Sunday, October 2, 2011

A record store is a sanctuary, a place where treasures are kept, discoveries are made, and where epiphanies take place. A good record store tells a story. It has character, a personality, and might look a little worse for wear. It has walls lined with unusual jazz records from Europe, album covers from bands you’ve never heard of, the sound of LPs being played behind the counter, and a clerk who wears cynicism like a cloak. Like a barber shop, the record store is a gathering place; a spot to connect with other listeners and bond over the vastness of sound.

Logan Hardware is an old boot of a record store, its red walls and dusty floor make the place feel more like a carpenter’s woodshed than a place to find great records. Once inside, the room engulfs you in everything that is grand about purchasing music in public, surrounded by ephemera and history. The store’s space is quite large and features thousands of LPs organized by musical style and format. One of the more unusual aspects of the shop is a fully functioning arcade, where customers can play a series of 1980s arcade games, all free of charge. The sites and sounds of the arcade space create a sort of suspended reality where you’re transported back to a mid-western town in 1985. As customers slowly wander into the arcade, giggling is often heard along with exclamations of “holy crap” and “oh my god!” Arcades, and the games they held, were the single most important adolescent activity for a large swath of American youth, and with their back room arcade, Logan Hardware has created a sort of temple to American puberty.

Logan Hardware arcade photo: John Dedeke
The arcade is a joyful trip down memory lane, but Logan Hardware is also one of the most diverse and engaging record stores on the northwest side of Chicago. The record buyers know their stuff and keep the shelves lined with rare finds, unusual reissues, and a surprising amount of stylistic variation. The shop has a fair amount of rare soul 45s. On the especially interesting 45s, the staff will pencil in a note on the paper record sleeve, extolling the virtues of the music on the small vinyl disk. One might find written on the record sleeve something like, “Great southern soul-funk from Muscle Shoals. Not as bluesy as you might expect, with a hard drum break in the middle. Very interesting.” A note like that does more than describe music, it creates a conversation between the record shop staff and the record buyer.

On a recent trip to Logan Hardware I purchased a fairly rare Chicago soul 45, and the clerk behind the counter told me that the record I was buying was part of one man’s vast record collection. She nodded in approval when I handed her the record, and seemed pleased that I had found happiness in this little piece of musical history. She made sure to let me know that one man had this record his whole life and these small gems were “his babies.” I looked down at the record in my hand and I knew it was something of great value. Suddenly, this piece of music wasn’t just a boss tune that I could play at a DJ gig, it was a continuation of a joyful past, and a shared experience between me and a man I’d never met. The woman behind the counter asked if I was a collector or a DJ, and I just smiled at her and said without hesitation, “yes I am .”

Logan Hardware is located at 2410 W. Fullerton in Chicago, and is open from
Monday-Saturday 12:00pm - 9:00pm and Sunday 12:00pm - 7:00pm.

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Monday, August 15, 2011


Latest tracks by frankbrenn

Fort Wellington Soundsystem Podcast Vol 1. El Cabildos, El Chicano, Fatback, Steve Spacek, J-Dilla, James Carr, Eddie and Ernie, Barbara Lynn, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance, Eddie Bo, Roger and the Gypsies, JD McPherson, The Blentones, Les McCann, Ray Barretto, Har-You Percussion Group, Tim Maia and more. Cheers.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011


Chicago’s Wicker Park was at one time a haven for writers, punk rock jazz musicians, artists, and disheveled bohemians. It was also a place of hard luck stories, drugs and rampant prostitution. In the young morning, street walkers of every size and shape would float out from North Avenue, with their rhinestone dresses and leather boots, looking for dates and fixes. The neighborhood was a shambles, like a clown that had gotten beat up in a particularly colorful bar fight. The area around North Ave. and Milwaukee was not the polished, commercial marketplace it is today. Wicker Park was raw, angry and uncompromisingly bohemian. Like Greenwich Village without the pleasant nostalgia, or the Lower Haight without the barefoot stoners, Wicker Park was at one time a cultural mecca and seedy bed of homespun creativity. When I was a kid, growing up in Chicago, Wicker Park was just a short train ride away from the blue collar monotony of hot dog stands, Catholic churches, liquor stores, and gas stations that made up my reality. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, Wicker Park was a frontier of sorts; a wild west of cultural relevance, music, art and potential danger. On languid Saturday afternoons, a few friends and I would pack into a Chevy hatchback and rumble down Milwaukee Ave. towards the record stores, thrift shops and cafes that made up the small north side neighborhood. Every shop and restaurant was unique, special and run by entrepreneurs with eccentric personalities. Corporate America hadn’t yet figured out how to be cool, or how to market to people that were untouchable.

