CHICAGO — Jimy Sohns, Chicago’s “Bad Boy of Rock and Roll,” is a survivor.
The leader of one of the Sixties most iconic garage/rock bands, The Shadows of Knight, who popularized Van Morrison's "Gloria," was sure he'd die by 30, given his past lifestyle.
"God knows I did all I could to make sure that prophecy came true," he acknowledges.
But on Saturday night at the House of Music and Entertainment in Arlington Heights, Sohns proved he foiled the Rock and Roll Reaper by celebrating his 70th birthday with a packed, standing room only concert that at long last reunited the Shadows of Knight on a stage.
The concert, dubbed “The Shadows of Knight-Original Band Reunion," was a much-anticipated event inspired, interestingly enough, by a 23-year-old — Sohns' social media coordinator, Conor Mahoney.
“It was my dream to get them back together for one more show”, said a beaming Mahoney. “There were a lot of times I was sure it wouldn’t work out. We did it!”
A first-time promoter, Mahoney quickly realized the venture would not be easy.
“The surviving members [Joe Kelly passed away in 2013] live, literally, all over the world," Mahoney said.
“David [‘Hawk’ Wolinski] lives in Nashville. Jerry [McGeorge] is in Colorado and Tom [Schiffour] had moved to Israel," said Mahoney.
Then, on April 12 of this year, Jimy Sohns had a stroke.
“At that point," said Mahoney, "everything was up in the air.”
True to his fighter instinct, Sohns was back performing just four months later. The stroke didn't affect his singing but he continues to double up on exercises to strengthen his speech and right side.
“Performing is everything to me. I’d do it for free, if I could," Sohns said.
For those close to Sohns, his quick recovery was no surprise. “Jimy’s a fighter. Both figuratively and literally, said Wolinski. “He has never backed down from anyone or anything. …I’ve seen him be a beast if the occasion calls for it.”
The accomplishments (and, often testosterone- fueled escapades) of “The Shadows of Knight” are well-documented.
The group’s signature cover of "Gloria" is listed in The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame as #51 of the all-time records that shaped rock. There were sold out concerts and tours and, they even opened for their idols, The Rolling Stones.
Ironically, given Sohns' “bad boy" image, both Wolinski and Shadows of Knight guitarist, Jerry McGeorge agree “Jimy was the ‘adult’ in the group. He was always there to make sure we were on time; he kept us in line…our ‘Steady Eddie.' "
But according to McGeorge, “By 1967, The Shadows Of Knight were falling apart”.
The touring and poor management had worn everyone out.
Sohns refused to give up. He played with new versions of the band after having the savvy to get the copyright to the group’s name. He even worked as a non-credited producer, musician and engineer on popular “bubble gum” pop tunes of the day.
“I did what I had to do to stay in the business I loved," he said.
The Eighties were both a time of struggle and success for Sohns. In 1982, he was arrested in a cocaine bust. “I didn’t drink or do drugs until I was 22. In the following years, I made up for a lot of lost time.
"You had to keep going. We weren’t selling it. We used it to party and get to our shows. It was wrong; it happened and I learned from it and paid for it by doing 33 months in East Moline Correctional Center."
Prison sure didn't halt Sohns’ passion for music. He formed a band, “Jimy Sohns and The Cons," in fact. “We were really good. We won the Mississippi Blues Festival two years in a row."
The new millennium brought continued touring and music as well as Sohns’ greatest challenge: he was diagnosed with prostate cancer 13 years ago.
“Both my father and grandfather died from it. … I was determined to beat it and I did," he said. "Today, I’m a cancer survivor.”
In the years since they have played together, Wolinski has won multiple awards for his composing and producing for groups like Rufus, the Bee Gees and Michael Jackson.
McGeorge joined the Chicago psychedelic band H.P.Lovecraft, attended the Berklee College of Music and continued performing until his passion for automotive design led him to various jobs in that industry.
Eventually, he worked for and retired from the Ford Motor Co. Today he gets his “adrenaline rush” from racing off-road vehicles on the back roads of Colorado.
Tom Schiffour, moved to Israel years ago but, didn’t lose his love of the blues. He regularly plays in clubs around his town of Efrat and continues to enjoy the new life he and his family have created there.
Those fortunate enough to get tickets for the show (emceed by Ides Of March and Survivor front man, Jim Peterik ( "Vehicle," "Eye of the Tiger") were treated to non-stop Chicago rock and roll starting with local band, Kevin Lee and the Kings. They were followed by the present-day Shadows of Knight with Mike and Cindy Gotshall.
Known for his loyalty as much as his resilience, Sohns was quick to acknowledge that, “I love, respect and am grateful to the original band members, however, the Gotshalls have been with me for over thirty years and deserve credit for the music we have made."
Saturday's band included Greg Brucker on bass and Rick Barr on drums. They were then joined by members of some of Chicago’s most famous classic rock bands, including The Cryan Shames; New Colony Six; Ides Of March; Aliotta, Haynes and Jeremiah (with a surprise appearance of early Shadows of Knight member Danny Baughman); as well as local musicians from Hot Rocks and Bitch.
Once the reunited Shadows Of Knight stood side by side on stage and ripped into the opening chords of the John Lee Hooker classic, "Boom Boom," there were smiles all around. You could almost see the memories of those days at The Cellar Club in Arlington Heights flooding back.
It was hard to believe that they hadn't played together in over 40 years. Their set was a solid brew of the gritty Chicago blues that made them famous; from the Bo Diddley classic, "Oh, Yea" to the risqué "Bad Little Woman" and the haunting reverberation of teen love gone sour in Sohns’ "Darkside."
By the time McGeorge launched into "Gloria," known as the “The National Anthem of Rock and Roll”, security had given up on keeping people in their seats and away from the stage. The Shadows of Knight owned the venue.
The band closed with the Rolling Stones' "Last Time." A fitting song to end the show but, far from an accurate prediction of what the future holds for Jimy Sohns and The Shadows Of Knight.
Sohns confessed his greatest fear is “not having anyone show up for a concert." Based on the fervor and enthusiasm of Saturday’s audience, that's not something he needs to worry about anytime soon.
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