Posted by StreetWise in Magazine Articles
Elvis impersonator will be among Lifetime Achievement Award recipients, while close to 250 other nominees will battle it out in 37 categories for their own Chicago Music Awards
You may know Rick Saucedo as a popular Elvis impersonator but he’s much more than that; he’s a Chicago staple. Having grown up in Chicago, Saucedo has written a good deal of his own music inspired by the city he loves so much in addition to classic Elvis covers. Now, after over four decades, Saucedo’s contributions will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the upcoming 33rd annual Chicago Music Awards.
“I’m just not an entertainer, I’ve tried to become a piece of Chicago history so that, when I’m no longer here, I will be known for these songs and the people of Chicago can be proud that they have their own songs. To accept an award like this, it’s a great honor and it means a lot to me,” Saucedo said.
Saucedo is no stranger to recognition, he was the first inductee into the Elvis Tribute Artist Hall of Fame and he received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Las Vegas, where he lived and performed for some time as well. To Saucedo, however, this award is a particular honor.
“What’s really nice about this is it’s from Chicago, where I’m from. You figure, after 42 years in the business, it’s nice to get something out of it,” Saucedo chuckled.
Rick Saucedo moved to Chicago in 1955 when he was just a baby.
“When we came here back in the early 50s, we lived on Halsted and Armitage. You know, because I’ve experienced a lot of history from Chicago, I was there even as a kid for things like Kennedy’s assassination, I’ve written songs about my history. I grew up during a lot of Chicago history; let’s put it that way,” Saucedo said.
Saucedo reminisced about the days when his parents would take him and his brother to Maxwell Street – celebrated as being the birthplace of Chicago blues – where they would shop and get hot dogs for lunch while listening to all the blues musicians and bands play.
According to Saucedo, “It was a great time for me in Chicago, to experience all that. I’m glad I lived in the ‘60s with all that going on.”
He also recalls the days when his parents would drop him off at the Biograph Theater – known infamously for being the theatre where bank robber John Dillinger was shot and killed – with his brother and neighborhood friends. According to Saucedo, the movies they would watch for hours growing up were another source of inspiration for some of Saucedo’s own songs.
The blues on Maxwell Street and the movies weren’t Saucedo’s only inspiration, however.
“Right after Kennedy was shot I heard The Beatles’ song, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and, as a music writer, I studied under the Beatles. As a singer, I’ve always had a love for Elvis, since as far back as the ‘50s and the ‘60s. When his movies came out – like “Fun in Acapulco,” “Girls! Girls! Girls!” and “Blue Hawaii” – we saw those movies as kids when they first came out and Elvis was the coolest guy in the world, other than God. He was just so charismatic and had a great persona and was such a good-looking guy. Who didn’t want to be Elvis Presley?” Saucedo said.
For the past few decades, Saucedo has worked on practicing his craft and channeling his lifelong icon to the delight of many audiences wanting to see the “King” perform.
“I think personally that people don’t want to let things go. I think that’s one of the major reasons why he’s still so popular. Elvis was such an icon – like The Beatles – in music. He was really never a music writer and he could only play a few chords and a baseline, he could play a little instrument here and there, but he was never really an accomplished musician. But he was a great singer and he knew how to pick out great songs so God obviously gave him a good ear for what was going to end up being his hits, which he had ton of. He had a gift for picking out songs, but as a music writer? No, that was one thing that he lacked. The Beatles had the writing ability and memorable melody lines. Remember, they wrote their own songs, which I learned from. That’s how I became a music and melody writer,”
Saucedo used the skills he learned from The Beatles and Elvis alike to write his own music, inspired by the city of Chicago.
“I believe that Elvis made things famous in Memphis, I need to make things famous in Chicago. Why should I gyp the Chicago people and do what’s already been done when I can give them something of their own? I did this new song called, “The City Night Lights,” which I wrote about Chicago blues, which did very well on the album and I got good reviews on it. But again, it’s from Chicago. And for me, Chicagoans should not be gypped out of creativity.”
Saucedo also cited his Chicago-inspired song entitled “The Street to the Ghetto,” which was about his experience growing up on Halsted and Armitage.
Saucedo will be one of six honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday, February 23, at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. In addition to the Lifetime Achievement Award, close to 250 nominees – including musicians, industry professionals, DJs, dancers and comedians – will battle it out to take home a coveted Chicago Music Award in 37 categories.
