For Chicago Rock Band, Touring is a Hard Habit to Break | Entertainment


“Chicago II” is a sprawling 66-minute album that features three of the band’s hits, two of which – “Make Me Smile” and “Color My World” – are wrapped in the 10-minute “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon”. continued on side two.

So, on Chicago’s last visit to Pittsburgh, the Pavilion at Star Lake in 2018, on a tour performing that 1969 album in its entirety, you could tell some fans were a little confused when 20 minutes passed. without the band playing a single familiar radio song. .

On Wednesday, for the first show at Star Lake since summer 2019, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame known for their loaded, horn-infused sound will return to their crowd-pleasing wall-to-wall hit ensemble. During the ’70s and’ 80s, Chicago scored 21 Top 10 singles, the most of any American band at that time, starting in 1970 with “Make Me Smile” and going through the ballad phase, with “What Kind of Man would I Be?”

Chicago arrives with three founding members: singer-keyboardist Robert Lamm, trumpeter Lee Loughnane and trombonist James Pankow. Neil Donell, member since 2018, is the last singer to take care of the tenor voice of Peter Cetera, who went solo in 1985.

We spoke with Loughnane, 74, who spent some downtime during the pandemic working with engineer Tim Jessup on the September 10 release of “Chicago at Carnegie Hall Complete”, a 16-CD Rhino set from the eight shows recorded there. April 5-10, 1971.

Q: The last time you were in Pittsburgh, you came up with the full “Chicago II” album. How would you rate this tour?

A: Since the second album came out and we’ve had more and more hit singles, we haven’t been able to play a lot of songs that we had recorded in the past that we would have liked to play live. But we had so many hits, people wondered why we didn’t do the hits, because when they came to the show they were expecting to hear what put us on the map, and you can’t not really blame them. But it made it impossible for us to play those songs and get away with it in a live context.

And when we did the second album, with a second set of hits to end the night, I think everyone felt satisfied and I think they really enjoyed hearing the second album and the intensity. and how we’ve extended them. It was definitely more experimental, but it turns out the tubes are like a microcosm of what we experimented with later.

Q: What’s the game plan this time around?

Q: So maybe the people who haven’t read what you are going to do, they won’t be confused for an hour.

A: Do you think they were confused when we did the whole second album?

Q: I think some people don’t really care what they’re going to see. Maybe they hear a promo on the radio or go out with a friend and it’s like, “What are these songs they’re playing?

A right. It went well, though. How did it go with you?

Q: Oh, I thought it was great to see you do those deep cuts. If I can ask you to go back very far in early Chicago history.…

A: Well, you know, they gave our name to a city …

Q: Yeah, it’s been so long, huh ?! The concept of rock with horns – how did you come up with that? What was the model?

A: We didn’t really come up with anything other than wanting to play music. The original idea was to become like a Vegas show band. We started playing in clubs, like everyone else, and the club owners inevitably wanted any band to come and play in the Top 40 radio for the month. They didn’t want someone to come in and play original music because they wanted people to come and buy drinks. They wanted bands that would play something familiar to their clientele.

Initially, this is what we did. We played Top 40 music and at that time the songs with the brass in it. It was generally basic, R&B, really simple stuff. And then when we started to write original music, we started to open up the possibilities for the brass by playing more complex arrangements and making the brass as important as a lead vocals. That’s how we pretty much changed it, but it started out as “Top 40, baby!” Or you got fired.

Q: So, you probably didn’t imagine the commercial success you would have in the long term?

A: Oh, no. We were just playing and having fun. In fact, when we recorded the first album, we thought we would have an album, and then when it was successful, we will record the second album and maybe we will have two albums. We had no idea that 50 years later we would still be doing this with the 20+. It’s like the impossible dream, but I love it.

Q: You are obviously one of the oldest rock bands and I think the perception of Chicago has changed several times over the years. How do you see the progression of how you have been viewed by the industry, by the critics? It was a bit high and low.

A: From top to bottom, yes! The initial success was that you couldn’t do anything wrong, and then when you get too close to the top… same with The Beatles. As soon as they started doing something a little different from what was expected of them, they were immediately criticized. And the same has happened with us. The best thing about it is you don’t let that bother you, you just keep going, “Thank you very much, have a nice day.”