Back in the day, Wicker Park's Earwax cafe was hard to miss. The hand painted burlap exterior featured a carnival theme promising exotic delights and freaky weirdness. Two large bay windows, with tables on elevated stages, sat on either side of the doorway. The tables would, without fail, be filed with brooding thinkers or disheveled artists sipping coffee from heavy ceramic mugs. To sit in the Earwax windows was to be on display. When walking through the two doors into the cafe, there was a warmth that was hard to discern. The strong smell of the coffee, cigarette smoke, and food cooking in the ovens seemed to bounce off the high tin ceilings, and wrap around you as you entered the room. The smells and sounds were purposeful and not at all pretentious. Earwax was a space without preconception - it was a cafe, but more than that, it was a room filled with potential. The first floor was heady with its dim bar lighting, and haphazard decor that looked like something out of a carny’s drug induced nightmare. The wooden tables were painted with circus colors and pinwheel patterns, and the walls were covered with gigantic canvas ‘freak show’ paintings of strong men and bearded ladies. The place was a cornucopia of wood, enamel and tin, and the whole environment was caressed with oddity and charm. In the back of the cafe, past the floor to ceiling iron prison bars, was a shop that contained records, hard to find magazines, and obscure rental videos that covered topics like Japanese bondage and German film noir. Music filled the cafe with sounds from Morocco, Jamaica or Memphis. At night, the cafe bubbled over with shoppers and their bags filled with records and books. Famous people mingled with shifty drunks and graffiti artists with their snarls and black notebooks. Everyone was working on something, making plans, sketching, writing or battling with words. Me and my friends would sit in a wooden booth for hours, just looking over records, drinking coffee, and watching other people stroll in and order carry out. We ordered tea or coffee and watched the waitress’s apron pull at her shirt as she bent over to tie her army boots. Earwax became a sort of home away from home for us, and we started meeting there at night, after school, before a show, or on quiet afternoons. We picked up our news there and scanned the cork board wall for interesting band posters. I started smoking cigarettes with my coffee, and some of my friends got an apartment down on North Ave., so we could be closer to the action.

When I was 22 I applied for a line cook position at Earwax. I had no real culinary experience to speak of, but I was eager, and I could talk my way into and out of most situations. The owners were middle aged art school types, and they both looked like they could hang out with Lou Reed. They were both jive in a comforting way. They believed in their little slice of heaven, and they were happy that I appreciated what they were up to at the cafe. After I got the position as a line cook, I went to a shoe store up the street and bought some stylish cream colored Italian shoes. I knew that if I was working at Earwax, I’d need some more fashionable footwear. I worked early in the morning and was usually the first person to arrive at the cafe. On those early spring mornings, the whole city was covered in damp dew and hazy sunlight, and everything was quiet and still. I was usually paired up with an older, rather eccentric barista, who would lecture me on the seriousness of espresso and how to pull the perfect cup. She was small, grey and fragile, like a painting teacher by way of erotic masseuse. I studied food prep, cooking, and the culinary arts with a stout man with long hair and a fantastic beard. He was a Chicano, and he taught me to have a general disdain for white people, cafe customers and the majority of the waitstaff. He also knew, almost instantly, that I knew nothing of food, or how to prepare it correctly. I spent my mornings prepping gallons of guacamole, tuna salad and hummus for the cafe’s patrons. I enjoyed the work, and began putting my creative stamp on Earwax’s dishes. Tuna salad got a little lime juice and paprika, which turned the once beige dish a pastel pink hue. I put fresh cilantro in the salsa, and cut out stencils to decorate the dark chocolate cake with powdered sugar. The mornings went by slowly, and once my prepping was done, I spent time listening to music, drinking coffee, and watching the world through the bay windows. We had a few regulars who ordered obsessive compulsive variations on oatmeal and coffee. Most of the daytime customers were playwrights, out of work artists, or tourists. At night, the open kitchen turned into theater, and I was a lopsided magician, turning out hundreds of dishes for the stream of customers. Orders flew at me like paper planes and a never ending flurry of waitresses demanded quick fixes and alterations to the day’s specials. The energy was addictive, and at night, the music would get turned up loud, and the whole cafe would take on a nightclub feel. I decorated my plates using fanciful techniques I had seen on cooking shows. I put my sauces in squeeze bottles, I cut things on the bias, and I cleaned my station meticulously. The nights hummed past, and at the end of the shift everyone in the cafe would help each other clean, and we would all drink strong German beer and smoke cigarettes as we worked. I got to know everyone’s story, and I made friends with world traveling waitresses, recovering addicts, and film students. There were wonderful quiet moments when a shift was winding down. I enjoyed the back of the coffee counter with its hand scrawled instructions, doodles, mugs, and bags of coffee and tea. The work was harsh, but filled with stimulation.