The wide range of music categories – which includes jazz/blues, Latin, rock, classical, gospel, R&B, rap, calypso, polka, reggae and country/western, to name a few – has just widened with the addition of a new category: electro-techno.
One of the many nominees is veteran blues harmonica musician Billy Branch who was nominated for Best Blues Entertainer and Best Jazz/Blues Superstar of the Year.
According to Branch, “It’s always good to be recognized. You know, the music field to some degree can be a thankless job so it’s always nice to be acknowledged, especially in your home town.”Branch was born in Great Lakes but was raised in Chicago, specifically in the South Side neighborhood of Woodlawn. Branch recalls how he got started, “I taught myself to play harmonica as a youngster and, when I discovered the blues and its rich musical landscape, it was a natural progression once I became interested because harmonica is one of the fundamental instruments in Chicago blues.”
Branch recognizes the impact growing up in Chicago had on his career, saying, “Chicago is the blues capital and I became a blues musician. At the time, when I embarked on my career, there were just hundreds and hundreds of just great, legendary musicians. Over a 40-year period or so, I’ve become a part of that legacy, I’m proud to say. I was a person that was mentored by some of the legendary artists.”
A part of the legacy, indeed. Branch has been nominated for three Grammy awards and served, for two terms, as governor of the Chicago Grammy Chapter. He’s also won an Emmy award, an Addy Award and numerous other awards for his music as well as his humanitarian efforts.
Branch is also proud of his international “Blues in Schools Program.”
“I’d always wanted to work with children and I felt that children should be exposed to the blues because the blues encompasses so much history and they need to be aware of where they came from. I’ve been doing that throughout the country and internationally in Veracruz, Mexico and Belgium and Japan and Canada,” he said.
Branch said one of his former “Blues in Schools” students – Owour Arunga – is actually the trumpet player for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. This hip hop/rap duo had two Billboard Top 100 hits and won four Grammys this year, for Best New Artist, Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance.
Branch’s program is just one way blues music is passed on.
“Blues is past and present. All of America’s music came from the blues because it’s a vibrant, living art form. It’s constantly evolving. You have to look at it in its cultural context because blues encompasses the history of American music; all of American music is derived from it. You’re still having younger players and you’re hearing the blues change according to their influences, you’re finding more mixtures now,” Branch said.
America wasn’t the only country whose music has been heavily influenced by Chicago blues.
“I think blues is more the essence of Chicago than the city officially recognizes. You know, the stars like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, their careers were basically created here because they’re all bluesmen who migrated. You have to keep in mind that these are the musicians that spawned the careers of the entire British rock invasion, from the Beatles to the Stones to Led Zeppelin, and Janis Joplin – the whole punk rock movement and branches of rock that eventually influenced pop. If you listen to the early work of any of the rock artists, almost across the board, their earliest works were covers of Chicago blues and Chicago blues artists. And even Delta blues started here, the Rolling Stones covered songs by Robert Johnson,” Branch said.
In addition to veterans like Branch, many newcomers have been nominated for Chicago Music Awards this year. One such artist is Yemi Marie.
Yemi Marie has been nominated in an impressive three categories, including Best New Entertainer, Pop Entertainer of the Year and Most Talented Teen 13-19. Yemi Marie – whose YouTube hits include “Draw the Line” and “Saturday” – blends R&B with hip hop. She also launched her own Draw the Line Anti-Violence, Anti-Bullying campaign that she has worked tirelessly to promote in Chicago schools.
The 20 ladies of Girl Group Chicago have also been nominated for three awards, including Most Outstanding Band/Group, Best New Entertainer and Pop Entertainer of the Year. Girl Group Chicago was founded by lead vocalist Shana East in 2012 through Craigslist and Facebook. It is a mod, 1960s cover band; that is, its 20 members wear A-line princess-waisted minidresses and fierce sunglasses and play ‘60s melodramatic hits. According to their Facebook page, they are “sort of like The Shangri-Las, [‘The Leader of the Pack’] only bigger and badder.”
The Chicago Music Awards includes a wide array of Chicago musicians and entertainers today but came from humble beginnings. Founder of Martin’s International Culture and the CMAs, Ephraim Martin was born and raised in Jamaica and moved to Chicago in the early 1980s. He was writing for the Chicago Defender when he was assigned a story about the best reggae artists, and created a ballot between 20 reggae musicians and groups for his article. When others caught wind of it, however, artists of all different genres wanted to participate as well. So began the Chicago Music awards.
StreetWise Editorial Intern