The Siegel-Schwall Band turns 50 this year -- not that Mark "Corky" Siegel or Jim Schwall noticed until it was brought up in conversation.
"I guess it's 50 years -- I'm not really good at math," says Siegel, 71, a keyboardist and harmonica player who began working with Jim Schwall during 1964 in Chicago but formalized the band -- which co-headlines this weekend's Anti-Freeze Blues Festival at the Magic Bag in Ferndale -- and began recording its debut album the following year.
"Interestingly, a certain amount of time makes things seem like they really didn't happen at all," Siegel continues. "I just think about the incredible, amazing good fortune that Jim and I had, being able to play at Pepper's Lounge before we ever really know how to play and were just learning -- and then having all these blues masters take us under their wing. I don't know another story like that."
But guitarist Schwall, 72, says that, "I guess it feels like 50 years if you look at all the stuff that happened. And I kinda knew I was never going to stop playing."
Siegel-Schwall now, of course, is a different entity than it was when the two blues devotees -- who as Siegel notes played regularly with the likes of Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann and Anti-Freeze co-headliner Lazy Lester -- first got together. Between 1966-74 the group was a full-time concern, releasing 10 albums, including the ambitious "Three Pieces For Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra" in 1973. But Siegel-Schwall split up for 13 years, reforming in 1987 for limited work, though it did release a recording of its reunion concert in 1988 and one more studio album, "Flash Forward," in 2005 to showcase band member and blues luminary Sam Lay.
Schwall, a retired University of Wisconsin professor who still lives in Madison, acknowledges that Siegel-Schwall exists as "more of a part-time thing" now, and though Schwall voices a desire to play more often his partner, Siegel thinks the two are going about things the right way.
"When Jim and I met we decided, without saying it, that we're doing this to have fun and that's the bottom line -- and as it turns out it became our living," notes Siegel, who still resides in Chicago, where he also leads the Chamber Blues Band and is a member of the Chicago Blues Reunion. "It became t he way we made money and all of that, and all of a sudden we had responsibilities.
"However, we understood that the best way to fulfill those responsibilities, the best thing we can do for our fans or for the music was to have fun. So nothing's really changed in terms of our basic philosophy."
Schwall, who's released three solo albums, concurs that, "It's just fun to get together. It's a big part of our lives. When three, four months go by and we don't see each other, we start wanting to and star looking to see if there isn't something we can get on the calendar -- and there usually is."
Siegel and Schwall have no intentions to record a new band album, but there's music coming. Siegel has purchased the rights to the five out-of-print albums the group made for Wooden Nickel/RCA Records between 1971-74, which he's remastered and plans to release them via his web site. "I'm not gonna make any money on it," says, "but it was one our greatest periods, and I wanted to make it available again.
"We had really finessed it by the time we got to those projects. We really understood that if you could have fun and make a record that sounds like that, it's a win-win, for the band and for the fans."
Anti-Freeze Blues Festival
Friday and Saturday, Jan. 16-17. Doors open at 7 p.m.
The Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale.
Lazy Lester, Tosha Owens, Harmonica Shaw & Jeff Grand and Johnny Rhoades perform Friday. The Siege-Schwall Band, the Howard Glazer Band, Jimmy Alter & JBone and the Chris Canas Band play Saturday.
Tickets are $25 each night.
Call 248-544-3030 or visit www.themagicbag.com.
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