CHICAGO—In an announcement that has electrified the music world, the Chicago Bears Shufflin' Crew confirmed Monday that it is reuniting and will soon begin work on its first new material since the seminal 1985 "Super Bowl Shuffle" single.
Confirming the recent swirl of music-industry rumors regarding a possible reunion, Shufflin' Crew lead singer Willie Gault told reporters: "After nearly 12 years of solo gigs and side projects, we decided it was time for us to work together again."
Gault went on to strongly deny rumors that the Crew was returning to the studio looking for trouble.
"We didn't come here looking for trouble," Gault said. "We just came to record the long-awaited follow-up to the 'Super Bowl Shuffle.'"
According to Shufflin' Crew member William "Refrigerator" Perry, he, Gault and punky QB Jim McMahon have already sketched out rough demo versions of 10 to 15 songs, which will, over the next two months, be fleshed out in the studio with producer Steve Albini.
Perry said fans should expect the new album to be "darker and more introspective" than the group's "Shuffle"-era work.
"[The new album] will definitely reflect our maturation as a group and as individuals," said Perry, who may be large but is no dumb cookie. "Back then, we were young, wild and arrogant: Jim [McMahon] had his spiked hair, shades and controversial, message-bearing headbands, and I had my legendary eating exploits and rushing touchdowns. We kind of had this attitude like, 'We're so bad, we know we're good, blowing your mind like we knew we would.' But while the new record will still have that trademark Shufflin' Crew swagger, it will also show our more reflective side."
All of the original Shufflin' Crew members are expected to participate in the reunion except Otis Wilson, who told Spin magazine in a recent interview that his "heart just isn't in it anymore."
"Back when the group first started, we were just struttin' for fun," Wilson said. "But once we hit it big, everything changed. Suddenly, there were business meetings, publicity appearances, video shoots, sponsorship deals. Before long, it wasn't about the music anymore. That's when I knew I had to get out."
Numerous names have circulated as possible Wilson replacements, ranging from former Poco bassist Jim Messina to former Bengals running back Ickey Woods.
"Otis has made his decision, and we respect that. It will be difficult, but we must go on as a band without him," Shufflin' Crew co-founder Walter Payton said.
Added Payton: "Running the ball is like making romance."
While the album is still months from completion, the Shufflin' Crew tried out some of the new material at an unannounced gig at Chicago's Lounge Ax music club last Friday. Response from the sold-out crowd was overwhelmingly positive.
"They sounded really good, really tight, man," said die-hard fan Jeff Rampling of Des Plaines, IL, who estimated he has been to over 250 Shufflin' Crew shows. "Once they got warmed up, they were rocking like vintage '85 Crew."
"They kicked some serious ass tonight," said Don Frischman, lead singer for Four-Six Defense, a Chicago-area Shufflin' Crew tribute band. "Richard Dent still blows me away live."
In negotiating terms for the new album with Geffen Records, the Shufflin' Crew made one demand: complete creative control over the project.
"We made it clear that under no circumstances would we allow participation by the female referee who twice blew a whistle over our singers' attempts to say the word 'ass' during the 'Shuffle' sessions," backup vocalist Steve Fuller said. "The Bears traffic in the truth, and either you can handle it or you can't. Censorship is slavery."
Expected to hit stores in early November, the new album will be followed by a world tour beginning February 1999. All proceeds from both the album and tour will go toward charity.
"I want to stress that we are not doing this because we're greedy," Payton said. "The Bears are doing this to feed the needy."
One of the most successful American bands of the mid-'80s, the Shufflin' Crew broke up in May 1986 due to creative differences and infighting, particularly between Gault and keyboardist Gary Fencik. Gault embarked on a solo career in 1987 and scored a minor hit with the song 'Chocolate Swirl (That's What I'm As Smooth As),' but never equaled the success he had with the Shufflin' Crew. Fencik and Fuller went on to form the band Touchback with New York Giants wide receiver Phil McConkey.
"After so many years apart, it feels good to be back together again," Gault said. "But most of all, I'm happy for all the Bears Shufflin' Crew fans out there. You guys are the reason we're shufflin' on down. We're doin' it for you."