Stony Island is a tribute to Chicago’s South Side, with saxophone legend Gene “Daddy G” Barge and others telling the story of the Stony Island band. The movie is set in the late 1970’s.
With the help of their mentor, aging sax legend Percy (Barge, who had served for years as staff producer at Chicago’s legendary Chess Records.), the band members pull together a funky super group, stealing practice time at night in the local funeral home. Despite few resources and heavy losses, this resilient group of dedicated musicians–armed only with wit, sleight of hand and outrageous Chicago bravado–must come together to finally make their smash debut at the popular Burning Spear club on the city’s South Side.
Stony Island is an all-black band, with one white guitar player named Richie Bloom, played by Richie Davis (the director’s brother). Jazz great the late Oscar Brown, Jr., plays the alderman; the film also stars Edward ‘Stoney’ Robinson, George Englund, Ronnie Barron, Rae Dawn Chong, Susanna Hoffs, Dennis Franz, Meshach Taylor and many more of Chicago’s finest musicians and actors.
I loved this movie, as at first I thought it was a documentary. I immensely enjoyed Percy, as he kept encouraging the band, even through all the trials and hardships around securing instruments and staying focused.
Director Andrew Davis, known for The Fugitive, Under Siege, Holes and The Guardian, shot Stony Island in 1977, which can be described as a “soulful, feel-good tale about the hopes and aspirations of a group of young musicians who form an R&B band in their multi-racial Chicago neighborhood.” I believe the reason I had such an affinity for this film, outside of the music, is because I was a 20-something when it was made, and I could relate to the scenes showing the city and downtown, as I remember them so many years ago. Consequently,Stony Island is as much a tribute to the band members as it is a tribute to a great city known for its music roots.
After originally having a robust festival run, the film, which was made for only $350,000 in Chicago at a time when movies were rarely allowed to shoot in the city, was picked up by a small independent distributor, World Northal, and played in a few area theaters in 1978. “When the black kids started showing up to the ‘white’ theaters, the distribution company was forced to pull it and later re-positioned it as a blaxploitation picture calling it My Main Man from Stony Island,” recallsDavis. “Unfortunately, that confused our target audience.”