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We're three weeks into January, and New Year's resolutions are already dropping faster than a lapsed gym membership. If you're reading this blog, it's safe to guess that "learn a musical instrument" has appeared somewhere on your list in the last 20 years or so. Worry not, CHIRP listeners: this is the year you finally pick up that guitar/trumpet/mountain dulcimer, and we've got the inspiration to help. Five kinds, actually, all provided by musicians associated with Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. It may take more than a year to catch up to John Prine, but with this list, you'll be equipped to power through.
Bob Gibson had plenty of famous friends. During his days on the folks scene in the 1950s and '60s, he helped discover Joan Baez, palled around with Shel Silverstein, and built a house with Pete Seeger. When he wasn't socializing, Gibson spent his time championing the old-style traditional folk still sung at music circles and hootenanies today. Gibson might be called Chicago's answer to Dave Van Ronk, a powerful musician sometimes overshadowed by the more famous names that he influenced. Still, if that's the worst thing you can say about a guy, his legacy's in a pretty good place.
5) Big Bill Broonzy
All of the previous artists on this list studied at the Old Town School of Folk Music, but only Big Bill Broonzy taught there. Although his tenure was brief (the school opened in the winter of 1957, and Broonzy died in the summer of 1958), Broonzy's acclaimed folk blues added an air of legitimacy to the school's opening year. The job was the natural culmination for his dedication to folk, and to Old Town School founder Win Stracke; in the 1940s, Broonzy lent his voice to Stracke's I Come For To Sing, a touring revival show narrated by fellow Chicago legend Studs Terkel. Although commercial success often eluded him during his lifetime, Broonzy bridged the gap between the singers of the country blues tradition and the younger artists who were listening to that work on old 78s. His impact can still be felt in the folk songbook today, and in every rock guitarist who ever decided to rip off a blues riff.
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