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|Origin||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Associated acts||Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck D, The Roots|
In addition to their own recordings, Rotary Connection is notable as the backing band for Muddy Waters on his psychedelic blues album Electric Mud. The band's members included Minnie Riperton, who would emerge as a notable solo artist.
Foundation and debut album
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. Chess described the band's members as "the hottest, most avant garde rock guys in Chicago".
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.
Electric Mud and The Howlin' Wolf Album
As a result of the success of The Rotary Connection, Chess felt that he could revive the career of bluesmen Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf by recording two albums of experimental, psychedelic blues with members of Rotary Connection as the backing band for the singers, producing the albums Electric Mud (1968) and The Howlin' Wolf Album (1969). Chess hoped the new albums would sell well among fans of psychedelic rock bands influenced by Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. In place of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf's regular musicians were Gene Barge, Pete Cosey, Roland Faulkner, Morris Jennings, Louis Satterfield, Charles Stepney and Phil Upchurch. Cosey, Upchurch and Jennings joked about calling the group "The Electric Niggers". Marshall Chess liked the suggestion, but Leonard Chess refused to allow the name. Ultimately, blues purists criticized the psychedelic sound of Electric Mud and The Howlin' Wolf Album.
Further albums, Texas International Pop Festival and disbandment
In 1968, Rotary Connection released 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 featured 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, a drunken executive at Montgomery Ward cancelled all shipments of the album.
On August 30, 1969, the band played at the Texas International Pop Festival followed by the Palm Beach Pop Festival on November 29. Rotary Connection released 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".
As part of the documentary film series The Blues (2003), produced by Martin Scorsese, members of the Rotary Connection recorded with rapper Chuck D and members of The Roots, to reflect the legacy of Electric Mud (1968).
- 1967: Rotary Connection (U.S. No. 37)
- 1968: Aladdin (U.S. No. 176)
- 1968: Peace (U.S. No. 24)
- 1969: Songs
- 1970: Dinner Music (written by Jon Stocklin)
- 1971: Hey, Love (as The New Rotary Connection)
As backing band
- 2006: Black Gold: The Very Best of Rotary Connection
- Shannon, Tim (December 2006). "Muddy Waters: His most hated, misunderstood album". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved 2009-03-18.
- Murray, Charles Shaar (1991). "Blue are the Life-giving Waters". Crosstown traffic: Jimi Hendrix and the post-war rock'n'roll revolution. Macmillan. p. 134. ISBN 0-312-06324-5.
- Humphrey, Mark (1996). Electric Mud (liner notes). Chess/MCA. OCLC 779181053. UPC: 076732936429.
- Cohodas, Nadine (2001). "Final Tracks". Spinning Blues Into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records. p. 289.
- Woods, Paul A., ed. (2005). Scorsese: A Journey Through the American Psyche. Plexus. p. 272. ISBN 0-85965-355-2.
- Andy Kellman. "Rotary Connection | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
- Rotary Connection biography by Andy Kellman, discography, album reviews, credits and releases at AllMusic.com
- Rotary Connection discography, album releases & credits at Discogs.com
- Rotary Connection songs to be listened as music stream at Play.Spotify.com
- List of artists who have sampled Rotary Connection