Thursday, December 28, 2023

The Session (Carbondale)

The Session, one of the first nationally televised music programs to feature up-and-coming artists, was filmed and produced by WSIU-TV (Channel 8) in Carbondale, Illinois.

The half-hour show aired weekly on PBS stations across the country between 1971 and 1973.

It featured primarily rock, jazz and folk groups from downstate Illinois as well as the St. Louis area.  On occasion the show presented new artists from around the country, including a young "Piano Man" from New York.

The Session was the brainchild of Bruce Scafe, WSIU's television producer at the time.  Scafe was an Aurora, Illinois native that held a bachelor's degree in music and a master's in radio-television from the University of Illinois.  Before being hired at WSIU in 1970, Scafe played trumpet for two years in Les Elgart's band.  He was also a member of the U of I Jazz Band for several years.  The Session was a natural marriage of Scafe's two main interests, music and television.

Between August 1971 and August 1972, Scafe directed and produced 67 episodes of The Session.  All of the camera and audio crew were students at Southern Illinois University.   Hosts of the show included London Branch, Larry James and David Langdon. 

Initially the program was broadcast in Carbondale and re-shown on public television networks around the Midwest.  By the summer of 1973, PBS selected 17 programs to broadcast nationally.  Before they aired however, Scafe left WSIU for a television job in Texas.

When asked about the show in 1973 for a syndicated article promoting the program, Scafe said, "We only had two cameras available.   It would have looked great if we had three.  I look at the program now and I find a lot that's lacking."  He added, "But we did the best we could and I think we actually pulled off miracles with the equipment we had."  

A year later, Scafe went on to help create another music show for public television in Texas.  That show, now the longest-running music program in television history, was Austin City Limits.

In a recent correspondence with Bruce Scafe, he reflected on his time directing and producing The Session more positively than he did in 1973, saying "Everything I learned about directing music came from that show.  I had to be quick on my feet.  With only 2 cameras I had to make every shot count and be able to anticipate what was next.  I think we accomplished that…making 2 cameras look like 3.”  Scafe added, "I can honestly say there would be no ACL without that experience."

Thanks to Bruce, we can now watch more episodes of The Session than any time in the last 50 years.  He has shared with us several complete episodes which you will find below.  Also, Bruce has shared a treasure trove of photographs taken by Myers Walker, art director at SIUC-TV at the time.  Walker was responsible for the variety of different sets used on The Session.  His photographs provide a unique view of the show and the musicians.   The descriptions below come directly from the PBS press releases and/or newspaper TV listings.

The Session - Performers and Episodes

Brownsville Station  (PBS Ep. 101 / Tape Date: ? /  Air Date: 6/9/73)


Fanny  (PBS Ep. 102 / Tape Date: ? / Air Date: 6/16/73)
Fanny, an all-girl rock band who write, sing and play today's music will perform on "The Session," a new summer series of rock and jazz programs produced by public television station WSIU, Carbondale, Illinois. With four albums to their credit, Fanny has toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe where they are well-known. A hit single, "Charity Ball," put the group at the top of the charts. Of the group, two Manilla born sisters, Jean and June Millington play bass and guitar respectively, with Nicoel Barclay on organ and piano and Alice deBuhr on drums. Nicoel (Nickey) does most of the song-writing for the group. For "The Session" the group does several numbers from their third album, "Fanny Hill," including "Knock on My Door," "Hey, Bulldog," "First Time," "Ain't that Peculiar" and the aforementioned hit, "Charity Ball."
John Hicks Quartet  (PBS Ep. 103 / Tape Date: ? /  Air Date: 6/23/73)
Besides being an excellent jazz pianist, John Hicks does a great deal of composing and arranging. He is joined by Julius Hemphill on alto sax and flute, Gerald Brantley on bass, Phillip Wilson on drums, and Marcella Hooks, vocalist.

Mike Murphy and the One-Eyed Jacks  (PBS Ep. 104  Tape Date: ?  Air Date: 6/30/73

Mike Murphy and the One Eyed Jacks, a rock group with a good measure of rhythm and blues in their act, will be featured on The Session. Group leader Mike Murphy does all of the song writing for the One Eyed Jacks and plays a total of 13 insturments, including calliope, accordion, French horn and of course guitar. Through the years Murphy has played with such rock superstars as Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, Blood, Sweat & Tears and many others. Other players in the group are: Van Gray, congas; Terry Murphy, organ; Bruce Hall, bass; and Greg Sagesser, drums. For The Session, Mike Murphy and the One Eyed Jacks perform "You Don't Seem to Realize," Untitled," "You've Got Your Nerve," "La La Song," all Mike Murphy tunes and Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love."

