Corky Siegel is known internationally as one of the world’s great blues harmonica players, and is a celebrated composer, blues pianist, singer, songwriter, band leader and author. Corky’s professional music career began when he founded the now legendary Siegel-Schwall Band in Chicago in 1964 with guitarist Jim Schwall. The group was a major component of the young generation of white blues artists—also including Paul Butterfield, Charlie Musselwhite, Harvey Mandel, Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites and Michael Bloomfield—who learned the historic Chicago blues style at the feet and hands of such towering figures as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy and Sam Lay. In 1965, Corky was 21 and still in college. He and Jim Schwall, unintentionally landed their first regular gig across the tracks on the South Side of Chicago. They were hired to perform from 9 PM till 4 AM, every Thursday at Pepper’s Lounge (not knowing it was ‘ground zero’ for founders of Chicago Blues). What a surprise, to say the least, when Muddy Waters showed up and hopped on stage with them, followed by Howlin’ Wolf, James Cotton, and all the blues masters. Night after night they would come and sit in. , he is credited with moving the blues from smokey clubs onto the classical symphony concert stage and obliterating musical categorization in the process. One of his many projects is the Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, with the West End String Quartet, and Kalyan “Johnny Bongo” Pathak virtuoso on world percussion, blends classical and blues styles in a chamber music setting. This ground breaking innovative sound has earned tremendous acclaim throughout the country and continues to open new doors for classical and blues/jazz listeners alike. He is credited with moving the blues from smokey clubs onto the classical symphony concert stage and obliterating musical categorization in the process.
I had the honor of catching up with this amazing legend of genre busting ahead of the 2/22 show at The North Street Cabaret when he teams up with friend of the proGram, Mr. Ernie Watts on saxophone and Kalyan “Johnny Bongo” Pathak on world percussion and tabla. Corky walks us down the timeline of getting to this point in his career, from Hair and Joni Mitchell to those legends of the Chicago blues scene and all the orchestras/symphonies he has been working with and crossing boundaries to create the newness in sounds. We discuss how this trio got together to come before us in a live setting and how he met up with Mr. Watts (Corky goes a little deeper into that first encounter than Ernie did). While all his amazing outcomes seems like a heap of work, Corky reminds us, as Ernie did, that the centerpiece to creation is the fun that making music together brings everyone, from the audience to the players, we will be treated to a unique, once in a moment time. Which I feel our conversation also turned out to be.