Rotary Connection was an American psychedelic soul band, formed in Chicago in 1966. The highly experimental band was the idea of Marshall Chess, son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. Marshall was the director behind a start-up label, Cadet Concept Records, and wanted to focus on music outside of the blues and rock genres, which had made the Chess label popular. This led Marshall to turn his attention to the burgeoning psychedelic movement. He recruited Charles Stepney, a vibraphonist and classically-trained arranger and producer. Marshall then recruited members of a little-known white rock band, the Proper Strangers: Bobby Simms, Mitch Aliotta, and Ken Venegas. Sidney Barnes, a songwriter within the Chess organization, also joined, as did Judy Hauff and a Chess receptionist named Minnie Riperton, who would later be successful in her own solo career. Marshall also called up prominent session musicians associated with the Chess label, including guitarist Phil Upchurch and drummer Morris Jennings.
The band released their self-titled debut album in late 1967. It had various styles, borrowing heavily from pop, rock, and soul, but was not radio friendly. The album also boasted an Eastern influence through its use of the sitar on the tracks "Turn Me On" and "Memory Band". Stepney's arrangements, brought to life by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, imbued the album with a certain dreamlike quality; this would become a trademark of both the arranger and the mouthpiece. The album proved to be a modest success within the Midwest, but failed to make an impact nationally.
The band returned in 1968 with their second and third albums, Aladdin and Peace. Aladdin found Riperton assuming a more prominent vocal role than the "background instrument" status she had on the debut. The latter was a Christmas release, with strong messages of love and understanding for a nation in the grips of Vietnam. The album's cover art was of a hippie Santa Claus. Peace was notable for being involved in controversy: an anti-war cartoon, in a December 1968 edition of Billboard magazine, featured a graphic image of a bruised and bloodied Santa on a Vietnam battlefield. Mistaking this cartoon for the album's cover art, Montgomery Ward cancelled all shipments of the album.
Last Call for Peace
Shopping Bag Menagerie
Peace at Least
Santa's Little Helpers
If Peace Was All We Had
Silent Night Chant