As a young writer for United Press International [UPI], working in HX (the city code for Chicago), there were several opportunities to earn extra income beyond one’s regular hourly shift pay. One was writing reviews for the service’s weekly book section. I once reviewed Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Palm Sunday, and sent a clip off to his publisher with a note of admiration. He replied thusly:
Another was writing obituaries for celebrities. These would be stored in a computer “hold file,” and used only in the event of the person’s death. A kind of journalistic “dead pool,” if you will. I was never much for that income. And today, still, I dislike writing about the dead. Especially about individuals whom I admired and emulated in the abstract, if not in actual reality. It’s just sad, to bring up these memories, even though they are the experiences that eventually led to the life of today. So, I promise not to make this blog a musical morgue.
But after recently writing about the demise of Cliff Johnson (lead singer and songwriter for Off Broadway and other bands mostly famous throughout the U.S. Midwest), I would be remiss to ignore the passing of another local Chicago rock legend who doubtlessly inspired BOTH Johnson and myself to engage in this life of musical crime – Jimy Sohns.
As lead singer of the Shadows of Knight, Sohns etched his name into the annals of rock history with a Billboard Top 10 cover version of the Van Morrison song, “Gloria,” as well as a number of other regional hits including “Oh Yeah,” “Bad Little Woman,” and “Shake.” The Shadows of Knight were the house band at The Cellar, an all-ages club in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
The year was 1966. I was 12 years old.
We lived just one mile away from The Cellar. My father sold cars at the Buick dealership next door, and was “concerned” with the “bad element” that hung out there. Punks and ruffians. Rock and roll music. Sadly, the club closed before I was old enough to defy parental authority and attend on my own initiative.
Not gonna lie. More than half a century later, I’m still a little angry about it.
“Gloria” made a tremendous impact on me, regardless. It was an easy three-chord tune that could be easily strummed on guitar. Of course, a lot is lost in the translation when the band is not shouting the chorus “GLORIA,” while the lead singer spells it out, “G-L-O-R-I-A.” But going forward, it was absolutely on the set lists of any suburban garage band worth its salt.
I never encountered Sohns in any of my rock critic days. At one point he worked for the new wave band Skafish, but the magazine I had worked for, Triad, featured them well before that. Never saw any “reunion” shows, either. Sometimes memories are best left to stand alone.
About 15 years ago, I met a legendary Chicago disc jockey who had played “Gloria” on the air countless times. He told me about a rather sad encounter with Sohns that indicated the singer’s life had not gone as well as it might have, given its earlier celebrity. He eventually pulled things together, but health is a precious commodity.
Jimy Sohns was a childhood hero. I’m sad about his passing, but remain extremely grateful for the musical energy he left behind on this world.