Chicago is famous for many things — deep dish pizza, Oprah, the Sears Tower — but it has also produced some well-known bands and musicians. Like most big cities, Chicago is full of artist resources and culture, which makes it a great environment for musical inspiration. So who started here, and how did they get to where they are now? If you or your child is a budding musician in the Chicago area, read on. You might just find some inspiration of your own!
While some of these artists were born in Chicago, others lived there for a good portion of time. All of the bands you’ll read about below got their start there. There is one thing they all have in common though — all of these musicians played the Chicago music scene, and were supported by a city who loves its music. From the explosion of the Chicago blues to the rock of today, and everything in between, it’s tough to find a city quite like this one.
The band Fall Out Boy was both formed in Chicago in 2001 by Joe Trohman and Pete Wentz. The band has roots in the Chicago punk scene, where Wentz made a name playing in the ’90s with various bands. In the beginning, the band searched for stability, trying out a few different members before settling on Patrick Stump and Andy Hurley. They dealt with the usual aches and pains of starting a band as they toured and wrote songs, but Fall Out Boy found success fairly quickly compared to the music industry norm. Their debut album, Take This to Your Grave, got good reviews and earned them gigs at SXSW and the Warped Tour.
Sometimes you luck out and get great neighbors. That was what happened when twin brothers John and Chuck Panozzo met neighbor Dennis DeYoung. They established a large Chicago fan base for a while, and then finally hit mainstream fame in 1977. It could have been their 7th album’s lucky release date —7/7/77 —or it could be that the world was ready for their long-practiced sound. Their story is typical, including some hard times, tension, breakups, and reunions — but the fanbase certainly still exists now, and they’ll forever be known as one of the most important bands from Chicago.
Like Fall Out Boy, several of the band members of Smashing Pumpkins are originally from Chicago. The Smashing Pumpkins, however, laid the foundation for many of the bands that are popular today, as part of the powerful roots of alternative music. Billy Corgan and James Iha started as a duo, playing bars in Chicago, then connected with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who had a jazz background and gave them an even more unique sound. After releasing singles with a local Chicago label, they eventually achieved commercial success in the early ’90s. Although their rocky road as a band led to a permanent breakup of the original members, the Smashing Pumpkins recently announced that two new records are on the horizon.
How could you talk about bands from Chicago without mentioning the band Chicago? These talented musicians have achieved incredible success and unprecedented longevity. They are the kind of band that even if you think you don’t know them, you’ll recognize several of their songs. Chicago has mastered the ballad, dominated the rock genre, and turned being rockstars into a lifelong career! The heart of Chicago — four DePaul University students — still play today: Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, and Walter Parazaider. These music students made the most of their abilities and formed something that will always be an irreplaceable part of the city of Chicago.
These are just a few names worth noting, but there are so many more musicians, artists, and bands from Chicago that have made an impact on the music scene. Other honorable mentions include Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman, Herbie Hancock, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and Wilco. And there are still many, many more!
Every musician got their start somewhere. It might have been the music lessons their parents signed them up for, combined with an album that captivated and inspired them. They could have sung in the church choir and realized their voice was a gift they wanted to share. Maybe they marched in their high school band, and then decided to form a rock band to show the world that they had other types of music on their mind. No matter how they got started, Chicago is undoubtedly a great place to do it!
Photo by Sebastien