Who The **** was The Siegel-Schwall Band!?!?!?

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Great Question.  This album was loaned to me by my neighbor Ray.  He has the most interesting taste in music.  This was another little gem from his collection.  I also really enjoyed researching this LP.

So who was the Siegel-Schwall Band?  Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall met in college at Roosevelt University.  They had an idea of combining  country music with blues.  Jim Schwall was into country and Corky Siegel was into blues. They became the house band at Pepper’s Lounge on Chicago’s south side.  They became a mecca to great blues musician’s.  There was no telling who would show up and set in with the band from night to night.   (Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Little Walter, Junior Wells, etc…)

The Band was made up of Corky Siegel on Harmonica and piano, Jim Schwall on Guitar, Rollow Radford on Bass (Rollo had played with Martha Reeves and the Vandrells and also Sun Ra) and Sheldon Ira Plotkin on drums and percussion.  They signed their first record deal in 1965 with Vanguard Records and made four albums.  During that time the Paul Butterfield Blues Band started touring the country and left an opening at Big John’s in Old Town.  They were becoming more popular so they launched their first national tour in 1969.  Although they were not as popular as Paul Butterfield or John Mayall they still played some large halls like Fillmore West.  In the early seventies they signed with Wooden Nickle Records. A local Chicago label that was distributed by RCA.

953 West was the third album released on Wooden Nickle.  It was recorded in 1973 in Chicago.  I can’t find what the title meant.  There is a poem on the back of the LP written by Eddie Balchowsky. (Who also did the art work on the LP jacket.)

“Standing in the doorway

of 953 West, –

The afternoon sounds

and the shadows,

The reflections –

and the momentary silences

All press one into

A motionless observer,

No thoughts or feelings

Disturb the Anesthetic

of this reality.”

Next to the word “doorway” is a quote from Lao-Tzu: “He who knows where to stop in naming things has security.

Next to the word “Sounds” is a quote from Engels: “Freedom is the recognition of necessity.”

Next to the word “reflections” is another quote from Lao-Tzu: “The best way to do is to be.”

Next to the word “observer” is a quote from Buddha:  “Be ye lamps unto yourselves.”

Next to the word “anesthetic” is a quote from the poet himself Balchowsky: “It’s the same for everybody.”

The Siegel-Schwall Band has another unique claim to fame.  In 1968 they became the first blues band to play with a major symphony orchestra.  They performed “Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra” by William Russo.  Russo was the genius behind the Stan Kenton Orchestra and was a major figure in Jazz music in America.  Siegel-Schwall also recorded the composition for Deutsche Gramophone.  Both the live performance and the LP were recorded with Seiji Ozawa and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Let’s hear the music and then we will wrap up the story of The Siegel-Schwall Band.  Wooden Nickle records were cute in that instead of “Side 1” and “Side 2”  they had “Heads” and “Tails” soooo….

Heads:

I’d Like To Spend Some Time Alone With You Tonight My Friend

A great opening cut. Real Funky piano by Corky and great slide guitar from Jim Schwall.

Traitor From Decatur

Funky almost Cajun feel Alla Little Feat, Neville Brothers. Great harp from Corky and once again nice guitar work from Jim.  Plokin’s percussion is also a standout on this cut.

Good Woman

Definitely Dixie Land Jazz.  The brass section is referred to on the LP as John Payne on Soprano Sax and Friends of New Orleans:  Philly, Fred & Dave Paquette.  I like the reference to “a pick up Bar on Rush Street”.  That is still the part of Chicago where the party is!

Just Another Song About The Country Sung By A City Boy

I really like this song.  It’s just another great boogie beat R&B song.  I guess I’m a city boy that likes to sing songs about the Country too.   Great Boogie Woogie Piano by Corky.

When I’ve Been Drinkin’

What would a blues record be without at least one good drinkin’ song?  I love this stuff!  The harmonica and the acoustic guitar.  Schwall is laying down that great blues guitar and great vocals while Siegel sing with the mouth harp.  Priceless!

