Brass rocks

Those who read my former blog last year at this time, or have read this blog over the past months, know that I am a big fan of the rock group Chicago. (Back when they were a rock group and not a singer of sappy ballads, that is.)

Since rock music began from elements of country music, jazz and the blues, brass rock would seem a natural subgenre of rock music. A lot of ’50s musical acts had saxophone players, and some played with full orchestras …

… but it wasn’t until the more-or-less simultaneous appearances of Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears on the musical scene (both groups formed in 1967, both had their first charting singles in 1969, and they had the same producer) that the usual guitar/bass/keyboard/drum grouping was augmented by one or more trumpets, a sax player and a trombone player.

While Chicago is my favorite group (but you knew that already), the first brass rock song I remember hearing was BS&T’s “Spinning Wheel” — not in its original form, but on “Sesame Street,” accompanied by, yes, a giant spinning wheel.

I remember liking Chicago’s “Just You ‘n Me” when it was released as a single, and I remember Chicago’s ABC-TV special filmed in Colorado …

… but it wasn’t until my uncle the audiophile played Chicago’s entire 13-minute-long “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” on his reel-to-reel tape player, at double-digit volume, that I became hooked on Chicago forever:

Chicago’s appearance at the 2010 EAA AirVenture (and the former Marketplace Today blog was the first media outlet in the entire world to announce Chicago was coming to EAA) is the third time I’ve seen them in concert. I remember thinking as they ended their set having not played either “Make Me Smile” or “25 or 6 to 4” that they couldn’t possibly do a concert without them, could they? And then they returned for their encore with, yes, the whole 13-minute “Ballet” and ended with “25 or 6 to 4.”

(Readers also know my father, who was in southern Wisconsin’s first rock and roll band — which had no brass section — had a Walter Mitty moment when he played one song with Ray Charles in the first Dane County Coliseum concert. I’ve been to three Chicago concerts — half of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band was at the first — and the group has never asked me to jump on stage and play. As with the lack of a Corvette in my garage, life is unfair.)

Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears are the best known, but not the only, brass rock groups in existence. Earth Wind & Fire, which came onto the scene a few years after Chicago and BS&T, could be termed “brass funk”:

The Brian Setzer Orchestra has, as you might imagine, a backing orchestra for the founder of the Stray Cats:

The group Chase (which had more trumpets than Chicago,  but no sax or trombone) had its work prematurely ended by a fatal plane crash:

Those who enjoyed Survivor in the 1980s may not have known that one of its founders, Jim Peterik, previously was with the Ides of March:

There was also the Canadian group Lighthouse, which took Chicago’s rock-band-with-horns concept and substituted “horns” with “orchestra”:

Other groups cannot be called “brass rock” groups, but they have brought in brass from time to time (including, in the case of Three Dog Night’s “Celebrate,” Chicago trumpet player Lee Loughnane, trombone player James Pankow, and sax player Walter Parazaider). That includes the Beatles and the Rolling Stones:

And every once in a while in the ’60s and ’70s, a trumpet player released a song that got radio airplay. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass released a lot of singles, but his music doesn’t seem like “rock” to me. Still …

Bill Conti did the score for the movie “Rocky,” and trumpet player Maynard Ferguson rerecorded the theme:

Those readers who played in middle school or high school bands (the third generation in our family starts this fall) know that band geeks (another word is often used in place of “geeks,” but I’m not repeating it) are well down on the coolness scale in their school. (However, stick it out and get admitted to UW–Madison, and you could be a member of theUniversity of Wisconsin Marching Band, only the greatest marching band on the planet.) Groups like those noted here are the sort of music to which high school band members can aspire. You can play football only until your 30s, but note that Chicago is still touring more than 40 years after the band first formed.

See? Brass does rock. (Just ask the members of the new Brass Rock Facebook group.)


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