The history of The Siegel-Schwall Band dates back to 1964 when two college friends, Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall, began playing blues together. When they stopped going to college (they didn’t drop out) and took up the blues full time, the duo learned their craft from nothing but the best in Chicago. Beginning with the release of their first record in 1966 and from the late 60’s through the early 70’s, The Siegel-Schwall Band enjoyed strong popularity in Chicago and nationally, performing with many of the big names in rock and blues of the period. While the members of the band have gone their separate ways musically and otherwise, The Siegel-Schwall Band periodically reunites to perform around the country on a limited basis with the long standing line-up of Corky Siegel (harp, piano, vocals), Jim Schwall (guitar, vocals), Rollo Radford (bass, vocals) and Sam Lay (drums, vocals). Every member possesses a strong musical resume that includes work with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sun Ra, Paul Butterfield and Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, among others.
On the first performance of a two-night engagement at The Dakota Bar & Grill, the again reunited Siegel-Schwall Band entertained an enthusiastic and appreciative audience. Corky Siegel opened the evening’s first show at 7:30 p.m., with a 30 minute solo performance featuring excellent blues piano and Siegel’s signature vocal style, with his humor laced lyrics reminiscent of a blusier version of jazz great Mose Allison. Following Siegel’s opening, the rest of the band came to the stage with Jim Schwall humorously inquiring, “I just want to know who booked the opening act?”
The full band opened with “You Don’t Love Me Like That,” featuring vocals by Jim Schwall. The song included some nice harp fills by Corky Siegel and a strong backbeat provided by Rollo Radford and Sam Lay. During the song, Siegel blew out his harp and tossed it to a member of the audience as a souvenir. For the second number, “My Fault,” a Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee composition, Sam Lay took over vocals for a song that included a great piano solo by Siegel.
As the vocals continued to rotate, Rollo Radford took the lead for “Be There In The Morning (When The El Comes In The Station),” an eclectic sounding, unorthodox number combining elements of jazz and blues. Considering Radford’s experience with Sun Ra’s Arkestra, the song fit perfectly into the set.
As the vocal shift came full circle, Corky Siegel took the vocal lead for a really fine version of Muddy Water’s classic, “Kingbee.” One of the highlight of the song (an the evening) was the excellent, extended slide guitar solo by Jim Schwall, sandwiched between piano and harp solos by Corky Siegel.
Vocal responsibilities shifted back to Sam Lay for his original composition, “I’m Gonna Shoot her,” a song Sam indicated was about being mistreated by a woman. When he asked how many men in the crowd had been mistreated, a woman in the audience asked if Sam had mistreated a woman, he responded, “I didn’t have a chance to mistreat her. She was sleepin’ with one eye open, one eye closed, a brick in one hand and a butcher knife in the other.”
Jim Schwall took his turn again, telling a story about sitting at the Eagle’s Club in Grand Rapids, Minnesota the night before drinking wine, dedicating the song, “I Think It Was The Wine,” to his experience of the previous evening. The song included some great music and Schwall’s humorous lyrics.
The final song of the evening was referred to by Corky Siegel as the band’s “sensitive number,” was entitled “I Don’t Want You To Be My Girl.” Including more tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Corky Siegel blew the hell out of his harp, chasing one of the female wait staff around the bar and dancing with another as he toured the floor, never missing a harp fill in the process. The song ended with one last might solo blast on his harp and a round of thank you’s from all of the band members. Following the first show, the entire band retired to the venue’s entrance inside of Bandana Square to meet interested fans and to sign lots of autographs.
This was a great set, far too short, seeming way less than the actual 90 minutes. One of the great things about the show was that every member of the band truly seemed to be having a good time and really got into the music. This was definitely no half-hearted attempt by the group to make a little money by playing off their previous success. The audience seemed to recognize how special this event actually was, showing their appreciation with enthusiastic applause after every number. This was duly noted by all members of the band who seemed to feed off the energy created by the crowd.
The performance by The Siegel-Schwall Band was one of the best that I have seen this year and, sadly, one of the last during the final month of operations by The Dakota in the St. Paul Bandana Square location. On October 27, The Dakota will move to its new location on the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, ending the St. Paul history of this excellent restaurant and music venue. To find out about upcoming shows at The Dakota Bar & Grill, as well as their upcoming move to Minneapolis, visit their website at www.dalotacooks.com.
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