Growing up in Chatham, Gina Barge often listened to her father–saxophonist Gene “Daddy G” Barge–reminisce about his days at Chess Records in the 1960s. There, he produced and performed with the Dells, Fontella Bass, and Muddy Waters, including on the latter’s notorious Electric Mud, the psychedelic 1968 record that enraged blues purists. Gene often played his daughter records and showed her pictures of his bandmates. But because he’d spent the bulk of his time at Chess before Gina was born, she couldn’t really connect to the photos. “To me,” she says, “they were just men with Afros.”
Though Gene encouraged her to take piano lessons and brought her to London when he toured with the Rolling Stones in 1982, she never pursued a career in music. Instead, after getting a media communications degree at DePaul, she worked as a management consultant for ten years. Currently she’s a freelance writer and has penned skits for five Second City shows, including last year’s NomMo Remote Control. She also writes an online column about relationships called “The G-Spot” (www.ginabarge.com), and earlier this year self-published a collection of articles called In Search of the G-Spot and Other Adventures in Dating.
Two years ago, she got a second chance to connect with her father’s history when she happened into a job as a field producer for Martin Scorsese’s seven-part PBS documentary series “The Blues.” New York-based producer Daphne Pinkerson, who was pregnant at the time, needed help and hired Barge–whom she met through Gene–to act as her liaison in Chicago.
The movie Barge worked on the most, Godfathers and Sons, focuses on Muddy Waters and Chess and documents Chuck D’s efforts to produce an album with the Electric Mudcats, a band the Public Enemy front man put together with surviving players from the Electric Mud sessions and contemporary hip-hop artists like Common. It also features previously unseen footage of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and performances by Koko Taylor, Otis Rush, Magic Slim, and Ike Turner.
As part of the job, Barge helped set up a shoot at Eddy “the Chief” Clearwater’s recently shuttered Reservation Blues in Wicker Park. There she oversaw a roundtable discussion on the old days at Chess that included her father, Marshall Chess (son of company cofounder Leonard Chess), bassist Louis Satterfield, guitarist Pete Cosey, drummer Morris Jennings, and guitarist Phil Upchurch as well as Chuck D and Common. The former Chess hands recalled Satterfield’s penchant for playing future Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White’s drums during session breaks, and how Upchurch often brought caged boa constrictors and mice to the studio. Chuck D talked about how Electric Mud inspired him.
“It was more of an experience than what he [her father] could have told me,” says Barge. “I had never been around them in one room before. I didn’t realize the full impact of his work until I worked on the documentary. Chuck D said it was influential. It was a kind of validation after all these years.”
Godfathers and Sons will air on WTTW on Thursday, October 2, at 9 PM, and Friday, October 3, at 12:30 AM. Gina Barge will read from In Search of the G-Spot at 2:30 PM on Sunday, October 5, at the Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted, 312-747-6921.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.