I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Siegel-Schwall Band – although I can’t really figure out why. During the mid/late ’60s blues revival, harpist Corky Siegel and guitarist Jim Schwall played second fiddle to Windy City neighbors Charlie Musselwhite and the Butterfield Blues Band, not to mention Los Angeles’ Canned Heat, England’s John Mayall, New York’s John Hammond, and a host of others. Where Musselwhite sounded big and authoritative, Siegel-Schwall sounded tiny; where Butterfield & Co. were pushing several envelopes at once, Corky and Jim broke no new ground.
Siegel was a decent (albeit slightly affected) harmonica player, while Schwall sounded as out of step as he looked – attaching a soundhole pickup to his Gibson flat-top while Bloomfield and Clapton were sending devotees scurrying for the Holy Grail: a Les Paul sunburst. Sustain was not part of his vocabulary, and he never seemed to bend quite to pitch – with his guitar or his voice.
But there was a certain charm to the band’s recordings, a live sound and intimate quality that put the listener right in the room with them. This Vanguard double-CD set includes all four of their albums for the label, from their self-titled 1966 debut to the live Siegel-Schwall 70, released that year. The quartet, rounded out by drummer Russ Chadwick and bassist Jack Dawson (who replaced Jos Davidson after the first LP), reached its peak on its sophomore effort, Say Siegel-Schwall. The album’s centerpieces are the boogie-figured “Bring It With You When You Come,” featuring Schwall on electric mandolin, and Corky’s extended slow blues, “That’s Why I Treat My Baby So Fine.” Also noteworthy is “I Liked It Where We Walked,” with Siegel switching to piano. But the opening “I’m a King Bee” is, in a word, stiff. Just compare it to the Stones’ version, let alone Slim Harpo’s swampy, pulsating original.
By their fourth and last album for Vanguard, fronting a new rhythm section, Siegel and Schwall were attempting to match “boogie” bands like Canned Heat and Savoy Brown, and served up a lot of spaghetti in the process. On slide, in particular, Schwall seems to be noodling around without saying much.
Still, the high points, where you can feel these electrified ex-folkies connect with something deeper and darker, are worth a listen, and the band represents something between a footnote and a chapter in the blues revival annals.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sept. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.