DOWNTOWN — No offense to Weezer, Spoon and Trombone Shorty, but there’s a badass band on the Taste of Chicago ticket this year known for delivering big hits in a way that other rockers wish they could.
For the first time, The Chicago 6, fronted by three ’85 Super Bowl champs — hard-tackling defensive stars Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael and Otis Wilson — is shuffling on down to the Taste, and well, they’re doing it for you.
“This is going to be a big [Bears] fan show, and we’re really into it,” Hampton said. “It’s exciting for us. When you were a band in the '60s you wanted to be on 'Ed Sullivan.' If you’re a band in Chicago you want to play the Taste.”
If you doubt a bunch of bruisers best known for crushing quarterbacks can carry a tune, you might want to think again, the former Monsters of the Midway told me to tell you.
“Nobody can be universally acclaimed at everything. Tom Jones and Bono would probably be horse s--- football players, right?” said Hampton, whose giant hands make his bass guitar look like he’s plucking a toothpick.
“But Otis Wilson at linebacker knocked the hell out of people, and he can sing ‘My Girl’ in melodious tones, too. Mongo [McMichael], he’s a hoot out there singing, ‘We’ll put a boot in your a--. It’s the American Way.’ Everybody that hears us says they’re shocked that we’re so good.”
Started with ‘Sweetness’
The Chicago 6 got started as a side project of musically inclined Bears and Blackhawks players during the 1987 NFL football strike.
After morning workouts to keep in shape, the band's original lineup — Hampton on bass, Hall of Fame running back Walter “Sweetness” Payton on drums, defensive back Dave Duerson playing trumpet alongside Blackhawks players Troy Murray on tenor saxophone and Curt Fraser and Gary Nylund shredding on electric guitars — got together to jam.
“It was cool, almost bizarre. I’m playing with Walter, Duerson’s on trumpet and the Blackhawks guys would come to practice with black eyes and swollen lips,” Hampton said. “It was crazy. And after we played we’d have some cocktails and talk.”
The Chicago 6 played their very first show to a sold-out crowd at UIC Pavilion and scored gigs in New York City and Puerto Rico.
When Payton left the band to launch his race car-driving career, Wilson, a Grammy-nominated artist for his Super Bowl Shuffle performance — stepped in to fill the void. (“Kiss” by Prince edged out The Super Bowl Shuffle for the 1986 Grammy for best rhythm and blues performance.)
“To even be doing this after 27 years, something I started with Walter Payton, is really cool,” Hampton said. “Really we’re paying homage to Dave Duerson and Walter who aren’t here with us anymore, keeping up their memory and really having a lot of fun.”
In a lot of ways the team's ability to enjoy themselves is what made the ’85 Bears Super Bowl run so legendary, McMichael said.
“The biggest reason our ’85 team will echo into eternity is that we weren’t just football players. We were entertainers, a bunch of characters,” he said.
“You should have heard the locker room in those days. It was like a stand-up comedy act that spilled over into the public, and they couldn’t get enough of it.”
The Super Bowl Shuffle remix
The locker room craziness culminated with quite possibly the most braggadocios — and ultimately prophetic — music video in professional sports history, a little ditty called "The Super Bowl Shuffle."
If it wasn’t for that song, Wilson wouldn’t have his lifelong nickname, "Mama’s Boy Otis.”
“When we were doing the Super Bowl Shuffle, I stopped in with my mother to do my part. They saw my moms and did the script: 'I’m Momma’s Boy Otis, one of a kind. The ladies all love me for my body and my mind.’ It worked. That’s how it started,” Wilson said. “I’m not a momma’s boy, but I don’t mind hanging with my moms any day.”
Hampton remembers when former Bears receiver Willie Gault asked him to join the Shufflin’ Crew six weeks before the playoffs.
“Willie Gault, the Chocolate Swirl, came to me when we were 10-0 and said, ‘We’re doing a video,' and showed me the words, something like, ‘You’re looking at the Danimal …’ ” Hampton said.
“Willie said, ‘We need you. You’re the only guy on the team that can play an instrument.’ I said, ‘Why would you want to ruin our great 10-0 record?’ Willie said, ‘You’re the only guy on the team that can play an instrument.’ I’m too superstitious. I wouldn’t do it.”
Neither would McMichael, a South Texas wild man who got the nickname “Mongo” for his caveman-like ferociousness on the field.
“I never brag before the fact,” he said. “The guys who resented them for doing it … at least we had enough karma on our side to cancel out theirs. But as you know, we never won another [Super Bowl].”
But nearly 30 years later, The Chicago 6 are set to break out a Super Bowl Shuffle reprise at the Taste of Chicago Bud Light Stage Saturday, featuring a pair of new rap solos by Danimal and Mongo.
