Category Archives: Local Chicago Music

Michael Abramson: Pulse of the Night.

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all photos by Michael L. Abramson

What goes on at small clubs is ephemeral by nature: society created and dismantled night after night. A delicate hierarchy composed of drifters, dreamers, and those simply longing to escape. In the mid 1970s, a young white student, Michael Abramson, worked his way into the world of largely black South Side Chicago clubs. He brought his camera along for the ride, capturing images that otherwise would’ve vanished like smoke from a languishing cigarette.

The photos were taken at famous spots, such as Perv’s House (owned by Pervis Staples of the Staple Singers fame), the Patio Lounge, and Pepper’s Hideout. These clubs hosted live music that was a heady mix of blues, funk, and soul by artists like Bobby Rush, Hi-Fi White, Little Mac Simmons, and much more. The current South Side Chicago club scene (in terms of live, homegrown entertainment) is a shell of its former self. That fact makes these photos that much more valuable.

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Currently, dozens of Abramson’s photos from this period are on display through Columbia College’s Museum of Contemporary Photography. According to the Museum, “this work earned Abramson a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978 and launched his successful career as a portraiture photographer and photojournalist. Abramson’s photographs can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the California Museum of Photography.”

These photos of grit and gold lamé, born amidst midnight debauchery, are displayed between reference materials at the Columbia College Library. The juxtaposition is not lost on me. Despite their stoic surroundings, they simply hum with electricity.

LadyFanPervs10776The Michael L. Abramson: Pulse of the Night exhibition is located on the second floor of the Columbia College Chicago Library, 624 S. Michigan Avenue. It is on display until December 19th, 2014.

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Do you Remember how to do the Camel Walk?

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Do the Camel Walk! Last week on Reclaimed Soul, host Ayana Contreras played this rare local Chicago Blues/Soul record by Bobby Rush (not the former Black Panther turned Politician) from about 1968.

In case you were wondering how to do the then-popular dance, here’s a clip of James Brown asking Sammy Davis, Jr. if he “remembers” how to do it. And he does it. And it’s pretty great.

…But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. James Brown at the time was known for integrating the Camel Walk into his stage show. But the dance had its roots way back in the 1920s as a ragtime dance… So, it was retro even in the 1960s. Good things come back around. Or, so they say. Jive on.

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Reclaimed Soul: Blues + Soul in Chicago, The 4 Brothers Story

Chicago is known worldwide for its electrified Delta Blues. Chicago’s also known for its sweet Soul Music. And during the 1960s, those musical traditions combined at Four Brothers, a tiny record label based at a famous West Side Chicago record shop called Barney’s One-Stop. This podcast features  some of the hip, soul-flavored blues from the Four Brothers label. Plus, we hear soulful blues from all corners of the city.

A bit about 4 Brothers:

The label existed from 1965 through 1967. Its sister label was Bright Star.
Willie Barney, Jack Daniels (A&R / Production), Granville White were the principal “brothers”. The fourth “brother” might have been Harold Burrage (or maybe someone with business interests that preferred not to be named dot-dot-dot.)

In the late 1960s, Jack Daniels, along with Johnny Moore (another 4 Brothers/Bright Star associated artist and writer) cut a number of hard hitting soul records. In fact, Jack Daniels co-wrote Tyrone Davis’ blockbuster soul record “Turn Back the Hands of Time”. Tyrone Davis had recorded for 4 Brothers under the name Tyrone the Wonder Boy.

For fresh episodes of Reclaimed Soul, listen in Thursdays at 8pm CST on vocalo.org, or tune in to 89.5fm (NW Indy) and 90.7fm (CHI)


The House That Jive Built.

house that jive builtI collect records. All sorts of records. That includes eighty year old records that I play on my Victrola. Often, I am just as interested in the physical state of the record as I am in the music itself. For instance, the label affixed to this label is interesting. First off, it lets me know this 78rpm was bought during World War II (1942) in the heart of Bronzeville (4712 S. Parkway) at the Groove Record Shop (“The House that Jive Built”). Awesome. Interestingly enough 4712 S. Parkway was (and is) the location of an actual house. To be more precise, it’s the location of a Greystone two-flat.

Pretty cool. Also, Griff Williams played at the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, so there’s a rock solid Chicago connection.

The Groove Record Shop was located directly across the street from the original Regal Theater, a legendary venue that featured movies as well as marquee talent. The theater opened in 1928. Artists from Louis Armstrong to Jackie Wilson performed there. Today, another theater in Chicago bears the name “Regal”. Sadly, the original was demolished in 1970.

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Photo of Regal Theater: “Movie theater, Southside, Chicago, Illinois” (1941, Library of Congress)

The African-American Cultural Center (AACC) at UIC is currently presenting a Chicago Blues Museum exhibit “The Soul of Bronzeville.” See more images of the “Black Metropolis” and learn about how the Regal Theater played a significant role in the neighborhood development.

Now through August 2014
Time: Monday – Friday 10am to 5pm
Saturday and Sunday by appointment only
Where: UIC African-American Cultural Center,
Addams Hall, room 207
830 S. Halsted
Chicago, IL 60607


100 Saxophones for Sun Ra Recap

IMG_2964Below is my audio recap of last week’s 100 Saxophones for Sun Ra. It originally aired on the radio program Reclaimed Soul on Vocalo, 89.5fm and 90.7fm here in Chicago. For more about the event click here.

I’ve also included a slideshow. Jive on!

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100 Saxophones for Sun Ra

100 Saxophones for Sun Ra

Chicago Free Jazz composer and saxophonist David Boykin invites you to participate in 100 Saxophones for Sun Ra. David is currently a Resident Artist at the University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life/Center for the Study of Race Politics and Culture.

