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Steve Krakow - Raging Pages

  by Lisa Torem

published: 8 / 3 / 2016

Steve Krakow - Raging Pages


In her 'Raging Pages' book column Lisa Torem is excited about Steve Krakow AKA Plastic Crimewave's well-researched book about unsung Chicago luminaries. 'My Kind of Sound: The Secret History of Chicago Music'

Steve Krakow’s ascent into the back alleys of Chicago cultural history actually began in 1996. It was then that he conceptualized and published 'The Galactic Zoo Dossier'. He not only wrote the content of this fanzine in his own script, he also illustrated it and pored himself into the task of documenting his city’s very talented but largely unsung musical population. Indie label Drag City took an interest and began to publish the cartoon/column in 2001. It soon earned accolades from the likes of 'Mojo' and 'Spin'. It was only a matter of time before the Chicago Reader would get on Krakow’s infectious bandwagon. 'My Kind of Sound: The Secret History of Chicago Music', what Krakow initially and modestly referred to as his “info-strip”, spawned new wings as a bi-monthly feature for a decade. The first thing one notices is how absolutely reader-friendly it is. Ladies, you can easily stuff it in your handbag! This hardcover black and white book is smartly designed with glossy texture and arranged in alphabetical order. Mind you, if you have a serious stigmatism, you may have trouble deciphering the print, so baby boomers get out your reading spectacles. Local rock writer and NPR Sound Opinion host, Jim DeRogatis, wrote the introduction. His last sentence speaks volumes: “Those of us who care about the good stuff know what he’s done, and we love him for it.” Krakow packs a bundle of research into each profile, yet not so much that you feel like you’re leafing through a dry encyclopedia entry. He gets right down to the major facts and whilst doing so explains why a particular artist deserves recognition, his or her migration pattern—they may have made their mark in our fair city, but may not have been born here. He is not type-A about genre. You’ll encounter the swooning Daughters of Eve, blues & jazz pianist Albert Ammons— (Krakow complains that Ammon was known, but not well-known enough), “outlaw psych rockers” Finchley Boys, gospel group The Gay Sisters, Gabriel Bondage, “70s band” that “has its roots in a 60s garage band", “loner-punk” JT IV and multi-instrumentalist bluesman Johnny “Big Moose” Walker. He travels back to 1955 when Magic Sam hit the clubs and earned the respect of Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Otis Rush. If you get bleary-eyed, Krakow understands. “Congrats again, you made it through M!” he states midway before explaining why the last section is especially “dear to my heart.” Krakow admits that some artists such as New Colony Six “weren’t so secret,” yet he also asserts that when pressed, few knew the vital statistics: the peaks and valleys of their Windy City trajectory or their greatest hits. And just wait until he spills the beans on author Shel Silverstein. Did you know he was a jammer? Krakow plays the sleuth at times: he finds 'I’m A Snow Plow, Baby' by Rob Riley & The All-Pro Shakers at a hardware store and just has to track them down. Krakow devotes a short section at the end to summarising the “old-school” process he used to create his images. In a world of overwhelming technology, it’s refreshing to find a writer that tosses about terms like 'Xerox' and who literally means “like with scissors and glue stick” when he says cut and paste. He’s a fine artist as well as author and he very well captures the personalities and styles of his subjects. It’s fun to see his pen and ink take on shifting trends: oversized shades, hippie tresses, bluesmen hats and British-influenced bowl cuts. I really enjoyed getting to know more intimately local artists that truly paid their dues, even when it meant forsaking commercial gain. Being a Chicago native, I recognized a fair number of the chosen, but was just as intrigued by the ones that had escaped my radar. But what if you’re not from here? Is “The Secret History of Chicago” still a viable read? I guess that’s like asking, should I care about The British Invasion even though it came from across the pond? Seriously? Chicago’s international cultural influence has often been understated and overlooked or worse, scholarly footnoted in a doctoral thesis for an elite few. Thankfully, Steve Krakow AKA Plastic Crimewave has no tolerance for that kind of nonsense; instead he demands extreme respect for Windy City visionaries and as much for the hole-in-the-wall town that nurtured them. He refers to Chicago as “the city that has birthed and innovated more musical genres than one could possibly measure.” We’ve already heard the myths and stories associated with “The City That Never Sleeps”, Motor City and The Philly Sound and now with Krakow’s persistence, we’ve begun to unearth Chicago’s finest but forgotten. Steve Krakow AKA Plastic Crimewave continues to share his talents as an international DJ and promoter for events such as Chicago Psych Fest.

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