Tails:

Old Time Shimmy

The Title says it all!  Great blues vocal by Radford.  I love the whole band doing the echo chorus.  Another Chicago reference in the lyrics to “Belmont Street”.  The middle section is really kind of wild.

Off To Denver

Nostalgic blues.  Great piano and vocal by Corky Siegel.  It could have been written in any time.  A great example how traditional, folk, blues, country are really branches of the same tree.

I Think It Was The Wine

This is one of my favorite cuts on the LP.  It is really a nice boogie blues song.  Plus it’s about drinking wine!  That can get anybody in trouble!  Especially during the full moon.  Great harmonica solo by Siegel.  What a funny line: “Last night I thought I scored an angel, but I woke up with a Clown.”

Another great drinking song…

Reed Zone (Psychiatric Institution Blues)

The song starts out with a great blues harmonica solo by Siegel.  A slow blues…  Solid back beat laid down by Radford and Plotkin.  “Bring my Whiskey babe, Bring me my sleepin’ pills.  If the angels don’t want me babe… you know the devil will…”  then the harmonica wails it’s lonesome cry.

Blow Out The Candle

“If can’t light it at both ends honey, I’, goin’ to blow out the candle..”  This song features an instrument called a Ratjug.  Not sure what that is.  The all female chorus features Jim Schwall’s wife Cherie Schwall.

So here’s the rest of the story…

The band broke up the next year (1974).  In 1987 they reunited and recorded a new album on Alligator records.  They went on tour and followed that up with a live album in 1988.  In 2005 they recorded another record on Alligator records called Flash Forward. It made the Billboard top 15 Blues record charts!  Siegel later formed a group called Chamber Blues. The unusual band is made up of  a string quartet, tabla, and harmonica/piano.  Corky  Siegel is still living in Chicago and plays a large roll in music education for Chicago public schools.  What a great legacy to leave behind!  So, who was the Siegel-Schwall Band?  Just a very influential band from the south side of Chicago.  One of the trailblazers of melding popular music with traditional symphonic music.  All in all, not a bad legacy and a really enjoyable record to boot!  Thanks Corky and Jim.  Keep blazing the trail.  What do you think?  Let me hear from you.  do you know the meaning of the title 953 West? If you think you have some insight let me know.

Thus ends another tale from the turntable…


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About John

I taught myself how to play the piano and read music when I was 9 years old. I've been been consumed by music ever since. I majored in Piano performance in College and I still play, although not as well as when I had time to practice 4 -6 hours per day. This blog is about music. Music is the sound track of our lives. All it take is one song, one composition; and we are transported across time and space. I think it was Beethoven that said: "Music is the landscape of the soul."
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15 Responses to Who The **** was The Siegel-Schwall Band!?!?!?

  1. Ken West says:

    What a fun record! Good Woman has me wanting to pull out Ry Cooder’s Jazz for a spin. I’m going to have to find a copy of this-I Think It Was the Wine is a great candidate for the Drinking Songs folder in my itunes library (my personal faves are Los Lobos’ I Got Loaded and Albert Collins’ I Ain’t Drunk, but there are so many good ones. Corky reminds me vocally of Leon Russell at times.

    Keep em’ coming-I love discovering stuff like this! It was nice respite from the Battle I’ll Never Win, i.e. the wysteria growing in my backyard 🙂 Hope you and yours are having a great weekend.

  2. John says:

    Ken:

    Thanks for the comments. I really liked this LP too. I’m thinking about tracking down tracking down Corky Siegel and doing a podcast or an interview with him. I’d like to talk to him about the blues band and symphony composition, the merging of concert music and popular music, as well as his work in the Chicago public schools.

    It does have a Ry Cooder feel to it. I hear it too.

    I used to have wysteria in my backyard. After trying many times to hack it down. I finally got some “Root Be Gone” and that finally worked.

    Later Gator!

  3. Bill Haines says:

    Ken, The album’s title comes from the address of the old Quiet Knight nightclub located at 953 West Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Siegel-Schwall had a regular Tuesday night gig there back in 1970-73.

