Andrew Kitchen’s boogie strikes back | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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Andrew Kitchen’s boogie strikes back

The Soul Train veteran and host of Attack of the Boogie celebrates the reissue of his dance show’s 1984 theme song.

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Andrew Kitchen says he's thinking of rebooting his show as Attack of the Boogie Reloaded. - JEFF MARINI FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Jeff Marini for Chicago Reader
  • Andrew Kitchen says he's thinking of rebooting his show as Attack of the Boogie Reloaded.

It's been almost 25 years since I first met Andrew Kitchen, but when we recently got together for not-drinks ("Sorry," he apologized, "I only drink martinis and daiquiris"), the perpetually aspiring media mogul looked exactly the same as he had in the mid-90s. A long-running joke about Dick Clark—who kicked off the TV dance craze in 1957 when the Philadelphia show he hosted, Bandstand, went national and became American Bandstand—imagined that he never aged. But sitting before me was one of Clark's pop-cultural successors, the host of hundreds of episodes of Attack of the Boogie from 1983 till 2014, and he really did seem to defy time: he had a smiling baby face, the exuberance of a teenager, and a full head of the same glossy curls he'd worn for decades.

Kitchen's latest project—a remix of his show's theme song, on a compilation 12-inch from Chicago boutique label Star Creature Universal Vibrations—was still weeks away from release but had already sold out, so he was understandably enthusiastic. And it was the same enthusiasm I'd seen him display when facing countless minor losses and rare wins on the smallest stages of local media. Deep into one of the most hopeless years in American history, Kitchen the Dancin' Magician could still conjure up the same optimism he'd felt when he first set adolescent feet on the set of Soul Train in 1971.


Andrew Kitchen record-release party
Kitchen hosts and Kool Hersh DJs. RSVP, mask, and temperature check required.
Wed 9/9, 7-10 PM, the Promontory (upper patio), 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. West, 21+, free


Before one can properly submit to the attack of Kitchen's boogie, one needs to study the combat histories of Chicago dance shows of yore. The Gettysburg of these boogie battlegrounds was the WCIU studio, originally located in a tiny room on the top floor of the Chicago Board of Trade Building. Founded in early 1964, the station has since morphed into the anchor of the MeTV empire (making Svengoolie and Andy Griffith great again), but channel 26 first found modest success in the 60s by narrowcasting to different ethnic groups, providing a spot on the UHF dial where viewers who spoke Polish, Italian, and Spanish could hear their own languages (and even watch bloody bullfights, in action-packed contrast to the bulls and bears of the station's hours-long afternoon stock market reports from the Board of Trade floor).

Among the no-frills programming that entranced viewers in the days of limited channel choices were a variety of dance shows that followed Clark's template: an older host presiding over young, unpaid dancers who grooved to the day's favorites, with occasional guests miming to records they were currently promoting. Because WCIU was a genuinely weird station, it broadcast some genuinely weird dance shows. From the late 60s till 1971, grizzled blues DJ Big Bill Hill hosted Red Hot & Blues, which invited very small children to dance to very adult music very late at night (the show was broadcast live, ending around midnight). More wholesome but also sincerely strange was Kiddie A-Go-Go, which aired from 1966 till 1970 and featured an enthusiastic harlequin with a Chicago accent and her puppet pals inviting toddlers to shake it to the hits.

But because it was also a great station, channel 26 helped birth the greatest dance show of all time. Shortly after becoming a disc jockey on WVON in 1966, Don Cornelius joined WCIU as the host of the groundbreaking news program A Black's View of the News. Then in 1970 he launched a live weekday afternoon dance show called Soul Train. A year later, the ambitious visionary would parlay its local success into a Los Angeles-based, nationally syndicated version of the show that combined brilliant camerawork, funky animation, the colorful fashion and kinetic brilliance of LA's teen dancers, and the magnificence of 1970s soul music—it made American Bandstand look archaic.

