Last month, I finished a three-year history project for which I live-tweeted, sort of, the Green Bay Packers’ back-to-back-to-back championship seasons of 1965, 1966 and 1967, day by day, exactly 50 years after it happened.
To do that, I went through the local paper on microfilm at the library. Along the way, I turned up all kinds of interesting material unrelated to my project. I started posting that stuff in a couple of Green Bay history groups on Facebook. It’s been fun, so I’m still doing it.
Which brings us to 50 years ago this weekend, the second weekend of March 1968.
Chicago sax man Cozy Eggleston and his swinging jazz combo played a four-night gig as the Club Coal Bin in downtown Green Bay had its grand opening. The club was in the basement of the Labor Temple. Its slogan, U.S.G.S.T., stood for “Us Swingers Gotta Stick Together.” The club apparently was trying to class up its act. It used to be the Coal Bin Bar, a strip joint. Six months earlier, it had featured Bobbie Page, “The Sex Bombshell” who was “known throughout Wisconsin and Iowa.”
Even though Cozy Eggleston had become the main attraction, it was unusual to see black performers at Green Bay nightclubs, even in 1968. Was he a big draw? No way of knowing, but he has an interesting story.
Cyril J. Eggleston was in his 20s when he joined the Army during World War II. He was a military policeman. He also started playing the sax. When he came home to Chicago after the war, he attended the Chicago Conservatory School of Music. After that, Cozy Eggleston gigged around Chicago, playing tenor sax with any number of jazz and R&B groups and at any number of long-gone nightclubs.
Cozy eventually formed a popular band featuring his wife Marie, whose stage name was Marie Stone. In 1949, while playing at the Manchester Grill on Chicago’s south side, she was described as a “blues singer, ace musician and the bombshell of the alto sax.” At the Club Evergreen in Chicago’s north side, they’d “leave the stand and come down to blow among the guests,” according to the Chicago Defender of Dec. 30, 1950. The photo at left is from a 1954 issue of Hue magazine, which was to sister publication Jet magazine as People magazine was to Time magazine.
On Saturday, Aug. 23, 1952, Cozy and his combo parlayed their popularity into a recording session for States Records, a Chicago label that specialized in black artists. They laid down a couple of instrumentals, “Big Heavy” and “Cozy’s Boogie.” Cozy and Marie played sax, with Jimmy Boyd on piano, Ellis Hunter on guitar, Curtis Ferguson on bass and Chuck Williams on drums.
States didn’t release the 7-inch until February 1954. When it finally came out, “Big Heavy” became the soundtrack to some of the East Coast’s biggest radio shows. It was the theme song for both George “Hound Dog” Lorenz on WKBW in Buffalo and Alan Freed on WINS in New York.
Fast forward to March 1968, when Cozy and his combo played the club in the basement of the Labor Temple in Green Bay. They were brought back two weeks later for a return engagement said to be “by popular demand.”
About this time, Cozy produced and released a soul-jazz LP, “Grand Slam,” on their Co-Egg label. I’ve seen it dated from 1967 to 1969. DownBeat columnist John Corbett, in his book “Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium,” calls this record “an all-out soul blue flame” and a “classic.” It features Cozy, Marie, Karl Johnson on the Hammond organ and Ken Sampson on drums. You can find most of its seven cuts on YouTube.
In 1990, Cozy produced and released “Whammin & Slammin,” on his Co-Egg label, revisiting six of the seven cuts on “Grand Slam” and adds what Discogs calls some “leftover recordings.” Chicago Tribune reviewer John Litweiler called it “straight-ahead organ-sax band entertainment” from Cozy, whom they called “one of Gene Ammons’ many musical offspring.” It features a cover of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” done as a fast waltz. Can’t find any of this one on YouTube, though.
Cozy Eggleston, who was 48 when he played that basement club in Green Bay in March 1968, kept playing for years. He also played the Chicago Jazz Festival and the Chicago Park District’s Summer Jazz Series. He was a member of the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10-208 for 67 years.
Cozy Eggleston died in Chicago in December 2012. He was 92. He left a large family that included two sons, two daughters, 10 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.