Hampton offered up a taste of his slick rhymes that jab at his reluctance to participate in the shuffle and offer a friendly jab at legendary Bears coach Mike “Da Coach” Ditka.
“When they came to me I threw a ‘fit-ka.’/ Then I sold out just like Ditka,” Hampton’s additional rap goes.
McMichael’s verse includes a reference to joining The Chicago 6: “Otis and Hamp needed a fix, now they’re finding out I’m a pretty good mix.”
“Turned into something cool"
Hampton and McMichael revel in changing up lyrics when playing cover songs, especially to poke a little fun at Ditka.
McMichael sings a cover of Billy Idol’s hit “White Wedding” the band renamed “Light Shredding” that swaps the word “sister” for “Ditka.”
“Hey little Ditka, what have you done,” Mongo croons.
McMichael, the former defensive tackle-turned-professional wrestling star, says the songs are all in good fun.
“We’ve roasted him before. He nearly fell off the stage and killed himself,” McMichael said. “He’s a guy who’s bigger than normal. Mike Ditka can take it, knows how he is and doesn’t need anyone to pat him on the back.”
The Chicago 6 stage show isn’t all nostalgia and jokes. Hampton, the band’s conductor, is a “musical savant” who can play guitar, piano, percussion, horns and bass by ear.
And Wilson “sings better than Sam Cooke and all of them put together,” McMichael says.
“When he sings 'Twistin’ the Night Away,' yeah brother, even I start twisting my a-- on stage. And I’m from south Texas where we only two-step.”
Wilson, the modest member of the group, attempted to downplay McMichael’s take on his vocal abilities.
“Mongo is Mongo. I enjoy performing whether it’s football, public speaking or singing. But I’m comfortable knocking people out … singing, not so comfortable,” Wilson said.
“I’ve been singing since I was a kid, just never in public. Motown, Sam Cooke, the O’Jays, the Temptations are my favorite group. I always enjoyed singing. Now I got with these guys, and it turned into something cool.”
McMichael says the cover songs he sings in some ways tell the story of his wild life.
“When I sing, ‘All my rowdy friends are coming over tonight,’ man you should have seen some of those times in my life. Or ‘Give me three steps, give me three steps, mister.’ Have you ever had a gun pointed at you because you messed with the wrong woman?” he said.
And “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis, “You can imagine what that’s about in my first marriage,” McMichael says.
And Mongo’s rendition of Toby Keith’s “Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" is always dedicated to the late grandfather he never met, Richard McMichael, who died in the Sea of Japan during World War II.
In all, the band’s set list is a mix of '80s rock, Motown R&B, soul and a patriotic touch of country.
“It’s safe to say we play a mix of music that’s indicative of what Chicago is all about,” Wilson said. “Chicago gives you a little bit of everything, and that’s what we do.”
“We’re all divas, for God's sake.”
Rock shows with the trio of Super Bowl champs, backed by John McFarland on guitar, keyboardist Ed Kammerer and drummer Matt Kammerer, have been a blast — and a welcome adrenaline rush — ever since Hampton got the band back together two years ago.
“All of us are 57 years old and all played next to each other on the field. It’s really kind of weird to be all in the same band, but I gotta tell you, I enjoy it so much I hate when it’s over,” Hampton said.
“We don’t have egos. There are no David Lee Roth tantrums. We work hard in practice, and when that’s done, it’s a ball.”
While there’s no bickering among bandmates, Mongo McMichael says his ’85 teammates each enjoy getting as much of the spotlight as possible.
“We’re all divas, for God's sake. Come on, we’re all 57 and lived multiple lives. Mine was football, wrestling and now music. I’m a triple threat. That’s a diva, baby,” he said.
“We entertain people, and it’s a scream, man. It gets the juices going, keeps the thrill in your life. That’s what every former player has trouble with … searching for that rush. The biggest thing I miss is walking out of the tunnel and hearing the crowd roar. Getting ready, doing sound check, going over the play list: It’s the same juice, baby,” McMichael said.
Wilson said when the band really starts to groove, it’s like going back to the good ol’ days of crushing quarterbacks.
“When you hear folks sing with you, they’re dancing and having a good time, you know you got ’em,” he said. “It’s pretty much the same as being out there on the football field, making a hit and hearing people hollering your name.”
And Saturday at 2:30 p.m., The Chicago 6 stars with Super Bowl rings say they’re out to prove old football players can learn new tricks.
Why should you go see the show?
Well, Mongo put it this way: “Ask yourself, When is the last time you’ve been completely amazed?
“Sure, you’ve got a perception of us … but we’ll shock the hell out of you.”
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