Arts & Culture / Mosaic / October 15, 2014

Siegel-Schwall: A glimpse into Knox’s past

In the autumn of 1966, then-sophomore Michael Goetsch (’69) was on his way to a fraternity pledge meeting when he decided to grab an early dinner in the Oak Room. During his meal, he began hearing these complex, euphonic tunes on the radio (this was back when the Oak Room played music). An 18-year-old suburbanite accustomed to AM radio, he had never before heard such rhythms, chord progressions or improvisations; this chance encounter was Goetsch’s introduction to blues rock. The band that sparked his lifelong blues rock fandom was none other than the Siegel-Schwall Band.

Although the band has maintained some relative obscurity, its cult following is a loyal one. Over the years, Goetsch himself has followed the band across the country. He mentioned a particular Siegel-Schwall concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco as being a high point in his life.

“The rest of my life [after that concert] was anticlimactic,” he said.

The past Saturday, Goetsch ecstatically attended their reunion concert in Kresge Recital Hall. To see his favorite blues rock band one more time, the 67-year-old alumni endured a grueling 16-hour drive from Denver, where he permanently resides.

The band’s lineup consists of Corky Siegel (keyboard, harmonica), Jim Schwall (guitar), Rollo Radford (bass guitar), Arthur “Sambo” Irby (drums) and Sam Lay (the band’s original drummer). While’s Schwall’s honest humor and Corky’s awe-inspiring harmonica solos filled Kresge Recital Hall throughout the band’s energetic two-hour set, the stage presence of veteran drummer Sam Lay, simply put, stole the show. At six months shy of turning 80, Lay still drums with an impressive amount of energy. In his long career, he has performed with such blues and folk legends as Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan (Lay was actually Dylan’s first drummer). Prior to working with musical icons, Lay was a policeman for 32 years and is now grateful for giving up his dangerous career.

“Everything will run out of time É but I’m glad I made it out alive,” he said. Lay has had such a fascinating career that a biographical documentary on his life has been produced and will be released this December. Despite his recent resurgence in fame, Lay maintains a gentle, humble demeanor and his warmheartedness radiates through all his loyal fans.

The other band members had equally fascinating stories to share. Stand-in drummer Arthur “Sambo” Irby was inspired to learn the drums after listening to Jimi Hendrix’s 1970 album “Band of Gypsies.” Irby started playing professionally after only six months of drumming.

“One day, I woke up, went to school, [came] back, and at rehearsal, I was playing drums,” he reminisced. The easiness with which Irby describes his drumming career highlights his natural talent.

The band’s bassist, Rollo Radford, founded his first blues rock band during his military training at Fort Hood, Texas. He was also college friends with the future members of the soul band Earth, Wind & Fire.

Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall met each other in 1964 while studying at Roosevelt University in Chicago. The two began playing regular gigs at Pepper’s Lounge alongside prominent blues musicians, most notably Muddy Waters.

After performing for 50 years, the Siegel-Schwall Band has established a particularly deep history with Knox College. The Siegel-Schwall Band visited the campus every year from 1971 to 1974, playing for crowded auditoriums of enthusiastic students. Knox alumnus Darryl Coburn (’74) recounts the band’s popularity in the early 1970s.

“Each year, the band had more and more students show up to Harbach, a 600 -eat hall. By [1973], we had to do two shows in Harbach. Twelve-hundred seats, and we only had 1,100 students in Knox at that point,” he reminisced.

Coburn was in charge of the Union Board during his junior year in 1973 when he  began booking the band for campus concerts. Forty years later, he booked the band again for his 40th class reunion.

Despite all the concerts at Knox over the years, the band admitted that their extensive touring schedule prevented them from ever fully engaging with Knox’s campus culture.

“When you come out here to do these things, you have to stay with the band É you never really get the chance to do very much [else],” Radford said.

After 50 years of performing, the Siegel-Schwall Band has remained devoted to its music and has continued to tour nationally with its original lineup.


Visiting campus every year from 1971 to 1974, the Siegel-Schwall band performs again at Knox in the Kresge Recital Hall Saturday, Oct. 11. (Courtesy of Office of Communications)

Visiting campus every year from 1971 to 1974, the Siegel-Schwall band performs again at Knox in the Kresge Recital Hall Saturday, Oct. 11. (Courtesy of Office of Communications)

Stefan Torralba

Tags:  alumni bands concerts homecoming kresge music siegel-schwall

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