Special Consensus: Chicago Barn Dance

Bluegrass & Big Shoulders

Listening Post 273. A week after it began broadcasting from Chicago on April 12, 1924, radio station WLS debuted National Barn Dance, one of the pre-eminent country music programs of its day; over the decades it hosted leading stars—Gene Autry, Patsy Montana, Hank Williams, among others. When the last Barn Dance aired in 1968, Greg Cahill, a young Chicago banjo player, was dancing between college, music and the army; he eventually found his footing and in 1975 formed Special Consensus, a band that maintains the city’s bluegrass-country thread and cred to this day. The group’s 45th anniversary inspired its 20th album—Chicago Barn Dance, as emblematic of Windy City artistry as a Carl Sandburg poem or Louis Sullivan building. The 10 tracks follow a neo-trad route, sculpting familiar jazz, blues, gospel, folk, rock and pop songs—all with Chicago themes or composers—into pristine bluegrass. The title track is a tribute to the old WLS program, recharging history with an utterly fresh sound (video 1). Special C heads down Lake Shore Drive piloted by Rick Faris’ guitar and vocals (video 2) and lets listeners fill in the lyrics with a double-banjo, double-fiddle My Kind of Town (video 3). They lend acoustic Creedence to Looking Out My Back Door (video 4) and their a cappella harmony is immaculate in the hymn Won’t That Be a Happy Time (video 5). Other gems: East Chicago Blues, a bio-sketch of bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe; Steve Goodman’s iconic City of New Orleans, and the Louis Armstrong classic I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music. Incidentally, George D. Hay, the first National Barn Dance announcer, moved to Nashville and launched the WSM Barn Dance, a spinoff he rebranded in 1928 as the Grand Ole Opry. Chicago kept playing and nearly a century on has, by Special Consensus, a bluegrass masterpiece carrying its name. (Compass Records)

Note. The title track of Chicago Barn Dance was named 2020 Song of the Year at the IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards virtual ceremony held October 1 in Raleigh, NC.

Special Consensus: Chicago Barn Dance
Greg Cahill: Banjo
Nate Burie: Mandolin, lead and harmony vocals
Dan Eubanks: Bass, lead and harmony vocals
Rick Faris: Guitar, lead vocals

With…
Mike Barnett: Fiddle
Alison Brown: Banjo, album producer
Becky Buller: Fiddle, harmony vocals
Michael Cleveland: Fiddle
Robbie Fulks: Lead vocals
Rob Ickes: Dobro
Patrick McAvinue: Fiddle
Marcia Campbell: Dancing, clapping, hoots and hollers
Ned Luberecki: As himself (announcer)

 

Chicago Barn Dance
Becky Buller, Missy Raines, Alison Brown

Chicago radio station WLS broadcast National Barn Dance from 1924 to 1968. The station was owned by Sears, Roebuck & Co. (the call letters stood for “World’s Largest Store”) and the program was aimed at farm audiences as far as the radio signal could reach and former country folk living in the city.

Sis, turn on the radio/We don’t wanna miss the show
Comin’ clear from Chicago/A mighty long ways away
We’ve been workin’ hard ’til now/All week behind a mule and plow
Chasing chickens, milking cows/And planning our escape

In our back porch rocking chairs
As WLS fills the air/With songs of faith, adventure and romance
Chicago Barn Dance

Gene Autry in his western wear/Lulu Belle and Scotty are quite a pair
The Monroe Brothers form a square/And spin the pretty girls
Red Foley and Brad Kincaid/Banjo pickin’ Lily May
Patsy Montana steals the stage/Yodelin’ for the world

They say the line winds and snakes/Down Wabash and back up 8th
Have to get your tickets in advance
Chicago Barn Dance

Times are hard, the news is grim/Everyone’s at war again
Us prairie farmers are tuning in/To keep our hearts from cryin’
They’re taking the show on the road/Evening paper told us so
All proceeds to the USO/Bring rubber and scrap iron

Friends and neighbors, gather ‘round/Let’s get this old truck loaded down
We’ll do our bit to help the best we can

And finally our way is clear/To see the music that we hear
Today’s the day we’re gonna get our chance
Chicago Barn Dance

 

