Guitar Slingers Schwall and Aaron Converge for Martin Park Blues Party

Chris Aaron and Jim Schwall found they were kindred spirits. Catch them together Aug. 10 at St. Martin Park, Sturgeon Bay. Photo by Ty Helbach.

Add Jim Schwall’s name to the growing list of musicians who have been inspired by participating in the Steel Bridge SongFest in Sturgeon Bay, which is saying a lot for a guy who was dubbed by the Boston Globe as “the best electric guitarist in the country” and who has played with more famous musicians than he can remember in a musical career that spans nearly 50 years.

“I really look forward to those songwriting festivals that pat mAcdonald organizes. It’s hard to describe how wonderful those are,” Schwall said recently by telephone from his Madison home. “The first part of the week is a group of songwriters doing songwriting, day in and day out. It’s a pretty wonderful community of people and a pretty wonderful thing they’ve managed to keep together. It’s always inspirational. You come home with the juices flowing. Maybe there’s an idea for a song that you’ve never finished. One way or another, I always come out of there with a couple of ideas for songs.”

He also found a kindred spirit in fellow Steel Bridger Chris Aaron.

“Chris and I started playing together almost immediately,” Schwall said. “Over the last year we seem to end up playing somewhere together a couple three times a month.”

Schwall will appear with the Chris Aaron Band on Aug. 10 as part of a Blues Party being held at Martin Park in Sturgeon Bay. The event starts at noon with a jam session and cigar box guitar raffle. The bands begin at 5 pm, with the Dow Jones Band kicking things off, followed by Schwall and the Chris Aaron Band, which includes Aaron on guitar; Lisa Bethke, vocals; Steve Smith, bass; Chris Sandoval, drums; Tom Sobel, sax.

Schwall’s musical legacy dates back to 1964 when he teamed up with fellow blues enthusiast Corky Siegel. Together they formed The Siegel-Schwall Band in Chicago and helped usher in an American blues revival, backing up masters of the genre such as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, and recording their first record on the prestigious folk and blues label Vanguard in 1966. Schwall’s guitar of choice was an electrified Gibson B-25 acoustic guitar.

In 1968 they ventured into new territory by performing Three Pieces for a Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra with the San Francisco Symphony and the Boston Pops. When Siegel-Schwall disbanded in 1974, Corky Siegel continued to pursue the blues-classical combo in a project he performs with to this day called Chamber Blues.

The Siegel-Schwall Band regrouped in 1987 and continue to play, with the legendary Sam Lay on drums (who played with Little Walter, Muddy Waters and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, to drop a few names) and Rollo Radford on bass.

“It’s pretty rare. Only a few times a year,” Schwall said of performing with his old band.

But Schwall, who spent his 70th birthday last November at a musical celebration at Madison’s Crystal Corner Bar, plays whatever chance he can get.

“I’ve been playing a lot,” said Schwall, who earned a PhD in music from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and taught music there. “I’m retired from anything with a paycheck, so I have the time to play as much as I can find places to play. A lot of it’s solo these days. The whole Steel Bridge Fest is about songwriting. That’s what I do with a good chunk of my time, play solo with an acoustic guitar or two, and then the vary rare things I do with Siegel-Schwall reunions. I play with other people in electric bands, but a lot of it’s the same core of people.”

Schwall said he is also looking forward to returning to the Holiday Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay in late October for the annual Dark Songs project.

“It’s not quite as zany as Steel Bridge Fest,” he said. “There’s maybe 30 songwriters instead of the 70 for Steel Bridge, but still a lot of fun.”

Saturday’s gig at Martin Park will end at 10 pm, just in time for Schwall and company to pack up their gear and head a few miles north to the Hitching Post in Valmy where Purgatory Hill, the duo of Steel Bridge SongFest Creative Director pat mAcdonald and Artist Liaison melaniejane.

“We’ll probably be heading up there,” Schwall says with an ever-ready laugh.

For more information, visit,

Related Organizations