Don Crawford  (PBS Ep. 105  Tape Date: 3/22/72  Air Date: 7/7/73)
Folk-rock singer Don Crawford will appear on "The Session," the PBS series of popular music. Crawford, a native of San Francisco is known as a singer of folk songs, rhythm and blues oriented music and is also an actor, monologist and composer. A professional performer since the age of 14, he is adept at six and twelve string guitar and is an accomplished jazz bassist. Among others, he has performed with musicians John Handy, Paul Horn and Gerald Wilson. For "The Session," Crawford performs "I I See You Inside My Mirror," "The Colorado Sweet / Suite," "Gonna Buy You A Music Box," "Lady Anne," "4th Of July Party Song," "For All The Ladies," and "All Because Of You."

Burton & Cunico  (PBS Ep. 106 / Tape Date: ? / Air Date: 7/14/73)

Jake Jones  (PBS Ep. 107 / Tape Date: 5/3/72 / Air Date: 7/21/73)
"a rock band whose instruments include a mellotron"

Gerry Grossman  (PBS Ep. 108 / Tape Date: ? / Air Date: 7/28/73)

Gerry Grossman, a singer-guitarist-comic from Chicago, will perform on The Session. Twelve years of guitar experience, plus an extensive knowledge of rock n' roll all the way back to the Big Bopper, provide Grossman with an impressive repertoire. He is continually called upon to defend his claim that he can perform ninety-five percent of all pop songs recorded since 1955. Comedy figures prominently in Grossman's act as well. During a performance he parodies the subjects that are amusingly close to us all - pop music, television, social customs and adolescence. Grossman has appeared at many clubs in the Midwest and has performed on college campuses across the country. For The Session Grossman sings "Rock n' Roll Medley," "When She Smiled," "I Found You," "Watching the World Go By" and "Christy."

Dub Crouch, Norman Ford, and the Bluegrass Rounders  (PBS Ep. 109 / Tape Date: ? / Air Date: 8/4/73)

Dub Crouch, Norman Ford and the Bluegrass Rounders, a veteran bluegrass group from St. Louis will provide a rousing program of entertainment on The Session. The group has been together for sixteen years, and in 1971, were the winners of both the National and International Bluegrass Band Festival, held in Oklahoma. Along with Dub Crouch, who plays the 5 string banjo, and Norman Ford, who plays the flattop guitar, are Stan Wagganer, mandolin, Bob Wagganer, fiddle and Jesse Sanson, bass fiddle. For their appearance on The Session, the group performs "Panhandle Country," "Midnight Train," "Just A Used-To-Be To You," "Doin' My Time," "Roll On Buddy, Roll On," "Rawhide," "Live and Let Live" and "Ozark Breakdown."

St. Louis Ragtimers  (PBS Ep. 110 / Tape Date: ? / Air Date: 8/11/73)

St. Louis Jazz Quartet  (PBS Ep. 112 / Tape Date: ? / Air Date: 9/8/73)
Formed four years ago, the Quartet has made several appearances with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and has performed more than 200 concerts for the St. Louis Chapter of Young Audiences, Inc., in addition to numerous special concerts on college campuses throughout the Midwest.  Jeanne Trevor is the vocalist for the quartet.  Other members are David Schrage, pianist, Terrence Kippenberger, bass, and Charles Payne, drums.  Their program on THE SESSION will include “I Got Love,” “Green Dolphin Street,” “A House Is Not A Home,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Mike Murphy and the One Eyed Jacks, a rock group with a good measure of rhythm and blues in their act, will be featured on The Session. Group leader Mike Murphy does all of the song writing for the One Eyed Jacks and plays a total of 13 insturments, including calliope, accordion, French horn and of course guitar. Through the years Murphy has played with such rock superstars as Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, Blood, Sweat & Tears and many others. Other players in the group are: Van Gray, congas; Terry Murphy, organ; Bruce Hall, bass; and Greg Sagesser, drums.
The Ship  (PBS Ep. 113 / Tape Date: ? / Air Date: 9/15/73)
An unusual folk-rock opera called "The Ship" embarks on a "a voyage through the human emotional range." Authors Steve Melshenker and Steve Cowan - who also perform on the program - describe "The Ship" as a "a contemporary folk music journey, a journey of the mind." Their opera uses a voyage metaphor to involve the listener in "an exploration and penetration of the senses." Segments of the opera are entitled "The Storm," "The Calm," "Lost," and "The Island." Performing "The Ship," which will soon be released by Elektra Records, are Todd Bradshaw, electric bass; Steve Reinwand, guitar, dobro, harmonica and vocals; Mark Hamby, piano, flute and vocals; and composers Melskenker and Cowan, guitar and vocals.

Ron Elliston Trio  (PBS Ep. 114 / Tape Date: ? / Air Date: 9/22/73)

The Ron Elliston Trio - all members of the University of Illinois Jazz Band - are Fred Atwood, bass; Chuck Braugham, drums; and Elliston, piano. Braugham won the "Best Big Band Drummer Award" at the Mobile (Alabama) Jazz Festival in 1969, and the same year was named "Best Drummer" at the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival. Bassist Fred Atwood has appeared with Phineas Newborn, Jr. and toured with the Maynard Ferguson Band. Elliston appeared with Dick Schory at Carnegie Hall and worked with the Al Cohn - Zoot Sims Quintet. Their program will include "Skating in Central Park" by John Lewis; a medley of Miles Davis' "All Blues," Bach's Prelude in E Minor and "Django" by John Lewis; and "Minha Saudade.

