I’m not from Chicago and in fact have never been to Chicago. But the radio station had a profound effect on my early life and on the lives of many others as well. I grew up in a small town in Mississippi just north of New Orleans, Louisiana. The train ran regularly through our town. The last bare knuckle heavyweight fight took place just outside of our town because it was the first place a train leaving New Orleans could stop so the fight could be legally held.
What it took me years to understand was that that track connected the jazz in New Orleans with the urban blues of Chicago. Of course it took a long journey through the Mississippi delta to get there.
So here is where I change direction a bit. In the early 70’s when I was growing up radio stations were local AM. They had long range but cracked with static. Radio stations had yet to figure out how to use the much shorter range but clearer FM channels.
A older neighbor that had recently moved from the mid-west told me I might like the sound of WLS. The trick was getting the signal. First it had to be late at night and cold weather was better. That always meant staying up late and sleeping in school. You could fine tune the signal like one of radio operators in a WW II movie. This has been lost by digital tune. Now you get it or you don’t. Before there was art and magic involved.
When I would get the station tuned in it was great listening to the music but I don’t really remember the songs. What I remember is the raspy voiced female jockey talking about it being a warm 19 degrees and wondering about the world before I had a chance to see it.
This was my own special thing and I never though to much about it. I was a fair ZZ Top fan and had heard the song Jesus Just Left Chicago many time. The blues references were clear but the meaning behind the song was never clear. The one day I was flipping through the channels and say ZZ Top being interviewed. They began talking about the song and how they had each had an experience listening to WLS late at night and that shared experience was the basis for the song. It started me wondering how many other sat in the dark tuning their AM radios and looking for something more of the world..
Jesus just left Chicago and he’s bound for New Orleans.
“Longtime ZZ publicist Bob Merlis states “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” which is ZZ’s tribute to the blues.” http://www.rockandrollplanet.com/classicalbumreviews.html