encompassing all of the "biggies".  But it still could have been better handled.  This show, which is being used to kick off the brand new PBS Series "Cornerstones", should have been ALL about Chicago ... then they could have done an "American Garage Band" special down the line ... and featured FAR more groups to better represent this genre than the two that performed last night ... by all means, expand this into a monthly music series, each time exploring a different area of the music of our generation ... but it is absolutely fitting that the very first program should all kick off right here in Chicago on a show that originated here in Chicago, featuring the guys who originally put our city on the map way back when. 

Stay tuned for broadcast dates ... and as soon as we get news as to how you might be able to purchase the entire, full-length performance on dvd, we'll let you know, as this is something you'll surely want to add to your collection. 

Really happy for Ray and Ronnie.  Wish Jerry, Chic, Craig, Pat and myself could be there, too.  Now THAT would be a cornerstone!  
Do be Colony!  
Wally Kemp
MY hope is that after Ronnie and Ray experienced the electricity of the crowd during this performance, they'll consider putting together a series of shows spotlighting the complete history of the band ... and include many of the original and subsequent members in some fashion, much like what was done at The St. Pats Hall Of Fame induction a couple of years ago or The New Colony Six Reunion Concert in the '80's.  Imagine getting a New Colony TWELVE together (with a horn section and minimal orchestration) and putting on a series of shows that covers their entire catalog.  (And, if things keep moving forward at the rate they are right now, there just may be a brand new New Colony Six Greatest Hits CD to promote in the process!!!  Stay tuned!)  kk  

Gee ... I know a former Chicago DJ  who went into TV ... and could have been a "knowledgeable" host. But, modesty prevents me from naming him!  
Bob Hale  
I'll be the first to admit that Wendy Snyder was an unusual selection to host this thing ... I would have immediately thought of either Bob Sirott or Bob Stroud to handle these honors ... or even just let Ron Onesti run with the whole thing, knowing how much he loves and appreciates this music.  His energy would have kept the whole thing moving at an entertaining pace.  But you, too, Bob, would have made an excellent choice ... as would Clark Weber (who first programmed these tracks on the radio) and Dick Biondi.  At the very least they should have taped brief snippets with everybody to edit into the piece.  (Guys like Art Roberts and Larry Lujack, both of whom are no longer with us, had an impact as well.  It was Lujack who told The New Colony Six that they were promoting the wrong side of their new record and got them to flip it over, making "Things I'd Like To Say" their biggest national hit.  And it was Art Roberts who suggested the "call and response" feature in The Ides Of March's biggest hit "Vehicle".)  SO much more could have been done with this special had they taken the time to do so ... but then it would have had to run for six hours and would likely only draw an audience of a few hundred die-hard fans like ourselves!  (lol)  kk    

Hi Kent:  
I disagree with you a bit on the inclusion of “Sunshine Psalm” in the Cryan’ Shames set. It’s a B side that should have been an A side. It was covered by a few Midwest groups at the time (Sometimes called “I Need Her”), and has gained popularity over the years with Record collectors of Garage Rock, Psych Pop etc. It’s a nice track that should have been re-titled and tried to get a hit out of it.    
The American Breed not doing “Step Out Of Your Mind”?   Whose brain fart was that??    
If The Cryan' Shames were doing a retrospective of their own work, "Sunshine Psalm" (along with several other album cuts and B-Sides) would be expected ... but within the context of a "Chicago's Greatest Hits Of The '60's" concert, NOBODY's going to know what it is ... and not question what it's doing there ... especially when legitimate hits were already being left off the set list.  
My hope is that a program like this renews interest in ALL of the Chicagoland bands of the '60's (most of whom have found it EXTREMELY difficult to find work the past few years due to all the festivals trying to save a few bucks by hiring "copy bands" instead).  Perhaps with some heightened awareness, groups like The Cryan' Shames and The New Colony Six will begin lining up summer gigs again after this "Cornerstones of Rock" television special airs.  (Even The Buckinghams may fine next summer a little leaner now that they've been dropped from The Happy Together Tour.)  
As for The American Breed, I can only surmise that because they haven't stayed in touch with one another or kept up performances over the past forty years, it was somewhat difficult to regroup and present themselves as a band again.  Maybe one song was all they could muster up for the program.  I, too, believe "Step Out Of Your Mind" should have been part of the set list ... "Green Light" and either "Ready, Willing And Able" or perhaps the better-known (thanks to multiple cover versions) "Any Way That You Want Me" would have been nice, too.  
Gary Loizzo has been on the other side of the board for so long now that maybe he doesn't miss performing as much as one might think ... but The American Breed are one of only TWO Chicagoland Bands of the '60's to reach #1 on the national charts.  "Bend Me, Shape Me" topped the Record World Chart and "Kind of a Drag" by The Buckinghams reached the summit in Record World and Billboard.  For the record, despite decades of comments to the contrary (and no matter how deserving it may have been) "Vehicle" officially peaked at #2.  (Honestly, I believe it blows the other two away ... but those are the facts, Jack ... I mean Ken!)  kk

