Tag Archives: Mercury Records

Waxing Poetic at Dorchester Projects.

Above, a bit of video from my Artistic Residency last year with Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Projects, in which I wax poetic about Chicago’s own Mercury Records, Jerry Butler, and the Impressions.

I love sharing the stories behind the music I love with the general public; and was reminded of that as I embark on Hosting and Producing “Reclaimed Soul” (a weekly radio show on Vocalo.org) which premieres tomorrow night at 8pm CST. The show, of course, will feature stories as well as music. For more about Reclaimed Soul, click here.

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Spanky & Our Gang, Harmony in the Breezy City

Chicago has a vast musical heritage.  It is known for electrifying Delta Blues, known for creating House Music, renowned for its particular brands of Chicago Soul and Gospel, and also known as contributing its own twang to 60’s garage proto-punk, jazz, and just about every other genre out there.  Why not loungy folk-pop goodness?

Spanky and Our Gang formed in Chicago in 1966 when Elaine McFarlane was working as a singing waitress at a local club called Mother Blues.  Club owner Curly Tait offered her a chance to form a group to open for his featured acts. She quickly recruited Nigel Pickering and Oz Bach.

With McFarlane playing washboard and kazoo, Pickering on guitar and Bach on bass, the trio jokingly began calling themselves Spanky and Our Gang, playing on their singer’s nickname. Eventually guitarist Malcolm Hale was added to the roster.  A club favorite, the group caught the ear of Chicago’s Mercury Records, and their first single, “Sunday Will Never Be The Same” was a Top 10 Pop hit.  Four more successful singles followed.  The Windy City begat something breezier.

Above, a 1967 live vocal performance by the group of “Sunday”. Even with a bit of a cough, Ellen’s voice was in great form. Below, their groovy cut, “Suzanne”. I love the rhythm changes in this.

Sadly, the group hit an insurmountable loss when on October 31st, 1968, forty years ago (almost to the day), 37 year old Malcolm Hale died suddenly of pneumonia (the cause of death is sometimes listed as Carbon Monoxide poisoning).  The group broke up shortly after, but they left us with some Breezy City goodness.