They’ve been rocking for almost fifty years, have sold over 100 million records (23 gold albums, 18 platinum), and boast more chart singles than any other American act except the Beach Boys.
But Chicago—the world’s preeminent rock and roll band with a horn section—still hasn’t been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Fortunately, that egregious oversight will be rectified on April 8, 2016, when the fellows in Chicago finally receive their dues at the Rock Hall induction ceremony at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (along with Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Steve Miller, and NWA).
So what the hell took so long?
Perhaps Jann Wenner isn’t into funk rock any more than he’s into progressive rock (which is to say, not at all). But Chicago’s windy city pals in Earth, Wind & Fire were inducted fifteen years ago.
Or maybe it’s because Chicago’s visual aesthetic always owed more to its iconic swirl logo and Roman-numbered albums than any one of its countless members through the years. If the band ever did have a “face,” arguably, it belonged to bassist Peter Cetera, who left the group thirty years ago following the FM success (and MTV fame) generated by Chicago 16 (“Hard to Say I’m Sorry”) and Chicago 17 (“You’re the Inspiration,” “Stay the Night”).
Then again, it could be Wenner and his fancy-suited Star Chamber unfairly dismissed Chicago as white-bread balladeers unworthy of enshrinement in a pantheon devoted to rock. But such reasoning conveniently ignores the presence of a slew of other singer / songwriters and pop entertainers already ensconced in the I.M. Pei-designed museum, and completely discounts the band’s adventurous, muscular, free-spirited (and often gritty) early work—not to mention bona fide radio hits like “25 or 6 to 4,” “Saturday in the Park,” “If You Leave Me Now,” “Wishing You Were Here,” “Old Days,” “Will You Still Love Me,” “Look Away.”
The list goes on. In fact, Chicago dropped their twenty-forth (!) studio album (Chicago XXXVI: Now) in 2014 and are still coming up with new tunes today.
As lifelong fans of the group (they’ve been at it longer than we’ve been alive to enjoy it), we’re positively tickled that DePaul University alumni Robert Lamm, Terry Kath, Jimmy Pankow, Lee Loughnane, and Walter Parazaider are being honored next month—along with Cetera and (original drummer) Danny Seraphine.
But leave it to the Rock Hall hellions to create controversy where there shouldn’t be any: Longtime members Jason Scheff (bass), Tris Imboden (drums), and Keith Howland (guitar) won’t be inducted, nor will keyboardists Lou Pardini (current) and Bill Champlin (1981-2009) or percussionists Walfredo Reyes, Jr. (current) and Laudir de Oliviera (1974-1981).
Suffice to say, interim guitarists Dawayne Bailey, Donnie Dascus, and Chris Pinnick didn’t get the nod, either. Only Chicago’s original seven made the cut.
We spoke with trumpet player Lee Loughnane by phone last week about the legendary band’s ongoing activities and incipient induction. While Loughnane was tight-lipped as to which colleagues and former bandmates (ahem, Mr. Cetera) are expected to attend the Brooklyn bash, he was ecstatic that Chicago was nominated at all, after having been eligible—but overlooked—for decades.
Loughnane also dished on the group’s current outing (they play Warren, Ohio this weekend), upcoming joint tour with Earth, Wind & Fire (with a Columbus gig set for April 5th), and Chicago’s writing / recording process in the 21st Century.
CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: Hello, Lee! Thanks so much for taking the time with us. How are you, sir?
LEE LOUGHNANE: Pretty good, same to you. Are you in the Eastern Time zone?
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Yes. We’re based out of Cleveland, Ohio—but we’re in Florida right now. Taking a few days off.
LEE LOUGHNANE: Ah! So you’re three hours ahead. Is it sunny in Florida right now?
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Low seventies. Can’t complain—not when Cleveland’s been in the teens.
LEE LOUGHNANE: It’s pretty nice, too, at home.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: And where might that be? The itinerary says you’re playing Sedona next.
