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Group originally formed in Chicago, Illinois, in 1967 as the Big Thing; original members included keyboardist Robert Lamm (born October 13, 1944); trombonist James Pankow (born August 20, 1947); drummer Daniel Seraphine (born August 28, 1948); guitarist Terry Kath (born January 31, 1946; died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, January 23, 1978); trumpeter Lee Loughnane (born October 21, 1946); and woodwind player Walter Parazaider (born March 14, 1945); subsequent members have included bassist Peter Cetera (born September 13, 1944; joined band during late 1960s; now pursuing solo career), percussionist Laudir De Oliveria (joined band in 1974), and guitarist Donnie Dacus (replaced Terry Kath in 1978), group name changed to Chicago Transit Authority (also called CTA), 1968; released first album, April, 1969; name changed to Chicago, 1970. Addresses: Management --Front Line Management, 80 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608.
With distinctly midwestern roots and a distinctive big-band sound, Chicago took the pop music world by surprise in the 1970s with their jazzy, full instrumental arrangements. Though they were often compared with another big-band-sounding pop group, Blood, Sweat and Tears, member Robert Lamm points out one of their differences by saying, "Our roots are basically rock, but we can and do play jazz; Blood, Sweat and Tears is basically a jazz-rooted combo that can play a lot of rock."
Originally called the Big Thing, a phrase Lamm said "Mafia types" used to describe the band's unique music, the group later changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority, then, after their first album, simply Chicago. The musical diversity in the group was astounding from the beginning, with only two of the original six members (Robert Lamm, James Pankow, Danny Seraphine, Terry Kath, Walt Parazaider, and Lee Loughnane, with the addition of Peter Cetera in the late sixties, and, in 1974, percussionist Laudir De Oliverira) being self-taught, and the rest having considerable formal training. The group boasted competent musicians not only on drums or guitar, but also on clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and piano. The group's impressive blend of jazz and rock elements and improvisational energy attracted a varied audience.
Before gaining national popularity, the band played at a number of rock clubs in the Los Angeles Sunset Strip district, eventually receiving a small following and favorable reviews from underground papers. They stepped into the spotlight with Chicago Transit Authority in 1969, an album that slowly made its way onto the charts to stay there well into 1971. Lamm's pop ballad "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is," became a hit single in 1969 and remains one of the group's most popular songs. A series of hit singles, including "Make Me Smile" and the curiously titled "25 or 6 to 4" followed the release of the group's second album, Chicago, in 1970. The disc also contained one of the first of many unusual tracks, a six-movement rock composition entitled "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon."
More orchestral work was to follow in the band's third LP (a two-record set) with multiple-movement suites "Hour in the Shower" and the entire-side-long "Travel Suite." Another two-record set came in the form of a live album, Chicago at Carnegie Hall, released in 1971. According to Rolling Stone, the latter was "probably the worst live album in history." Released against Chicago's wishes, the band blamed their sloppy performance on the constant interference of the record's producer on stage. Said Pankow, "The horns on that record sound like kazoos.... How can you play? Every two seconds a curve was being thrown to everyone onstage." Nevertheless, the set rose swiftly into the top ten.
Subsequent albums were released almost every year, with two released in a single year on more than one occasion, and all were certified gold. Top-selling singles rose out of almost every album and included such songs as "Saturday in the Park" in 1972 and "Feelin' Stronger Everyday" in 1973. The group was immensely popular in concert as well, including a number of college and university campuses among as many as 200 concerts a year. The group also traveled to Europe and were extremely well-received in Scandinavia, belying any suggestion that their brand of jazzy pop was only a U.S. phenomenon. Their 1976 Chicago X album garnered three Grammys, with the single "If You Leave Me Now" recognized for both best arrangement and best pop vocal performance by a duo or group for the year.
Despite the overwhelming success enjoyed by the band, Rock Who's Who maintains they were "a big-band rock group that initially utilized jazz-style improvisations," later degenerating into "a pop group of huge popularity, issuing album after album of formulaic, predictable, middle-of-the-road fare." Again, the group members found fault with their producer and what they interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm. "It took so long to do things" Parazaider told Rolling Stone. "That's when it becomes like a factory gig, then you're just pumping it out." The band began coproducing their albums, then, finally, began coming in after-hours to record alone. "With [producer] Jimmy [Guercio] everything had to be technically correct," adds Seraphine. "Sometimes he would lose some of the magic because he was so meticulous." Eventually, toward the later seventies, the group's popularity seemed to fade, their vitality weakened by the tragic death of Terry Kath in 1978 and their previous cessation of ties to longtime producer/manager Guercio. This low point was not to last long.
Finding new confidence and enthusiasm in guitarist Donnie Dacus and co-producer Phil Ramone, the band turned out one of their finest albums, Hot Streets, in 1978. Instead of perfection, Ramone emphasized the group's natural sound, drawing on the excitement of an essentially "live" recording. Strong tracks from the album included the Bee Gees-backed "Little Miss Loving" and the chart-topping "Alive Again," which People described as exploding "with an awesome blend of power and finesse." Addressing the longstanding problem of the band having a recognizable "logo" but not "ego," the members were photographed on their album's cover for the first time. Newly focused and pushing foward as professional musicians concerned with the vitality of their music and its potential impact on future generations, the group did indeed appear to be "alive again."
After the release of Chicago 17, however, longtime member Peter Cetera left the group to pursue a solo career. His departure appeared to have little effect on the group, whose "corporate, or maybe it's municipal, kind of sound" (as reproduced on Chicago 18 ) remained unchanged. Still, People noted the album included a remake of the early hit "25 or 6 to 4," suggesting a certain desperation for hits that would lead them to "resuscitate its old ones." Despite such criticism, though, the LP found favor as "basic, hard-core Chicago, which history has shown to be a lot of people's kind of music."
by Meg Mac Donald
Grammy Award for best pop vocal performance by a duo, group, or chorus, 1976, for song "If You Leave Me Now."
- As Chicago Transit Authority
- Chicago Transit Authority Columbia, 1969, reissued, 1989.
- As Chicago
- Chicago Columbia, 1970.
- Chicago III Columbia, 1971.
- Live at Carnegie Hall Columbia, 1971.
- Chicago V Columbia, 1972.
- Chicago VI Columbia, 1973.
- Chicago VII Columbia, 1974.
- Chicago VIII Columbia, 1975.
- Chicago IX--Chicago's Greatest Hits Columbia, 1975.
- Chicago X Columbia, 1976.
- Chicago XI Columbia, 1977.
- Hot Streets Columbia, 1978.
- Chicago XIII Columbia, 1979.
- Chicago XIV Columbia, 1980.
- Chicago's Greatest Hits, Vol 2 Columbia, 1981.
- Chicago XVI Full Moon, 1984.
- Chicago 17 Full Moon, 1984.
- Chicago 18 Warner Bros., 1986.
- Chicago 19 Reprise, 1988.
- Helander, Brock, Rock Who's Who, Schirmer, 1982.
- Nite, Norm N., Rock On, Volume 2, Harper, 1984.
- Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, St. Martin's, 1977.
- People, October 16, 1978; November 17, 1986; February 2, 1987.
- Rolling Stone, December 14, 1978.
- Time, June 2, 1975.
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