Chicago, “Mississippi Delta City Blues” from Chicago XI (1977): Saturdays in the Park

Share this:

I remember it like it was yesterday: Canandaigua, N.Y. My older sister and her family had recently moved. It was 1990 or ’91, and in a musty old basement I found a dresser left behind by the previous owner with a stack of vinyl records in one of the drawers.

As a child of the ’80s and part of the “second wave” of Chicago fans (those far more familiar with Chicago 17 than the Columbia Records era) this was my first REAL exposure to Terry Kath. So, finding a stereo in my sister’s then-new home, I dropped the platter on the turntable and gently placed the needle in the groove.

And in that moment with that opening guitar riff with a nervous chuckle from Terry Kath and the rhythmic chemistry of Terry, Peter Cetera, and Danny Seraphine, I fell in love with Chicago for the first time all over again. Because, truly — hearing that incarnation of the band was like hearing a completely different band than the one that had already sunk its teeth into me with Chicago 16-19.

“Mississippi Delta City Blues” had been kicking around for years before I finally heard it and even then it had evolved dramatically from its origins when it was played by a band on the Windy City nightclub circuit called the Big Thing. Chicago had briefly dusted it off when performing live in Japan in 1972, with yet a different arrangement than was first showcased in those Chicago clubs and later on 1977’s Chicago XI. But by then, the group had finally perfected it. The evolution of “Mississippi Delta City Blues” was complete and, sadly, just in time given that it was Terry Kath’s final album with the band.

Where the earliest incarnations of “Mississippi Delta City Blues” had a slow, almost plodding rhythm that gradually built into a crescendo of horns, the 1972 version on Live in Japan (and its studio counterpart on the 2002 Rhino re-release) picked up the tempo, giving it more of a traditional blues riff that was a bit closer to the version that eventually made it onto Chicago XI. The ’72 arrangement was more a showcase for Terry, while the arrangement that opened XI showed a rhythm section firing on all cylinders and was a showcase of that chemistry.

What makes the song so interesting, however, is that in listening to the different versions one can hear not only the evolution of “Mississippi Delta City Blues,” but the evolution of Terry Kath as a songwriter, arranger and musician. It’s one of the few instances where one can experience a musician’s growth with that level of insight.

Given the passing of Kath less than a year after this album’s release, the nervous chuckle that opens this song almost feels eerie. In retrospect, Terry Kaths passing gives the whole vibe of the song an overall air of finality. It’s a goodbye of sorts.

‘Saturdays in the Park’ is a multi-writer, song-by-song examination of the music of Chicago. Find it here at Something Else! each weekend.

Perplexio

Perplexio

Perplexio also maintains a stand-alone blog called The Review Revue, where he explores music, movies and books. He spearheaded 'Saturdays in the Park,' our weekly multi-writer, song-by-song series focused on the music of Chicago. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse reviews.com.
Perplexio
Share this:
Close