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No power shortage with Windy City pop groups

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The phrase "Power Pop" first came up in 1966, in an interview between the Who's Pete Townshend and "Hit Parader" magazine.

But it did not become a part of the musical lexicon until the late 1970s. Chicago was way ahead of the curve with Cheap Trick and Pezband, and the horde of shaggy-haired groups who followed in their wake.

By the early 1980s, the more generic term "New Wave" largely had replaced that of "Power Pop" in most places, except here in the Windy City, where clubs were hopping and bopping to the music of acts like -- Shoes, Kevin Lee & The Heartbeat, Gambler, The Kind, Off Broadway, Green, U.S.S.A., and so many others.

Chicago's top 5 early power pop artists

* CHEAP TRICK are arguably the world's most successful Power Pop band, and certainly the most successful to ever sprout from the Midwest. "It's been a very long and interesting road to get here," mused Cheap Trick's Tom Petersson, during an interview for the band's 25th anniversary celebration.

A curious little quartet from the outset, Cheap Trick went on to dominate the 1970s with lyrically twisted tales. A trip to Japan resulted in a roughly made live album, "At Budokon," that sold in excess of 4 million copies, escalating them from mid-size theaters to headlining stadiums and arenas. Trick released their fifteenth album last year and were back on the radio with yet another hit single, "Scent Of A Woman."

* SHOES were formed in 1976 by the brothers Jeff and John Murphy, who played guitar and bass, respectively. Rounding out the lineup were school mates Skip Meyer on drums and Gary Klebe on guitar. "The name came before anything," explained John in a 1981 interview. "I said, ‘I'd just call it Shoes,' just like looking down and seeing your shoes." The others embraced the odd name.

Unlike other power pop bands, who became famous for their stage shows, Shoes found success in the Murphy's living room in Zion, Ill. It was there they recorded their early local tapes and the first full-length album that would land them a contract with Elektra Records, "Black Vinyl Shoes."

* PEZBAND formed in 1976. Guitarist-vocalist Mimi Betinis, drummer Mick Rain and bassist Mike Gorman all attended the same high school and began doing the standard school dance-night club gigs. After guitarist Tommy Gawenda joined them, a live recording, "Thirty Seconds Over Schaumburg" was recorded. The limited edition pressing of 10,000 copies on red vinyl quickly sold out after "Trouser Press" favorably reviewed it.

Pezband played prestigious joints like Max's Kansas City, the Los Angeles Starwood and New York's CBGB's. They signed with Passport Records and were named one of "Record World" magazine's "most promising bands of 1978."

* OFF BROADWAY at first glance, seemed merely a Cheap Trick knock-off handled by Trick's manager, Ken Adamany. But they were not so easily dismissed, thanks to vocalist-guitarist Cliff Johnson, a remarkably animated frontman and thorough entertainer.

The band landed an Atlantic Records contract and released two powerful albums. The band was promoted and marketed all wrong. They landed on tour packages with metal bands like Judas Priest, instead of in front of more pop-friendly audiences.

* THE KIND were probably the finest example of pure "Power Pop" on the local club circuit. The group -- vocalist-rhythm guitarist Frank Jalovec, lead guitarist Frank Capek, bassist Mark Gardner and drummer Frank Sberno -- flourished for a few years thanks to their penchant for writing muscular, adrenal songs that were instantly memorable. "We're hoping that things keep going as they are for the band and that we get the chance to show the world who we are," said Jalovec in a 1982 interview backstage at Pointe East in Lynwood. That never came to be, though their singles still find their way onto Chicago airwaves from time to time.

Honorary mentions

* THE ELVIS BROTHERS blended their hometown Chicago "Power Pop" with Memphis rockabilly and wound up touring with the likes of Carl Perkins and recording albums for Epic Records. Got lost in the cracks for not being rockabilly enough in the wake of the Stray Cats and The Blasters.

* GAMBLER was a South Side band who once bore the sissy name, Buster Brown. They changed their name, signed with EMI/America Records and released "Love & Other Crimes" in 1980. They had a powerful pop-rock sound, but never quite mastered "the pretty boy look" that was inherent to "Power Pop."

* GREEN emerged in the mid-'80s and earned a rabid following in Chicago with their hook-laden songs on their self-titled debut and follow-up releases "Elaine MacKenzie" and "White Soul." Their songs were distinguished by singer and guitarist Jeff Lescher's unique vocal riffs that could alternate between a growl and falsetto. Lescher and Green continue to play infrequent live shows.

* KEVIN LEE & THE HEARTBEAT were a huge club attraction and Lee was probably one of the most consistently solid pop writers of the 1980s and 1990s. Though he missed the boat the during the 1980s, Lee was signed to MCA Records after forming his follow-up group, Kevin Lee & The Lonesome City Kings. They released one album, "Restless," which landed them on tours with Material Issue, Cheap Trick and Matthew Sweet. Lee continues to write and record today, releasing his last regional CD two years ago.

* U.S.S.A. was heralded as a "Super Group" by agents when they first emerged in 1982. The lineup featured former Cheap Trick fill-in bassist Pete Comita, guitarist Tommy Gawenda of Pezband fame and former Montrose vocalist Bob James, who after just a few months was replaced by Off Broadway's Cliff Johnson. Though they never released any official recordings, U.S.S.A. deserves a shout out for the powerful live show they brought to clubs during their short-lived career.


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