Chicago

  • Rock band formed in 1967 from Chicago Illinois. The founding members were Peter Cetera (bass guitar, vocals, songwriting), Terry Kath (lead guitar, vocals, songwriting), Robert Lamm (keyboards, vocals, songwriting), Lee Loughnane (trumpet, flugelhorn), James Pankow (trombone, songwriting), Walter Parazaider (saxophone, flute), and Danny Seraphine (drums).
  • Kath, Parazaider and Seraphine had been members of 2 other local bands before Chicago formed – Jimmy Ford and the Executives, and the Missing Links. It was their vision to create a rock band with an expanded horn section. The horn section of Parazaider, Pankow and Loughnane met as students in college, and Parazaider invited Pankow and Loughnane to rehearsals with Kath and Seraphine. Lamm was recruited from another local band, Bobby Charles and the Wanderers. In February 1967, the 6 agreed to form their own band, called the Big Thing. Later that year, needing a bass player and a vocalist to hit the high notes, they recruited Cetera, who had been with the local band The Exceptions.
  • The Big Thing gained some success as a cover band, and in 1968 they began to write their own songs. A friend of Parazaider was hired as their manager, and the manager encouraged them to move to Los Angeles. They performed regularly at the Whisky a Go Go night club, gaining exposure with national acts – reportedly, Jimi Hendrix remarked that Kath was a better guitarist than he was. They signed with a record label, changing their name to Chicago Transit Authority.
  • Their debut album was the self titled Chicago Transit Authority, released in April 1969. It was a double album – quite unusual for a debut, and I consider it one of the greatest double albums of all time (see my blog on “Best Double Albums” from November 8, 2017 – I ranked it at #2). It peaked at #17 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and eventually was certified 2x platinum. Singles from the album initially did not chart highly, though fans of early Chicago rave about side one (Introduction, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? and Beginnings), and their cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s I’m a Man. After their second album was successful, Beginnings and Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is? were re-released as singles, and they both were top 10 hits (with Beginnings topping the Adult Contemporary chart). Their combination of rock with horns was a unique sound, and their success earned them a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.
  • The band was scheduled to perform at Woodstock, but their concert booking agent had them perform at San Francisco’s Fillmore West that same weekend. After the release of Chicago Transit Authority, they shortened the name of the band to Chicago to avoid a threatened lawsuit by the CTA in Chicago.
  • Their second album, titled Chicago (and subsequently referred to as Chicago II), was their breakthrough commercially, released in 1970. Another double album, it peaked at #4 and was certified platinum. Make Me Smile, Color My World and 25 or 6 to 4 were top 10 hits on the Hot 100 chart.
  • Two albums were released in 1971 – Chicago III was another double album, and Chicago at Carnegie Hall was a 4-LP live album. Both sold well. The live album documented their week long performance at Carnegie Hall in 1971 – Chicago was the first act to sell out the venue for an entire week.
  • From 1972 to 1977, Chicago released 6 more studio albums, all titled Chicago followed by the roman numeral noting the release number (V through XI). Four of these album reached #1 on the album chart, along with a Greatest Hits compilation that was certified 5x platinum. These albums contained 8 more singles that reached the top 10, with If You Leave Me Now topping the Hot 100 chart, Call On Me and Wishing You Were Here reaching #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and Saturday In the Park peaking at #3. The band won the Grammy award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group for If You Leave Me Now.
  • In January 1978, Terry Kath accidentally killed himself when he fired his handgun at his head, thinking it was empty. Kath was replaced, and the loss of Kath, along with the decision by the band to change producers for their recordings, led to a style change for the group. Their 1978 album Hot Streets was their first (and one of only two) not to be numbered. It began their transition to a pop rock band (even with hints of disco).
  • While fans of classic Chicago cringed, the band released 4 more studio albums between 1979 and 1984, each of which became more mellow and pop, reducing the prominence of the horns. They found a new audience – 1982’s single Hard to Say I’m Sorry topped the Hot 100 and 1984’s Chicago 17 became their best selling album, certified 6x platinum, with singles Hard Habit to Break and You’re the Inspiration peaking at #3.
  • Wanting to focus on a solo career, Cetera left the band in 1985, and many other musicians have come and gone since. They continued to release new music – in 2014 they released Chicago XXXVI (that would be 36), and a Christmas album (Chicago XXXVII: Chicago Christmas) was released in 2019. They had five top 10 hits in the late 80s – their last #1 hit was Look Away in 1988.
  • Chicago continues to perform today, with 3 original members still active – Lamm, Loughnane and Pankow. The Chicago Transit Authority album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014 and the band received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2020. Chicago was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. And…early Chicago is some of my all time favorite music! Here is early Chicago, in 1970, performing 25 or 6 to 4.

1 thought on “Chicago”

  1. Yeah it all changed for the worse when Kath died. I still love their early stuff and and still kick myself for missing the opportunity to see them with The Beach Boys in 1976.

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