Jim Schwall, guitarist and vocalist of the Siegel-Schwall Band, dies at 79

Jim Schwall performs with the Siegel Schwall Blues Band at The Chicago Blues Festival on June 13, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois
(Image credit: James Fraher/Redferns)

Jim Schwall, a guitarist and vocalist best known as the co-leader of the Siegel-Schwall Band, has died at the age of 79, his representatives confirmed.

Well-known in the Chicago area for his technical prowess and distinctive guitar sound – owing partially to his use of an amplified Gibson B-25 acoustic – Schwall died Sunday (June 19) of natural causes at his home in Tucson, Arizona, his record label, Alligator, said in a statement.

Born in Chicago in 1942, Schwall first picked up the guitar as a teen, and developed a love of jazz and the blues. He met Corky Siegel in 1964, at a time when both were members of the Roosevelt University Jazz Band. Bonding over their shared love of the blues, Siegel and Schwall began performing together as a duo, with Siegel on harmonica and Schwall on guitar.

The two soon landed a weekly gig at Pepper's Lounge in Chicago's south side, where they became friendly with a who's who of Chicago blues luminaries, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Otis Spann, Willie Dixon, Junior Wells and James Cotton.

The Siegel-Schwall Band would go on to take over the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's residency at Big John's on the north side of Chicago, and record a number of albums – from 1966 to 1970 – for the Vanguard Records label.

During this period, the band opened for a number of rock luminaries, including Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane.

Most notable though, was Three Pieces For Blues Band And Symphony Orchestra, the band's unique collaboration with Seiji Ozawa of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. First performed in 1968, it demonstrated the full spectrum of Schwall's vision as a guitarist and – upon its release on record in 1973 – became one of the band's most successful albums.

The Siegel-Schwall Band broke up in 1974 after releasing five more albums with RCA's Wooden Nickel imprint, but reunited in 1987.

Schwall himself earned a PhD in Musical Composition from the University of Wisconsin in 1993, and released a number of solo albums, the most recent of which was 2014's Bar Time Lovers.

Of his long-time bandmate, Corky Siegel said in a statement, "People should know, Jim was a beautiful humanitarian and a one-of-a-kind musician."

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Jackson Maxwell

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.