Monday, July 16, 2012

Chicago: The Big Onion

Apparently, "Chicago" is a French bastardization of "shikaakwa," the Native American word for "wild onion." Whatever the case may be, from Wrigley Field in the north, to Chess Records in the south, Chi-town is guaranteed to leave a strong taste. As Carl Sandburg put it in his poem, "Chicago":
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders
(@ the Chicago Public LIbrary)
Yuko and I arrived in a rainstorm and by the time we checked into our 8th floor room at the Crowne Plaza, the sky had healed. We went for a walk through the heart of The Loop, past the gargantuan Civic Opera House, City Hall and the theater district where Barry Manilow was performing an encore.

(@ Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation)
Despite Barry Manilow's popularity, Chicago's Chess Records produced some of the greatest records of the 20th century, including albums by Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Little Water, Koko Taylor, and Chuck Berry.

(Chess Records @ 2120 Michigan Avenue)
The downside - brothers Leonard and Phil Chess ripped off the artists. Today, Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation owns the building and runs daily tours. The foundation, thanks to Willie Dixon, has been providing help and assistance for artists that were left high and dry by the Chess brothers.

"The blues are the roots,
The rest are the fruits" ~ Willie Dixon
When the Rolling Stones recorded the five songs in 1964 at Chess that would end up on 12 X 5, their second album, they came for the legendary sound. According to one of Dixon's many grandkids, Mick was too nervous to add vocals to what would end up being the instrumental, "2120 South Michigan Avenue" in the presence of such legends as Chuck Berry.

(The Chess studio where the sound was created)
When Berry later heard their version of "Around and Around" he said "they almost got it." The irony is that the Stones were responsible for re-introducing white America to the long-neglected Chess artists.

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