The Siegel-Schwall Band Live!
Last month, I realized yet another blues dream, one that I've nurtured for more than 25 years since I left the Chicago area for the Pacific Northwest, and a full house shared in that dream and welcomed the Siegel-Schwall Band to the Triple Door in their first Seattle show.
[Pictured left to right: Rollo Radford, Seattle bluesman Jef Jaisun, Corky Siegel, Eric Steiner and Sam Lay at the Triple Door, 09-23-04]
If you haven't heard of the Siegel-Schwall Band, a little history lesson is in order. Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall formed the Siegel-Schwall Band in the early 1960's in Chicago, and frequently played hot blues clubs like Pepper's Lounge, the Quiet Knight or larger venues like the Fillmore or the Avalon Ballroom.
During their heyday, they sold out venues large and small as they shared the
stage with national acts like Sly and the Family Stone and Buddy Guy. The early years included three blues albums on Vanguard: Siegel-Schwall Band (1966), Say (Vanguard, 1967), and Shake (1968). The early seventies releases included Siegel-Schwall (Vanguard, 1970) followed by a switch to Wooden Nickel Records.
The band's releases on Wooden Nickel include Sleepy Hollow (1972), 953 West
(1973), RIP (1973), and Last Summer Live!, and two additional collections
capture the Siegel-Schwall Band: Where We Walked, a collection of songs from
1966 to 1970 on Vanguard, and The Wooden Nickel Years. 953 West was the address of the legendary Quiet Knight club, where Siegel-Schwall held blues court weekly on Tuesday nights. In 1999, Wounded Bird Records thankfully has re-released the Wooden Nickels for new generations of blues fans.
The band initially disbanded in 1974, but reunited fourteen years later. Corky and company pursued solo interests, ranging from Radford's stint with the Sun Ra Arkestra to Jim Schwall's doctorate in music (he's also running for the Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin this year). Sam Lay continued to record solo CDs and tour with his Blues Review, and Corky developed new ways to bridge classical music and the blues, and his Chamber Blues ensemble (www.chamberblues.com) crosses that bridge nicely.
The band's 1988 reunion is captured on Alligator Records' Siegel-Schwall Reunion Concert Live!, and the band has played periodically at blues festivals or select club dates frequently ever since.
The Seattle stop featured the same line up of the 1988 reunion: Corky Siegel on harmonica and piano and Jim Schwall on guitar, powered by Rollo Radford on bass and Sam Lay behind the drums. Original drummer Shelly Plotkin passed away in 1990, and Sam has since added his own unique style to the band.
Highlights of the Seattle show included extended jams on Siegel-Schwall hits
like "Hey Billie Jean" and three blues classics: "I'm A King Bee," "Got My Mojo Working" and "Long Distance Call." Throughout the show, Corky Siegel approached his harp like an aerobic workout, reaching deep for extended solos, contorting his slender frame that often brought him to his knees.
Sam Lay and Rollo Radford laid a solid foundation of drum and bass,
communicating with each other with only a slight smile or wink as they played. Sam was Howlin' Wolf's drummer in the late 1950's. In addition to sitting in with Wolf, he's also played with Little Walter and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Nicknamed "The Shufflemaster," Sam has several CDs out as a solo artist, most notably Rush Hour Blues on Telarc, I Get Evil on Random Chance, and Stone Blues on Evidence. His resume also includes playing the drums on Highway 61 by Bob Dylan, and a Heroes' Award from the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He's also picked up the hardware at the WC Handy Awards for Best Instrumentalist in 1998, and was inducted in both the jazz and blues Halls of Fame.
During the Seattle show, Jim Schwall played acoustic through many of
Siegel-Schwall's most popular songs and blues covers, and I was hoping he'd pick up his 1950's electric Gibson that sat at stage left. His voice has mellowed with age, but his fiery fingerpicking lit up "Long Distance Call" and the quirky Sun Ra-influenced "Be There In The Morning (When The El Comes In The Station)" led by Radford.
After Seattle, Siegel-Schwall headed for the San Francisco Blues Festival, and November reunites the band for a few dates in Wisconsin. On November 20th, they'll do a peace concert at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin (and I hope the Mayor will be playing guitar), followed by two dates in early December in Door County. After the New Year, look for the Siegel-Schwall Band in Flint, Michigan at the Whiting Auditorium on January 7th, followed by a show at the Ark in Ann Arbor the following night.
The Siegel-Schwall Band occupy a special place in the history of Chicago blues. Reunited every now and then, Corky, Jim, Rollo and Sam are rocking harder than ever as they rekindle the blues flame for those fortunate enough to hear anthems like "Hey Billie Jean" or "I Think It Was the Wine" one more time.
NOTE: Special thanks to Corky Siegel for his assistance with the September 23rd show at Seattle's Triple Door.