Dancers on Attack of the Boogie in 1993 - COURTESY ANDREW KITCHEN AND MELVIN DUNLAP
  • Courtesy Andrew Kitchen and Melvin Dunlap
  • Dancers on Attack of the Boogie in 1993

But Chicago kept its version of Soul Train, and it chugged along Monday through Friday well into America's bicentennial year, broadcast in glorious black-and-white, with static cameras and corny sets, entertaining and inspiring a generation of kids. Like Clark's show (and like similar local programs around the country, as fictionalized in Hairspray), Chicago's Soul Train provided a daily ritual for kids watching at home after school, amazed to see their peers—the same age and color as them—on television. Only a lucky few could be shoehorned into the living-room-size studio, but dancing on the show made these minors into minor celebrities.

As cheap reruns and syndicated shows made hyperlocal commercial programming less viable in the 80s, cable-access television moved into that niche. In high school in the late 80s, I first became involved with Chicago Access Network Television (CAN TV), the city's new cable-access network, when my art teacher arranged for a producer to have public school students speak with sculptor Ludovico de Luigi and architect Helmut Jahn (the show also shadowed me while I did drawings of el train riders). And in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the CAN TV studio, at the time located near Greektown on Van Buren and Green, became my second home.

Starting in 1996, while I was working with my then wife, Jacqueline Stewart, and Kelly Kuvo of the Scissor Girls to produce our own CAN TV dance show, Chic-a-Go-Go, I also volunteered to work cameras on three very different dance shows that I really admired, developing friendly albeit superficial relationships with their producers. Our program, an homage to Kiddie A-Go-Go, became the most celebrated, likely because having cult musicians lip-sync gave us quirky indie cred, leading to national attention. The realest was Elma and Company, which featured hyperlocal artists and a capacity crowd of teen dancers and built a genuinely rabid fan following among actual high schoolers, just like the classic dance shows. The highest-quality outing was the short-lived Soul in the Hole, a noble tribute to Chicago's powerful underground dance culture that had outstanding production values, dynamic camerawork, and thrilling talent (the mesmerizing dancing of poet, singer, and artist Avery R. Young is permanently seared into my hippocampus). And finally, there was the most historical of the three, Andrew Kitchen's Attack of the Boogie.

  • A 2005 clip from Elma and Company

Attack of the Boogie was (and theoretically still is) firmly rooted in Chicago dance-show history, because Andrew Kitchen is a Soul Train survivor and as dedicated a follower of Chicago dance shows as anyone. When he recounts his early life, I can't follow the ins and outs of when he lived where, as he distractedly drops details about bouncing between the west and south sides. But once Kitchen gets to the part where his 11-year-old self became an original Soul Train dancer in 1971 (lying about his age to meet the high school age requirement), his stories snap into focus: he has vivid Technicolor memories of those blurry, black-and-white broadcast days.

"I was interested in art at first, in drawing comic books, but I kind of got discouraged when my dad said, 'If you do some good work, you're going to be famous when you die,'" Kitchen says. "That's when I got interested in dancing, from seeing Soul Train. I had watched Big Bill Hill, Kiddie A-Go-Go. Channel 26 had a lot of dance shows, all filmed in the same exact studio, and eventually I was on most of them. I was even on a show called Filipino Bandstand. But in 1970 I liked Soul Train because they were actually doing something different, moves I hadn't seen before. I was a klutz at the time, kind of clumsy, so I would try to do the moves they did, but it always came out different. But that was a plus for me, because people started paying attention—it turned it into a kind of wild dancing."

After calling in, Kitchen was invited to come to the studio and wait in the cramped hallway during A Black's Views of the News, delivered by John Q. Adams, Cornelius's successor (and in the late 70s the host of a short-lived disco-themed dance show, John Q's Entertainment Scene, where Kitchen became a regular). When the news program ended, the Soul Train kids were shuttled into the tiny room to do their best to grab the camera's attention. "I would wear bright outfits," Kitchen recalls, "bell-bottoms, sequins, a bat-winged shirt, anything to get attention." About a month after his first appearance, he was called back. He began appearing on a regular basis, eventually ditching school to get there on time four or five days a week.

