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.
It’s sad when a talented band’s closest brush with fame is almost finishing a soundtrack for a movie that never existed, ending up with nothing but demos where one of the guitars is out of tune. To make matters worse, they’d recorded under a new name that almost nobody knew. The history of recorded music is littered with such “almosts,” but the Kelderons’ near miss feels especially sad because they did manage to release a single that’s beloved more than 50 years later. Buckle in for the curious tale of how it all went wrong for this Chicago soul band—and how modern audiences finally got introduced to their music.
Brothers Darrow and Ronnie Kennedy grew up in the Rockwell Gardens public housing project in East Garfield Park with their friends Leroy Pointer and Ted Patton, and while in high school at Crane Tech, the four of them formed the Kelderons. Other Crane alumni included Eldee Young (of Young-Holt Unlimited and the Ramsey Lewis Trio) and the Ideals, and members of the Pharaohs (a soul-jazz band that contributed musicians to Earth, Wind & Fire) attended Crane Junior College, which shared the building on Jackson at Oakley.
The odd word “Kelderons” supposedly arose from a combination of letters in their last names, though it’s not clear where that “L” came from. The group would sing in school hallways and often competed in local talent shows. At Precious Blood Church on Western and Congress (now an alternative high school called Ombudsman Chicago West), they won one such contest over rivals the Modern Men. After the loss, Modern Men members John Banks and Allen Brown wanted to join forces with the Kennedy brothers—so the Kelderons let go of Patton and Pointer. Joined by Banks, Brown, and classmate Bruce Rodgers on guitar, they ramped up their activity and became the most beloved band at Crane.
Their ambition didn’t go unnoticed, and soon after graduation they were introduced to Marcellus Burke, brother of Clarence Burke, patriarch of the family whose children made up the Five Stairsteps (of “O-o-h Child” fame). Marcellus was a police officer but managed musicians on the side (back then, it seemed like everybody did), and he added the Kelderons to a revue he booked.
By 1967 the band was playing almost nightly on the south and west sides and in the south suburbs, mostly covering current Motown hits and the like, and this grind soon built them into a formidable club act. Producer Jimmy Jones, who worked with the Twinight label (home of soul gods such as Syl Johnson, Renaldo Domino, and the Notations), had been searching for a group to record some of his songs, and in 1970 he finagled a one-single deal for the Kelderons with Twinight.
The Kelderons’ most enduring and beloved tune, “To Love Someone (That Don’t Love You),” was reissued by the Numero Group in 2007 and appeared on the label’s compilation Eccentric Soul: Twinight’s Lunar Rotation.
The session took place at Twinight’s modest Record Row studio at 2131 S. Michigan, and the single that resulted has become a Windy City classic. “To Love Someone (That Don’t Love You)” pretty much nails the Chicago soul sound, with gooey falsetto harmonies for days, smooth turnarounds, a snappy backbeat that won’t quit, and aching strings added by session players. The flip side, “You and Me Baby,” combines a spoken intro, urgent call-and-response vocals, throbbing fuzz bass, and a touch of horns—the tune sounds a bit like the Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You” with more grit on it.
The flip side of the Kelderons’ only single, where they were mistakenly billed as the Kaldirons
Sadly, this 1970 single was released only as a promotional 45 for radio stations, and Twinight barely had a promotional department. It might’ve gotten some local airplay, but it wasn’t offered for sale in stores. Naturally, the record sank without a trace, and original copies are now “rare groove” collectibles (the only one ever sold on Discogs went for $700 in 2020). The hub label also called the band “the Kaldirons,” the sort of mistake that happened distressingly often at small labels in those days.
The band changed their name to fit the misprint, but that didn’t help their career. After six years of struggle, they dumped Burke, who was still their manager. The Kaldirons also renamed themselves the Solution—and then, regrettably, the Final Solution (whose sinister associations with the Third Reich apparently escaped them). But then they got a lucky break: trumpeter Paul Serrano, who was seeking bands for his fledgling label, got in touch.
Serrano had played with stars such as Art Farmer, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, and Mongo Santamaría, and beginning in the late 60s, he ran P.S. Studios, which eventually settled at 323 E. 23rd. The studio’s output included albums for the likes of Ramsey Lewis, Ahmad Jamal, the Emotions, and Natalie Cole, and in the early 70s, Serrano launched an offshoot label called P.S. Records.
