Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Behind the Music: Shufflin' Bears
From the archives of ESPN The Magazine
Sometimes, while patiently waiting for the light to change at the corner of Sports and Culture, things just start happening. Kenny Mayne calls to ask who we like in the fifth at Saratoga. The TiVo truck dinks our fender. And strange men in ponchos throw manila envelopes onto the back seat. Manila envelopes that contain top-secret VH1 transcripts.
SPORTS & MUSIC
Page 3 will examine the sports and music connection all summer long.
Top-secret VH1 transcripts like this:
Narrator: In the fall of 1985, it was cold in Chicago. Windy, too. But the city's beloved football team, the Bears, kept Chicagoans bundled up in wins. For some of Midway's Monsters, wins just weren't enough. They wanted to sing.
So in December of that year, 10 girthy gladiators rode a fusion of innovative rap and interpretative dance to the top of the charts with "The Super Bowl Shuffle."
Tonight, we go inside the huddle -- and behind the music -- with the shufflin Chicago Bears. Arrogant, but with good footwork, brash, but with soft hands, the Bears were a band so bad they knew they were good, often blowing listeners' minds, like they knew they would. But offstage, band members began to rebel against lead singer and songwriter Willie Gault.
(Guitarist) Mike Singletary: Take, for instance, "We're not here to start no trouble." That's a double negative. I mean, were we there to start trouble, or not? And where the hell were we, anyway? I loved Willie, but I wanted to hit him as hard as I possibly could.
Narrator: The criticism fell on deaf ears.
Willie Gault: I am gifted. Yes. And "Shuffle" is a great tune. Yes. But as an artist, I wanted more.
Narrator: So on the heels of "Shuffle," Gault wrote a soaring ballad about the Bears defense. No one cared. Especially not morbidly obese saxophonist William Perry, who was at the time falling victim to temptation, and then, ultimately, addiction?
(Saxophonist) William Perry: In the studio, there were always lots of pretzel sticks. I don't know whose they were. At first it seemed like snacking.
Narrator: It wasn't. Chee-tos followed. Then Ho-Hos. And always, the pretzel sticks.
Perry: I'd stay in the studio after the other guys had left. (Sobs) I should've known better. I'm large, but I'm no dumb cookie.
Narrator: The group, though, was a cookie crumbling. All over the floor. And the couch. The cookie reference is just a metaphor -- the band wasn't really a cookie. But the crumbling was all too real.
The Fridge was a gap-toothed rookie for the Bears in 1985.
Otis Wilson: We were headlining a club, and we couldn't go on. McMahon was wearing just shades and a headband. Willie refused to sing unless we introduced him as "Chocolate Swirl." And Singletary kept darting his eyes side-to-side so you couldn't look at him without getting nauseated.
Singletary: I loved Otis, but I wanted to hit him as hard as I possibly could.
Narrator: Still, the band forged ahead. But their next record, "Intentional Grounding," was never released.
Gault: We were ahead of our time. Ahead of time itself, really.
Narrator: The failed second record, bickering between McMahon and Steve Fuller and free agency eventually led to breakup-sometime between 1986 and 1995. Still, their legacy lives on in sports-themed tunes like the "Ickey Shuffle," and in other athletes who think they can sing.
Singletary: I love Shaq, but I'd like to hit him as hard as I possibly can.
Narrator: Now, more than 18 years later, the Shufflin' Bears are thinking reunion, hoping to recreate their old magic.
McMahon: We need the money.
Narrator: So the Crew has come full circle, doing what they do best -- struttin' for fun, struttin' their stuff for everyone.
Editor's note: This story appeared in the January 7, 2002, edition of ESPN The Magazine.