I promised last time that I wouldn’t plug our new releases, so you’ll have to look elsewhere in this issue for word of them. Instead, I’m going to tell you a little about the recording of BLUES DELUXE, our most ambitious live album.
In 1978, the city of Chicago put on its first huge summer festival, dubbed ChicagoFest. It was held on Navy Pier, a gigantic old shipping pier that sticks out into Lake Michigan. It hadn’t been used much for shipping for years, and was in a state of semi-disrepair. The city built six temporary music stages, plus food booths, and, right next to the pier, an amusement park with all kinds of rides. The festival, held in July, was wildly successful.
By 1980 ChicagoFest had grown into a two-week-long summer institution. One of the highlights of ChicagoFest was the Blues Stage. Until that time, the City had virtually ignored its blues heritage. Now, a lot of younger Chicagoans (who couldn’t get into the bars) had their first chance to hear live blues.
WXRT was (and is) a local rock FM station still carrying on the tradition of somewhat “free form” radio. They mixed in a healthy dose of blues with a strong emphasis on Chicago artists. Considering that most rock FM stations had either gone the Top 40 route or were playing “all Zeppelin all the time,” WXRT was a pretty amazing station. At any rate, the powers that be at the station (music director Norm Winer and Bob Gelms, who did their blues show, “Blues Deluxe”) thought it would be a great idea to memorialize the ChicagoFest Blues Stage on a record (easy for them to say). Of course, WXRT wasn’t in the business of recording or reocrd distribution. Since Alligator was Chicago’s recording giant (with four employees and a huge catalog of 20 whole records), WXRT came to us about cutting a live album with six different bands (Lonnie Brooks, Koko Taylor, Mighty Joe Young, Son Seals, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters!) at ChicagoFest. Profits after costs were recouped were earmarked for the new Blues Archive at the Chicago Cultural Center, so we would not only be making a record but also helping a good cause.
We hadn’t done much live recording (two albums cut four-track in small bars) , up til that time. We had certainly never done anything on this grand a scale– recording six bands outside, with no sound checks, only one set each to capture a quintessential performance, and what turned out to be the fairly major hassles of trying to work with the city of Chicago. Plus, at that time there was no multi-track mobile recording truck in the city, and nothing in the budget for this project for bringing in a truck from outside. It looked like it was time for some improvising, and that’s just what we did. WXRT could only help in the most obvious ways–they arranged clearances with the artists (who recorded free) and the City, so we could get a vehicle (if we had one) onto the pier. Then I turned to ace engineer Fred Breitberg to come up with the magical mystery recording truck. Instead, he came up with a magic suitcase…
More next time,