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|Origin||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Past members||Minnie Riperton
Rotary Connection was an American psychedelic soul/jazz fusion band, formed in Chicago in 1966. The highly experimental band was the idea of Marshall Chess, son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. Marshall was the director behind a start-up label, Cadet Concept Records, and wanted to focus on music outside of the blues and rock genres, which had made the Chess label popular. This led Marshall to turn his attention to the burgeoning psychedelic movement. He recruited Charles Stepney, a vibraphonist and classically-trained arranger and producer. Marshall then recruited members of a little-known white rock band, the Proper Strangers: Bobby Simms, Mitch Aliotta, and Ken Venegas. Sidney Barnes, a songwriter within the Chess organization, also joined, as did Judy Hauff and a Chess receptionist named Minnie Riperton, who would later be successful in her own solo career. Marshall also called up prominent session musicians associated with the Chess label, including guitarist Phil Upchurch and drummer Morris Jennings.
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The band released their self-titled debut album in late 1967. It had various styles, borrowing heavily from pop, rock, and soul, but was not radio friendly. The album also boasted an Eastern influence through its use of the sitar on the tracks "Turn Me On" and "Memory Band". Stepney's arrangements, brought to life by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, imbued the album with a certain dreamlike quality; this would become a trademark of both the arranger and the mouthpiece. The album proved to be a modest success within the Midwest, but failed to make an impact nationally.
The band returned in 1968 with their second and third albums, Aladdin and Peace. Aladdin found Riperton assuming a more prominent vocal role than the "background instrument" status she had on the debut. The latter was a Christmas release, with strong messages of love and understanding for a nation in the grips of Vietnam. The album's cover art was of a hippie Santa Claus. Peace was notable for being involved in controversy: an anti-war cartoon, in a December 1968 edition of Billboard magazine, featured a graphic image of a bruised and bloodied Santa on a Vietnam battlefield. Mistaking this cartoon for the album's cover art, Montgomery Ward cancelled all shipments of the album.
Rotary Connection would release three more albums: Songs, in 1969, a collection of drastic reworkings of other artist's songs, including Otis Redding's "Respect" and The Band's "The Weight"; Dinner Music in 1970, in which they added elements of folk and country into the mix along with some electronic experimentation; and Hey Love in 1971, where the band, credited as the New Rotary Connection, ended its career with a jazz-oriented affair. From this particular album came "I am the Black Gold of the Sun".
After the break-up of the band, Stepney served as a producer and arranger for other artists, most notably Earth, Wind, & Fire. He died in 1976 of a heart attack. Riperton had a short successful solo career (including the 1975 hit "Lovin' You") until breast cancer ended her life in 1979. Barnes continued to work as a singer and songwriter, and in recent years has gained a following in the UK. The other remaining members of the band either attempted other, lower-profile, musical endeavors or divorced themselves entirely of the business. Thanks to reissues of their catalog in the late 1990s, and the appropriation of material through sampling within the hip-hop community, Rotary Connection has been formally introduced to a new generation.
John Jeremiah was the keyboardist for Rotary Connection.
- 1968: Rotary Connection U.S. No. 37
- 1968: Aladdin U.S. No. 176
- 1968: Peace U.S. No. 24
- 1969: Songs
- 1970; Dinner Music
- 1971: Hey, Love (as the New Rotary Connection)