Lake Shore Drive Chicago
Skip Haynes

There’s a road I’d like to tell you about, lives in my home town
Lake Shore Drive the road is called and it’ll take you up or down
From rags on up to riches fifteen minutes you can fly
Pretty blue lights along the way, to help you right on by
And the blue lights shining with a heavenly grace, to help you right on by

And there ain’t a road just like it
Anywhere I found
Running south on Lake Shore Drive heading into town
Just slippin’ on by on Lake Shore Drive, Friday night trouble bound

And it starts up north from Hollywood, water on the driver’s side
Concrete mountains rearing up, throwing shadows just about five
Sometimes you can smell the green if your mind is feeling fine
There ain’t no finer place to be, than running Lake Shore Drive
And there’s no peace of mind, or place you see, than riding on Lake Shore Drive

And there ain’t a road just like it
Anywhere I found
Running south on Lake Shore drive heading into town
Just slicking on by on Lake Shore Drive, Friday night trouble bound

And it’s Friday night and you’re looking clean
Too early to start the rounds
A ten minute ride from the Gold Coast back make sure you’re pleasure bound
And it’s four o’clock in the morning and all of the people have gone away
Just you and your mind and Lake Shore Drive, tomorrow is another day
And the sunshine’s fine in the morning time, tomorrow is another day

And there ain’t a road just like it
Anywhere I found
Running south on Lake Shore drive heading into town
Just cruising on by on Lake Shore Drive, Friday night trouble bound

 

My Kind of Town
Sammy Cahn/James Van Heusen

Special Consensus albums typically have at least one instrumental song and when when Greg Cahill and producer-banjo partner Alison Brown sat down to decide which one they would do for this album it was a tossup. “We were trying to decide between Chicago, Chicago [That Toddlin’ Town] or My Kind of Town,” Cahill said in an interview with Banjo Newsletter, “and eventually agreed that My Kind of Town would be cooler.”

 

Looking Out My Back Door
John Fogerty

Just got home from Illinois, lock the front door, oh boy/Got to sit down, take a rest on the porch
Imagination sets in, pretty soon I’m singin’/Doo, doo, doo, lookin’ out my back door

A giant’s doin’ cartwheels, statues wearin’ high heels/Look at all the happy creatures dancin’ on the lawn
Dinosaur Victrola, listenin’ to Buck Owens/Doo, doo, doo, lookin’ out my back door

Tambourines and elephants are playin’ in the band/Won’t you take a ride on the flyin’ spoon? Doo, doo, doo
Wondrous apparition provided by magicians/Doo, doo, doo, lookin’ out my back door

Tambourines and elephants are playin’ in the band/Won’t you take a ride on the flyin’ spoon? Doo, doo, doo
Bother me tomorrow, today I’ll buy no sorrows/Doo, doo, doo, lookin’ out my back door

Forward troubles Illinois, lock the front door, oh boy!/Look at all the happy creatures dancin’ on the lawn
Bother me tomorrow, today I’ll buy no sorrow/Doo, doo, doo, lookin’ out my back door

 

Won’t That Be a Happy Time
Traditional

My Lord told me to Pray-o…
Pray-o…/Pray-o…

Well, there’s a thing in prayin’/Well, lord, won’t that be
Lord, won’t that be/Lord, won’t that be one happy time

Well I will walk the streets of glory/And begin to wear my starry crown
Singin’, Lord, won’t that be one happy time

Now, lord I want to be there sitting down/Lord, I want to be there sitting down
And I sit down beside King Jesus/Begin to tell him all the troubles I have
He gonna give me the crown to wear it on my head/Gonna put on the golden slippers
I’m gonna try on the long white robe/Lord, won’t that be one happy time

Lord, I want to be there walkin’ around/Lord, I want to be there walkin’ around, Hallelujah
Well, I will walk the streets of glory/Begin to wear my starry crown
Lord won’t it be one happy time

I’m gonna move up a little step farther/Gonna shake hands with my father
I’m gonna Move up alittle bit farther/Gonna shakes hands with my mother
Move up a little bit farther/Gonna shake hands with my sister
Move up a little bit farther/Gonna shake hands with my brother
Lord, won’t that be one happy time

 

 


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