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Morning Shift

Jim DeRogatis Takes On The History Of Chicago Music

Music critic and Sound Opinions co-host Jim DeRogatis says Chicago pays little attention to its musical history and does little to celebrate its past or present.

That’s why he created a new primer on Chicago music for WBEZ: “50 Chicago Artists Who Changed Popular Music.”

DeRogatis sat down with Morning Shift’s Tony Sarabia to discuss the series and why Chicago is “the greatest city on Earth.”

Tony Sarabia: Why do you think Chicago has a tendency to overlook, or completely ignore, our heritage?

Jim DeRogatis: It’s this Second City mentality. Chicago’s not an overly proud town — certain mayors aside, perhaps. We don’t brag a lot here. We are the city that works. We get stuff done … People here tend to take the greatness of this city, whether it’s architecture or dining or the Art Institute of Chicago, for granted. We don’t go around bragging about it like those New Yorkers do.

Sarabia: Why do you think many people haven’t heard of Chicago’s Chess Records and what is the legacy of early rock ‘n’ roll and blues here?

DeRogatis: All of those usually influential, groundbreaking rock records were recorded here for Chess. In the tradition of The Great Migration, people coming from the rural south migrated to Chicago. Many of the soul and gospel artists wound up here. (I wound up here! I left that lesser burgh of New York City to come to the greatest city on Earth.) So there is this great migration, so who is a Chicago artist? I think it’s if the sound was formed in part by the feel and vibe of this city and its people and its aesthetics. 

Sarabia: Why do you think there was so little interest or innovation in Chicago rock in the 1960s and 1970s?

DeRogatis: Maybe it was the hangover of having invented electric blues, and then invented rock ‘n’ roll at Chess, and invented gospel in between, maybe we were just spent for two decades there? The legacy of the ’60s and ’70s was dreadful when you compare it to San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, New York, Detroit … I think we were disconnected from the heart of rock ‘n’ roll. We got there again in the ’80s, and the ’90s for sure.

Sarabia: Donny Hathaway is certainly one of your favorites.

DeRogatis: Whether you are talking about a Kendrick Lamar or a D’Angelo or other artists on the cutting edge of hip hop or R&B — or R. Kelly, who is less laudable — that’s the singer that motivates them. More even than Sam Cooke. 

Sarabia: Chicago certainly does have a rich history when it comes to gospel.

DeRogatis: I can’t say enough great things about Mavis Staples. We are incredibly lucky to have this living treasure of American music in this city … There should be boulevards named after her. Michigan Avenue should be “Staples Street.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness. Click play above to listen to the entire interview.

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