Journey’s Trip Leads to Rock & Hall of Fame

Journey, one of my favorite rock bands, joins a long list of music artists to receive one of music’s biggest honors.

Friday night (April 7) was the moment Neal Schon thought would never come. Journey was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And what initially had looked like against all odds, Steve Perry joined his former band mates on stage to accept the honor, marking his first appearance with Journey in 26 years. Though some rumors persisted until the last minute, he did not perform.

While Journey had become eligible for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame more than 15 years ago, they were only nominated last year and made it in right away. That’s unlike many other inductees, who had been eligible for even longer periods and/or been nominated multiple times prior to their induction.

Sadly, the induction ceremonies are notorious for drama surrounding former and present members of bands. More recent examples include Chicago and Peter Cetera, and Deep Purple and Ritchie Blackmore. Journey was no exception, though in their case, the outcome was mostly a happy end!

A certain degree of creative tension in a band can help their music evolve, so it’s not an inherently bad dynamic. But unfortunately, all too often such differences turn personal and bring out big egos. Ironically, for many bands this seems to happen after they become successful. When more is at stake, all the brotherhood and time and effort to get to that stage seem to be forgotten!

Steve Perry clearly was bitter when Journey continued to travel without him in 1998. Following the band’s recording of their 1996 reunion album Trial by Fire, Perry suffered a hip injury in Hawaii. He was told it required hip replacement surgery. This put the band’s planned tour in support of the album on hold. After Perry had refused to undergo the procedure for 17 months, Schon and keyboarder Jonathan Cain lost their cool. They told him to either get under the knife so Journey could resume touring upon his recovery, or they would look for a new singer. Perhaps not surprisingly, Perry was taken aback by this ultimatum and decided to leave the band.

Steve Augeri & Journey 2

Journey went on to hire Steve Augeri as their new lead singer and also replaced Steve Smith on drums with Deen Castronovo, who Schon and Cain had known from their common time with Bad English. I saw that lineup of Journey in the late 90s and was really impressed. I had doubts it was possible to replace Perry, who in his prime time had a voice like no other rock singer. But Augeri sounded surprisingly similar to Perry, and he also did an incredible job hitting and holding these impossibly high notes. From my distant vantage point, he even looked a bit like Perry – frankly, it was almost a bit creepy!

Unfortunately, belting out Journey songs and hitting these crazy high notes night after night took a toll on Augeri’s voice. First challenges started to emerge in 2003, and in 2006, he was dropped from the band. The officially stated explanation was a “chronic throat infection.” For some time, Jeff Scott Soto from Swedish hard rock band Talisman filled in on lead vocals. Finally, in the summer of 2007, Cain and Schon found Arnel Pineda on the Internet. The Filipino singer had been a big Journey fan and performed some of their songs with his cover band The Zoo, which were posted on YouTube – what an incredible story!

I also saw the current Journey lineup with Pineda last April in a superb double bill with the classic Santana band – one of only a handful of gigs the two bands did together. The show predated my blog, so I never got to write a review. In a nutshell, it was absolutely amazing seeing guitar legend Carlos Santana reunite with Schon, Gregg Rollie and other members of the classic Santana band, and playing iconic tunes from their first three albums, as well as their then-new release, Santana IV. Journey’s set was also fantastic, and Pineda did an amazing job on lead vocals.

Arnel Pineda Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Back to the induction ceremony. Journey played three of their best known songs, all from the Perry era, their most commercially successful period: Lights (Infinity, 1978), Don’t Stop Believin’ (Escape, 1981) and Separate Ways (Frontiers, 1983). After reports had emerged that Perry would be there, naturally, fans didn’t stop believin’ he’d also perform. In a couple of interviews leading up to the big night, Schon seemed to be very open about the idea; recognizing Perry’s vocal abilities have changed, he also offered to lower the key of one of their songs.

Steve Perry Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2

While it’s sad Perry ended up not performing, especially for Journey fans, I think he deserves a lot of credit for joining his former band mates on stage and giving a very gracious speech. I thought one the high points was when he called out Pineda: “I must give a complete shout out to someone who sings his heart out every night, and it’s Arnel Pineda…To Arnel, I love you.” While Perry certainly couldn’t blame Pineda for his painful departure from Journal, putting aside all his past bitterness and showing up for the fans really was a class act!