A stroke of luck helped get Kitchen hooked on the show. Usually the Chicago Soul Train was broadcast live and not taped, but on Fridays the crew sometimes recorded the episode as it aired, creating a backup rerun for emergencies—in case not enough kids showed up, for instance, or Cornelius or his proxy, dancer Clinton Ghent, arrived late. If something like that happened, the station would run the tape for a few minutes until the live episode could start. (None of these tapes is known to have survived.) Kitchen's first appearance happened to be on a Friday, so his episode was taped, and he was watching the day it reran a few weeks later—which gave him the rare thrill of seeing himself on television in the live TV era. He became fully committed to the dance-show lifestyle.

Melvin "the Alexander" Dunlap and Andrew Kitchen in 1996, on the Attack of the Boogie set at CAN TV - COURTESY ANDREW KITCHEN AND MELVIN DUNLAP
  • Courtesy Andrew Kitchen and Melvin Dunlap
  • Melvin "the Alexander" Dunlap and Andrew Kitchen in 1996, on the Attack of the Boogie set at CAN TV
Melvin "the Alexander" Dunlap and Andrew Kitchen today - JEFF MARINI FOR CHICAGO READER
  • Jeff Marini for Chicago Reader
  • Melvin "the Alexander" Dunlap and Andrew Kitchen today

Kitchen made friends with the Chicago Soul Train dancers, and he considered the channel 26 crew superior to the LA set because they had memorable names. "We had a guy named Pinball Wizard," he remembers. "There was Arthritis, and his cousins Rheumatism and Bursitis, and their dancing was like they had arthritis and rheumatism. There was a girl named Cupcake, two twins named Sugar and Spice, and a guy named the Masquerader—he was the most popular, he always wore a mask. And I was the Dancin' Magician."

Cliques of dancers formed to do choreographed routines and action-packed splits and dives. They included the Kicks, the Southside Equators, the all-Native American group Hot Ice, and the most successful crew, the Puppets, who became a national dance act, appearing on the Midnight Special TV show hosted by Wolfman Jack. Kitchen also formed cliques of his own. "I had the Ten Commandments, but there was only five of us, so we changed the name to the Commandments. I then had the Dancing Superheroes. We got to perform at clubs around town, at the High Chaparral, the Flipside, Ron Briskman's Hideout. We were underage, and would be in trouble when we came back home after three in the morning, so that got shut down with a couple of smacks to the butt."

As the Chicago Soul Train wound down ("In 1976 they told us they were revamping the studio, see you in a month, and that was it") he formed another dance group with two and eventually four girls: Kitchen's Dancin' Magicians. They never did magic, though they would dress in magician outfits, and they began appearing as guests on TV shows and doing out-of-town gigs. They got booked on Ray Rayner and His Friends and Kidding Around, and they appeared on the various incarnations of the Bozo TV show every year from 1980 through 1991. Kitchen even returned to channel 26 for its U Dance With B96 show in the mid-90s.

In 1983 Kitchen decided to become the master of his fate and launch his own dance show. Working in a bank, he'd saved up for a year until he had a couple thousand dollars to produce a pilot episode at Panos Productions, a studio that rented out space and crew to produce mostly Greek and Spanish programming. He recorded a theme song, auditioned 20 dancers (Black and white, in hopes of appealing more broadly to potential sponsors), had his friend Melvin "the Alexander" Dunlap make a rough-hewn sign of a logo for the set, and tried his best.

  • Portions of the original 1983 Attack of the Boogie pilot

Kitchen submitted the tape to 28 independent stations around the country, all of which rejected it. He then spent a year saving up another $3,000 (Panos was one in a long line of capitalists happy to turn Kitchen's ambitions into overpriced stairways to nonstardom) to record a better pilot, with a studio audience and brighter lighting. He ended up airing both pilots in 1984 on channel 13, a low-powered Chicago station with a ten-mile reach and a hunger for content. The short-lived outlet was housed in an apartment building, with the studio in the living room and the antenna on the roof. Unfortunately he got no bites from bigger stations after those airings (though he did meet Jerry Bryant, future host of JBTV, at the station), and he deferred his dream temporarily. But Kitchen was determined to become the next Don Cornelius, and eventually cable access—like it did for so many—gave a microphone to a voice that the mainstream refused to hear.

