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Big Twist & The Mellow Fellows

Larry "Big Twist" Nolan heartily epitomized the image "300 pounds of heavenly joy." Based in Chicago, the huge singer and his trusty R&B band, the Mellow Fellows, were one of the hottest draws on the Midwestern college circuit during the 1980s with a slickly polished sound modeled on the soul-slanted approach of Bobby Bland, Little Milton, and Tyrone Davis.

Twist started out singing and playing drums in rough-and-tumble country bars in downstate Illinois during the late '50s and early '60s (chicken wire-enclosed stages were a necessity on this raucous scene). Young saxist Terry Ogolini jammed often with the big man at a joint called Junior's in a Prairie State burg called Colp. Ogolini and guitarist Pete Special spearheaded the nucleus of the first edition of the Mellow Fellows in the college town of Carbondale during the early '70s, with Twist doubling on drums. After taking southern Illinois by storm, the unit relocated en masse to Chicago in 1978.

Their eponymous 1980 debut album for Flying Fish accurately captured the group's slick sound, while the 1982 follow-up, One Track Mind, attempted to be somewhat more contemporary without losing the band's blues/R&B base. A move to Alligator in 1983 elicited an album co-produced by Gene "Daddy G" Barge, whose sax solos previously enlivened R&B classics by Chuck Willis, Gary (U.S.) Bonds, Little Milton, and countless more. The group's final album with Twist up front was the Live From Chicago! Bigger Than Life!!

Numerous personnel changes over the years failed to scuttle the band, and neither did the death of Twist in 1990 from diabetes and kidney failure. Martin Allbritton, an old singing buddy of Twist's from downstate who had previously gigged around Chicago as frontman for Larry & the Ladykillers, had already been deputizing for the ailing Twist, so it fell to Allbritton to assume the role full-time. Barge shared the singing duties at selected gigs and on the band's 1990 album Street Party.

Special left the organization not long after that, taking the name Mellow Fellows with him when he hit the door. That's when the remaining members adopted the handle of the Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings. With Ogolini and longtime trumpeter Don Tenuto comprising a red-hot horn section, they're still a popular, dance-friendly fixture around the Chicago scene. ~ Bill Dahl, Rovi
full bio

Comments

tom84547
.... continued from below..... I heard them often at a place named Carey's in Murphysboro right next to the river bridge that stayed open till daylight. I will never forget those many hot sweaty summer nights with Big Twist , Special and the gang and of course the hot hippie girls in their loose dresses with everyone dancing and drinking until the sun came up.. It was wonderful and unforgettabl e . (I am now 57). Kudos to Pandora for taking me back to those days and may Twist RIP.
tom84547
I first saw Big Twist when I was about 14 years old in an all night bar in Buckner, IL. It was a town similar to Colp and they played in a cage. I has was hanging out with some older guys and I like to do at that age. I was pushing the limits and that place scared me a little. All I really remember is I really like the music . I wasn't sure what i t(the R&B) was but those black guys could really play. A few years later when I attended SIU in Carbondale from 1974 to 1980......
Saw him many times in Chi town then in Dallas A great band with a great front man
boilervon
First enjoyed Big Twist at Battle of the Bands at Purdue...abo u t 1980. Was lucky enough to hear them at the Stabilizer and then in Oak Park. He was 300 pounds of heavenly joy!
shepned
Twist and the Mellow Fellows played many nights at a University of Illinois bar called Boni's back in the 1978-1982 era. We hired them for an Aztec themed party at Theta Xi fraternity in 1980 and it was a smash with an entire block of people jamming out all night. Later that year we witnessed a blowout at Chicago Fest on Lake Michigan, what a great time to listen to Blues!!

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