If you were around town in 1978 and liked live music in a bar, chances are Cicero Slim and the World War III Blues Band made it onto your favorite band radar. This Friday night Mr. Slim and a good bunch of the several musicians who rotated in and out of the band reunite at the Alamo for a get together just 30-some years later.
Concocted as a prelude to the Old Capitol Blues & BBQs festival set for Saturday, the reunion brings together more than just the music and musicians, stirring memories (what’s left of them) in all who participated in those heady times. From King Harvest, a health-oriented food co-op, to the alternative music at Crow’s Mill School, along with the all-encompassing, liberating atmosphere of Sangamon State University, the late 70s and early 80s appear in retrospect as a time of intense local cultural change.
Back then Cicero Slim and the WWIII Blues Band set the standard for fun-loving, hard-hitting, rock-the-house, good-time music combining blues with elements of funk and R&B that kept drinks flowing and people dancing. Originating in 1978 from various local bands in a lively jazz and blues scene, personnel then, according to an article by Kevin Toelle in the Prairie Sun, a regional entertainment newspaper at the time, included Jim Bukiet as Cicero Slim (harmonica and vocals), Tim Saterfield and Bill Evans (guitars), Gary McCarrell (bass) and Dave Littler (drums) with GG Pelletier (tenor sax) and Bill Janssen (alto sax) as the “the Southtown Horns.”
During the next four years various members came and went with the core of Bukiet, Pelletier and Saterfield remaining. From other articles penned by Toelle, musicians enlisted in the World War III configuration included Alex Borisov, Denny Best, Bob Griffin, Mike Head and John Gibson. The group last played as the WWIII Blues Band on Thanksgiving weekend in 1982. Guitarist Borisov, who replaced Evans in 1980, reformed the group with Bukiet and the original rhythm section plus keyboardist Lanny Montgomery in 1984 as the Cicero Slim Band.
I personally never saw the group perform, but stories abound of band antics. Toelle, in reviewing a November 1979 live performance in a Peoria bar, tells of a female audience member on stage cavorting with Slim as Janssen wrapped the couple in duct tape. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, before he was even a member of Congress, was a music aficionado and part owner along with several investors in Crow’s Mill School back in 1979. He took his turn with the other owners collecting cover charges at the door. Janssen commented in an e-mail to me, “It’s funny that we used to revel in the blues with a guy who’s now one of the most powerful men in the country.”
Other band milestones include Chicagofest opening shows in 1980 on Navy Pier, performing blues originals by Pelletier such as “Get This Floor Out of My Face,” originally hosting what became Springfield’s Blue Mondays and likely the first local band documented using the “Golden Moment” slogan encouraging bar patrons to partake in a communal drink between band and audience.
Most of the members are still alive and kicking, holding respectable occupations in various parts of the country. Bukiet lives in Tampa, Janssen in Denver, Saterfield in Madison. Pelletier stayed in town and became a founding member of the Groove Daddies, with Evans and Borisov still living and performing in Springfield as well.
Friday night’s reunion lineup includes Jim Bukiet as Cicero Slim with GG Pelletier, Bill Janssen, Tim Saterfield, Alex Borisov, Bill Evans, Dan Grover (bass) and John Sluzalis (drums) rounding out the core group. And keeping in the free flowing spirit of it all, Slim says, “There will be former members and friends sitting in, but as to who exactly, we’ll just have to see who shows up.”
Contact Tom Irwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.