On a calm afternoon I was brought to the back of the cafe and told I had been fired. The boyish, middle aged man who owned the joint told me he received complaints from his waitstaff about my speed expediting orders on busy nights. I looked into his bespectacled face, both extraordinarily disappointed and self satisfied that I had lasted as long as I did. I worked at Earwax for around six months, and during my time there, I got to see the bustling Chicago cafe from the other side of the counter. I liked being on the other side. I liked being in the kitchen. The owner gave me a few harsh words and then a few words of kindness, and he ended his speech by exclaiming, “It doesn’t matter how shit looks man, you worry too much about plating...this is a cafe man, not a fucking sushi restaurant.” I hung my white apron, stained with tomato, chive and chick pea on a metal hook in the back of the kitchen, and said my goodbyes to the small barista.

Original business card 
illustrated by Daniel Clowes
I never went back to Earwax after they fired me, except to pick up an occasional take out order. My friends and I slowly developed a taste for malt liquor, pot, and bottles of Guinness Stout. We had put our days of coffee and tea behind us. At the century’s end, the cafe was relocated up the street to a more generous space, but the feeling of the original room got lost in the shuffle. The energy that haunted the old location was deafeningly silent in the new spot. Still, Earwax was always a constant in Wicker Park, and it represented a colorful part of the neighborhood’s history. It’s a history that no longer exists, and can scarcely be felt among the chain stores and condo lofts that now make up the neighborhood. On March 1, 2011, Earwax shut its painted burlap doors for good. Wicker Park is now a neighborhood filled with ghosts and shiny new children, all clamoring for market share and attention. Long gone are the gruff, vagabond days of wood, tin, enamel and eccentrics.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011


In 2009, a small band of Chicago artists and designers got together to create The Post Family, a virtual gallery space where people could share grooming tips, minimalist design proclivities, as well as fine art interests. The whole thing started simply enough as a design and art oriented blog, but the Post Family quickly grew from an online environment into a brick and mortar gallery space that hosts potluck dinners, musical events, and a studio space.

Through the web and gallery space, The Post Family hopes to get the word out about Chicago art and design, and create a forum for further discussion and interpretation. As the family’s mission statement says, "Everything is for the growth of our family members and community by supplying them with the resources and inspiration to accomplish their individual goals." The website acts as sort of a Huffingtonpost for Chicago art, and features interviews with local artists, designers and musicians. The site also hits on relevant art, design and music from outside Chicago, and the family hopes the site will be a place of global connectivity and shared creative ideas.

On March 25, The Post Family will host an opening at their Family Room gallery space at 1821 W. Hubbard. The exhibition, entitled Double Feature, will showcase the madcap design work of Art Dump and Girl Skateboards. The exhibition features a series of original poster prints that relate to skateboard videos filmed for the Girl skateboard company. Some of the videos, featuring obtuse themes not normally associated with skateboarding, were directed by pretty boy auteur, Spike Jonze. Installations of the skate videos in question will accompany the print design work on the walls, making for a skateboard art tour de force.

For more information on The Post Family and their offerings, visit

The Post Family
The Family Room Gallery
1821 W. Hubbard St. #202
Chicago, Illinois

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions - We're a Winner - A real uplifting springtime joint from the undisputed king of Chicago Soul, Curtis Mayfield. This tune is one of those rare treasures where all of the elements work perfectly together to create a perfect jewel of sound. The slack jazz guitar, vibes, crowd vocals, syrupy bass, and the tub thumping drums combine to create something of pure beauty. This track also represents the beginning of the "message" music that Mayfield would embrace in the later half of the 1960s. Mayfield grew up in Chicago and was well aware of the injustices and brutality of racism, and he used his voice to help those around him strive for something better. This tune is all about working for equality at a time of immense change, and Mayfield's words and voice bring that message home.

