Interweaving classical and blues, Corky Siegel brings unique musical journey to Raue

“Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues: Featuring Tracy Nelson” takes place at 8 p.m. Friday at the Raue Center in Crystal Lake.
“Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues: Featuring Tracy Nelson” takes place at 8 p.m. Friday at the Raue Center in Crystal Lake.

Like any artist, Corky Siegel wants to bring something a bit original into the world. 

With his Chamber Blues, there’s no doubt he’s doing just that. In fact, he’s the only one doing what he does – intricately interweaving classical and blues music.

“When you juxtapose two seemingly opposing forces and bring them together, it’s going to be unique without even trying,” said Siegel, who has been composing and performing this style of music for more than 50 years. 

A Chicago Blues Hall of fame inductee known as one of the world’s great harmonica masters, Siegel doesn’t take credit for the origins of Chamber Blues. It all began in 1966 when Seiji Ozawa, then the guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony for the Ravinia Summer Series, suggested Siegel’s band – the legendary Siegel-Schwall Band – jam with his symphony.

Other classically trained artists might play blues songs and vice versa, but it’s the composition – the juxtaposition of blues music in a classical form – that sets Siegel’s Chamber Blues apart. But none of that truly matters when the music, once described as a marriage of Muddy Waters and Mozart, begins.

“The audience doesn’t have to know that the secret is in the composition,” Siegel said. “There’s something that grabs them, that they love, and I know that is the real drawing card. It is the surprises built into those compositions that take you on this journey you haven’t traveled before.”

Siegel’s Chamber Blues, featuring guest artist Tracy Nelson, will be featured at 8 p.m. Friday at the Raue Center for the Arts, 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake. Tickets cost $25 at or 815-356-9212.

A country blues queen from Madison, Wisconsin, Nelson first met Siegel in 1969 while she performed with her band, Mother Earth.

Nelson gained national attention when her signature song, “Down So Love,” was covered by legendary artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Etta James, Diamanda Galas, Dee Dee Warwick, Ellen Mcllwaine, Maria Muldaur and Cyndi Lauper. 

Her duet recording of “After the Fire is Gone” with country star Willie Nelson earned a grammy nomination, and the “Top 20 Albums Rolling Stone Magazine Loved” recently listed Mother Earth’s 1969 “Make a Joyful Noise” album among its rankings.

Years after their initial meeting, Siegel and Nelson toured together as part of a Chicago Blues reunion in 2003. Yet, coming together for a Chamber Blues concert was an entirely different endeavor. 

“I sent her the arrangement and she said, ‘Wow, this is really weird. I don’t know. I think there might be a way I can make this work,’ ” Siegel said of his initial invite. “She slept on it a couple days and wrote back and said, ‘Yeah, I think I can make this work.’ A couple days later, she wrote back and said, ‘I love this stuff.’ ”

Siegel counts Nelson among the world’s most unique performers. Austin City Limits Hall of Fame PBS-TV recently featured her, and Siegel wanted to bring her back to her Midwest roots and fan base.

Combining forces seemed natural. The two also will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at City Winery Chicago. 

Siegel promises an intimate performance in which the audience will connect with the artists and the music.

“I feel like either I’ve invited them into my home and I’m the host or they’ve invited me into their home and they’re the host,” he said. “Either way, we’re there together.”

If you go

“Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues: Featuring Tracy Nelson”

WHEN: 8 p.m. Jan. 11

WHERE: Raue Center for the Arts, 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake

COST and INFO: One of the country’s best blues harmonica players, Corky Siegel, will be joined by country-blues vocalist Tracy Nelson. Siegel is celebrating 30 years with his Chamber Blues that includes virtuoso masters of strings, world percussion with Kalyan Pathak and keyboards. Tickets cost $25 at or 815-356-9212.

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