LEE LOUGHNANE: I actually live here in Sedona. The rest of the guys are off, and they’re coming in tomorrow, I think, for the Sedona Film Festival. We’re gonna play a show on Friday and air the movie Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago on Saturday at noon, and then play another show that night, the night of the twentieth.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Then you’ll be back in the Buckeye State on Sunday, February 28th.
LEE LOUGHNANE: Oh, cool! That’s coming up soon. Well, I’ll be there [laughs]! So we’ll see you soon [laughs]. And you’ll be back in the cold again!
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: We look forward to it—it’s always a great time with Chicago. But of course, the big news now is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. But why just the original seven? Even casual Chicago fans know that so-called “replacements” like Jason Scheff have been around for thirty years—nearly twice as long as Peter was in the band.
LEE LOUGHNANE: Well, we’ve been eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1994. Anybody who has played or been with the band or been around the band, business-wise, they’ve all had a hand in getting us to this point now. So I appreciate everything that everyone has done. The induction ceremony has only been offered to the original members of the band. So minus Terry Kath, there’s gonna be five of there, I guess. Maybe six. I’m not sure! All I know is that I’m going to be there for sure. And I can almost guarantee you that Robert, Walter, and James will be there. Beyond that, I can’t get inside anybody’s head or guess as to what somebody might be thinking. So I’m gonna have fun with it. To me, it’s an honor to be put on the same stage with our peers—past, present, and future—just a cool honor. I’m looking forward to it!
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Well, you don’t need me to tell you that you certainly deserve it, and you’ve earned the right to enjoy the evening without politics and hasles.
LEE LOUGHNANE: Yeah! Thank you very much. And now that it is happening, it will come, and we will have that night, and that will live on through HBO. They record they show, and then it plays and plays, so that will live on! I talked to Paul Stanley at the Clive Davis party, Paul Stanley from KISS. We were lucky enough to play the pre-Grammys party over the weekend. And I had forgotten that KISS just got in the Rock Hall last year! I thought they’d been in forever, and Paul said “No, it was just last year!”
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Right. They were passed up forever, like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. And other worthwhile bands like Moody Blues and Yes still aren’t in, and—for a long time—you guys also watched from the sidelines. But speaking of the Grammy party, I recently talked with Ralph Johnson from Earth, Wind & Fire. He mentioned playing the Clive Davis party.
LEE LOUGHNANE: Yes, they were there as well!
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Chicago XXXVI: Now is almost two years old, but it introduced a new recording process for the band, whereby you all track your parts separately on mobile equipment, and while on the road. Can you tell us about this rig you guys have, and how it changes things from back when you recorded at that Colorado ranch in the Seventies?
LEE LOUGHNANE: Not only the ranch, but any studio. First of all, you had to take off time from going out on the road and playing for live audiences and take up a block of time—two weeks to a month—and get hotel rooms, and then go into the studio every day and spend twelve hours recording. So we learned how to do that, and were obviously pretty successful at doing that. And we enjoyed every moment of it—at least most moments [laughs]! But as the times have changed, it’s become more affordable to get world-class equipment and record on a computer, so you can bring a Pro Tools rig on the road—a mobile Pro Tools rig, not the big hardware pieces you have to put in the studio. Those are very difficult to bring on the road. It’s all software now. And the software is very good, and you can get…as long as you get a great microphone and a great pre-amp, in order to get a good sound right off the bat, you’ll have a great start. But if you start with mediocre sound, you can’t make it great. If you start with great sound, you can only make it better. So that’s what you have to do to get started. So I built two systems: One that resides at home in Sedona, and one that travels with us on the road. And you don’t have to take a week off to record. We can have a single day off, and one or two guys can come in for us to record their parts for a song, and you can have the rest of the day off. And you can live with it, or change it if need be, and write and record the music as you’re going—all while we’re living our lives on the road. The 36th album was the first result of that, and now we can expand on that.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: You just plug in on the road, anywhere?
