Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop were not the only white dudes who formed a blues band in Chicago in the early '60s. Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall formed the Siegel-Schwall Band in the mid-'60s in Chicago and worked as a duo playing blues clubs like Pepper's Lounge, where they were the house band. All of the great blues players would sit in, all the time. Siegel played harp and electric Wurlizter piano, with an abbreviated drum set stashed under the piano; Jim Schwall played guitar and mandolin. Both sang.
Siegel was born in Chicago on October 24, 1943; Schwall was born on November 11, 1942, also in Chicago. Siegel met Schwall in 1964, when they were both music students at Roosevelt University; Schwall studying guitar, Siegel studying classical saxophone and playing in the University Jazz Big Band. Siegel first became interested in the blues that same year. Schwall's background ran more to country and bluegrass. The Siegel-Schwall Band approach to music (and blues) was lighter than groups like Butterfield or Musselwhite, representing somewhat more of a fusion of blues and more country-oriented material. They seldom played at high volume, stressing group cooperation and sharing the solo spotlight. When the Butterfield band left their in gig at Big Johns on Chicago's North Side, it was the Siegel-Schwall Band that took their place. Signed by Vanguard scout Sam Charters in 1965, they released their first album in 1966, the first of five they would do with that label. Bass player Jack Dawson, formerly of the Prime Movers Blues Band joined the band in 1967.
In 1969 the band toured playing the Fillmore West, blues/folk festivals, and many club dates, as one of several white blues bands that introduced the blues genre to millions of Americans during that era. They were, however, the first blues band to play with a full orchestra, performing "Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra" in 1968 with the San Francisco Orchestra. The band later signed with RCA (Wooden Nickel) and produced five albums in the next several years. They broke up in 1974.
In 1987, the band re-formed and produced a live album on Alligator, The Siegel-Schwall Reunion Concert. Jim Schwall is a university professor of music and lives in Madison, Wisonsin. Corky Siegel has been involved in many projects over the years that fuse classical music with blues, including his current group, Chamber Blues, a string quartet with a percussionist (tabla) and Siegel on piano and harmonica. And on rare occasions, the old band still gets together and performs. ~ Michael Erlewine