David has put out an open call for 100 saxophonists to participate in a musical tribute to Sun Ra in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. 100 saxophonists will convene and perform “Happy Birthday” at 12 noon in Washington Park (on Chicago’s South Side) on Thursday May 22, 2014, his 100th birthday.

According to the open call:

“This is a historic opportunity to share our collective energy in honor of this musician whose musical, political and spiritual philosophy has been impactful and transformative to so many. His legacy continues because of the ways in which his musical innovation has been central to the free jazz movement in Chicago and beyond.

[David] chose this space and place because of its significance to [Sun Ra]. Along with other musicians, artists and activists he gathered in the park to play and to teach. In celebration of this work we invite you to participate in this gathering of saxophonists of all ages.”
RSVPs should be sent by email to info@sonichealingministries.com

Free bus transportation is available for student groups that wish to participate. Please contact Dominique L. Boyd for bus arrangements at dominiquelboyd@uchicago.edu

Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, May 22, 1914 – May 30, 1993) was a prolific jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his “cosmic philosophy,” musical compositions and performances. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a 1979 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

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In Rotation: Ayana Contreras of Vocalo’s Reclaimed Soul on a softly stratospheric Andrew Hill LP

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The music that is currently in rotation (in my head), as excerpted from

Ayana Contreras, DJ and host of Vocalo’s Reclaimed Soul, blogger at darkjive.com

The Natural Four, Natural Four This was released here in Chicago on Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label in 1974. The Natural Four was a group that came here from San Francisco to record because Chicago was a soul-music center. Unfortunately, aside from scoring a Top 40 hit with this album’s classic lead track, “Can This Be Real,” the group was unable to break through. Natural Four brims with loping strings, aggressive horns, and slinky harmonies.

Andrew Hill, Lift Every Voice I collect old Blue Note albums, and I’m often initially attracted to their covers. This 1970 release features Hill’s face superimposed over stars and violet nebulas, and the record itself is softly stratospheric in its energy. Hill leads a crowd of vocalists and an instrumental quintet that includes Richard Davis on bass and Carlos Garnett on tenor sax. With song titles such as “Love Chant,” “Ghetto Lights,” and “Hey Hey,” the record gently envelops you with a sense of perpetual motion—sometimes it feels like you’re swinging in a hammock, and sometimes it’s like you’re running electrically in the streets.

Sunday Williams, “Where Did He Come From Sunday Williams recorded this single in Chicago around 1969 for Bill Meeks’s Alteen label, based on Stony Island Avenue. It did OK locally, mainly thanks to the cheery flip side, “Ain’t Got No Problems” (which features the hook “Know what to do with my man, yeah!”). Really, both songs are stellar. But “Where Did He Come From” has a hauntingly beautiful staccato horn intro, coupled with dreamy vibes and a rock-solid bass line.

Proof positive that I do listen to stuff that’s not from Chicago, sometimes. For the rest of the article, click here.


Reggie Torian of The Impressions gives his impressions of Curtom, Curtis Mayfield, and more.

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In this installment of Reclaimed Soul (sort of the radio version of this blog), check out host Ayana Contreras’ interview with Reggie Torian of The Impressions (that’s him sitting on the bumper of that antique Rolls Royce). He’s been a part of Chicago’s own Impressions (“Keep on Pushin”, “Gypsy Woman”, etc.) for 40 years. And he’s got a lot to say. He talks about the group, Curtom Records, and more. We also hear some of the music he helped to create.

The Impressions counted Curtis Mayfield as both member and principle songwriter during the 1960s and early 1970s before he went solo. Curtom Records was Curtis Mayfield’s Chicago-based record label that was home to the Impressions for nearly a decade. It was also the one-time label of The Five Stairsteps, The Natural Four, Leroy Hutson, The Jones Girls, Linda Clifford, Rasputin’s Stash, Baby Huey and the Babysitters, The Staple Singers, and more.

Catch Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 89.5fm (NWI) and 91.1fm (CHI)


I’m a sucker for colored wax; but this is more than just a pretty face.

 

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I just found this lovely promo record. As you can see, it’s Curtis Mayfield’s “We Got to Have Peace”. It’s from the album Roots that he released back in 1971. The album was released months before Superfly, and it is just as wonderful.

Released on Curtom Records (Curtis’ own label), this promo is pretty rare. Colored vinyl (especially on 45) from this period is quite rare, in fact. Rarer still is a vanity label (unique to the release). Generally speaking, colored vinyl promos were created to make people (DJs particularly) stop and take notice.

And notice I did, 40 some years later.

In the year following the epic 1970 album Curtis, Mayfield was mounting a campaign to fully express himself as a solo artist in ways he couldn’t as a member of the arguably more conservative Impressions.

In his initial solo outings, the songs were markedly longer, basslines were funkier, African percussion became prominent, and horns a bit jauntier. But Mayfield’s commitment to exploring the full spectrum of black experience (something very evident in Impressions records) never wavered. Curtis was particularly keen at expressing voices of Urban Black Men: those who struggled, scratched, loved, dreamed, and believed. His expressions are still relevant today, wrought with eloquent and earthy simplicity. As far as I’m concerned, “Move on Up” is a Black National Anthem.

Witness an artifact.

Jive on.


The All-Brunswick Records Blow Out (Side A and Side B)

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A mix of music featuring all local Chicago Soul from the Brunswick Label. The label was originally from New York; but moved most of its operations to 17th and Michigan on Chicago’s Record Row in the mid 1960s. From there, producer Carl Davis steered an all star cast of local talent, like Barbara Acklin (above).

This podcast features the music, and an interview with some of the creative people behind the music.

 

This podcast, like all good B-Sides, features some of the trippier cuts from the Brunswick Catalogue.