Born In Chicago
Gregor von Kallahann | 09/02/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
A few years ago, I caught the Chicago Blues Reunion tour with Nick Gravenites, Sam Lay, Barry Goldberg, Tracy Nelson, Corky Siegel and Harvey Mandel. I was there as a Tracy fan, I gotta admit, but I had lots and lots of respect for the guys in the band too, most living legends of the "Fathers and Sons" era.
That revue band often opened their shows w/ Nick Graventites "Born In Chicago," which I knew sounded awfully familiar, but I was struggling to place it. I figured I must have heard Nick the Greek do it in some earlier incarnation.
But actually, of course, it was from the classic 1965 debut album by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I stumbled across that record and its follow up EAST/WEST a few years later, and was the proud owner of both for a while (who knows where they disappeared to, it was the 60s after all).
So why didn't I remember the song. Well, it's a pretty good blues tune--a bit heavy on the bravado, lyrically, but really OK--but I gotta admit that while I had more than passing interest in urban blues, I was really much more impressed with the more obvious experimentalism of EAST-WEST (which I actually may have heard first, come to think of it).
Yeah, I preferred Cream to John Mayall too.
But that was then. Now I find myself listening to this and some of the other earnest efforts by young white bluesmen of the era and hearing it all w/ new ears as it were. This straightforward Chicago style blues sounds awfully good to me now. And even though EAST-WEST was a relatively bold experiment, there's a something to be said for sticking to your roots (but, of course, in those heady times no one was: there was just too much to check out, to explore and to absorb).
You know the original liner notes (included here) have all the pretensions of the times (more verbiage spent than even I'm wont to do). But the gist of Pete Welding's commentary is actually dead-on accurate and true. By embracing contemporary URBAN blues, Butterfield and co. avoided the traps and trappings that undercut other white blues singers who were embracing acoustic, country blues. They didn't have to deal quite so much with the authenticity question.
Urban kids, of whatever race, doing urban blues made sense. The reason "Born In Chicago" SHOULD have stuck in my mind better is that in Butterfield's case, it just happened to be the truth. Yeah, the breezy machismo of the tune can be a bit irritating, but it makes its statement. These guys were from the streets of Chicago. The grit was real, and the playing was damn good.