All performances of Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues are special, but when the legendary Chicago blues pianist/harmonica player brings his pioneering blues/classical quintet to City Winery in Nashville on April 29, it will be even more so thanks to special guest Tracy Nelson.
The great blues-rock vocalist-songwriter, will join Siegel’s ensemble on several pieces structured expressly for her, as well as some of her own classics including “Walk Away” and her much-covered signature “Down So Low.”
The show continues a relationship between Siegel and the Madison, Wisconsin native, which began during the late 1960s psychedelic era in San Francisco when Siegel’s celebrated blues-rock Siegel-Schwall Band played the Avalon Ballroom on a bill also including Nelson’s Frisco-based band Mother Earth and Genesis.
“We met then, but I never really knew her until we played together in the Chicago Blues Reunion,” says Siegel, referring to the Chicago blues all-star group that toured and recorded in 2004 and also featured guitarist Harvey Mandel, singer-songwriter/guitarist Nick Gravenites, keyboardist Barry Goldberg, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer Sam Lay (who later played in Siegel-Schwall and sang on Siegel’s Chamber Blues' acclaimed album from last year, Different Voices).
Corky Siegel and Tracy Nelson perform with the Chicago Blues Reunion
“Siegel-Schwall backed her up on a date then, and we had a great time,” he continues. “Then a few months ago she played the City Winery in Chicago and invited me to sit in and I did a few songs with her and had another great time, so I invited her to join us in Nashville. That’s how fast we jump on things here!”
Siegel recognized, however, that his unique Chamber Blues music isn’t Nelson’s--or most anyone else’s--standard musical performance context.
“I sent her some audio so she could get an idea, and she heard it and said, ‘This is not going to work. No way!’ THen I gave her another chance and she came back with, ‘Hmmm. It’s really weird, but I think there might be a way of making it work….’ Then she listened again--and fell in love with it. That’s the whole Chamber Blues experience for most people! But it’s easier when you hear it live because it’s live music, and people do fall in love with it.”
At the Nashville gig, Nelson will accompany Chamber Blues on world premieres of five songs never before played by the group. In addition to her own songs, she’ll sing the pop standard “Our Love is Here to Stay” and Chamber Blues chestnuts including a modified version of “Italian Shuffle,” which on Different Voices is paired with “Flip Flop & Fly” and sung by Lay, but will be changed for Nelson, who will instead sing the blues staple “I Feel So Good.”
“There’s no one in the world that I know of that sings like Tracy,” says Siegel. “She’s totally one-of-a-kind, and also offers a very strong contrast to the classical-oriented music approach that Chamber Blues is with her strong-hearted blues belting--but with incredible musicality and subtlety.”
Now fully on board, Nelson, who lives in the Nashville area and is finishing up a multi-disc career retrospective CD set for Omnivore Records, says she’s “dying to get my teeth” into the repertoire.
“It’s just fascinating stuff,” she says, “and like everything else I do, kind of whimsical.”
Her only concern is “figuring out the intros” to the songs--and will only have a morning day-of-show rehearsal and soundcheck to get them down.
“That’s the most interesting part of it!” says Siegel. “It will be the first time everyone will be together to play the material.”
But he hopes that it will also be the first of many shows for Nelson and Chamber Blues, and considers it so important that he’s just now back in Chicago after a week in Nashville promoting it.
And Siegel announces one more guest to make the special event extra special: His longtime Siegel-Schwall guitar partner Jim Schwall, who now lives in Nashville, will duet with him on the City Winery Nashville set’s opening tune, and will return to perform on the closer.