Michael Christopher Reilly was born at the United States Naval Hospital, Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois. He was raised in nearby Libertyville, where he graduated from Libertyville High School, known for notable alumni Marlon Brando and Tom Morello and excelled in cross country running. It was in middle school that he started writing songs and became adept at playing the harmonica, booking his first paying gig at age 13. Reilly learned to play guitar while working at Ascension Catholic Cemetery, a job he held every summer through high school and college. He started by cutting the grass, and then moved on to digging graves. Following high school, Reilly attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he majored in Theology and enrolled in the Marine Corps. officer training school.
Reilly formed his first band, Captain Budget and the Loan Sharks, while a student at Marquette University. After graduating, he moved to Chicago and formed a band called the Eisenhowers, where he dropped the M from his first name and officially became known as Ike. He quit the Eisenhowers to join The Drovers, a Celtic rock band active in Chicago. He subsequently founded the band Community 9, with bandmates such as Mars Williams (Liquid Soul, The Psychedelic Furs, The Waitresses) Phil Karnats (Secret Machines, Tripping Daisy), and Aidan O'Toole (The Muck Brothers). In 1989, though still pursuing music, Reilly took a job at the Park Hyatt Chicago, where he remained until the hotel was torn down. He was the recipient of the “Employee of the Year” award by Hyatt Hotel just before his tenure at the hotel ended. He decided to retire from music in the early 1990s.
He pursued alternate paths after leaving his work at the Hyatt, becoming a freelance production assistant and, in 1997, opened the Diamond City recording studio with engineer Blaise Barton. He continued to write songs and started recording them with engineer Ed Tinley. After taking a musical hiatus, Reilly continued to write songs and started recording in 1998 with engineer Ed Tinley, who had worked with Liz Phair, Smashing Pumpkins, and R. Kelly. “This marked the first time Reilly recorded without a band, depending more on samples and loops, starting with an acoustic take and then "building the song out." Those demo tapes caught the attention of several high-profile music industry veterans such as Mike Simpson of the Dust Brothers. A month later Reilly signed a recording contract with Universal Republic Records, where he released his critically acclaimed debut album Salesmen And Racists in 2001. It featured guest credits from artists such as Mickey Petralia. Reilly parted ways with Universal in 2003, and since been releasing music on Rock Ridge Music.
Reilly soon began recording music with the backing band The Ike Reilly Assassination. The group released their first album as a group, Sparkle in the Finish, in 2004. Allmusic described it as "pure rock & roll swagger" and gave the album a glowing review and a score of 4.5/5, praising the songwriting, performance, and variety of rock sounds. Their next album, Junkie Faithful in 2004, was described as adopting "a dry-humored, Nick Lowe/Chuck Prophet-inspired style of pop/rock." The Ike Reilly Assassination became well known by fans of the Chicago improv duo TJ and Dave, who start each show with the original Ike Reilly song "I Don't Want What You Got (Goin On)" off of Sparkle in the Finish, among other tracks. The band's 2007 album We Belong to the Staggering Evening was described as "soulful, blues-tinged."
In 2008 Reilly again released an album under his own name, naming the two-disc compilation of "odds and ends" Poison the Hit Parade. This was followed by his album Hard Luck Stories in 2009. After the release of his sixth album, Reilly spent two years working on a pilot for the AMC channel called Where's My Goddamn Medicine?, though the pilot was ultimately not picked up. Afterwards, he began working on new material with the Ike Reilly Assassination.
After a five-year gap, Reilly's seventh studio album Born on Fire was released in June 2015, again through Rock Ridge Music. The release was a joint venture with and the debut release for Tom Morello's new Firebrand Records. John Ellis of No Depression gave it a glowing review, praising the style and describing it as an "ode to a time when rock and roll was rock and roll...Ike Reilly has crafted an album that weaves in and out of the great epochs of rock." Popmatters wrote that "Reilly’s sonic indelibility only remains second fiddle to his astounding ability to craft a personal story and envelop it in song," while American Songwriter gave it 4/5 stars, calling it "pure, unaffected and raw" and praising his "skewed, dry, self-effacing humor."
Stated guitarist Tom Morello in June 2015, "In my view, he's one of the best American songwriters of the last 10 years, both in delivery and lyrics. It's, like, part Springsteen, part Replacements. According to Mario Mesquita Borges of Allmusic, "Reilly has followed a trail separate from most of today's singer/songwriters -- unlike other such artists, Reilly prefers the harshness of intrepid rocking riffs, sustained by ingenious melodies and exalting words."
Reilly continues to live in his hometown of Libertyville with his family.Current members
Ike Reilly (2000–present) – lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitar
Dave Cottini (2000–present) – drums, backing vocals
Phil Karnats (2000–present) – electric guitar
Pete Cimbalo – bass, backing vocals
Adam Krier – piano, backing vocals
Previous and rotating members
Tommy O’Donnell - Bapo, guitar
Ed Tinley (2000–present) – guitar, piano