Parazaider's band at the time was The Missing Links, which featured a very talented guy named Terry Kath on bass. Kath had been a friend of Parazaider and Guercio since they were teenagers. On drums was Danny Seraphine, who had been raised in Chicago's Little Italy section. Trumpet player Lee Loughnane, another DePaul student, sometimes sat in with the band. Like other future members of Chicago, Loughnane began performing in local groups. First, there was The Shannon Show Band, an Irish group in which he found himself part of a three-man horn section, trumpet, trombone and tenor saxophone, just like the one Chicago would use. "I even sang my first lead vocal in that band," Loughnane recalls. "I sang 'Kicks' by Paul Revere And The Raiders. I was so good at it that I became a singing sensation with Chicago. I sang three leads on twenty-three albums!" Through Terry Kath, Loughnane met Seraphine and Parazaider, he started to sit in with The Missing Links. "Terry and I became thick as thieves," he recalled. "Walt was the only horn player in that band, and he encouraged me to come by and sit in a lot so there would be two horns and you could get that octave R&B sound. It was sort of the thing at the time, and I really enjoyed playing with the band."
Now, Parazaider, Kath, Seraphine, and Loughnane decided to develop Parazaider's concept for a Rock 'n' Roll band with horns. To make the concept work, they needed to bring in additional band members. The first musician Parazaider approached, in the Fall of 1966 was a newly transferred DePaul sophomore from Quincy College who played trombone. "Walt had been kind of keeping an eye on me in school," said James Pankow. "He approached me and said, "Hey man, I've been checking you out and I like your playing, and I think you got it." I said, "Well, what do you mean, I got it?" He had that twinkle in his eye, and I figured, well, whatever the hell be means, I guess he likes what I do." Pankow's recruitment brought the new band's complement of horns up to three, but they still needed bass and keyboards. They thought they had found both in a dive on the South Side when they heard piano player Bobby Charles of Bobby Charles And The Wanderers, whose real name was Robert Lamm.
Lamm received a phone call. He isn't sure who called him, but the voice on the other end of the phone outlined the ideas of forming a band that could play Rock 'n' Roll with horns in it, and asked if he was interested. He said he was. He was also asked if he knew how to play the bass pedals on an organ, thus filling up another sound in the band. "I lied and told them I could," he says. "I needed to learn how to do it real quick, and I did, on the job." Lamm met the rest of the guys at a meeting set up to determine how to go about achieving their musical goals. The date was February 15th, 1967. "We had a get together in Walter's apartment on the north side of Chicago," says Pankow. "It was Danny, Terry, Robert, Walter, Lee, and myself, and we agreed to devote our lives and our energies to making this project work."
They rehearsed in Parazaider's parents' basement as often as they could. "We figured that the only people with horn sections that were really making any noise were the Soul acts," says Pankow, "So we kind of became a Soul band doing James Brown and Wilson Pickett stuff." The group needed a name. Parazaider recalls: "An Italian friend of mine who was going to book us said, "You know, everybody is saying "Thing. Thing this, Thing that. There's a lot of you. We'll call you the Big Thing." The Big Thing played its first engagement at the GiGi A Go Go is Lyons, Illinois, in March 1967. In June, July, and August, the band appeared in Peoria, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Rockford, and Indianapolis. But the most important early gig was a week-long stand at Shula's Club in Niles, Michigan, August 29 to September 3. In Niles, they arranged a meeting with Parazaider's old friend Jimmy Guercio, who had become a producer for CBS Records. "He heard us play," Parazaider recalled. "He was very impressed." It was the big break they had been looking for. Guercio told the band to hang on, that he would be in touch. Encouraged by this, they began to develop more of their own original material. "I began to write songs," says Pankow. "Robert began to write more songs, and Terry Kath began to contribute material." Meanwhile, the Big Thing stayed on the Midwest club circuit through the Fall, building a following. An engagement during the second week of December proved to be another important gig. "We were an opening act at Barnaby's in Chicago for a band called The Exceptions, which was the biggest club band in the Midwest, and we stuck around and listened to them," said Pankow. "I was just blown away." If the Big Thing had stayed late to see The Exceptions, one of The Exceptions had come early to see the Big Thing. "I had heard a lot about these guys," says Peter Cetera, then bass player for The Exceptions. "I was just floored 'cause they were doing songs that nobody else was doing, and in different ways. They were doing The Beatles' 'Magical Mystery Tour' and 'Got To Get You Into My Life' and different versions of Rock songs with horns." After the gig, said Pankow, he approached us and said, 'I don't know what you guys are doing, but I like it. It's really refreshing. It's cool.' "At the end of the two-week stint," said Cetera, "I was out of The Exceptions and into the Big Thing."
