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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….


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!


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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