December 11, 2017

MacGruber, Aretha Franklin, & Billy Cobham: The Inspirations of Chicago Soul Revue’s Jim Gifford

By Jess Mayhew

With the resurgence of metro soul and Motown-inspired pop, it’s pretty easy to find a ton of musicians riding the wave of the trend without knowing the history. Chicago Soul Revue isn’t like that; they’ve done their homework, paid their dues, and made their name as a powerhouse soul group as a result.

“After a couple years of [doing tributes], we realized that… it’s not something that you can dive right into. You have to really do the homework,” says Jim Gifford, drummer of Chicago Soul Revue. They did that homework by covering songs from soul greats like Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway before even considering creating original songs. But once they had played, according to Gifford, “a pretty wide range of stuff between ’70 and ’74,” it was time to dive into their own interpretations. “We’re finishing a record of originals. It’ll be out in a couple months,” Gifford reveals.

However, what inspires Gifford personally? “I really like that movie MacGruber,” Gifford jokes. In all seriousness, though, he explains, “I’m really into jazz-fusion. So I like Billy Cobham, who’s my favorite drummer. I like fusion guitar players. I like soul music a lot. I like a lot of stuff.” Stuff that he’s been exploring since he was a young’un, only 4 or 5 years old. “I started playing drums [then] and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.”

Gifford is just as happy about the revival of soul as he was discovering it for the first time way back when. When asked how he felt about the genre’s resurgence, Gifford responded,” I think it’s awesome. I remember when Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were first blowing up… Soul music is awesome. It’s real, and you know, if you’re happy, it makes you feel great. If you’re tired and crabby, it makes you feel great.”

He also offered up some insight regarding exactly why people are flocking back to metro soul and Motown-inspired music: it never actually went away. “You know, people have been making great classic soul for a long time,” he says. “But I think that some of the other genres that come and go lead people back to it.”

“They hear something new and then realize, ‘No, this really sucks, this is horrible.’ People go back to what’s still relevant and awesome and real.” Despite having opinions on why soul is making its comeback, Gifford couldn’t say where popular music is headed next. “I really have no idea. Popular music has been on a path of reduction for a while, and I hope it goes in an interesting direction from here. Unfortunately with the powers that be, it might not,” he muses.

“But the cool thing is,” he continues, “there’s always cool stuff happening all the time. Sometimes you just have to look harder.”