LEE LOUGHNANE: Yeah! In a hotel room, you just set it up and go. If you want to do brass parts, you get a ballroom or a conference room and set the stuff up in there. It’s really cool.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Is it still necessary to start with the rhythm section (drums and bass) when recording that way, so you’ve got a foundation for the other guys to build on?
LEE LOUGHNANE: You can start out with a tempo that you want on a click-track, and most of the times the songwriter will have a bit of a rhythm track together already. Then, once you get the idea of the song and how it should go, then everybody can create their own parts as it builds.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: How does that method change things for you, Jimmy, and Walter in the horn section?
LEE LOUGHNANE: It’s pretty much the same. You write the horn chart, and you come in, and hopefully everything you’ve written will work. If not, you change it on the spot and make sure it does work before the end of the day. You work it for maybe for three or four hours, if even that long.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: The forthcoming Heart and Soul 2.0 tour with Earth, Wind & Fire is your second big outing with them. Can you talk about sharing a bill with those guys, and how long each band gets to play night?
LEE LOUGHNANE: The two groups, we pretty much have it…everybody knows how long the show is going to be before we get there, so there are no surprises or extra curfews. It’s like, “This is how long our show is. Let’s get it started at this time so we can get it done before that time, by curfew—if there is one.” That’s it!
LEE LOUGHNANE: You’re now the guy who sings “Colour My World” in concert instead of Terry (who died in 1978). How’d you inherit that job?
LEE LOUGHNANE: What happened was, I’d always wanted a shot at it but was never gonna get it—until we decided to go into the studio a few years back and….
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: You redid some songs on The Nashville Sessions….
LEE LOUGHNANE: …The Nashville Sessions, yes. We decided to re-record some songs, try to mimic the original masters. And we got very close to it! Some of them were scary, when you compared the original to the one we newly recorded. You’re like, “Wow! That’s pretty close!” And it turned out that when we came to “Colour My World” and “Make Me Smile,” my vocal sound was as close to Terry’s as we could find. So I said, “You know what? Give me a shot. We’ll know one line in if it doesn’t work.” So [laughs] there you go! Obviously, it’s not as good at Terry’s. But it was good enough for the record. And I love singing it live.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: You do a great job. I mean, it’s only a few lines, with the rest of the song being Walt’s flute solo. But all the emotion is there. Say, I should ask—with respect to Terry—is his family excited about the induction?
LEE LOUGHNANE: Oh yeah. The only one we’ve actually spoken with is Michelle, Terry’s daughter. I think she is going to be there that night, but I don’t know that for sure. Like I’ve told other people, I know I’m gonna be there! Whoever else does [laughs]…I’ll be there with bells on! But she’s excited, and she’s made a documentary about her father as well. And I think that is ready to go. So the two premieres are happening sort of simultaneously. Ours is premiering in Sedona on February 20, and in April it’ll premiere…I don’t know if you could call it premiering anymore after the first time…but it’ll be at Sarasota Film Festival. Is it Sarasota…?
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Right, in Florida. It’s just North of where I am now.
LEE LOUGHNANE: Yep. Between April 1st and 10th it’ll be shown. And we’re also trying to get it into the Chicago Film Festival for 2016.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: It’d be nice to have a homecoming screening, eh?
LEE LOUGHNANE: It would, wouldn’t it?
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: With the tour, how does the band decide which songs make the cut each night? Chicago literally has decades of hits to pick from. No shortage there.
LEE LOUGHNANE: The songs from the first album and second album still work every night. The whole “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon”—which inlcudes “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World”—those pieces still work. We’re the only band in the world that plays a song like that—fourteen minutes with all the different movements, classical and rock combined. The stuff from the first album always works. We open up now with “Introduction.” For a bunch of years we weren’t able to do that. People weren’t getting it. Now, for whatever reason, “Introduction” works all the time. And so does “Saturday in the Park,” from the fifth album. It’s amazing how many songs we must play. I think the first and second records were significant in our career, and the seventh was significant in that more of the writers in the band started writing. More members started writing songs.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: The “Ballet” suite—particularly “Make Me Smile”—is characteristic of signature Chicago in that the horn parts are so melodic you can practically sing along to them as much as any lyric.