Young Holt Unlimited - Hey Pancho - A funky little soul strutter from the Young Holt Unlimited. Young Holt created some of the most iconic Chicago soul music ever recorded, scoring huge hits with tunes like "Whack-Whack" and "Soulful Strut". The group began as a trio and played funky, cabaret style piano grooves that were popular in the Chicago's many cocktail lounges in the early 1960s. Organ and piano trios were the staple of the Chicago lounge scene, and The Young Holt Trio, and Ramsey Lewis were the kings of the genre. On this track the Holt gets pretty funky for their album of Curtis Mayfield composed Superfly covers. The track is a loose, funky soul number with hard electric piano, drums and a fierce groove. The Holt was getting a bit long in the tooth when this was recorded, but these old cats played the funky new stuff with confidence and hustle.

Major Lance - Um Um Um Um Um Um  - This tune is the quintessential Chicago soul number. Cut in 1964 for the Okeh label, the track was penned by Curtis Mayfield and delivered by Major Lance. From the beginning bass drop in the first measure of the tune, a slinky mood is set, and it doesn't relent throughout the two minute masterpiece. Mayfield's loose, funky guitar style can be heard throughout the track, and the latin percussion and jazz influenced horns in the bridge scream Chicago. In the early sixties, immigrants from Latin America were just beginning to migrate to midwestern industrial centers like Chicago, and as they came, they brought with them fierce rhythms and percussive elements. This tune incorporates those rhythms and layers them with the Chicago blues and jazz feel that was popular at the time. While the music is impeccable and lovely, this tune's message is kind of radical for a pop number. This is a tune about an old cat who is still taken aback by the beauty of a fine female, and a young man who is just beginning to understand what romance is all about. This is a song about sex for sure, but it's also about wisdom, understanding, and how somethings in life just never change.

Starting on Saturday, February 26, those interested in hearing some real soul, funk, rocksteady, ska, dub, jazz, and latin joints should make it down to Orbit Room on California Ave. in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood. The Fort Wellington Sound System will be starting a soulful residency in the space, and providing dusty hot classics for dancing and drinking.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011



The women who work at Ideal Pastry are mean, but then again, kindness is overrated. Nobody needs a pleasant 'hello' when indulging in pastry consumption. Sometimes a look of derision is well deserved when you’ve just purchased a bag overflowing with chocolate bismarks, danish, and kolaches. The Polish women who man the counter at Ideal Pastry in Jefferson Park might not be the most welcome hostesses in the donut game, but they get the job done. They’ll tell you all about the special croissants, pastries and breads for sale at the bakery, but they will never love you.

A Jefferson Park staple for decades, people have been flocking to Ideal for donuts, bread and coffee cake for generations. On weekend mornings the place is filled with plump old men in high wasted pants and fedoras ordering coffee cake and turnovers. The place still does a brisk business from new clientele and a dedicated contingent of regulars. The bakery has switched ownership a few times, and the once traditional American bakery, now has a strong Polish flavor. The new owners expanded the store front on Milwaukee Ave. to accommodate a Polish style deli and ethnic food shop. While these offerings are enjoyable and eclectic, Ideal’s baked goods are still the real stars. The unassuming shop makes some of the best European style bread in Chicago, and people have been rumored to travel far and wide for a loaf of their Lithuanian rye bread. The bakery also makes traditional rye, pumpernickel, rustic wheat and multi grain breads, as well as excellent croissants. Those seeking sweeter fair will enjoy Ideal's bismarks, which have a slightly chewy raised dough, rich dark chocolate, and a custard filling that can only be described as 'inappropriate'. The bakers use only the highest quality ingredients, and the attention to detail comes through in their work. The fruit in the kolaches, donuts and danishes is slightly tart and never saccharine or gummy, and the pastries are just buttery enough to drive someone completely mad with desire. People interested in American style bakery products, or chipper, overtly enthusiastic customer service, might be a little out of luck in this north side establishment. But make no mistake about it, what this bakery lacks in a kind "howdy do", it makes up for with some of the best baked goods in Chicago.

