The Scene

Illinois Rock & Roll Museum honors, preserves history of state’s musicians, bands

The Illinois Rock and Roll Museum on Route 66 is located at 9 W. Cass St. in downtown Joliet. (Photo by Christine Johnson)

Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon and Styx are some of the biggest rock bands to come out of Illinois. Of course, the state has a rich history in blues and jazz, too.

You can learn more about the influence that Illinois artists have had on rock music at the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum on Route 66 in downtown Joliet.

“Our mission is to honor, preserve and promote music from Illinois,” said Ron Romero, founder and CEO of the museum. “It starts with blues and jazz, [artists like] Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Coco Taylor and lots of other blues and jazz artists, and then goes into rock music. We have The Buckinghams, Styx, REO [Speedwagon], Cheap Trick, Survivor, Ides of March, Chicago and Rufus and Chaka Khan. There are a lot of connections between all these players and the different types of music.”

The Illinois Rock and Roll Museum on Route 66 is located at 9 W. Cass St. in downtown Joliet. (Photo by Christine Johnson)

Romero, a Chicago resident, said he was inspired to open a museum dedicated to Illinois music after visiting other music museums, including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and several in Nashville. So, Romero created a nonprofit organization in 2017, put together a board of directors, and purchased the building at 9 W. Cass St. at the end of 2019. He said he picked Joliet because of the city’s size, location near Route 66 and Chicago, as well as the economic growth and “renaissance” happening there.

“We’re part of a really great synergy happening in downtown Joliet right now – great new restaurants and businesses – and want people to come to Joliet,” he said.

The 20,000-square-foot, four-floor museum opened in 2023, after years of preparation and renovation, as well as a hiatus during the pandemic.

“One that really inspired me was the Burpee Museum in Rockford; they had an exhibit about Rick Nielsen [guitarist in Cheap Trick],” Romero said. “There were lots of visitors. I thought Cheap Trick is a great band, and there are so many good bands in Illinois. I’m surprised nobody else has found a way to do this. I’m very fortunate I got to [open a museum]. It’s an opportunity to showcase what comes from Illinois.”

The Illinois Rock and Roll Museum on Route 66 is located at 9 W. Cass St. in downtown Joliet. (Photo by Christine Johnson)

The museum’s exhibits feature the artists’ instruments, clothing, personal items, gold records and more, including autographed drum heads and guitars. The items are either donated or loaned to the museum from fans or the artists themselves, Romero said.

“I want people to walk in and go: ‘Wow,’” he said. “It’s a great history lesson to know about these bands, to discover connections and how music evolved, to see the instruments used on albums or on stage. I’ve often said we live in troubled times, but everybody likes music. People can leave their troubles on the doorstep, and come inside and discover music and learn from it. In here, you get to see a lot of different types of music and enjoy it.”

Romero said it’s important to tell the stories of how artists like Muddy Waters influenced rock ’n’ roll legends like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. He said the Cheap Trick and REO Speedwagon exhibits are very popular among guests, while the blues exhibit “tells the history” of how the blues came to Illinois and evolved into Chicago blues.

“Muddy Waters wrote a song called ‘Rolling Stone,’ and guess who took that for their name. Muddy Waters also wrote ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied,’ which the Stones turned into ‘I Can’t Get No.’ A lot of Led Zeppelin songs were taken from [blues musician] Willie Dixon. Chicago has a huge history in blues and jazz,” Romero said.

The museum also has a Hall of Fame, which inducts new members every year. Previous inductees include Chicago, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and many more.

However, the Hall of Fame doesn’t just honor musicians who hail from Illinois. To be included in the exhibits, an artist must have a significant tie to the state. Chuck Berry, considered one of the founding fathers of rock ’n’ roll, is not from Illinois, but is in the Illinois Hall of Fame.

“Chuck Berry recorded his music at [Chicago record label] Chess Records at 2121 Michigan Ave., even though he’s not from here. He is a founder of rock ’n’ roll,” Romero said. “All of Berry’s biggest hits were recorded at Chess Records. [Illinois Hall of Fame members] Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke are not from here, but moved to Chicago; they lived in Bronzeville. It’s not just that an artist performed in Illinois, they had to live or record here.”

Romero said the museum is continuing to build and expand, and is always looking for both permanent and temporary exhibits.

“Cheap Trick and REO Speedwagon will always have an exhibit here,” he said. “We may bring in something about power pop music, which has lots of ties to Illinois, which may not be a permanent exhibit. We’ll have some that will come for a year or so, and then move on. We go for bands that people recognize, and things that people would like to see. We’re always looking for exhibits, and once you start the ball rolling, people started contacting us.

“We all share a love of music, and I hope this is a place where people come to learn and celebrate music from Illinois.”

To learn more about the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum, including hours, visit

Aimee Barrows

Aimee Barrows

Aimee Barrows is the editor of The Scene, Shaw Local News Network's entertainment section. The Scene is your go-to destination for all things fun in Northern Illinois. Prior to The Scene, Aimee was the editor of the Kane County Chronicle for five years, and a freelance reporter for Shaw Media for four years.