Following are excerpts from the remarks from some of the other Journey inductees, as reported by Rolling Stone:

Neal Schon Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Schon: “Steve Perry [Applause] If it wasn’t for him, there would be no Journey. [Former Journey manager] Herbie Herbert, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for finding me after Gregg was picking me up in high school when I was 15. Soon after that, I was in the Santana group.”

Gregg Rolie Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Rolie: “This is my second trip here. And what a trip this has been. First Santana, Journey, Ringo Starr [since 2012, Rolie has been a member of Ringo’s All-Star Band] and back here with Journey…And Neal Schon…saving me from the restaurant business. Don’t ever do it. Just start Journey.”

Steve Smith Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Steve Smith: “I’ve started out in 1963 at nine years old as a jazz drummer…it wasn’t until 1969 that I discovered rock & roll…As disc jockey Alan Freed, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee once said, “Rock & Roll is really swing with a modern aim. It began in the levies and in the plantations, and featured blues and rhythm.” He said this in the 1950s.”

In addition to Perry, Schon, Rollie and Smith, Journey inductees included current keyboarder and bassist Cain and Ross Valory, respectively, as well as Aynsley Dunbar. Dunbar was the drummer on Journey’s first four albums Journey (1975); Look Into the Future (1976); Next (1977); and breakthrough Infinity, the only overlap with Perry. Since Pineda only joined Journey in 2007 and as such was not eligible yet, he wasn’t inducted.

Here’s a clip of Journey’s performance of Don’t Stop Believin’ during the induction. It doesn’t do great justice to the band’s sound and Pineda’s outstanding voice the way I remember it from last year, but it’s the best footage I could find.

Excerpts from the induction will be shown on HBO on April 29 at 8:00 PM ET/PT. It should be awesome!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

 

 

A New Breed of Classic Rock Festivals?

Desert Trip and now The Classic look like the start of a new trend in the concert business: The mega rock festival targeting an older fan base with money to spend.

Last year’s Desert Trip was a dream come true for every classic rock fan, who had the time and money to get to Southern California’s Coachella Valley. I recall reading accounts on Facebook from people who were there and absolutely blown away – if time and money wouldn’t have been an issue, I would have been there as well, no question! With ticket sales totaling $160 million, the festival was also quite lucrative. So it’s perhaps not surprising that it was not the last of its kind.

Over two weekends in October 2016, which amounted to six days altogether, Desert Trip had a spectacular line-up: The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who. And so will The Classic West in Los Angeles and The Classic East in New York City. Each of the two-day weekend concerts this July will feature Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Journey and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Music festivals in and of itself obviously have been around for a long time. What seems to be different about this new breed of rock spectacle is that it exclusively features big-name music artists who have come of age. Many of them no longer record new music, or if they do, release new material at a much slower pace. Recently, I saw Stevie Nicks quoted in what I believe was a Rolling Stone story, who said the reward from recording a new album in this day and age is simply no longer worth the effort to spend endless hours in the studio. It’s a pretty sad statement, but there is evidence to back it up.

Last July, Billboard reported U.S. album sales during the first half of 2016 were the worst since 1991, falling by more than 13% year-over-year. Over the same period, music streaming was up close to 60%. But that’s not much of consolation for most artists who hardly make any money from streaming. By comparison, concerts are much more lucrative, especially when you appeal to an older audience that generally has more money to spend than young people. Classic rock is one of the music genres that is popular among more mature audiences.

In a New York Times story about the upcoming The Classic music events, Irving Azoff, who represents all of the six performing acts in full or in part, put it as follows: “Classic-rock radio listeners have been underserved by current festival lineups.” The big event that comes to my mind in this context is the iHeart Radio Festival, for which Azoff’s observation is certainly true.

Tickets for The Classic are only available for both days, with regular admissions ranging between $150 and $950 plus fees. According to the Los Angeles Times, there are also various VIP packages, with the most expensive one topping out at a whopping $2,750. Live Nation, the promoter for The Classic, clearly must be convinced that the feeling of having been underserved will open some wallets big time!