  • The second Attack of the Boogie pilot, shot in 1984. The source videotape is somewhat the worse for wear.

In 1989 Kitchen entered the Green Street CAN TV studio, and with homemade signs, party-store decorations, an amateur crew, and 20 years of TV dance-show know-how, he launched a cable-access classic. Kitchen thinks he may have made as many as 800 episodes of Attack of the Boogie between then and 2014. He broadcast the show weekly on channel 19 (minus a suspension for overcrowding the studio), and for many years he produced a second version running simultaneously on the low-rent commercial station WJYS, channel 62 (the exact finances elude him, but he recalls that he and the station sold sponsorships to cover his airtime and production costs, and he made a few hundred per episode on top of that), so that estimate might even be right.

One thing that's certain is that watching even a single episode of Attack of the Boogie feels as stimulating and overwhelming as binging an entire season of a normal show. In brightly colored outfits that belonged in an outer-space discotheque, Andrew Kitchen held court over a motley crew of models and misfits. The show's unhinged camerawork captured some of the liveliest dancers on TV—Kitchen built his cast in part by holding classes for aspiring fashionistas (walking the runway on the show served as a graduation ceremony), in part by auditioning dancers from Chicago's deep pool of talent, and in part by bringing in friends and family.

  • A Melvin "the Alexander" Dunlap highlight reel

Melvin "the Alexander" Dunlap, the set designer and dancer who appeared on the first pilot, is a mountain of a man whose jumps, splits, and lunges shook the studio. (He remembers that Kitchen once had to edit out his screams after he twisted his knee with an ill-advised flying split off a riser.) The signature dancer on Attack of the Boogie, Dunlap had watched Kitchen on Soul Train and had ambitions of imitating him—"but in a wilder way," he says. "I wanted my friend to have a successful thing, so wild dancing was my way of trying to make the viewer stop turning the channel so they could look at this crazy man." Faced with the Alexander's death-defying moves, Kitchen's dancing ambitions, and segments such as the Power Dance Circle (geometrically superior to the Soul Train Line), viewers didn't have a chance against the boogie.

  • The Power Dance Circle, captured here in the mid-90s, was Attack of the Boogie's answer to the Soul Train Line.

The on-screen Kitchen perpetually radiates boundless optimism about his real and imagined endeavors (the only full episode available on YouTube is a 1990 backdoor pilot for a never-produced second series, a preteen spinoff called Planet of the Little Boogies, and at one point Kitchen tells the audience to look out for his motion picture, Rhythm People, a never-to-be-seen sci-fi project). But what always tickled me about Kitchen, on set and on cable, was the way he borrowed from the prickly TV personality of Don Cornelius. He never went as far as the left-handed compliments and sly putdowns Cornelius would lay on his guests (Don was famously rough on hip-hop artists), but Kitchen would sometimes admonish his volunteer tech crew on-air for minor glitches or express disbelief at the answers dancers gave during his seemingly improvised contests.

  • This 1990 episode was a test run for the never-produced kids' show Planet of the Little Boogies.

Even these flashes of harshness, though, he delivered with a smile on his face. Kitchen had a few big-name guests over the years, including Mavis Staples, Ginuwine, and Common, but the star of Attack of the Boogie was always Kitchen's undying belief in Attack of the Boogie. Sometimes the episodes had crisp, over-the-top camerawork and wonderfully playful special effects (the studio's green-screen curtain might feature live footage of 15-foot-tall dancers towering over their contemporarily dancing selves), and sometimes the cameras and editing were a hot mess, but no matter how the show looked, Kitchen made you feel like it was important and epic. And nothing captures that better than the show's marathon theme song.

