Chicago – The Band That Still Plays on

Chicago is an American rock band that forms in 1967 in Chicago, Illinois. They have recorded 37 albums, sold over 100,000,000 records and are one of the longest-running and best-selling music groups of all time. Furthermore, Chicago’s music has never left the airwaves and the band remains on tour more often than not, playing concerts in every corner of North America. Even today, the band isn’t just about nostalgia, they continue to record new singles and albums regularly.

Chicago is second only to the Beach Boys as the most successful American rock band of all time, in terms of both albums and singles. Below is an early video featuring, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”, “25 or 6 to 4”, “It Better End Soon” and “I’m a Man” from their performance in Amsterdam 12/12/1969. At the time, they were one of the most innovative bands in the world with some of the best musicians to boot. With a foundation that was built on a prominent horn section. 

Starting out  – Underground Rock Band

Starting out in the late 1960s as a horn-dominated underground rock band verging on the avant-garde in its use of dissonance, jazz voicings and extended compositions, Chicago initially seemed to have little if any chance of AM radio success. Yet, within a year, the group had three Top 10 singles (“Make Me Smile,” “25 or 6 to 4” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is”), and were selling out arenas from coast to coast.

Forming in the Windy City in February of 1967 by three DePaul University Music majors: saxophonist/flautist Walter Parazaider, trumpeter Lee Loughnane and trombonist James Pankow, alongside Chicago bar-band veterans keyboardist Robert Lamm, drummer Danny Seraphine and guitar wizard Terry Kath.

Lamn originally did double duty, playing the bass parts on the pedals of his organ. Desiring more punch in the low end, the nascent group soon drafted bassist Peter Cetera from Chicago club sensations the Exceptions. In Kath and Lamm, the group had superb bass and baritone lead voices; Cetera’s tenor voice provided both depth and variety.

Initially starting out as the “Big Thing”, and the band locates to Los Angeles in the summer of 1968. Shortly after, their manager and producer James Guercio changes the name to “Chicago Transit Authority.” But…The real Chicago Transit Authority, objects to the band’s use of the name. So, they shorten it to Chicago. No worries, they’re doing quite well being called “Chicago”.

While later associations say that Chicago was copying the band “Blood Sweat & Tears sound. But since they were playing this style 2 years earlier they shut down the rumors. Besides, Black Flag was doing their own version of rock and horns around the same time as well. Seriously, is it really a bad thing to have bands doing similar musical stylings around the same time? Nope!

 1977 – A Year of Change 

After the group severed their relationship with their manager Guercio in 1977, Terry Kath tragically dies in a freak accident. For some, Terry Kath was the heart and soul of this band. The group would go through three more guitarists before finally settling on Keith Howland in 1995. As capable as each was, none of these ax wielders would replace the spirit, soul and musicality that Kath had brought to the group.  Several changes in the line-up and label changes occur. They let go of their percussionist Laudir de Oliveira and replaces him with keyboardist and vocalist Bill Champlin.

Handing over the reins to producer David Foster, beginning with Chicago 16 in 1982, the group drew on the earlier success of Peter Cetera ballads, such as “If You Leave Me Now,” and was reborn as a singles-oriented, power ballad juggernaut. Foster would end up cowriting many of the songs on the next three albums (Chicago 16 through 18), bringing session musicians in to replace or augment the talents of the original band members, liberally employing drum machines and relegating the group’s horn section to the background. Things would never be the same.

By 1985, Peter Cetera left to embark on a solo career, and gets replaced by Jason Scheff.  After firing drummer Danny Seraphine in 1990, the band basically ceases to be a commercial force. With Tris Imboden replacing Seraphine. “NOW”, put out by the group’s label, Chicago Records, in 2014. That year, the group is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2015, Chicago releases yet another live set, Chicago at Symphony Hall Featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Despite the lack of new material over the past 25 years, Chicago has remains a steady box office draw.

Millions of fans are still happy to hear the group’s stunning legacy of hit singles, while checking out the new material they’ve added along the way. Which collectively covers an extraordinary variety of musical styles from funk to rock to jazz to blues to classical to pop ballads. I’ve seen the band live during their heyday and the newer versions and I have to say that nothing will replace the originals but its great that they are keeping the legacy of the band alive. It does bring back fond memories. 

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