The history of American pop music has proven to be a wild and varied ride. One group that has weathered the ups and downs of the music business all while staying true to themselves has been the band Chicago.
Performing at a sold-out Casino New Brunswick this Saturday night, the band’s career achievements are numerous: A Grammy award, multiple American Music Awards, 21 Top 10 singles, five consecutive number one albums, 11 number-one singles and record sales that top the 100 million mark. Remarkably, 25 of Chicago’s albums have been certified as platinum sellers.
These achievements were fuelled by hits such as “25 or 6 to 4,” “Hard Habit To Break,” “You’re The Inspiration,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “Saturday In The Park,” and “Will You Still Love Me?”
Chicago is also a band that has essentially lived on the road. They have toured every year since they started their career in 1967. The current lineup of the group includes Robert Lamm on keyboards and vocals, Lee Loughnane on trumpet, James Pankow on trombone and Walt Parazaider on woodwinds, as well as Jason Scheff on bass and vocals, Tris Imboden on drums, Keith Howland on guitar, Lou Pardini on keyboards and vocals and Wally Reyes on percussion.
The tenure of the band members is impressive: Lamm, Loughnane, Pankow and Parazaider have been with the group from the very beginning. Chicago bassist and vocalist Scheff has been with the group since the departure of original vocalist Peter Cetera in the mid-1980s.
In 1969, when the group known as the Chicago Transit Authority released their self-titled debut record (they shortened their band name to Chicago the following year), if you were to take a look back at April 1969, the month during which the group released that debut record, Chicago stood apart from the guitar-driven rock of Led Zeppelin, the MC5 and others.
Founding Chicago band member Lee Loughnane says that the group wasn’t trying to be different as much as they were simply playing music that they were passionate about:
“The music that we were making as a part of Chicago merely reflected the music that we grew up listening to,” Lee told the Times & Transcript from Cancun last week. “We were definitely different-sounding compared to what else was happening around us. When we released our first record, commercial radio wouldn’t play us but college radio was another story. They would play complete albums and songs that were 10 or 15 minutes long. That was essentially the beginning of the FM radio format. It is where and how we built our core audience, many of whom are still with us today.”
Lee says that the group is constantly amazed at how their music has attracted multiple generations of listeners. For every fan brought to a Chicago show thanks to their early hits like “25 or 6 to 4,” there are others who only became familiar with the group when they topped the charts with soft-rock ballads in the ’80s.
As far as Lee is concerned, there is room for all phases of the group’s career in their live show.
“The songs which we had as hits in the ’80s weren’t all that different than what we had done in the past. Those hits like ‘You’re The Inspiration’ and ‘Hard Habit To Break’ fit into a specific mould because of the way that our producers wanted us to go. What David Foster wanted to do with the band was to feature less in the way of horns and more prominently feature Peter Cetera’s vocals. Through that whole period, it gave me the opportunity to learn other instruments. I began playing bass and then moved onto the keyboard and some guitar.
“The way that the various periods of the group span different generations has just been incredible. Finding success in those alternate avenues has definitely helped to provide the band some longevity.”
Noting that the group maintains a live schedule of approximately 100 shows per year (much to the chagrin of his wife, Lee laughs), the band has no intention of throwing in the towel anytime soon. The group has been releasing new songs via their official website chicagotheband.com, embracing technology and utilizing it to their advantage.
As Lee notes, the current state of the music industry has returned to a singles-driven market, much like it was in the decade prior to the release of their debut record 45 years ago.
“It is completely amazing to see the way that the industry has come full circle. We want to stay in the ball game. We don’t want to stop recording original music and releasing new music,” Lee says. “Writing the music is the easy part these days since we can do it on the road or at home. Having our website as an avenue to provide our fans that new music is terrific.”
Article published in the February 21, 2014 edition of the Times & Transcript