Kitchen participated in the local Soul Train reunion hosted on Chic-a-Go-Go in 2009 and guested on the Chic-a-Go-Go podcast in 2014, but our paths haven't crossed often in the last decade. The Star Creature Universal Vibrations vinyl compilation Attack of the Chicago Boogie, which drops Friday, September 9, gave me an excuse to look him up. Label cofounder Tim Zawada and his colleague Hersh "Kool Hersh" Singh (both of the Boogie Munsters DJ crew) are vinyl archaeologists, obsessed with what record collectors classify as "boogie": synth-driven dance music from the late 70s and early 80s, post-classic disco and pre-house.

Launched in 2015, Star Creature mostly releases new music by contemporary boogie-adjacent artists from Europe, Asia, and North America (on both sides of the border wall), pressing modest runs for vinyl DJs. However, Zawada and Singh were educated in old-school by gurus at fabled record stores Mr. Peabody and Kstarke. After amassing a number of Chicago rarities, Singh created a mix for Zawada's show on Lumpen Radio (where he shares the airwaves with my friend Mario Smith, a poet and activist whose sister Nieci Payne was a channel 26 Soul Train dancer and became a big star on the national show in the 80s).

Melvin "the Alexander" Dunlap showing off his moves in 1997 - COURTESY ANDREW KITCHEN AND MELVIN DUNLAP
  • Courtesy Andrew Kitchen and Melvin Dunlap
  • Melvin "the Alexander" Dunlap showing off his moves in 1997

Zawada and Singh realized this mix was just too good to limit to an hour of community radio airtime. They expanded it to 90 minutes and released it in February 2019 as a cryptic cassette with no track list. Its run of 200 sold out in one day. That inspired them to create a series of legit reissues of licensed Chicago rarities, called Attack of the Chicago Boogie in honor of Kitchen's musical manifesto.

Alongside his dance career, Kitchen has made a few forays into the recording industry, usually footing the bill for each opportunity. In 1977 he went to Philadelphia to witness the recording of the wonderfully funky theme song he'd written for himself, "Kitchen, the Dancin' Magician (Master of Love)." Minuscule label Fox Century Plaza assured him the tune would get airplay if he paid extra to get a specific vocal group to sing on the session, but he opted not to—and though that promise was doubtless an empty one, "Kitchen, the Dancin' Magician" sank like a stone. Discogs has never seen a copy, and a YouTube video of the recent Amazon digital "reissue" that Kitchen paid someone to help promote has three views as of this writing.

  • In 1977, Andrew Kitchen recorded a theme song for himself.

In 1981 Kitchen's lyrics to "Boogie Down With Me" became (to his dismay) a country-pop entry on the song-poem compilation Super Sessions of the 80's. In 1996 he cut a hip-hop theme for Attack of the Boogie, and he's recently recorded a few new songs he plans to release digitally.

But it was his original Attack of the Boogie theme song, pressed on the A and B sides of a 45 in 1984, that has brought Kitchen his current glories. As he recalls, he hired producer, engineer, and musician Jerry Soto to help make the record. Soto, who died at 53 in 2005, had a storied career helping bring the best out of blues and jazz legends, including Buddy Guy and Fred Anderson, and his long client list also included Peter Tork of the Monkees, Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, absurdist hard rockers Juzt Nutz, and hip-hop experimenter Serengeti. Though Soto sometimes worked with greats, he explained on the 1983 pilot episode of Attack of the Boogie (where he appeared as a guest) that he was also dedicated to making quality music for the everyman, the underdog, and the people who just needed to express themselves.

  • Jerry Soto talks to Andrew Kitchen about producing the Attack of the Boogie theme song during the show's original 1983 pilot.

"We've helped a lot of songwriters," Soto explained to Kitchen. "The vocalist doesn't have to know anything about music—we arrange the music around their lyrics and give them pointers. . . . Good local talent should be helped more in the Chicago area, and that's what I'm trying to do."