I have mixed feelings about the commercial aspects of the shows. Every artist deserves to earn a reasonable living, and it’s certainly true that with all the changes in the music business that has become a lot harder. On the other hand, I have to believe the artists performing at Desert Trip and The Classic already made their money when records were still selling well and are not exactly living in poverty.

Another way to look at this new breed of rock festival is to consider how much it would cost to see the artists in separate shows. Through that lens, a ticket price of $150, $300 and even $600 doesn’t look that outrageous. It translates to $25, $50 and $100 per act based on six artists. Most people would consider a price of $50 to see the Eagles as a bargain. In fact, when I saw them in Atlantic City in 2015, I had to dole out a lot more cash – though I have to add it was one of the most amazing shows I have seen and as such worth every cent! And that sentiment brings me to the next point.

A big part of going to see your rock & roll heroes in concert is emotional. From a strictly rational perspective it’s hard to justify spending hundreds of dollars. But there is just nothing like being in a stadium seeing Paul McCartney or Bruce Springsteen, and screaming from the top of your lungs together with thousands of other fans. It’s rock & roll!

And as long as great rock music exists, people will keep spending a lot of money on concerts. I also have no doubt that the new breed of rock festival will continue. In fact, I just saw this story about Desert Trip 2017. The second installment will be bigger than its debut and feature 21 artists. The headliners are REO Speedwagon, .38 Special, Kansas, Blue Öyster Cult, Styx and Supertramp. Some of the other artists include James Taylor, Foreigner and Chicago.

Here is the official video teaser for The Classic. I’m very tempted. I’ve been to great shows with all performers, except for Steely Dan, which I would love to see.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Billboard, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, YouTube

It’s Only Rock & Roll, But I Like It

It took me to the second-to-last day of Exhibitionism in New York City to catch this great installation about one of my favorite bands, The Rolling Stones.

Usually, I’m not a guy who waits until the last minute, but somehow this is what happened with Exhibitionism. I’m glad I finally got to visit this comprehensive, multimedia, interactive exhibition about The Rolling Stones at Industria in New York City’s West Village, just before it moves to Chicago.

Nine thematic galleries allow visitors to take a look at “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” from many different angles. I mostly agree with the organizers that Exhibitionism is not only for Stones fans, although they will mostly appreciate it.

Things start out with a collage of videos projected on a wall, showing concert and other footage of the Stones, with commentary from different members of the band. It gets you right in the mood for more.

The next gallery is an impressive recreation of a tiny apartment in London where the Stones lived together in their early days. The mess everywhere makes it quite obvious the guys were not much concerned about cleaning.

Exhibitionism 1

The focus of the third gallery is a replica of London’s Olympic Studios packed with music equipment- pretty awesome! The gallery also features some cool vintage guitars from Keith Richards and Brian Jones, concert posters, photos and other memorabilia.

Exhibitionism 2

The fourth gallery is the highlight of the installation, but I admit that as a hobby musician, I’m biased here. It revolves all around guitars, mostly from Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards. It also displays the 1963 Gibson acoustic guitar Mick Jagger used to write You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Right before you enter, you can also see Bill Wyman’s Framus semi-acoustic bass and a gorgeous Modulus fretless bass from Daryl Jones, who became a Stones touring member in 1993, following Wyman’s retirement.

Exhibitionism 8

Another cool feature of this gallery are interactive mixing desks in the middle of the room. They allow you to isolate or otherwise manipulate different recording tracks, such as Jagger’s voice, Richard’s and Wood’s guitars and Watts’ drums, for various Stones songs like Rocks Off, Start Me Up and Angie.

Another gallery revolves around art work, from the iconic lips-and-tongue logo, to tour advertisements to album covers. A screening cinema presents footage from various Rolling Stones concert movies, narrated by Martin Scorsese, who has frequently used the band’s music in his motion pictures. Scorsese also shot his own Stones concert movie, Shine a Light, which documents the band’s 2006 performances at New York City’s Beacon Theatre during the A Bigger Bang Tour.

