I’ve been a fan of Renee Rosen since I read What the Lady Wants, about Marshall Field’s, followed by White Collar Girl, taking place at a Chicago newspaper, both well written and fascinating combining fact and fiction in historical 20th Century Chicago (she happens to live in Chicago, as many of my favorite authors do!). Loved both of them. I was, therefore, quite excited when I learned that Ms. Rosen had a new book this year, Windy City Blues, I immediately put it at the top of my TBR list (where another of her books, Dollface, resides). I was not disappointed, it is equally well written, actually I would say the best written of the three I have read, although not quite as interesting to me at the beginning…I got over that quickly when I became involved in the lives of the many characters, some real others fiction.
Since we were discussing music in Chicago with Denise McGowan Tracy’s profile yesterday and her wonderful singing career, what better time than to review the book today.
It is the story of the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s and how the Blues came to Chicago through Chess Records and how its many stars such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry and Etta James (one of my favorites!) came to be and the struggles the artists and promoters had through those years. The ups and downs…lots of downs, the one night gigs, the constant traveling, the successes dependent upon who would play their records both in the North and South. How it was mostly a man’s world and certainly one of Black artists. How Rock and Roll began (in Cleveland, if you didn’t know that!) and the main story of a mixed marriage and how it survived through the years and through the early stages of the civil rights movement. The struggles are all bound together by music, deep in the characters souls.
I have to admit I am more of a Jazz fan than Blues but when you hear any music done perfectly how can you not make it a part of you…as the musicians pour their hearts and souls into the lyrics and the rhythms that come from their instruments. All this has to come together under the watchful and insightful ears of the promoters and the Chess brothers were the perfect team to know when they had found a rising star and when they were no longer viable. All this, of course, takes place over several decades, nothing happens overnight. I am a huge admirer of Ms. Rosen’s skill to use authentic historical details (in all her books) to weave this complex story which boils down to love…the deep endearing love of a man and woman, and the many obstacles they face, and love of the music inside them that must be heard. Having said that I truly believe a musician doesn’t need anything, other than their instrument (and that instrument can be their voice) and a song, an audience is a bonus, and money a necessity. How privileged we are to be able to share the wonderful legacy these pioneers of a very special music genre that thrives to this day have given us.
I would suggest you read all of Renee Rosen’s body of work, let me know your thoughts by leaving your comments.