Peter Cetera was born in Chicago on September 13, 1944, and his first instrument was the accordion, which he took up then he was ten. "That's unfortunately true," he admits when asked about it. "There was accordion and guitar, and for some reason I chose accordion. I don't know why. I guess because I was half Polish, and we played a lot of polkas. It didn't do me any good for my Rock 'n' Roll career, but it actually was a lot of fun." Cetera perfectly fit the musical needs of the Big Thing. "We needed a bass player at the time," notes Loughnane. "Robert was playing the bass pedals on the organ. He did a pretty good job, but there just wasn't enough bottom with the bass pedals. You needed a real bass in the band. And we needed a tenor voice. We had two baritones (Lamm and Kath), so we had midrange and lower notes covered. But we needed a high voice for the same reason that you have three horns. You have trumpet, tenors and trombone. You cover as much range harmonically as you can, and we wanted to do the same thing vocally. When Peter joined the band, that solidified our vocals. You could get more color musically, and we started building from there."
It was at the Big Thing's next appearance at Barnaby's, March 6 - 10, l968, that Guercio came back for a second look. Impressed by the band's improvement, he took action. "He told us to prepare for a move to L.A.," says Pankow, "To keep working on our original material, and he would call us when be he was ready for us." The band, now renamed Chicago Transit Authority by Guercio in honor of the bus line he used to ride to school, was in a creative fervor. Kath, Pankow, and especially Lamm were writing large amounts of original material, with Lamm completing two of the group's most memorable songs, "Questions 67 and 68" and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" just prior to their departure from Chicago. Guercio moved quickly. "He got a little two bedroom house near the Hollywood Freeway, and he told us that he was ready," Pankow recalled. "We made the move in June of 1968. We threw all of our lives in U-haul trailers and drove across the country. The married guys left their wives at home at first because they couldn't afford to bring their families out. We got disturbance calls from the neighbors five times a day because all we did was practice day and night." The band began to play around the Los Angeles area. "I think we made all of $15, $20 at whatever beer hall we could play in the suburbs of Los Angeles for a while there," says Parazaider. According to the terms of his production deal with CBS, Guercio was given the opportunity to showcase prospective signings for the label three times. He arranged Chicago Transit Authority's first showcase at the Whisky-A-Go-Go in August, but CBS's West coast division turned them down. A month later, CBS turned CTA down again, strike two.
Running short of money, Guercio was asked to produce the second album by Blood, Sweat And Tears, a Jazz/Rock group on CBS. Intending to use his earnings from the project to continue funding Chicago Transit Authority and to find a way to get them signed to CBS, Guercio sought the band's permission to produce someone else. He said, "To tell you the truth, I really haven't recorded horns as a whole band situation. I've recorded horns that did sort of blips here and there or little parts here and there. This would be a good way for me to learn how to record horns." Instead of risking another showcase with CBS, Guercio cut a demo of CTA, and when it began to get notice in the industry, CBS president Clive Davis reversed the decision of the West Coast executives and signed the group. Seven months after arriving in California, almost two years since they had come together in Parazaider's apartment, and after more than a cumulative half century of playing and practicing, the seven members of Chicago Transit Authority finally were given a chance to show the world what they could do.
