On this day in 1937, the great blues singer Bessie Smith was laid to rest in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the victim of an auto accident in Coahoma, Mississippi.
When I was just short of aging to double digits, my parents started shipping me off for to spend time with my older sister and her boyfriend who shared a college town apartment in upstate New York. They portrayed it as a reward for doing good schoolwork but I learned later that they were basically shipping me away so they could have a vacation. I like to describe my childhood personality as slightly impetuous; my father later described me as a complete pain in the ass.
During those visits with my sister and her soon-to-be-husband, I got to learn a whole lot about music. They had combined their record collections (the ultimate sign of commitment in the 1970s) and my future brother-in-law, being a horn player, had plenty of jazz rock stuff going on. Blood, Sweat and Tears, of course, took a front seat as did the short-lived screamer Bill Chase. Anchoring those two was Chicago.
My education started with Chicago II. I listened for hours to 25 or 6 to 4 (last.fm). I still listen to that song, quite frequently, and am still wholly impressed by the opening bass a la fuzzbox and the ripping horns that bring the song to its first chorus. It’s some of the best two-point counterpoint in rock and roll.
From that auspicious beginning, stuffed between a pair of Koss headphones the size of basketballs, Chicago followed me through my childhood.
My sister bought me Chicago VI for my birthday; I still have the original copy with the embossed money design on the cover. Chicago IX, which was a greatest hits record, was played on my stereo until there was nothing but chards of plastic flying off the turntable. Though not critically acclaimed, I loved the “chocolate bar” album: Another Rainy Day in New York City and If You Leave Me Now (last.fm) were in hot rotation in those days. Truth is, they still are at times.
Like most bands of their vintage, many of the original band members are long gone. But the core of Chicago — Robert Lamm, James Pankow and Lee Loughnane — are still playing and Chicago is still touring. From Paris to Reno and back, there will be plenty of chances to see Chicago between now and the fall.
Click here for Chicago Tour Dates
Click here to buy their “lost” album from 1993, released last week as Stone Of Sysiphus
This post originally appeared on WNEW on June 25, 2008.
On the flipside of Blood, Sweat and Tears‘ single, “Lucretia MacEvil,” we hear “Lucretia’s Reprise,” wherein she gets even dirtier.
Weirdly vividly cinematic, like a David Lynch movie for your ears.