Goin’ to Chicago (Sorry, But I Can’t Take You)

Like many of us, I’m growing a little tired of hearing or thinking about Toronto’s disgraced mayor. But his recent crash off the wagon and skedaddle to a rehab shack somewhere in or near Illinois got me to thinking of something more pleasant, namely the classic Count Basie-Jimmy Rushing blues, “Goin’ to Chicago”.

Basie recorded this a number of times in the ’40s with Jimmy Rushing singing. I love Rushing to death, but my favourite version of this is on a 1959 record called Sing Along With Basie, which features Lambert, Hendricks & Ross (and on this track, Joe Williams) singing with the band. This record is not to be confused with L, H & R’s Sing A Song of Basie from 1957, on which the vocal trio recreated (and replaced) the sound of the whole band by singing every instrumental part of the arrangements, backed by Basie’s rhythm section, with Nat Pierce sitting in for the Count on piano. It’s a phenomenal vocal tour de force, but I prefer Sing Along With Basie because it features the singers with the actual band, and because Jon Hendricks wrote some great lyrics to the amazing solos from records by the earlier Basie band of the late ’30s. Fabulous soloists like Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Dickie Wells, Buck Clayton and Sweets Edison (on tunes like “Jumpin’ At the Woodside”, “Let Me See”, “Every Tub”, Tickle Toe”) provide wonderful raw material for Hendricks to spin his hip jazz poetry.

This version of “Goin’ To Chicago” starts with a soulful two-chorus, slow blues solo sung by Hendricks. I’m not sure who originally blew this eloquent, brooding solo, but the phrasing is trombone-like, although the content sounds like trumpeter Buck Clayton. (Turns out It was Clayton.) At any rate, the words Hendricks put to it are marvelous, they always kill me:

You keep your New York joys…..I’m goin’ to Illinois……… Just as fast as I can….(Charlie Fowlkes plays a really great, fat low note on baritone here…..)

You New York women think you’ll make a fool of any man……. play all kinds of games and you’ll cheat if you can……Use love like a tool, make a man a fool…..

What a beautiful motto……. you got my money, that’s it……How can you mind if I split? 

(Second chorus, up higher now) Goin’ back where a woman really knows the way to treat a man……….and people are friendly without no hidden plan……(Some beautiful rippling piano fills from Basie here).

It’s the best in the Midwest. It’s a real doowwwwn city full of good folks who come from home……(more wonderful prodding from Count here)….

And when I get back I’ll never roam far from my little Chi-town…….(Basie down low here)…Goodbye, farewell, I might see you later……..

(New chorus, Joe Williams enters at the top with the real words, preachin’ up a storm) Goin’ to Chicagooooooh, sorry but I can’t take you….(L, H & R answer) I’m goin’ to Chi-town……. I’ll make it my town!

And so on, for three or four more choruses of glorious, beautifully-timed blues singing….“When you see me comin’ baby, raise your windows high.…(Hoist your windows to the sky, yeahhh)”……”‘Cause there ain’t nothin’ in Chicago, for a monkey woman like you“…etc., etc. Whooooee baby. I’ll beat you daddy, straight to the bar. Here it is:

Admittedly, the lyrics to the solo are a little misogynistic, but this is the blues after all. Throughout their history, blues lyrics have never exactly been known for their political correctness. They’re full of low-down, hoochie-coochie, sleepin’ out in a hollow log, outskirts of town, back door men, mean mistreaters, evil liars and cheaters on both sides of the gender fence, so at least it’s a two-way street. These are not nearly as misogynistic as some of Mr. Ford’s recent comments though, which brought a whole new meaning to the term “jam session”.


The rest of Sing Along With Basie is similarly terrific. If you don’t have it, I urge you to get it soon and put it on. It beats the hell out of waiting around to hear any more of the cloacal dreck oozing from the sewers of our civic politics these days. Thanks to the wonderful vocalese lyrics by Hendricks, the great singing and the romping band itself, it’s a very fun record which also achieves a kind of profundity. Annie Ross sings the graceful trumpet solos by Edison and Clayton in her patented slinky style. Dave Lambert has several wonderful turns summoning up the braying, drunk-sounding trombone of Dickie Wells in some of his best solos; God, what a player he was. Hendricks handles the saxophone solos, most of them classics by Lester Young. Lester’s otherworldly sound, rhythmic agility, and his habit of playing phrases that sound like human speech provide magnificent grist for the mill of Hendricks’ gift for wit, rhyme and meter. “How d’ ya do there, getta load o’ me…“.

“When I was a little child, very small, no size at all, folks had a ball, ticklin’ my toes…”.

“Jumpin’ in the hall and everybody have a ball, I do meeannn….I do meeannn”. It’s just too much.

Of course, these vocalized versions can’t take the place of the original records they’re based on, but that’s not the point. The topical, street-wise words and the affectionate delivery of them by the singers reinforce and add a fresh dimension to the originals, sending you back to hear them with a renewed appreciation of just how ridiculously great the Count Basie band was, c.1938-40. Nothing like it, ever.

This isn’t the first time that jazz has provided me with a witty and welcome distraction from the idiocies of the present, and chances are it won’t be the last.

© 2014 – 2016, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “Goin’ to Chicago (Sorry, But I Can’t Take You)

  1. Hi Steve, did you know that I’m a great grsndson of Toronto’s most heroic
    mayor- Joe Sheard, 1882. They elected him Mayor because he refused to build the gallows
    so the familyCompact could hang Lount and Matthews in1838. He was then
    the Foreman Carpenter for the City. He said “they’ve done nothing I might not
    have done myself “, S-Disturbing runs in the family. Best Terry

    T here must be writers who would give a lot to have used that —
    UGH — foul smelling phrase.You could single handedly depose
    this Mayor.

  3. Steve, you really should write a piece on the inimitable Dicky Wells. He and Trummy Young had to be two of the most eccentric trombone players ever to pick up the instrument. To me Dicky Wells was the Lester Young of the trombone and of course that is meant as a huge compliment. Please do consider writing a Dicky Wells piece. (Oh, and then of course there’s that third master of eccentric tromboning – the masterful Bill Harris. He deserves a Steve Wallace overview as well.)

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