With all of the local, state, national and world politics and political chaos taking place, readers will of course be interested in news of my favorite rock group.
That is Chicago, one of the few, but definitely longest lasting, members of the subgenre of rock and roll I call “brass rock.” (For those unfamiliar: Take a rock band with a guitar, bass guitar, keyboard player and drummer, and borrow a trumpet, trombone and saxophone player from Ken Kilian. Yes, I am aware that a sax is not really a brass instrument.)
The first Chicago news is the group’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Friday night. (Also inducted, by the way, were Milwaukee’s Steve Miller, Rockford’s Cheap Trick, Deep Purple and NWA.) Five of Chicago’s original members were present — keyboard (now keytar) player Robert Lamm, trumpet player Lee Loughnane, trombone player James Pankow, sax player Walter Parazaider, and original drummer (though fired in 1990) Danny Seraphine. The latter gave a memorable, though not printable, acceptance speech Friday night, declining when he was asked to wrap up his speech because he had been waiting 25 [insert unprintable adjective used as a verb moments earlier] years to make that speech.
The induction is grossly overdue because Rolling Stone magazine, whose founder founded the hall, is widely known to detest Chicago. The group’s induction apparently required a change in the rules (to become a candidate previously required agreement by a 40-member selection committee) and 37.7 million online votes to honor the group second only to the Beach Boys in American rock band chart success, including 28 top 20 songs and five number-one albums.
Chicago formed in 1967. As you’ll read in a few paragraphs, Chicago is still performing today, and is even recording today, though most of its fans prefer such standards as the three the band played Friday night — “Saturday in the Park,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is,” and “25 or 6 to 4.” The latter, a song about writing a song, applies well to writing for a newspaper around, well, 25 or 6 to 4 a.m. (Though this column was not written that late.)
I can identify the precise moment I became a fan. While I was familiar with the group’s music before then, on a visit to an uncle while I was a middle school trumpet player (and not very happy about it), he played, at 11 on a 1-to-10 volume scale, “Ballet for a Girl from Buchannon,” which takes up 13 minutes of one side of the group’s second album. Oldies radio listeners will recognize two songs, “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World” (the latter of which was played at our wedding). From that point on, I was hooked.
For people older than I am (but me too), Chicago (and other groups like Blood Sweat and Tears and the Ides of March) made playing in the middle school or high school band cool. You should not be surprised that about half of the UW Marching Band was at Chicago’s Madison concert in 1987.
Two original members were not there. The first was guitar player Terry Kath, who none other than Jimi Hendrix declared was a better guitar player than he was. (Kath died in a gun accident in 1978.) The other was tenor-singing bass player Peter Cetera, who left the band in 1985 to make million-selling solo records with the musical heft of sugar-coated candy bars. Cetera reportedly wanted to be there but wanted the songs at lower keys because while the band can still play songs in the correct key, Cetera’s voice apparently doesn’t reach the correct key anymore. The alternative version is that Cetera’s ego got in the way. (And those two rationales are not mutually exclusive.)
The other Chicago news is the fact that the band will play within driving distance four times in August — Ames, Iowa Aug. 10, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton Aug. 13, Rockford Aug. 15 (oh, wait, that’s a Monday night; never mind), and the Overture Center in Madison Aug. 16.
I have seen Chicago three times in three very different venues — the Dane County Coliseum, an athletic field in Fond du Lac, and the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh. The latter was an interesting experience to say the least, with the band’s sound bouncing off vintage airplanes on the flight line. There was also the unintended possibly political statement in a photo of the band behind an American flag whose stars had, because of a quirk of the sun, been replaced by a logo of EAA sponsor Ford, the only member of the Big Three automakers that didn’t get a federal bailout.
The week of Chicago makes me wonder if I should (1) spring big bucks for VIP tickets, which include an exclusive meet-and-greet and photo op with the band, or (2) figure out how to get a media pass. I had one of those for EAA (legitimately in my previous life as a business magazine editor), but it did not come with meeting the band. Meeting Chicago would be a thrill exceeded only by the exceedingly unlikely opportunity of playing with Chicago.