Since 2004 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who’ve been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place.
Lots of happy accidents happen when I interview subjects for the Secret History of Chicago Music, and my favorite is when someone mentions an earlier “secret” band of theirs, often a precursor to the one I’m asking about. And by “secret,” I mean that perhaps just a handful of people might know that band ever existed. It’s even better when this mysterious act turns out to have recorded unreleased tunes or taken cool band photos. And best of all is when I actually like the music! All those things are true of this week’s subject, the Peep Show.
I love late-60s garage bands, and the Peep Show were a prototypical local example—just some kids doing what friends who were into music always seemed to do back then. They started a homespun band with no pretensions and barely any goals, and though the Peep Show didn’t leave a mark under that name, many of the musicians involved went on to have long, successful careers in the industry. This story is pure SHoCM gold, and I’m very excited to share it.
The Peep Show have their beginning with two junior high friends, like any proper teen garage band. In the mid-60s two young guitarists, Frank Pirruccello and John Lindgren, started jamming in their native Evanston. Later Pirruccello moved to Winnetka and attended New Trier High School, while Lindgren went to Evanston Township High School, but they stayed friends and collaborators. They called their first band together the Gremlins, but because they were both just 15 years old, they had a bit of a problem getting their gear to gigs.
“The Gremlins’ primary claim to fame was that we were asked to leave a dance we were playing at Evanston High School, because two members of the band had hair which violated ETHS’s anti-long-hair rules,” Pirruccello says. “The story went out on the national wire service and actually became big news. . . . No such thing as bad publicity, I guess!”
When that band folded, Lindgren got in touch with two other budding musicians at ETHS, Nick Sanabria (electric bass, background vocals) and Jim “Jingles” Hickox (drums). At New Trier, Pirruccello met guitarist, singer-songwriter, percussionist, and autoharp player Kent Rosenwald, who would prove crucial to the Peep Show’s sound.
The precocious Rosenwald had already had a varied musical career by the time he started high school. At age 12 he was given a banjolele, a hybrid of a banjo and a ukulele (“The worst of both worlds—looks like a banjo, sounds like a ukulele,” he jokes), and in 1963 he started a short-lived duo called the Uke-Bops. “We played at the Watts field house in Glencoe,” he recalled. “One day, the baritone uke boy, trying to get my attention on the playground, threw a rock that hit me in the head and caused two stitches. He got my attention, but the partnership was dissolved.”
Rosenwald then moved on to oboe, but that didn’t go much better. “My cousin, Skip Haynes (who wrote the famed ‘Lake Shore Drive’ for his group Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah), told me, ‘No matter how good you get on the oboe, it will still sound like a duck,'” he says. Rosenwald next got an acoustic guitar, and played his first paying gig (five dollars and two prayer books) at a summer church event. He switched to electric guitar in high school, and by 1965 he’d started his first band, the Guildsmen. “It was a more traditional folk band than I wanted to be in,” he says. “When I went electric, and not at Newport, they fired me.”
Throughout high school, Rosenwald hopped from band to band: Sir Richard’s Knights in 1966 (“We played the Byrds, the Leaves, Love with Arthur Lee, and some of my originals”), the Dover Souls in 1967 (“We formed because namesake Rick Newcombe [of the Knights] went off to prep school, and we needed a new keyboard player”), and the Back Page Incident in 1968 (“We played California rock—plus, due to having a girl singer, some Jefferson Airplane”). In the Back Page Incident, he adopted a flamboyant stage persona, wearing a kangaroo-fur poncho, an Aussie-style hat, fake sideburns (attached by his mother), and dark shades.
The Peep Show got together during Rosenwald’s second semester in 1968 and lasted for less than six months. Pirruccello had already assembled Lindgren, Sanabria, and Hickox, and when he brought Rosenwald in for a jam session with the nascent group, everyone hit it off. No one remembers exactly where the name “the Peep Show” came from, though. “I recall opening a Chicago Sun-Times and seeing the phrase from ads in the sports pages and thinking it was a good name for a band,” Rosenwald says. (In fact a UK band called the Peep Show had released the well-loved psychedelic pop track “Mazy” in 1967.)
A teenage band didn’t have many venues open to them, but the Peep Show played dances in the New Trier gym and the Winnetka Community House, private parties, and gigs in venues such as the Plant Room in Evanston. The band had a pro PA system and light show, set up by Sanabria, and it came in handy when they opened for Friend and Lover, aka Jim and Cathy Post, the husband-and-wife folk-pop duo behind the groovy and much-sampled 1967 hit “Reach Out of the Darkness.”
“Our manager, who also managed Tico Feminine Footwear, where I worked after my senior year, told me we were playing at what I thought I heard was ‘Reagan’s Diner,’ which turned out to be Regensteiner factory,” Rosenwald says. “Friend and Lover did not have their own equipment and had to ‘Reach Out in the Darkness.’ That night they had their instruments but no amps or drums. I ran into Jim Post a few years ago at a Folk Alliance convention, and we were laughing about that gig.”
Live, the Peep Show mostly covered tunes of the day, such as “Back Door Man” by Willie Dixon (via the Doors), “Born in Chicago” by the Butterfield Blues Band, and “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” by the Byrds. Luckily they also had a budding songwriter in their roster, namely Rosenwald, and Pirruccello’s surgeon father had built a makeshift studio in the family basement where the band practiced.
Using a few microphones and a reel-to-reel machine, the Peep Show committed three tunes to tape in that studio, with Sanabria handling the equipment and coordinating overdubs. Rosenwald wrote the lyrics to all three and collaborated with his bandmates on the music. My fave is the fey and dreamy “Florrie Blue Eyes,” where Rosenwald plays autoharp. “I had seen Lovin’ Spoonful on TV and at the Arie Crown Theater, and of course, I had to have an autoharp like John Sebastian—an Oscar Schmidt autoharp with a DeArmond pickup,” he says. “While it turned out to be unworkable onstage, it enabled me to change chords without knowing the fingering, unlike guitar, so ‘Florrie Blue Eyes’ in particular was a product of sustaining the chord while singing over it.” The band’s other recordings are the driving beat number “Curse of a Winter’s Day” and the kinda silly self-referencing “Peep Show,” where Sanabria added sound effects and wacky crowd applause.
Sadly and rather typically for a high school band, the Peep show broke up when everyone graduated in June 1968. Rosenwald continued playing with Sanabria for a bit in a group called St. Christopher’s Poet, who left behind one cool recorded song. When Pirruccello finished college in 1972, he reconvened with Lindgren and Sanabria to form country-rock trailblazers Baraboo, whose epic career I’ll detail in a future SHoCM. (Rosenwald would join the band after Pirruccello left in the mid-70s.) Sanabria also played in the Moondogs (covered in a recent SHoCM), and Rosenwald went on to be in a staggering number of groups, including Alfonso & the Night Shift, the Rattlers, the Ray Sassetti Orchestra, Kent & the Whiz Kidz, Kent Rose & the Sensations, and most recently Kent Rose & the Remedies (he even filled in with the influential Sundowners). Pirruccello still plays with his brother Bo in Ouray, an excellent country-rock band they founded in 1975—they play at SPACE in Evanston on December 23, and I covered them in October in SHoCM. I hope to explore all the facets of this highly talented group of musicians, so saying there’s “more to come” is an understatement indeed!
The radio version of the Secret History of Chicago Music airs on Outside the Loop on WGN Radio 720 AM, Saturdays at 5 AM with host Mike Stephen. Past shows are archived here.