Generally, when contemporary performers have taken on retro projects like this one, they have tended to emphasize their fidelity to the sources – consider Linda Ronstadt hiring arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle to recreate his string backgrounds for albums like What's New. Chicago takes a different approach to the swing band classics it tackles here – it Chicago-izes them…
Big Bad Smitty, whose real name is John Henry Smith, is a Mississippi guitarist in the style of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. During his youth, Smitty played in the region of Greenville with Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes, a friend from school. The pair established a band and also played gigs in Arkansas. Smitty settled in Jackson, MS, and drove a truck for a living when he was in his twenties. The local blues scene afforded him the opportunity to play with musicians such as King Mose, Sam Myers, King Edward, and John Littlejohn…….
Muddy Waters was the leading exponent of Chicago blues in the Fifties, and with him, the blues came up from the Delta and went electric. His guitar licks and repertoire have fueled innumerable blues bands.
This is a fantastic example to the 60's Soul Jazz movement. Cox, an accomplished musician, didn't want to be a basketball coach. When he was growing up in Cincinnati, he wanted to be a great baseball player, another Jackie Robinson. And he wanted to be a great jazz saxophone player, another Charlie Parker. After graduating from Kentucky State, Cox came to Chicago with classmate Joe Henderson, the famed tenor sax player. They were en route to California to become professional musicians. But Cox never left. He found a home – and another occupation – on the South Side.
Aretha Franklin is one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged. Her astonishing run of late-'60s hits with Atlantic Records "Respect," "I Never Loved a Man," "Chain of Fools," "Baby I Love You," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Think," "The House That Jack Built," and several others earned her the title "Lady Soul," which she has worn uncontested ever since.
In 2001, legendary blues pianist Pinetop Perkins was edging up on 88 years of age when he played the concert date in Chicago documented on this album. Perkins sounds plenty spry here, but this certainly doesn't capture the great man at his best; Perkins was a pioneer of the boogie-woogie style and was a longtime member of Muddy Waters' band, but most of On the 88's: Live in Chicago is devoted to easygoing midtempo numbers that sound a bit timid compared to what he played in his prime. Perkins shows he still had a great touch on this recording, and his timing is more than fine, but his left hand doesn't quite anchor these tunes the way he did in his salad days (it might have helped if he'd been given a better piano for this gig, since the instrument has the tone of a second-rate electronic keyboard), and even if his singing is game, his voice was showing its wear.