In 1987 three members of the Chicago Bears (Payton, Dan Hampton and Dave Duerson) and three members of the Chicago Blackhawks (Curt Fraser, Troy Murray, Gary Nylund) teamed up to form a band, The Chicago 6. Were they good? “It was all for fun,” says Fraser. “But we played a few gigs and got by.” Payton, the band’s drummer and occasional vocalist, sang lead on Twist and Shout during the group’s December 10, 1987 concert at the University of Illinois Pavillion, then unleashed a solid drum solo. “He was a joy to be around,” says Fraser. “Just wonderful.”
Late in Walter Payton’s career, he began serving as a pitchman for Kentucky Fried Chicken. This entailed a commercial, some appearances and—of all things—a 33 1/3 rpm flexi disc single, Doin’ it Right, which the restaurant chain distributed throughout Illinois as a promotional tool. The song is upbeat, chipper and oddly infectious—enough so that my daughter, age 8, wanted it for her iPod.
In the aftermath of the Chicago Bears’ triumphant 1985 run, marketers across the nation wanted members of the team to take part in different projects. Lewis Pitzele, a Chicago-based music executive, had an idea of his own. Considering the massive success of the Super Bowl Shuffle during the season, why not take Payton and William (The Refrigerator) Perry and have them do their own rap? “The funny thing is that, even though it’s called Rappin’ Together, Walter and the Fridge never came to the studio at the same time,” Pitzele says. “Still, it was a real good record.”
Uh … not really. Perry is a terrible rapper, Payton not much better. The lyrics were written by a handful of local high school students (really, they were), and the sound quality was never great.
That said, give Pitzele credit for trying.
In 1986, Jim Cagle, a commercial airline pilot from Columbia, Mississippi, wrote The Ballad of Walter Payton in honor of his town’s favorite son. He recorded the track in nearby Gulfport, with his wife Ann providing vocal assistance and his son Chris manning the banjo. When Cagle sent a copy of the tune out to various radio stations (along with a note reading, “Play this record as a tribute to an outstanding American.”), he had few expectations.
“Then we started getting calls from all over the place,” he says. “One morning we got a call from Rockford, Illinois. They were playing the song and they said it was No. 1 up there. Newspapers came from all over the country, wanting to know about what we did. I even mailed a copy out to Saudi Arabia. Can you imagine?”