Exhibitionism 12

One of the largest galleries toward the end of the exhibition presents an eclectic collection of Stones’ stage outfits over five decades. Exhibitionism also recreates a backstage area and culminates in a 3D concert experience of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. While the 3D display is a neat effect, I wish the film would use a larger screen, so the Stones would be more life-size.

Today is Exhibitionism’s last day in New York City after three months. Next it will travel to Chicago, an appropriate host city, given the Stones’ long and strong connection with the Blues. The installation will debut there at Navy Pier on April 15 for a four-month engagement. Exhibitionism had its world premiere in April 2016 at London’s Saatchi Gallery.

Here is a nice clip of Jagger, Richards, Watts and Woods discussing the exhibition and their active input in shaping it.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

The Joshua Tree Turns 30

Not only did this 1987 album catapult U2 to international superstardom, but it is also one of the band’s best records in its 40-plus-year history.

Since U2’s announcement in early January of a summer tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, the seminal album has been on my mind. So it was only a matter of time before I would write a post about it.

Released on March 9, 1987, The Joshua Tree is one of my favorite U2 records. That the Irish rock band named its fifth studio album after a tree that grows in the Mojave Desert in the southwestern U.S. is not a coincidence. The lyrics and music were inspired by U2’s feelings about America at the time: an admiration of its ideals, freedoms and open spaces, mixed with antipathy toward political and social concerns.

U2’s appreciation of landscapes like the Mojave Desert becomes apparent not only in the album’s cover art but also in its sound, which I’ve seen described as “cinematic.” One of the best examples of this cinematic sound is the beginning of the ballad Running to Stand Still. It features a Ry Cooder-type slide guitar that could come right out of the musical score for the 1984 drama motion picture Paris, Texas.

Joshua Tree features some of U2’s most iconic songs, including Where the Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With Or Without You. The two latter tunes became the band’s only singles to hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The first song only made it to no. 13 on that chart – surprising, in my opinion, since I find it as strong as the two other tracks.

Bullet the Blue Sky is the album’s most haunting tune, using heavy guitar feedback, distortion and slide-guitar playing to great effect. Lyrically, it’s one of U2’s most political songs that has become a staple of the band’s live concerts, where it has been performed with references to violence and political conflicts.

The album’s final track, Mothers of the Disappeared, is equally moving. It pays tribute to Madres de Plaza de Mayo and COMADRES, groups of mothers in Argentina and El Salvador, respectively, whose children had “disappeared” during the dictatorship eras in these countries. Two other songs that stand out to me are Red Hill Mining Town and In God’s Country.

All of the album’s lyrics were written by Bono, while all music is credited to U2. In addition to Bono (lead vocals, harmonica, guitars), the band includes The Edge (guitars, backing vocals, piano), Adam Clayton (bass guitar) and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums, percussion).

While U2 plays amazingly well as a band and has gotten even better over the decades, I’d like to call out The Edge. In my book, he is one of the coolest guitarists who managed to create a signature sound that is unique and instantly recognizable – not a small feat, if you consider how many rock guitarists are out there!

The Joshua Tree was U2’s second album produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, who were also involved in producing many of the band’s subsequent records. In addition to U2, Lanois has produced for a variety other great artists, such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Peter Gabriel, while Eno has collaborated with David Bowie and David Byrne, among others.

With more than 25 million copies sold worldwide, The Joshua Tree is one of the most successful records. The album climbed to the top of the charts in more than 20 countries, including the U.S. Billboard 200. It also won two Grammy awards in 1988 for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Even the U.S. Library of Congress recognized the album’s significance and selected it for preservation in the National Recording Registry in 2014.

In a Facebook chat with fans on the day of the 30th anniversary, The Edge explained “U2 became a really popular band” during the initial Joshua Tree Tour in 1987. Troves of fans crowded in front of U2’s hotels and outside concert venues, frequently forcing the band to escape through back doors – it almost sounded a bit like “Beatlemania.”

It will no doubt be different during the upcoming The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, which includes 21 concerts in North America and 12 shows in Europe. The tour kicks off on May 12th in Vancouver, Canada, and concludes on August 1st in Brussels, Belgium. U2 is one of the greatest live bands, and I can’t wait to see them on June 29th at MetLife Stadium in East, Rutherford, N.J.