Serrano asked the Final Solution to come in and cut some tracks, but the sessions didn’t go particularly well at first. The band turned the corner when songwriter Carl Wolfolk, another Crane graduate, got involved—he happened to be working on demos of his own at P.S. Studios. Wolfolk had cowritten the 1968 smash “Can I Change My Mind” for R&B star Tyrone Davis, as well as material for the Dells and Little Richard.
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In the 70s, huge hit soundtracks—especially Super Fly and Shaft—caused a seismic shift as the world embraced the funky music from the films. Chicago responded with The Spook Who Sat by the Door, a satire about the CIA’s only Black agent, shot locally and released in 1973—but Herbie Hancock’s score only made it to the test-pressing phase (and was bootlegged on LP in the mid-2000s). Melvin Van Peebles’s groundbreaking 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song used a young Earth, Wind & Fire, and 1974’s Three the Hard Way (with Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Jim Kelly) featured the Impressions. The very Chicagoan 1978 movie Stony Island had a slamming soundtrack of top-shelf musicians, among them saxophonist Gene Barge and future members of soul-funk band Maxx Traxx.
In the mid-70s, Chuck Colbert Jr. threw his hat into the ring. He’d played bass in hit-making garage-pop group the American Breed (“Bend Me, Shape Me”), and he went on to work as a producer, studio vocalist, and jingle writer, among other things. His father was something of a music-scene Svengali, and he hooked Colbert up with the job of supervising the music for an upcoming Blaxploitation film. Titled Brotherman, the movie didn’t yet have a finished script, but it had a catchy tagline already: “The pusher who became a preacher.”
Wolfolk wrote the entire score, including the highlights “Theme From Brotherman” and “No Place to Run.” During the Brotherman sessions at dB Studios (676 N. LaSalle), the Final Solution laid down basic tracks while Wolfolk added guitar (and as I mentioned earlier, his instrument went in and out of tune). By the time the project fell apart in 1975, the tunes were still rough mixes, with vocals and guitar providing sketchy outlines of the fuller arrangements to be recorded later. The score is still listenable and funky, though, and the absence of the projected string and horn parts has the unintended side effect of showcasing the Final Solution’s tight vocal harmonies.
The 2008 release of the never-finished soundtrack to the never-finished Brotherman
After producer-investor squabbles sank Brotherman, the Final Solution fell back on the club circuit, and their career frustrations were exacerbated by Brown’s worsening drug problem. The band fired him after he screwed up an important audition, but then they couldn’t find a replacement who could match his falsetto. That upheaval eventually led to the demise of the Final Solution.
Wolfolk acquired the rights to the unfinished Brotherman material from Colbert’s father, but his attempts to shop the tracks around Los Angeles went nowhere. The tapes wound up in a closet, and the story of the Kelderons appeared to have ended.
Fast-forward to the 2000s, when local reissue label the Numero Group label was working to license the Kelderons/Kaldirons single for the 2007 compilation Eccentric Soul: Twinight’s Lunar Rotation. At that point, nobody at the label even knew the members’ names. Chicago soul guru Bob Abrahamian provided a tip—he knew that the group had been managed by Marcellus Burke—and Rob Sevier at Numero was able to contact Burke. Luckily, Burke ran into one of the Kennedy brothers in a grocery store and learned the name of their group at the time, which helped Sevier track them down.
In his first conversation with Sevier, Darrow Kennedy alluded to an album the Kelderons had recorded, which put Numero on the trail of the Brotherman score. Finding the original tapes was no mean feat, though. Wolfolk had given them to Kennedy for safekeeping (he’d had some trouble with the law), but around 2005, he’d gotten back in touch to retrieve the reels. The Numero crew couldn’t reach Wolfolk by phone or email, so they eventually just showed up at what they hoped was his home in the western suburb of Stone Park. By all but promising a reissue, they were able to walk out with the tapes.
The elusive Brotherman soundtrack saw the light of day in 2008, more than 30 years after it was recorded. Wolfolk and the Kelderons got another chance to get paid what they deserved for their great work—the breezy, harmonious “Gotta Get Through to You,” the catchy and soulful “To See You Again,” the funky, wah-wah-soaked “Theme From Brotherman.” Clearly I’m not the only listener who’s unbothered by the guitar tuning—some of the songs have even been licensed for TV and film.
Most of the former Kelderons are still gigging in local bands too, which is hardly the norm for Secret History stories—more often, I have to conclude these tales by telling you how someone dropped out of music or died. So we’ll call this a happy ending—and a dang funky one.
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.