The first Bloodshot release we got at WRCT had the Waco Brothers'
cover of "The Harder They Come" on the B-side....about 11 1/2 years
History museum exhibit traces places of origin for Chicago roots music
November 10, 2006
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter
The Chicago History Museum's new exhibit "Chicago Roots Music" is a
wang, dang doodle of inspiration. It attempts to connect Maxwell
Street with the Blue Note jazz club, gospel, the WLS Barn Dance, the
Old Town School of Folk Music and even Bloodshot Records.
Bloodshot started in 1994 as purveyors of "insurgent country."
Now they are in a museum.
"When Bloodshot happened, people thought, 'Why would there be country
music in Chicago?" said Bloodshot musician Jon Langford, also a
critically acclaimed artist who has two prints in the exhibition that
opens Saturday. He said, "Bloodshot opened the whole story about the
Sundowners (the country swing band that played between 1959 and 1989
at their own Bar R-R Ranch in the Loop) and the Barn Dance. In the
great American fashion, that had all been paved over."
"Chicago Roots Music" features 100 original documents, photographs and
artifacts from its collection. Highlights include gospel legend
Mahalia Jackson's red choir robe (which she wore in 1959's "Imitation
of Life" movie starring Lana Turner), Thomas Dorsey's gray-blue
upright piano and the guitar from Old Town School co-founder Win
There's the original sign from the welcoming Nate's Deli on Maxwell
Street and a collection of Barn Dance souvenirs saved by Clara Van
Paymbrock, who would listen to the program while living in the small
mining community of Norway, Mich. The exhibition was curated by the
museum's Alison Eisendrath.
"With the museum's reopening we wanted to showcase our collections and
hidden gems we've had tucked away," Eisendrath said. "A lot of people
were expecting me to come back with an outline that was based on
genre: folk, country and blues. I thought there was a more tried and
true way to tell the story. By focusing on place, it tied into the
concept of roots as music that people brought from the places they
came from. (Even the gospel section is titled "Birthplace of Gospel
Music.") For the purpose of this show, we're defining roots as the
music that was brought to Chicago by migrants from the South and
outlying rural areas."
By placing music in a sense of place, Eisendrath could explore how
genres connected in Chicago in a way they couldn't in rural areas.
There was less socialization in the country. She explained, "That's
what transformed these genres once they got here. For example, in the
Maxwell Street section we have blues rubbing against sanctified gospel
shouting on the street."
Langford has lived in Chicago for 15 years. Since migrating from
Leeds, England, he has never lived anywhere else in America.
"I keep coming back to the metaphor of the Midwest," Langford said in
a separate interview. "The city is spread out. There's space to do
things. Artistically, I thought that was the truth. I still don't know
about America in general. I know about Chicago because this is where
everything has happened for me. As a place, Chicago was populated by
remarkable individuals who could help me. I wouldn't want to live
In 1947, long before Langford and the Waco Brothers were thinking of
firing up "Blue Yodel No. 1," Frank Holzfeind opened the Blue Note
nightclub in the Loop, not far from the late great Jimmy Wong's
restaurant. The Blue Note closed in 1960.
Duke Ellington called the Chicago Blue Note the "Metropolitan Opera of
Jazz," yet Holzfeind found space to host a folk music revue with Studs
Terkel, Big Bill Broonzy and others. Piano player Two Ton Baker -- an
influence on Memphis producer Jim Dickinson -- annually played Santa
Claus on the Sunday afternoon before Christmas Day. Holzfeind turned
over his correspondence, photographs and business documents to the
former Chicago Historical Society before his death. Many of those will
be seen for the first time in the "Chicago Roots Music" exhibit.
The Blue Note stash will be a contrast to the archival Bloodshot
concert posters promoting Neko Case, Moonshine Willy and others.
"We wanted to surprise people a little bit," said Eisendrath, 40. "The
Bloodshot folks grew up on the Clash, but they honor these roots
traditions. The authenticity that is in punk was there to be found in
roots and folk music traditions. In a larger way, we're trying to make
it clear that history is now as well as then."
"Chicago Roots Music" opens Saturday at the Chicago History Museum,
1601 N. Clark. The Walter Payton High School jazz band will play at
the museum from noon until 2 p.m. Exhibition curator Alison Eisendrath
and Bob Riesman, producer of the "American Roots Music: Chicago"
documentary will give gallery talks between 2 and 3 p.m. Admission is
a suggested donation of $12 adults, $10 seniors/students; free for
children 12 and under. Admission is free on Mondays. (312) 642-4600;