Chicago was, in addition to being one of America’s greatest music cities, an epicenter for soul music in the ’60s and ’70s.
As cities, only Detroit and Philadelphia rivaled Chicago in terms of a sheer abundance of independent record labels catering to the local African-American populations and the recording of their singers and groups. These selections’ stately sound gravitates towards strings, sophisticated vocal arrangements and bracingly funky drums, a characteristic of so many late-’60s-era Chicago records. This sort of lavishness reflects, in turn, the sound of Brunswick Records. Brunswick was then the Chicago R&B powerhouse, with multiple releases by Gene Chandler, the Artistics, Barbara Acklin and Jackie Wilson (amongst many others) topping the pop and R&B charts, and everyone, as you’ll hear, wanted to sound like them.
1. Little Sherman & The Mod Swingers, The Price of Love (Sagport)
Sublime late ’60s soul, the plush, sweeping sound of “The Price of Love” is so characteristically Chicagoan.
Little Sherman was actually one Sherman Nesbary, a longtime local singer with a handful of soul and R&B releases to his name (as well as to Verble Domino – another Nesbary nom de plume) in the ’60s and ’70s. Nesbary was a songwriter, too, his most famous composition, “We Don’t Have To Be Over 21,” was recorded early on by the Jackson Five in 1968.
2. The Chymes, My Baby’s Gone Away (Down to Earth)
Harmonizing brothers Victor, David and James Martin recorded a clutch of singles in the late ’60s and early ’70s as both the Star-Tels and the Chymes . “My Baby’s Gone Away,” sort of a spiritual cousin to “The Price of Love,” succeeds here as an urban tale, its passing reference to Vietnam doesn’t draw attention to itself, but reflects the everyday reality of the war and conscription for the young black male at the time.
The Chymes are supported here by the Soul Crusaders, Burgess Gardner’s versatile and ubiquitous Chicago house band on many, many ’60s R&B sessions. Down to Earth – one of several contemporary subsidiaries (including Lamarr Records, which releases the Star-Tels’ 45s) operated by Burgess’s brother Walter – was one of the hipper Chicago R&B and soul labels then vying for popularity and that elusive breakout hit, achieving it only briefly, alas, with singles by the Esquires (“Girls in the City”) and General Crook (“Do It for Me,” “Gimme Some,” “What Time It Is”).