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Sundowner's Woke Up Country

The Sundowners are the patron saints of Chicago's insurgent country movement. They really never knew it and didn't care. Just like they didn't care if an English Punker like Jon Langford wanted to jump up onstage and jam with them at the old downtown Bar RR Ranch.

Country music was a party.

And everyone was invited. Fats Domino requested “Guitar  Steel Rag” every time he dropped in to see the Sundowners. WHO bassist John Entwistle once tried to buy a rare Anderson bass guitar from the band.

Those memories drifted back when Sundowner bassist Curt Delaney, 71, died of complications from a stroke last week in his Evanston home.

“The Mekons went onstage the first time we went in the ranch,” said Langford, also of the Waco Brothers and Skull Orchard. “It was a crash course in honky-tonk culture. We all bought cowboy shirts. The Sundowners had no musical prejudice. They wanted us to play, and we were afraid they'd think we were horrible.”

The Sundowners once estimated that they learned more than 25,000 songs since the band was formed in 1956. Delaney once told me, “We can read music some, but not enough to affect our playing.”

Delaney joined the group in 1959, replacing Curly Coldiron. The group was then known as the Circle C Boys. A native of Albany, Ga., Delaney had been playing country and swing music in the Loop since 1951.

All of the Sundowners were accomplished musicians. Delaney was an ardent fan of the steel guitar, and when lead guitarist Don Walls suffered a 1992 stroke that immobilized his right hand, Delaney began a cross-country search for an obscure Vox guitaragan.

The guitaragan is played with the left hand. When turned on, it sounds like an organ and it's played through an appropriately cheesy sounding oscillation speaker. When turned off, it's a “guitar. Again”.

“Curt also was a great steel guitar man,” recalled Sundowners rhythm guitarist Bob Boyd last week. “He was playing it (on string) before pedals came out. He could play pop music or hit chords that were unbelievable.”

“What was such a compliment was that he was willing to quit steel and start playing bass with Don and I because he appreciated the way we did our music. Curt made a tremendous sacrifice.”

One of the band's final club appearances here was the 1993 Sundowners Jubilee held at Bub City on the Near North Side. The club was standing room-only with fans of every age and color dressed in expensive suits, faded blue jeans and cowboy hats. Punkers stood next to grandparents.

Delaney looked around the room with a satisfied smile. “I never thought it would all come to this,” he said. “You know, seeing all these familiar faces together who saw us at the ranch over the years is truly a wonderful thing.”

Dave Hoekstra
Chicago Sun Times Country Club
Wed, March 5, 1997


Joel Daly

A veteran of more than thirty years in Chicago television journalism, Joel Daly has co-anchored the 4pm newscast with Linda Yu for twelve years. With his late co-anchor Fahey Flynn, Daly pioneered the most-copied news format in the country. This more humanistic approach to news reporting earned the Flynn-Daly team the first of many Chicago Emmy awards in 1968, only three months after the partnership was formed.

In 1994, Daly appeared in the role of Atticus Finch "To Kill A Mockingbird" at Wisdom Bridge Theater, for which he was critically praised. In addition, Daly performs in a series of yearly concerts with "The Sundowners." A licensed commercial pilot and flight instructor, Daly also flies an aerobatic bi-wing sport plane which he helped to build. Daly is married and resides in the western suburbs.