Q: You went through a period in the 80’s where ballads really started to take off and you were more popular like on contemporary adult radio than on rock.

A: There were a few things that made this happen. I think the actual band members wrote fewer songs. Some of the drugs and alcohol and stuff that we were doing started to interfere with what we do and we started to accept music from outside authors. And another producer arrived. Our original producer let us do all of our own songs. This is what we recorded and these were a huge success. And when we parted ways with him and Terry Kath died, people started to feel like the band was over, we couldn’t do it anymore. And, you know, we just started showing people that we have a deep bench. And we didn’t know. We just kept doing what we were doing and seeing what happened next.

The ballad has arrived. We already had “If You Leave Me Now”, our first international hit. That was before we were considered “the ballad group”, I think. That’s when David Foster came in and was producing and he started power ballad syndrome and we were way ahead of that. So the radio started to think it was the sound of Chicago, but we never changed. The radio broadcast has changed. They only played ballads. If we had a rhythmic track, they’d be like, “Can you give me one of those ‘If You Leave Me Now’ or ‘Hard Habit to Breaks’? Would you like to do it for me, please?

Q: Did this cause tension within the group?

A: Of course! Because we stopped using the brass, I started playing more guitar and played Moog bass for a while with the ballads because there were no brass parts. But then, you know, we kept going year after year and the success of those songs continued to the point where we decided to play with orchestras. The orchestras had strings and brass and all the other instruments in the sun, and there was no reason our brass couldn’t play brass on these songs, so Jimmy [Pankow] writes arrangements to accompany them. And we are still making these arrangements to this day.

It also shows that when these songs were first recorded, they could have brass arrangements. But it was decided not to do that, to create a little change in the sound and just use the brass as a signature, to bring it sparingly. Interesting idea but we survived it.

Q: What do you think has been the key to sustaining it all these years?

A: We still love to play, the same way we did the first day we got together. We love to play music and we love to play music for people in front of them. We’ve always been a traveling group, so to speak.

Q: I wonder if you could think back to the eight shows you did in ’71. It was probably a lot of pressure.

A: Probably the first night, that first “Oh my God, we’re playing at Carnegie Hall!” And then you start playing and you’re done. It’s like a baseball player going out for the All-Star Game and saying, “It’s like a big game! and then you start playing the game and you forget it. You continue to play. We didn’t think it was such a good album to begin with. We were amazed that it sold a million copies, but when I listen to it now, we played really well, much better than I ever thought at the time. And it was great to relive this week for me.

Q: How was the assembly of this package?

A: It was by chance that they asked me to do this, really, but it was probably the best thing that could have happened, because I know where the bodies are buried. I know exactly what we were playing and who was supposed to play it where and on what mic they were.

We played eight concerts over six nights at Carnegie Hall, the first American rock band to perform at Carnegie Hall. They asked us to take 41 cassettes that we collected on weekdays and mix and master the eight shows, while the fourth album, [“Chicago at Carnegie Hall”], was a four-disc set and it was basically just one of eight shots. So now it’s going to come out on a 16 CD package and encompass the eight shows that we did in six days.

It was a lot of fun to do. It took us 10 months to put it together because there were 41 bands involved that we had to take apart one at a time and remove all the cracks and pops and all the other stuff that happens with a live performance and then to try. to cut so much of the Carnegie Hall vibe because it was built for classical orchestras and softer analog music. So that was a huge project in itself. Then we had to be able to crank up the instruments and add highs and lows and mids and all the other things that you can do, especially now, with recordings and make the sound “in your face”. We made the eight shows more like you were sitting in the audience at Carnegie Hall.

Q: One more thing: I was driving on July 4th listening to “Saturday in the Park” and thinking about those lyrics, which always sounded strange to me. How does he not know if it was July 4th? Is it a memory he’s looking back at?

A: I don’t know. [laughs] Maybe he just smoked a joint and didn’t know what day it was or what year. I really have no idea what he was thinking other than he was in Central Park and he thought it was July 4th. The lyrics sounded good. It was a singing line. This is my best guess.

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Corina C. Butler

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