Review: Fleetwood Mac in Chicago January 4 TH 1969 The Legendary Chess Blues Sessions – (Schiffer Publishing 2022) Jeff Lowenthal and Robert Schaffner
“Sherman, set the controls on the Way Back Machine to Chicago, the Chess Studios, January fourth, 1969”
All books, whether fiction or non-fiction serve as “time machines”, allowing us to vicariously experience the ancient, or recent past; speculative futures or imagined worlds and realms.
“Fleetwood Mac in Chicago January 4 TH 1969 – The Legendary Chess Blues Sessions” (Schiffer Publishing 2022) by Jeff Lowenthal and Robert Schaffner delivers this experience on an immersive level.
Full Disclosure: a few quotes from Volume Two of my book series on the music of Peter Green are used in the book.
Some background on the genesis of the book: in early January of 1969, Marshall Chess asked Jeff Lowenthal to photograph a session at the Chess Studios with Fleetwood Mac recording with some of the finest Chicago session players hand-picked by Willie Dixon (who also plays on the session)
The photos that Jeff Lowenthal took that day captured a specific moment in time (which none of the participants, including Lowenthal had any idea would one day be considered historic)
Appropriately, among the first images in the book are inside the control booth.
Turning the pages, we then move out in the studio itself.
The reader’s eye is drawn deep into each photo, taking in the details of the studio, the instruments being used and parsing the musician’s body language and expressions, attempting to decipher what they may have thinking at the moment that the shutter clicked.
Once the book has been opened, the reader will find themself slowly turning the pages, a frisson developing as they dwell on the photos, not wanting to miss a thing even as their anticipation builds as to what the next pages will bring
Among my favorite photos are those of Otis Spann (a couple in two-page, full color, spreads), one of the finest pianists to ever play the blues.
But do not mistake this as “just” a photographic chronical of a recording session.
The text offers forewords from Mike Vernon and Marshall Chess and introductions from Jeff Lowenthal and Robert Schaffner.
After these, there are reminisces from Peter Green’s contemporaries and rising stars who were influenced by his work and that of band.
Interspersed are longer interviews conducted by Robert Schaffner which deepen our understanding and appreciation of the musicians and the music captured both on tape and on film that day.
For me, among the interview highlights are those with Bruce Thomas, Kim Simmonds, Aynsley Dunbar and Buddy Guy.
Among the remembrances, Paul Hamer, Adam Clayson, Michael Freeman and Martin Celmins stand out along with Chris Herman’s encomium for Danny Kirwan.
Towards the end there are textual thumbnail sketches of some of the Chicago players on the session who may not be as well- known to readers as some of their peers: David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Big Walter Horton, J.T. Brown and S. P. Leary; a fitting tribute to those long gone whose music lives on.
The lay-out and design of the book make it something to savor; an object that one will return to repeatedly, dipping in and out, and always coming away with a greater appreciation of all who were involved with that session and the creation of this book.
A “must-have” for fans of Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green, British Blues, Chicago Blues and the visual arts.