  4. Bill Haines says:

    Sorry, John! I accidentally wrote Ken’s name there in my previous comment.

  5. Karen says:

    Sheldon passes away a couple of decades ago so the band has Sam Lay on drums now. Siegel/Schwall still plays together in various venues around the Chicago area. They are still a group of fine men who know their music and still write more. Recently there was a fire upstairs where the band would play (it was a hair salon/tanning salon). I so miss the days when I could climb those stairs and listen to such wonderful music.

  6. John Kaszynski says:

    “953” was the address of a small club called “The Quiet Knight”. It was located at 953 W. Belmont, in Chicago. It was a feature showcase for local musicians, as well as future big name talents coming into town. For years they had a weekly, standing gig which they played. I saw and heard a lot of great music there, but not many were better than the Siegel-Schwall Band when they held court.

  7. Paul Hefferon says:

    953 West Belmont was the address of the Quiet Knight, a venue on the North Side where they often played.

  8. Tom says:

    953 West Belmont was the address of the Quiet Knight, a club they frequently played.

  9. Phil says:

    953 West was the address of the Quiet Knight where the Siegel Schwall Band played on Tuesday nights. 953 West Belmont.

  10. Don Yoshida says:

    I want to add the Siegel-Schwall Band were also a house band at another north side club called “Mother Blues”, just a few blocks south on Wells Street in Old Town Chicago. By 1967-68 the band had a strong following including Seiji Ozawa who was the conductor at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Ozawa would come in everytime Siegel-Schwall played at Mother Blues. He would sit at the same table with his wife at the first table to the right of the stage. He loved Corky’s harmonica playing and the passion with which he played. You have to put this in perspective. Both Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Siegel-Schwall were essentially ground breaking white blues bands when the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, James Cotton, Little Walter, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy were all playing on both the south side (mostly black clubs) and this north side clubs (mostly white). Siegel-Schwall also played at the Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco in 1967. This was the summer of love, and on the same weekend of the Monterrey Pop festival. The music scene was on fire and the “blues” was at the heart of it. It was striking when I think about it how Siegal-Schwall, and Paul Butterfield could draw huge crowds at larger venues such as in cities like San Francisco and Boston but only smaller crowds in the Chicago clubs., it was quite a contrast when I think about it. I know this because I drove out to San Francisco with their manager in 1967 and saw them play at the Avalon Ballrom. They opened up for Jessie Colin Young and the Youngbloods. Muddy Waters was one of the few who could play to larger audiences in Chicago’s Grant Park, white blues bands were a new item in Chicago back then. I was lucky enough to have seen them all on a regular basis. Corky is an amazing musician and more people need to know his music, his talent rare and passion unending.

  11. Phil says:

    953 West Belmont – The Quiet Knight

  12. Steve Sobaski says:

    John – you have excellent taste in music! This is one of my favorite albums from a great Chicago band (blues or otherwise). The 953 refers to the address of The Quiet Knight, the Chicago club where Siegel-Schwall often held court back in the 70’s. If you wish to read a bit more on this late, great folk, blues club, see this website: http://www.obitoftheday.com/post/23166465419/obit-of-the-day-the-quiet-knight-richard

  13. To the best of my knowledge, 953 West was the address of the Quiet Knight (on Rush Street?) where Siegel-Schwall was more or less the house band.

  14. Sheila Wallenius says:

    Did any original, longtime Chicago fans of Siegel-Schwall ever explain to you what “953 West” stands for?
    If not, here’s the answer:

    It’s part of the address of the “Quiet Knight” at 953 West Belmont in Chicago, which is where Corky and Jim etal. performed and recorded live.

  15. Scott Soloway says:

    953 West refers to 953 West Belmont in Chicago, the then site of the Quiet Knight Music club where the band often played.

    The band lineup you mentioned was not in place until 1969 when Rollo and Shelly replaced Jack Dawson and Russ Chadwick.

    I much prefer their previous LP “Sleepy Hollow”

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