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Proud to be Chicago: Back row from left, Keith Howland, Jason Scheff and Bill Champlin. Front row, from left, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walt Parazaider, Robert Lamm and Tris Imboden.
Still ‘colour’ in
Lee Loughnane, one of the founding members of Chicago back in 1967, never gave much thought to what he'd do for a living if the band didn't make it.
"I really didn't want to do anything other than play music, so I didn't have a backup. I obviously would have had to do something like everybody else does who doesn't make it ... it might have been something like photography or something relating to driving. I might have been a very good cab driver," he said Monday, calling from Maui, where he was enjoying a few days vacation before joining the rest of the band for tomorrow night's double-bill concert with America at the Blaisdell Arena.
Although it's been years since the band was actually based in Chicago, Loughnane spent enough winters there to appreciate a Hawaiian winter, even as wet a one as we had.
Rock is here
Featuring Chicago and America
Where: Blaisdell Arena
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow
Tickets: $49 and $59
"It rained for the first three days we were here. ... It was paradise, even with the rain, but harder to see through."
Loughnane was attending DePaul University in Chicago when he joined Walt Parazaider and James Pankow in forming the horn section that became the nucleus of a band they dubbed The Big Thing. The rest of the group had jelled by the time they moved to Los Angeles a year or so later. The commercial success then of Blood Sweat & Tears led to a deal with Columbia Records, and The Big Thing -- by now renamed as the Chicago Transit Authority -- hit the charts with an eponymous double album in the spring of 1969.
"Chicago Transit Authority" went platinum, with sales of over 2 million copies. It was the first of 18 albums that would go either gold or platinum over the next 20 years, and several songs along the way that would become some of the band's all-time biggest hits.
The name had been shortened by the time their next album, "Chicago II," was released in 1970.
Over three decades later, Chicago is recognized as one of the top horn-based bands in American rock, and, like Tower of Power, who played Honolulu almost exactly a year ago, Chicago is still playing, still touring and still creating new music.
"I feel that the band and the writers who came up with the tunes -- Robert (Lamm) and Terry (Kath) and Jimmy (Pankow) and myself and Danny (Serephine) and (Peter) Cetera -- were in a position where we knew enough about music, we knew enough about our instruments, that we let that music come through us," Loughnane said in appraising the band's success, starting with such longtime local favorites as "Beginnings," "Saturday In the Park," "Colour My World" and "Make Me Smile."
"The strength of those songs -- whatever that message is, happy, loving message -- has lasted and still continues to last. I think we can continue to do that as long as we understand that it's more the music than it is us."
BUT BESIDES the pop hits, there's another side to Chicago's music. Loughnane and the other original members started off playing club gigs to make a few dollars, but by the time the first album was released, they were writing and recording suites that were far longer than anything that was getting radio airplay. The band's early hits were extracted by the record label from those much longer pieces of music, albeit with Chicago's grudging consent.
"We had to understand that hit singles were advertisements for the whole picture and we called it 'allowing it' (to be done), but if we hadn't 'allowed it,' we wouldn't be talking today. Nothing would ever have been heard from this band after the first album, because the first single for the band, 'Make Me Smile,' was the beginning and the very end of a song titled 'Ballet for a Girl from Buchannon' that was between 12- and 14 minutes long. ... We couldn't believe that we had to even do that but, realistically, AM radio (back then) didn't play anything more than three minutes, 30 seconds or, at the very top, four minutes."
Asked if he felt the group's instrumental arrangements have sometimes been overshadowed by the catchy hooks and romantic lyrics, Loughnane replied that there's no question about it.
"That's for sure. You have to be interested and you have to work a little harder (to appreciate the arrangements). The (listener's) attitude has to be more than just coming to have fun. You have to be interested in music a little bit more, and most people just want to have fun. ... If we wrote another 'Dialogue,' I don't think it would become a hit, and you can see that the hits have sustained elements of all the stretching-out that we tried to do, but they're the simpler versions."
It's now close to 37 years since Loughnane helped start the band and a quick look at Chicago's discography proves that this isn't either an oldies act coasting on its hits or a group brought back together to capitalize on some retro music fad.
Chicago currently plays, according to Loughnane, "somewhere around 80 shows" a year. A 40-show tour with Earth Wind & Fire is scheduled to start in June.
"We have been very fortunate," he said, "for it to be continuing on this long is, like, impossible. We don't have a (new) album planned, per se, (because) something always seems to keep coming up to keep us from doing an entire project. I guess it's because we're working so much, but that is something else that I would love to do -- to put out an album that would try to better any of the stuff that we have done before. That would be my hope for the future.
"We're a living band and we can still create. That's part of what we should be doing."
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