In addition to the upcoming tour, U2 fans can also look forward to “the ultimate collector’s edition of The Joshua Tree,” which the band announced on the eve of the album’s 30th anniversary. The reissue, which is slated for release on June 2nd, will be available in various formats, including vinyl and CD super deluxe box sets, a 2-CD deluxe set, standard vinyl and CD releases, and different digital formats. I might go for the vinyl!

Here is a great clip of a live performance of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

Sources: Wikipedia, Facebook, U2 web site, YouTube

 

Small Town Rocker Gearing Up For More R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.

Last week, John Mellencamp released the second single from his upcoming new album “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies,” which he will support with a U.S. tour this summer.

I’ve been a huge fan of John Mellencamp for many years. He’s one of my favorite rock singer-songwriters, along with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. I always enjoy checking out his new music, and so far, I like what I’ve heard from his upcoming new album.

Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, which is set for release on April 28th, will be Mellencamp’s 23rd studio album. It features  country singer and songwriter Carlene Carter, the daughter of Johnny Cash’s second wife, June Carter. Carter was the opening act for Mellencamp’s last 2015-2016 tour that supported his previous studio album Plain Spoken.

On February 24, the second single from Sad Clowns & Hillbillies appeared. Grandview features country artist Martina McBride. The song is a bit more rock-oriented than much of Mellencamp’s music in recent years. It reminds me somewhat of the American Fool and Scaregrow albums from the 80s.

The first single from the new album, Easy Target, was released on January 19th. The timing on the eve of the Presidential inauguration was not a coincidence. Sung with a raspy voice, the bleak ballad touches on income disparities and mindless shootings of African Americans in the U.S. In a Yahoo! News interview with Katie Couric, Mellencamp characterized the song as “a reflection on the state of the country.”

For much of his now more than 40-year career, Mellencamp has voiced his political opinions through some of his songs, from his criticism of Ronald Reagan in the 80s to the Iraq war in 2003. Together with Willie Nelson and Neil Young, he also started Farm Aid in 1985, which raises awareness of the importance of family farms and has organized concerts almost every year since then. The organization celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015.

Mellencamp was born in the small town of Seymour, Ind. on October 7, 1951. He still lives in Indiana to this day close to Bloomington on the shores of Lake Monroe.  According to the bio on his web site, Mellencamp was attracted to music at an early age and already was performing in local bars when he was 14.

Mellencamp’s recording career started in 1976 with the release of Chestnut Street Incident under the name of Johnny Cougar. His breakthrough came in 1979 with I Need a Lover from his third studio album John Cougar. Mellencamp’s fifth studio release American Fool brought broad commercial success. It reached no. 1 on Billboard’s album chart, held that position for nine weeks, and became the best-selling record of the year. The records includes the classics Hurts So Good and Jack & Diane.

One of my favorite Mellencamp albums is 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee. It blends rock with traditional folk and country instruments, creating a warm and rich sound. It was a new style for Mellencamp, which he would continue to embrace on many of his successive records. To me the standouts are Paper in Fire, Check It Out, Cherry Bomb and We Are the People. The album became one of Mellencamp’s most successful releases worldwide.

Apart from writing great songs over so many years, Mellencamp has also done some excellent covers. Two of my favorites are the Van Morrison tune Wild Night, included on the Dance Naked album (1994), and a fantastic version of The Drifters’ hit Under the Boardwalk from 1999’s Rough Harvest. For some reason, until recently, I had pretty much ignored that collection of alternate acoustic versions of Mellencamp tunes and some covers, until a good friend pointed it out. Another highlight on Rough Harvest is an unbelievable cover of Dylan’s Farewell Angelina.

Mellencamp’s summer tour will kick off in Denver on June 5 and after more than 20 gigs conclude on July 11 in Forest Hills, NY. In addition to Carlene Carter, the tour will feature Emmylou Harris and folk pop duo Lily & Madeleine. I saw Mellencamp once about 20 years ago – I believe somewhere in upstate New York. I would love to catch the show at Forest Hills Stadium, a great venue where I also saw The Who a few years ago.