LEE LOUGHNANE: That’s pretty cool, and amazingly enough, “Make Me Smile” was our first single, because we re-released songs from the first album. AM radio wasn’t ready to play us yet. So when we made the second album and put out the “Ballet,” AM radio said they were interested in “Make Me Smile,” so we edited that part out of the “Ballet,” and that became our first single. And then we re-released “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “Beginnings” and “I’m a Man” from the first album.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Only diehard fans may know this, but you had a cameo in the Robert Blake cop film Electra Glide in Blue back in ’73 or so. What was it like for you, Terry and Peter to appear in a movie?
LEE LOUGHNANE: We lived in a commune. We were all hippies, which was pretty realistic as to our lifestyle back then! We just didn’t live on a farm, like in they created in the movie. I was the “Pig Man”—I’m sure you remember. My line was, “I have some information for you, you’re standing in pig shit!” My big acting line [laughs]! But it was a lot of fun to do, and I remember being there on the set, and you can sort of get your mind around the fact that actors never actually see a live audience. They do what they do in front of the camera and make it as realistic as possible, and they become that human being that they’re playing, that character. With musicians, it’s not a matter of acting, but of being that person and living in that movement. Actors don’t get to see what the audience is going to think of it until maybe a year later, when the movie comes out. But if they’re in a rock and roll band—which I’m sure they’d give their eye teeth to do—they’d give up a movie part and come out for that instant gratification. The audience either loves you or hates you, and you know it right off the bat [laughs]!
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: I’d find it hard to believe anyone could walk away dissatisfied by a Chicago show. You guys always bring it. And from my experience, the crowds feed it right back to you for that energetic, organic loop. That connection.
LEE LOUGHNANE: We send the energy out to them and they feed it back to us, and then that tightrope walk happens…for however long the show goes! It’s very cool to see it all the time and notice how it works, the momentum of it.
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: Will you guys ever run out of ideas for variations on your logo for your album sleeves?
LEE LOUGHNANE: I think the band has definitely run out of ideas, but the art people have not [laughs]! It’s always up to someone more artistic than us to come up with something where it’s, “Hey, that’s cool!” And we just say yea or nay. Coming up with it ourselves? Not so much anymore!
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: The sleeves are always so distinctive. You have the woodcut album, the cardinal, the map, the microchip album….
LEE LOUGHNANE: The microchip, the portent of the future!
CLEVELAND EXAMINER: That was on Chicago 16, which was like, 1982. Even then, you guys were thinking ahead, anticipating the future. Like the rig you’re recording on now. All the software, as you said.
LEE LOUGHNANE: And we hope to remain that way. Not everyone sees it that way, but you’re correct. A lot of the things we started are continuing today!
Chicago. Sunday, February 28, 2016 at Packard Hall (1703 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren, Ohio 44483). Tickets $55.50 – $85.50. Show at 7:00pm, doors at 5:50pm. Advance tickets here http://www.ticketmaster.com/chicago-warren-ohio-02-28-2016/event/05004F65D64B700A?artistid=734746&majorcatid=10001&minorcatid=1
Chicago with Earth, Wind & Fire. Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at Nationwide Arena (200 West Nationwide Boulevard, Columbus OH 43215). Tickets $39.50 – $125.00. Show at 7:30pm. Advance tickets here http://www.ticketmaster.com/chicago-and-earth-wind-fire-columbus-ohio-04-05-2016/event/05004F6A8EFF19E9?artistid=734980&majorcatid=10001&minorcatid=202&tm_link=artist_msg-0_05004F6A8EFF19E9