So when you arrive at Ideal Pastry and get painfully dismissive glances and shouts of “next!” from the elegant Polish lady behind the counter, just remember - you have a paper bag filled with chocolate, custard, and powered sugar, and in a few seconds, your day is going to get awesome.

Ideal Pastry
Chicago, Illinois
4765 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago Illinois, 60630

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Sunday, February 13, 2011


Even back in the 1940's Chicago was a bustling metropolis filled with working people, tycoons, and hustlers. The city also looked a little rough around the edges, and you can see the evidence of the city's rural past folding into the more industrialized corners. This was a city that still had farm houses and prairies in its vicinity.

This film, shot in color film, documents a city hustling around and wrapped up in day to day life. Adverts scream in vivid hues of vague racism, americana, and traditionalist ideas. This is a world where doctors recommend smoking Chesterfields and drinking Schlitz Beer. Much of this world no longer exists. It's interesting to see North Ave. and State Street with shoppers in three piece suits, mink coats and fedora hats. There are certain sequences in this film that look like they were taken in another reality, but there are the occasional, surprisingly familiar moments that look like they were captured yesterday.

Friday, February 11, 2011


The music industry is a fickle mistress. Making, selling, and promotion music in 2011 is at times a daunting pursuit. The accessibility of internet file sharing, cultural disinterest, and dispassionate consumers has decimated large swaths of the once thriving independent music industry. Chicago’s Thrill Jockey Records remains one of the few labels thriving in this difficult musical landscape. The label, founded in 1992 by owner, Bettina Richards, has been releasing well packaged, beautifully recorded, eclectic independent records since its inception. The label has never wavered in its commitment to musical innovation, and has always cultivated artists pushing the limits of sound.

In the early 1990’s independent music was booming all across the globe, with indie bands releasing a flurry of 7inch records, LPs, CDs and mix tapes. For a a while, it seemed like people everywhere were making and recording music. Chicago was a main cultural hub for artists looking to collaborate, meet other music makers, play out, and promote their recordings. People from all over the country were making the pilgrimage to Chicago to be a part of its thriving music scene. Cheap rent, a close knit community, and popular record labels were just a few of the reason artists made the trek to the city of big shoulders. Chicago bands of the period experimented with punk, jazz, funk, soul, dub, and it was not unusual for these bands to combine this multitude of influences in the music they were making. The city in the early 90’s was bubbling over with musical innovation and a jubilant creative spirit. Thrill Jockey Records came out of this time when it seemed like anything was possible in independent music. In an early release, such as the self titled debut by the Chicago band Tortoise, the label’s genre bending aesthetic and creative spirit are completely evident. Tortoise’s sound was revolutionary, and the band’s mix of soundtrack music, dub, jazz, and post punk was unlike anything being recorded at the time. Thrill Jockey packaged the band’s debut in hand silk screened covers on brown chipboard, beginning a hand made trend in music packaging that would continue for years to come. The label continued to release strikingly creative music throughout the 90’s by bands like The Sea and Cake, Sam Prekop, Eleventh Dream Day, Tortoise, Bobby Conn, Gastr Del Sol, Rome, Mouse on Mars, Freakwater, Califone, Oval and Trans Am.

Thrill Jockey still cultivates unusual artists from all over the musical map. The label has never had a definitive musical style, and the only connective thread between its artists is the consistent quality and innovative nature of the work. Releasing everything from the folk, psychedelic chug of a band like Arboretum, to the elegant African guitar minimalism of an artist such as Sidi Toure, there isn’t a style of music that Thrill Jockey hasn’t touched. The label has managed to stay ahead of the digital music malaise by providing digital downloads, purchasable on their website, alongside their CDs and LPs. Although digital downloads might be the future of music, it hasn’t stopped the label from releasing beautifully packaged recordings. Each recording put out by Thrill Jockey is a wonderfully considered piece of sonic art. Everything from the recording process, mixing, and packaging reinforces the label's strong aesthetic rationale.

In a world that sees independent music labels shutting down on an almost daily basis, it's nice to know that a Chicago treasure like Thrill Jockey Records is still sourcing great artists, and releasing some of the most consistently adventurous music around.

For information on Thrill Jockey artists, recordings, and merchandise, please visit their site at

Sidi Touré - "Taray Kongo" with Jambala Maiga from Thrill Jockey Records on Vimeo.