Here’s a nice clip of Mellencamp and McBride performing Grandview on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Sources: Wikipedia, Yahoo! News, John Mellencamp web site, YouTube

 

 

The Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows

With Super Bowl 51 Sunday upon us, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of my favorite halftime shows.

Having grown up in a country where at least at the time American football was an afterthought, I must admit the sport remains an acquired taste to me to this day. However, what attracted me from the very first time I watched the spectacle on TV in addition to the ads were the halftime shows.

An impressive array of music artists have performed at the Super Bowl over the years. Typically, the gigs only last for about 13 minutes, which is barely enough time for four songs or so. This means performers need to figure out how to stick to the tight time limit while making their fans happy – not an easy task!

Most artists end up rearranging tunes to make them tighter and playing medleys. Following are some of my favorite Super Bowl halftime shows I caught over the years. And, yes, this list is skewed!:-)

The Who (Super Bowl XLIV, Miami, Feb 7, 2010)

Drawing from the Tommy, Who’s Next and Who Are You albums, the set list featured some of the band’s best known classics, including Pinball Wizard, Baba O’Riley, Who Are You, See Me, Feel Me and Won’t Get Fooled Again. When I saw The Who a couple of years ago, it was if time had stood still. These guys continue to bring it. Here is a nice clip of their Super Bowl performance.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Super Bowl XLIII, Tampa, Feb 1, 2009)

This must have been one of shortest gigs for the Boss who is of course notorious for delivering one-of-a-kind rock & roll marathons. It may have been short, but Springsteen sure as heck delivered! He mostly stuck to crowd-pleasing classics and also threw in what was a newer song at the time. The set list included Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Born to Run, Working on a Dream and Glory Days. You can all watch it again below.

The Rolling Stones (Super Bowl XL, Detroit, Feb 5, 2006)

Similar to the Boss, the Stones opted to combine two of their biggest hits with one of their then newer songs: Start Me Up, Rough Justice and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. While the band delivered a solid performance, their gig became more known for Mick Jagger’s mic being dialed down during two lines of the lyrics of Start Me Up and Rough Justice.  Feeling the lines could be viewed as offensive, the NFL decided not to take any chances and censored the songs, following the uproar over Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl 2004 halftime show. From today’s perspective, it all looks pretty laughable. Watch part I (Start Me Up & Rough Justice) and part II (Satisfaction) of the Stones’ performance below.

Paul McCartney (Super Bowl XXXIX, Jacksonville, Fla, Feb 6, 2005)

Paul McCartney is an amazing live performer and gives me a thrill each time I see him play. Once again, he did not disappoint. His set focused on crowd-pleasers, mostly featuring Beatles songs, and one of his biggest successes with the Wings: Drive My Car, Get Back, Live and Die and Hey Jude. Here’s a great clip of the show, including the usual fireworks spectacle during Live and Let Die.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

 

 

 

Chicago Is Turning 50

The self-described “rock & roll band with horns” has come a long way since its origins in Feb 1967.

While the past few years have seen various 50th anniversary celebrations of rock bands that started in the 60s, such as the Beach Boys, Cream and this year The Doors, only very few have consistently performed for five decades. Chicago is one of them. The only other band I can think of that can truly match this record is The Rolling Stones.

Chicago’s story started in Feb 1967 – according to a Daily Herald article I found, it was Feb 15 that year. Then, James Pankow (trombone, keyboards, percussion, vocals), Walter Parazaider (woodwinds, backing vocals), Terry Kath (guitar, bass, vocals), Danny Seraphine (drums, percussion), Lee Loughnane (trumpet, guitar, percussion, vocals), Robert Lamm (keyboards, vocals) and Peter Cetera (bass, guitar, vocals) formed a band called “The Big Thing.” While the lineup has changed numerous times over the years, Pankow, Parazaider, Loughnane and Lamm have remained as original members.

Initially, The Big Thing was a cover band playing top 40 hits. Prompted by their manager, James William Guercio, they moved to Los Angeles in June 1968, got a contract with Columbia Records and changed their name to Chicago Transport Authority. At that time, they had started to work on own material. In April 1969, CTA released its eponymous double album, which by 1970 had sold over one million copies. Among others, it includes the classic Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is? and a great cover version of the Spencer Davis Group’s I’m A Man.