Coal Kitchen  (PBS Ep. 115 / Tape Date: ? / Air Date: 9/29/73)
Band members: Carla Peyton, vocals; Kevin Cox, flute and congas; Harry Washburn, guitar; Bob Pina, keyboards; Andre Mossotti, bass; and Billy McMullin, drums

Oliver Lake and BAG (Black Artists' Group)  (PBS Ep. 116 / Tape Date: ? / Air Date: 10/6/73)

Illinois Quartet  (PBS Ep. 117 / Tape Date: ? / Air Date: 11/9/73)
Modern variations on a classical form - the string quartet - are offered by the Illinois Quartet, as they perform two compositions.
There were roughly 50 additional episodes of the Session that aired in Carbondale and around the Midwest in 1971-1972 that were not selected by PBS.   This includes some of the earliest known footage of the "Piano Man."

Billy Joel & Friends  (Tape Date: 2/10/72)
Billy Joel would just as soon chuck the whole music business, buy a boat and spend the rest of his life fishing. But now that he's in music, he writes all of his own music and displays unusual versatility and range of expression on both his vocals and the piano. Backin up Billy Joel are Al Hurtz on guitar, Larry Impelletiere on bass and Rhys Clark on drums. Numbers include "Travelling Prayer," "Everybody Loves You Now," "Captain Jack" and "Tomorrow is Today."
The show also featured a number of groups from the Champaign-Urbana rock, folk and jazz scenes:
REO Speedwagon  (Tape Date: 10/13/71)

Head East (Tape Date: 11/12/71)
    "who make use of their Moog-Synthesizer"

Finchley Boys
    "a rock group perform with an electric violin"

    "group combines hard rock and jazz music"

All Star Frogs

Rocky Maffit
    "Rocky Maffit is a composer-lyricist-singer-guitarist. His music is on the quiet side, but not without a distinctively underlying rhythm and an interesting and unusual blend of voice and guitar. The numbers he performs include 'Gasoline Rainbows,' 'On the Boulevard' and 'Only Suckers Worry'"

James Barton & Friends
    "sing his original folk songs"

Ron Bridgewater Quartet
    "perform 'Naima' and 'Arman,' characterizes its music as the black man's experience through jazz"

Many of the other performers featured on The Session were from southern Illinois or the St. Louis area.

Magna Crunch
    "a six man rock band that blends rock and jazz with choreography and unique musical instruments"
    "a St. Louis rock band plays a program of entirely original music incorporating a wide range of styles from ragtime to an Old English Round"

David Earl
     "composer-singer peforms his own work.  Puts his poetry to music"

Bob Rembke
    "folk-rock guitarist and comedian presents his own works and some by Bob Dylan"

Dalphene McAdory
    "sings in a small nightclub atmosphere"

Oldfield, Branch & Company
    "The jazz trio performs four original compositions, plus Simon and Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters'"


The Singing Sphinx & The Souvenir Sounds
     "The Carbondale, Ill. chapter of the Sweet Adelines of America, who call themselves the Singing Sphinx, combine with their barbershop brothers from Herrin, the Souvenir Sounds, to bring an evening of barbershop harmony."

Ed Jenny
    "sings excerpts from his three rock operas"

Spoonriver Band
     "'Funky rock 'n' roll plus a little touch of soul' is one way of characterizing the music of The Spoonriver Band from St. Louis. The varied backgrounds of several of its members presents a tasteful blend of styles"

Frank Bellino 
    "plays the viola d'amore"

Gand Family Singers (Tape Date: 4/12/72)

    "Bob Gand and his daughter Gale and son Gary are joined by Joan Berstein in a  performance of traditional American folk songs"

The Group
    "a small jazz trio"

Rich Crandall Trio
    "a contemporary jazz-rock group"

Stanton, Sullivan & Riley
    "freedom and intense involvement are the cornerstone of this group, a folk trio from Carbondale, Illinois"

Corey Jones
    "guitarist plays folk-rock and bluegrass"

Kay Pace & The Inspirational Wonders 
   "gospel singers from Freewill Baptist Church, Carbondale"

Olive Brown
    "blues singer"

SIU Baroque Ensemble 
    "performs Bach, Handel"

The Riverfront Ragtimers
    "features Jean Kittrel on piano, Don Frantz on banjo and Don Summers on tuba"

London Branch Quartet 

Don Brown & The Ozark Mountain Trio

The Country Sounds

Diamond Rio


Vince Huffman Quartet

The Jazz Progression

SIU Faculty Brass Quintet

The Session - Behind The Scenes


The original story was posted in July 2023.  Special thanks to Bruce Scafe for generously sharing videos, photos and documents from The Session.