“Born in Chicago”: A uniquely musical passing of the blues torch

By on August 12, 2015

Born In Chicago is a powerful, soulful and uplifting story that chronicles a uniquely musical passing of the torch from the first generation blues performers who had made their way to Chicago from the Mississippi Delta to their followers, mostly young, mostly white, middle class kids — musicians like Harvey Mandel, Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites, Corky Siegel and Sam Lay — who followed the evocative music to smoky clubs deep in Chicago’s ghettos, and went on to play in bands like Janis Joplin’s, The Electric Flag, and Canned Heat, bringing Chicago blues into rock and roll.


Born In Chicago was narrated by Leonard Chess, and directed by John Anderson – who directed the Brian Wilson concert movie Smile.

You can pre-order the CD/Vinyl soundtrack — featuring songs “influenced” by artists who appear in this film — right here.

Featured in the film — in interviews and archive footage — are Jack White, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Eric Burdon, Buddy Guy, Steve Miller, Elvin Bishop, Paul Butterfield (archive footage), Barry Goldberg, Hubert Sumlin, Mike Bloomfield (archive footage), Charlie Musselwhite, Marshall Chess, Harvey Mandel (who played with Canned Heat), and Corky Siegel, among others.


From the website: “Passed down from musician to musician, the Chicago blues transcended the color lines of the 1960s as young, white Chicago musicians apprenticed themselves to legends such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. As a musical tribute to the documentary, the Born In Chicago soundtrack will be released as a comprehensive CD and Vinyl release.


This vibrant album will be filled with artists and tracks INFLUENCED by this film. By pre-ordering any of the exclusive merch or experiences in the Store, you’ll receive a download of the Born In Chicago Blues Box Set (once released) as well as have access to special bonus content through the updates.”


Here’s an excerpt from The New York Times‘s review of the film from 2013:

The guitarist Elvin Bishop tells of being invited to the apartments of the players he admired, like Otis Rush, Sammy Lawhorn, Pee Wee Madison and Little Smokey Smothers, to learn new licks. There would be ham hocks and black-eyed peas cooking on the stove, he laughingly recalls in the film, but he would be told he couldn’t have any until he got the riff right.

“Born in Chicago,” which takes its title from a song that Nick Gravenites wrote for his pal Paul Butterfield, who along with him provided one of the inspirations for the Blues Brothers characters, was originally conceived of as a concert DVD featuring the Chicago Blues Reunion band. In addition to Mr. Gravenites, a member of the Blues Hall of Fame who worked with Janis Joplin and the Quicksilver Messenger Service, that group includes Mr. Goldberg, the harmonica and keyboard player Corky Siegel and the guitarist Harvey Mandel, who played with Canned Heat, John Mayall and the Rolling Stones.


“The project just grew and grew, and suddenly we realized we had not just a narrow story, but one that was much broader and deeper,” said the film’s director, John Anderson. “We were so lucky to capture these anecdotes while these guys are still alive and here to tell the story. Everyone I talked to couldn’t believe the story hadn’t been told before, and they wanted to make sure the story got out there right.”


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.