McLuhan Credit: Courtesy of Steve Krakow

In the 60s and 70s, Chicago producer, A&R man, songwriter, and record honcho Carl Davis helped shape the sound of Chicago soul, working directly with Jackie Wilson, Tyrone Davis, the Chi-Lites, and Barbara Acklin, among others. While employed at legendary label Brunswick in the early 70s, Davis was keen to add a white crossover act in the vein of Motown signees Rare Earth (of “I Just Want to Celebrate” fame); according to Steve Krakow’s regular Reader series,Secret History of Chicago Music, that’s what led Davis to sign McLuhan. Named after famed media theorist and philosopher Marshall McLuhan, the group formed after meeting as students at the University of Illinois-Chicago in the late 1960s. They developed a mutant strain of prog—though simply describing what McLuhan made as “prog” is like saying Zappa played rock—and incorporated mixed-media footage in their live sets. The band’s 1972 debut, Anomaly, blends heavy freakouts, 50s-pop vocal harmonies, classic horror storytelling, and quasi-orchestral arrangements that sound like they’re made for Saturday-morning cartoons. Instead of providing easy hooks, McLuhan delivered Brunswick an anomaly, and since the band never toured, the album went by the wayside only to become cherished by collectors decades later (if you want a copy in great condition, be prepared to pony up). The band dissolved shortly thereafter, though bassist-vocalist and de facto leader Neal Rosner—now a radiologist who splits his time between Highland Park and Madisonville, Kentucky—recently regrouped with woodwind player Paul “Bunky” Cohn and drummer-vocalist John Mahoney for a couple brief performances in Kentucky. In January, Rosner reached out to Krakow to set up a proper McLuhan reunion in Chicago. Tonight’s lineup will include him, Cohn, Mahoney, and a few younger musicians, including Bart Coyle on trumpet, Ted Spaniak on guitar, and Chuck Harling of alt-rockers Roxy Swain on drums. And yes, there will be mixed media.   v