The album’s fusion of jazz and rock is reminiscent of Blood, Sweat & Tears, which is not a coincidence. A few months earlier, Guercio had produced that band’s hugely successful eponymous second studio album. During CTA’s tour to support their debut album, the actual transit authority of Chicago threatened legal action, forcing the band to shorten its name to Chicago. Just nine months later, in January 1970, Chicago released its second studio album, Chicago, another double release that later became known as Chicago II. It featured three top 10 Billboard Pop Singles, including Make Me Smile, Color My World and my favorite Chicago tune, 25 or 6 to 4.

After an extended tour, the band’s third studio album appeared in January 1971. While Chicago III, yet another double album, did not yield any major hits, it saw the band introduce new musical styles, including funk and country. A great example is the opener Sing a Mean Tune Kid, which features a cool funky guitar sound by Terry Kath. Kath also shines with Jimi Hendrix-like guitar riffs on I Don’t Want Your Money. Speaking of Hendrix, he once told Parazaider, “Your horn players are one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me.”

Chicago continued to release new studio albums each year. Chicago X, the band’s eighth studio release appearing in June 1976, yielded its first No. 1 single, If You Leave Me Now. Written by Cetera, the Grammy award-winning ballad prominently features string arrangements and acoustic guitars, foreshadowing the band’s focus on pop ballads during the “Cetera era.” This was continued with Cetera’s Baby, What a Big Surprise on the follow-up, Chicago XI, though in the wake of its releases the album brought more change to Chicago than continuity. It was the band’s last record prior to Kath’s accidental death with a gun and the last album produced by Guerico.

Chicago 16, released in 1982, completed the band’s full transition to soft rock, driven by Cetera and new producer David Foster. The ballad Hard to Say I’m Sorry became Chicago’s second No. 1 single in the U.S. The follow-up, 1984’s Chicago 17, continued the successful formula. It became Chicago’ best-selling album, fueled by four top 10 singles: You’re the Inspiration, Hard Habit to Break, Stay the Night and Along Comes a Woman. While the band enjoyed unprecedented commercial success, tensions rose over Cetera’s and Foster’s artistic dominance.

According to a CNN documentary, Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago, which aired on Jan 1, 2017, the other band members felt that Cetera increasingly regarded Chicago as his back-up band. Cetera who had physically shaped up also became the focus in the band’s videos recorded for MTV. The cameras mostly ignored the rest of the band. Things came to a boil when Cetera started a solo career and sought an arrangement where Chicago would take breaks after tours to allow him to focus on his solo work. The band rejected, and by the summer of 1985 Cetera was out.

Interestingly, Chicago continued to work with Foster on 1986’s Chicago 18, before switching to Ron Nevison who produced the next two albums, Chicago 19 (1988) and Twenty 1 (1991). Starting with that album, the band slowed down the pace of new releases. Since then, seven Chicago albums have appeared, including two Christmas albums, compared with 16 during the band’s first 25 years.

Last year, Chicago was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, together with Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Steve Miller and N.W.A.. But sadly, this milestone was not all harmony. While Seraphine reunited with his former band mates, Cetera stayed away after the band had rejected his proposal to perform 25 or 6 to 4 in the key of E, four notes lower than the original. In a Rolling Stone interview, Lamm explained, “if it’s just a four-piece band you can do it, but with horns, you got to transfer those…It’s not something we wanted to do for a one-off.”

Chicago has sold more than 100 million records, making it one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time. They have had five no. 1 albums and 21 top ten singles. Among American bands, their success in Billboard singles and album charts is only second to The Beach Boys. Chicago continues to perform live prolifically and is currently doing a 50th anniversary tour across the U.S. This will include 30 co-headlining dates with the Doobie Brothers from early June until the end of July.

Here is a nice clip of Chicago’s epic 25 or 6 to 4. By the way, the title refers to the time Robert Lamm wrote it, which was 25 or 26 minutes to 4:00 am.

Sources: Wikipedia, Daily Herald, CNN documentary “Now More Than Ever”, Rolling Stone, YouTube