Tortoise - Prepare Your Coffin from Thrill Jockey Records on Vimeo.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Lee Balterman is a photographer for such publications as Life, Fortune, Time, and Sports Illustrated. This short film captures his personal documentary work focusing on Chicago, its people and nightlife. The photos are hazy, immediate, and capture Chicago's working class ethos and eccentric spirit. Balterman's photos show a city filled with soldiers, factory workers, jazz clubs, taverns, and line cooks. They show a city that rolled up its sleeves, woke up early, and drank away the blues.

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Monday, February 7, 2011


Hound Dog Taylor illustration by Tom Vadakan 

The first time I heard Hound Dog Taylor it felt like I got hit with a seventy pound hammer. I was in a downtown office sorting files and a coworker had placed the cassette tape into a cracked boom box. When the sound poured around the small space, I stood stunned, unable to place exactly what I was hearing. I stopped sorting for a few minutes and listened to the raw, see-saw swing of Hound Dog’s thunderous guitar boogie. The tune was “She’s Gone” off of the Alligator Record’s 1971 release entitled, Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers. The sincerity and passion of the tune smashed me in my face, and sat proudly in the pit of my stomach.

Growing up in Chicago in the 1980’s, blues music was something of an afterthought. The blues was no longer the siren’s song of the Southside, it was relegated to sports bars, and towny taverns filled with fat, white mustachioed men. Growing up I’d listened to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf on late night radio programs and heavy vinyl records. I had always liked the blues, but as I got older and more cynical about music, the blues seemed to get placed on the back burner. As I grew older it seemed like the blues was more the music of beer drinking white guys, than prophetic black storytellers. Somewhere in my mind the blues had become a parody of itself, devoid of real feeling or expression. That was until I heard Hound Dog and his guitar that sounds like it’s being played through a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup.

Born in Natchez, Mississippi in 1915, Taylor’s personal bio reads like an imaginative, American folkloric legend. Crazy stories buzz around Taylor like bumble bees in springtime. It has been said that he was born with six fingers on each hand, and that he was kicked out of his father’s house at gunpoint when he was only 9 years old. While these stories are speculative at best, he did go to live with his older sister when he was a young boy, God only knows if this was because of a shotgun toting father. He began learning guitar in his teens, but didn’t start playing seriously until he was in his twenties. As a young man he toured all across the Mississippi Delta, playing guitar and piano, and performing on notable programs like the King Biscuit Flour Radio Show. In 1942, Taylor found his way to Chicago after a brush with the Ku Klux Klan and an irascible white woman. While in Chicago he gave up the blues in favor of stable employment, and worked for the next 15 years in various odd jobs. In 1957, he decided to become a full time blues man and hone his unique slide guitar style. Known for his boisterous live performances, Taylor soon became a big hit on the burgeoning Chicago electric blues scene. Influenced by the raucous style of fellow bluesman, Elmore James, Taylor gigged religiously and was often said to play “all-nighters” in any number of smoky Chicago clubs. Taylor’s guitar tone was legendary, and it was said he could create distortion and feeling like no one else, partially due to the fact that he only played through cheap guitar amps. The combination of the crackly speakers with Taylor’s passionate style garnered the bluesman a dedicated following in a cutthroat scene. In 1969 Hound Dog met a record store clerk named, Bruce Iglauer while playing a gig at a Chicago blues bar. Iglauer would become Taylor’s manager and help him record and release his debut album.

That debut album was what I heard pouring put of those speakers. Hound Dog Taylor wasn’t just a bluesman, he was more of a blues alliteration. A man who soaked up music like a thirsty towel and lived in a world of his own creation. On that afternoon, after hearing Taylor rip through his bars with more passion than a loose bull, and more grit than an asphalt black top, I redefined the blues for myself, and I haven’t looked back.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Chicago is a city known for its blue collar roots, its music, and its strangeness. It is also one of the most culturally divided cities in the United States, and because of its unfortunate divisions, it has given birth to some fairly eccentric musical combinations. In the late 60’s blues had turned into rock and roll, soul was either raunchy or polite, and funk was just beginning to bubble to the surface. Chicago had its share of soul and funk acts with artists like Curtis Mayfield and Alvin Cash shaking up things up across state lines. Chicago also had a healthy garage rock scene filled with white kids sporting page boy haircuts and new Fender guitars. These musical styles collide like a three car pile up on a little known Chicago funk compilation called Chains and Black Exhaust. Released on the Memphix label in 2002, this rare compilation captures an interesting time in midwestern music, and blazes through some of the deepest funk rock joints ever recorded.