Fact ... Not Fiction:

According to The WLS Charts (and the reference source of Ron Smith's EXCELLENT book, "Chicago Top 40 Charts, 1960 - 1969", documenting these lists), here is the actual sequence these artists first hit the charts here in Chicagoland back in 1966.  (Note that The New Colony Six actually did it first ... with two weeks to spare, in December of '65 ... and still nine weeks before The Shadows Of Knight first appeared with their smash "Gloria".)  It's also interesting to see that most of these records performed better in Record World Magazine than they did in Billboard ... Record World must have placed a heavier emphasis on what was happening here in The Windy City at the time ... usually the #2 or #3 market in radio.  (National Chart Information courtesy of Joel Whitburn's Comparison Chart Book.)

12/17/65 - The New Colony Six - I Confess  (#2 here in Chicago ... and peaked at #64 nationally in Record World Magazine; #80 in Billboard)

2/18/66 - The Shadows Of Knight - Gloria  (#1 here in Chicago ... and peaked at #6 in Record World Magazine; #10 in Billboard)

3/25/66 - The Buckinghams - I'll Go Crazy  (#19 here in Chicago, "bubbled under" nationally)

3/25/66 - The New Colony Six - I Lie Awake  (#19 here in Chicago on WCFL; #20 on WLS; #97 in Record World'; #111 in Billboard)

5/20/66 - The Shadows Of Knight - Oh Yeah  (#13 in Chicago; #39 in Billboard)

5/27/66 - The Ides Of March - You Wouldn't Listen  (#7 in Chicago; #41 in Record World; #42 in Billboard)

6/3/66 - The Buckinghams - I Call Your Name  (#14 in Chicago; "bubbled under" nationally)

7/1/66 - The Cryan' Shames - Sugar And Spice (#4 in Chicago; #39 in Record World; #49 in Billboard))

7/1/66 - The New Colony Six - Cadillac  (#27 in Chicago; "bubbled under" nationally)

8/19/66 - The Buckinghams - I've Been Wrong  (#13 in Chicago; "bubbled under" nationally)

8/26/66 - The Ides Of March - Roller Coaster  (#19 in Chicago; #92 in Billboard)

8/26/66 - The Shadows Of Knight - Bad Little Woman  (#19 in Chicago; #88 in Record World; #91 in Billboard)

10/21/66 - The Cryan' Shames - I Wanna Meet You  (#6 in Chicago; #62 in Record World; ##85 in Billboard))

11/11/66 - The Shadows Of Knight - I'm Gonna Make You Mine  (#25 in Chicago; #90 in Billboard)

11/18/66 - The Buckinghams - Kind Of A Drag  (#2 in Chicago, #1 in Billboard and Record World)

12/16/66 - The New Colony Six - Love You So Much  (#2 in Chicago; #55 in Cash Box and Record World; #61 in Billboard)

The American Breed didn't chart with their first hit until 1967.