Back to table of Contents

Big-band rock arose from the confluence of several musical styles in the late 1960s: progressive rock experimentation; jazz fusion, with a particular emphasis on swing era instrumentation; and the horn choirs long employed by urban blues and soul artists. The genre included the following characteristics: a rich palette of instrumental colors, with a core rock band augmented by a combination of brass (e.g., trombones, trumpets, flugelhorns) and wind (e.g., saxes, flutes) instruments; greater visceral power than was possible in most forms of rock music; and increased ensemble flexibility, which encouraged the incorporation of a more eclectic range musical styles.

Blood, Sweat and Tears' Child Is the Father to the Moon, released in early 1968, proved to be the pivotal big-band rock recording. The group--founded by Al Kooper, a former member of the Royal Teens ("Short Shorts"; 1957) and the Blues Project and veteran session musician who'd played on Bob Dylan's pioneering folk-rock albums--blended superb musicianship with highly innovative arrangements. The group's follow-up album, Blood, Sweat and Tears, effectively mixed blues, gospel, classical music, Tin Pan Alley pop, and straight-ahead rock material. One of the biggest sellers of the decade, it also included three top ten hits: "And When I Die," "Spinning Wheel," and "You Made Me So Very Happy." The group lost its momentum, though, when first Kooper, and then gravel-voiced lead singer David Clayton-Thomas, departed.

By 1970, Chicago had taken over as the most artistically and commercially successful big-band rock aggregate. In attempting to maintain its popularity in the face of changing fashions, however, Chicago evolved from a cutting-edge progressive unit to a purveyor of assembly-line soft rock.

The genre was gradually absorbed back into mainstream pop rock when it stagnated due to a lack of new talent. Experimentation with the rock band/brass lineup was limited largely to the jazz-rock sector for the next couple of decades. By the mid-1990s, however, the swing revival—spearheaded by groups like the Brian Setzer Orchestra and the Royal Crown Revue—brought brass back to the forefront of pop music.


Top Artists and Their Recordings

Audience--Audience (1969); House on the Hill (1971); Lunch (1972)

The Bar-Kays--"Soul Finger" (1967); Black Rock (1971); Too Hot to Stop (1976); Flying High On Your Love (1977); Money Talks (1978); Light of Life (1978); Injoy (1979); As One (1980); Nightcruising (1981); Propositions (1982); Dangerous (1984); Banging the Wall (1985); Contagious (1987)

Blood, Sweat and Tears--Child Is the Father to the Man (1968); Blood, Sweat and Tears (1969); Blood, Sweat and Tears 3 (1970); B, S & T: 4 (1971); New Blood (1972); No Sweat (1973); Mirror Image (1974); New City (1975); More Than Ever (1976)

Chase--Chase (1971); Ennea (1972); Pure Music (1974)

Chicago--Chicago Transit Authority (1969); Chicago II (1970); Chicago III (1971); Chicago at Carnegie Hall (1971); Chicago V (1972); Chicago VI (1973); Chicago VII (1974); Chicago VIII (1975); Chicago X (1976); Chicago XI (1977); Hot Streets (1978); Chicago 13 (1979); Chicago XIV (1980); Chicago 16 (1982); Chicago 17 (1984); Chicago 18 (1986); 19 (1988); Twenty 1 (1991)

Don Ellis--Electric Bath (1967)

Lighthouse--Peacing It All Together (1970); One Fine Morning (1971); Thoughts of Movin' On (1972); Lighthouse Live! (1972); Sunny Days (1973)

Tower of Power--East Bay Grease (1971); Bump City (1972); Tower of Power (1973); Back to Oakland (1974); Urban Renewal (1975); In the Slot (1976); Live and In Living Color (1976); Ain't Nothin' Stoppin' Us Now (1976); We Came to Play! (1978); Back On the Streets (1979)