The compilation is the work of record collector Dante Carfugna, and every track is taken from Carfugna’s deep 45 rpm record crates. Each track is a gem of strange fuzzed out psychedelic guitar, hard as nails drums, and vocals about wine, women, drugs, and tribulation. The mix of tunes highlights Chicago at its meanest, blackest, and funkiest. The tune “Yeah, Yeah” by the group Blackrock captures the compilation’s ethos perfectly, with its haunting introductory chant, menacing piano, soul guitar and pounding syncopated drums. Other tunes like, “Corruption’s the Thing”, by Creations Unlimited, highlight the vibrant psychedelic rock scene that was happening in Chicago’s far flung neighborhoods. More than a few of the tracks borrow from other midwestern bands like Grand Funk Railroad and The MC5, but the aggression and psychedelia is dipped in a thick soulful sauce that is pure Chicago. Some of the artists in this collection are not Chicago natives, but the sounds they produce represent Chicago's grimy, work a day shuffle perfectly.

Word on the street is Carfugna gave up record collecting a few years back, and has since gone down the proverbial straight and narrow path. Thankfully, he dug into his crates and gave the world Chains and Black Exhaust before he felt it was time to get out of the game - The world is better for it.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011


A barber shop is unlike any other social space. It is a business, but it’s also a gathering place, and a place where a man is allowed to extend his living room into the larger world. It’s a place where chairs are comfortable and history bounds from the walls like sound. It’s a place that feels like an old shoe, its leather tarnished but strong, and its soles marred but comfortable. In 2011, most men go to chain hair cutteries with their disaffected beauty school graduates and minor hair felons, or upscale salons with their disaffected models and aloof trendsetters. The comfort and familiarity of the barbershop is lost on most men in Chicago. There are some neo-retro barbershops that have opened up in Chicago’s hipper neighborhoods, but they try a little too hard with luke warm Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in mini-fridges and halfhearted straight razor shaves. Those who understand know that a real barber shop can’t be forced. Like a decent pair of jeans, or a good woman, it just exists. Those looking for a real barbershop experience in Chicago, should hike up to a quiet little suburb Northwest of the city called Park Ridge.

Mario’s hair salon has been in Park Ridge for years and it still caters to a dedicated clientele of men looking for the perfect proportioned haircut. The small store front location off of Northwest Highway is easy to miss, but once inside, the shop’s uniqueness is hard to deny. The men cutting hair at Mario’s will smile at you when you enter, but only after the bell rings and makes your presence known. The air in the shop is filled with the scent of shave cream, powder and hairspray, and a small television fills the room with sound. There’s usually a few men of varying ages sitting in the vinyl chairs along the wall. They pitch stories back and forth to the barbers, and trade jokes, political debates, and familial stories. The walls at Mario’s are lined with memorabilia, family photos, news clippings, VFW flags and large mirrors. The sound of scissors dances lightly behind the boisterous voices and laughing. Some god somewhere knew that conversation goes well with haircuts, like wine and cheese, or smoking and sex. There isn’t any pretentious music, free whiskey or beer, and nobody there is wearing designer anything, but somehow it all holds together. Somehow Mario’s manages to feel like home, both nostalgic and relevant, and never ashamed of its flaws.

Once in the chair, the barbers at Mario’s move like dancers. They ask you what you want, but once you’re in the chair they already know what to do. Powder puffs about your head, a paper collar is placed around your neck and the striped apron goes around the whole chair. In an instant, a foot goes on a squeaky leaver and you’re hiked up or down in an ancient chair with ashtrays in the armrests, and turned toward the television. You do some talking, some story telling, some laughing, watch your favorite Chicago team lose, and close your eyes for a few minutes. When the barber’s done, you’re a little rested, and your hair looks better than it did when you walked in and the bell rang.

Mario’s is a place for guys who know that beer is best served cold inside of a darkened bar, beautiful girls are everywhere, conversations should be hilarious, and haircuts should be about the scissors and the company.

Do your hair a favor and go see Mario.

Mario’s Barber Shop
1017 North Northwest Highway
Park Ridge, Illinois

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