During his recording session, Kitchen hummed the melody for Soto, who for $175 turned those brief notes into a deeply grooving song. Soto brought in a drummer and a bassist, played the other nine instruments himself, and blew past the allotted four hours of studio time (for no extra charge) as he added layer upon layer of boogie wonder. Sung by Elayne Coleman, a Dancin' Magician and sometime Attack of the Boogie cohost, the song is minimalistic funk with excessive solos and grooves (and a few crazy motorcycle sounds and audio effects thrown in). The lyrics make the boogie seem both an ominous threat ("It's gonna get you . . . there's no place to run . . . so beware!") and a giving lover ("The boogie's gonna groove you, relax and soothe you . . . not gonna hurt you").

Kitchen paid around $1,200 to a company that convinced him to press 500 copies, 400 of which it promised to send to radio stations around the country, guaranteeing him airplay (he's long since lost his own 100 copies to moves and water damage). The airplay did not come, at least not in that century.

In 2017 Singh bought a copy of the single for $75 from Europe (where most existing stock seems to have ended up somehow), and he was thrilled. The song clearly has fans—a number of remixes have popped up online, and Discogs lists a bootleg from the Netherlands—and the outsize response to its appearance on the Star Creature cassette convinced Zawada and Singh to combine both sides of the 45 into a nearly seven-minute remix that kicks off the reissue series.

"Generally 45s don't exceed the four-minute mark," Singh explains, "but one side of this was over five minutes long, and the other is over six." (On the Little Boogies episode of Attack of the Boogie, nearly 25 percent of the show consists of the young hoofers tirelessly bopping to the opening theme song.) "I like doing edits from older records. There were really cool parts in part one, and part two was kind of long—there's a bass solo that goes on forever—so I passed the edit over to Tim and he added to it. It kind of came together beautifully."

Just as beautiful were their interactions with Kitchen, who'd been put in touch with the Star Creature crew by Rob Sevier from the Numero Group. "He's a super friendly guy and he was really down," Zawada says. "Andrew is a very eccentric character—he kind of lives in his own bubble—but he's a very sweet guy. I have had a lot of challenging interactions with artists, but Andrew was easy to work with."

Andrew Kitchen hosts Attack of the Boogie in 1997. - COURTESY ANDREW KITCHEN AND MELVIN DUNLAP
  • Courtesy Andrew Kitchen and Melvin Dunlap
  • Andrew Kitchen hosts Attack of the Boogie in 1997.

Star Creature says the vinyl edition of Attack of the Chicago Boogie, with beautiful cover art by Ben Marcus that mimics an 80s party flyer, has sold out before its release date. Zawada and Singh hosted a small COVID-era record-release party at Conservatory Vintage & Vinyl in August, and Kitchen brought his family and friends. "We were happy to see he was happy," Zawada says. "I think he kind of lives in an alternate reality of McDonald's commercials and charting on the top 100. But he's done so much and so little of it is documented, so it's nice to put this out. He says he's going to reboot the show soon."

Kitchen does say he's thinking about rebooting Attack of the Boogie, as Attack of the Boogie Reloaded, combining vintage footage with new talking heads putting the show into context. As far as Zamada's skepticism about Kitchen's claims, I think it's probably true that he got local McDonald's franchises to buy ads on his channel 62 show. He's showed me where a recent digital release of his 90s Attack of the Boogie theme charted on DigitalRadioTracker, for whatever that's worth, so while he's probably seeing no financial reward, that boast is also technically true.

Zawada isn't entirely wrong about Kitchen's alternate reality—but I'd say he lives in a parallel reality, not an alternate one. Where he lives, the hundreds of enthusiastic viewers of a cable-access show, the dozens of amazing dancers who come out, the helpful people who work in the studio, and the loyal friends who make props and clothes and bust their knees to keep eyeballs on your show all add up to very real, if not quite worldwide, fame and glory. Very few of us are wired to meet modest successes with powerful optimism the way the Dancin' Magician does. But I guess that's what keeps Andrew Kitchen dancing. And that's what keeps Andrew Kitchen young.  v

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