In January 1969, when the group flew to New York to begin work on its first album, it faced two problems it knew nothing about. The first was that, because the Guercio-produced Blood, Sweat And Tears LP at first appeared to be a flop (though it later became a spectacular hit), the status of his new project, CTA, suffered. The label curtailed the amount of time the band would have in the CBS studio. The group was allowed only five days of basic tracking and five days of overdubbing. And then there was the second problem. Although they were well rehearsed, the band members had never been in a studio before. "We actually went in and started making "Chicago Transit Authority" and found out we knew very little about what we were doing," said Walt Parazaider. "I had done commercial jingles in Chicago, but this was a totally different thing for all of us. The first song was 'Does Anybody Really Know What Tine It Is ?' We tried to record it as a band, live, all of us in the studio at once. How the hell do you get seven guys playing it right the first time? I just remember standing in the middle of that room. I didn't want to look at anybody else for fear I'd throw them off and myself, too. I think that we actually realized after we didn't get anything going that it had to be rhythm section first, then the horns, and that's basically how we recorded a lot of the albums."
But after they worked out the basic mechanics of recording, the large bulk of material the band had amassed began to be a problem to fit on the then standard 35-minute, one-disc LP. The band had more than enough material for a double album, and they wanted to make a statement. If they had lot to say, this seemed like the time to say it. Early 1969 was a period when Rock was taking on a seriousness undreamed of only a few years before. The Beatles had recently released their two-record "white album" and had also shattered the previously sacrosanct three-minute limit for a single by spending over seven minutes singing "Hey Jude". When told of the band's intention to make a double album, Columbia's business people informed Guercio that CTA could have a double album only if they agreed to cut their royalties. The band agreed. Released in April 1969, "Chicago Transit Authority" was played heavily by the newly powerful FM album stations, especially college radio. "AM radio wouldn't touch us because we were unpackagable," said Pankow. "They weren't able to pigeonhole our music. It was too different, and the cuts on the albums were so long that they really weren't tailored for radio play unless they were edited, and we didn't know anything about editing. The album was an underground hit. FM radio was embraced by the college audiences in the late '6Os. All of a sudden, the college campuses around the country discovered Chicago Transit Authority. The album broke into Billboard magazine's Hot 200 chart for the week ending May 17, 1969, and eventually peaked at Number 17. By the end of 1972 it had amassed 148 weeks on the chart, making it the longest running album by a Rock group up to that time.
It was about this time that the real Chicago Transit Authority (the elevated train line in Chicago) sued the band over the use of its name. A simple shortening to Chicago was agreed on. In early December, Chicago flew to London to begin a 14-date European tour and when they returned to the U.S. their first album had become a Gold record. In between tour dates in August 1969, Chicago had found the time to record its second album. One of the first songs Lamm brought in for he LP was "25 Or 6 To 4", a song with a lyric Chicago fans have pondered ever since. What does that title mean? "It's just a reference to the time of day," said Lamm. As for the lyric: "The song is about writing a song. It's not mystical." The second album also saw the debut of a new songwriter in the band, although the circumstances under which be became a writer are unfortunate. During a break in the touring in the summer of 1969, Peter Cetera was set upon at a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. "Four marines didn't like a long-haired Rock 'n' Roller in a baseball park," Cetera recounts, "And of course I was a Cub fan, and I was in Dodger Stadium, and that didn't do so well. I got in a fight and got a broken jaw in three places, and I was in intensive care for a couple of days." The incident had an effect on Cetera's career and an impact on his singing style. "The only funny thing I can think about the whole incident," he said, "is that, with my jaw wired together, I actually went on the road, and I was actually singing through my clenched jaw, which, to this day, is still the way I sing."
When it was released in January 1970, the second album, instead of featuring a picture of the band on the cover and a title drawn from one of the songs, had the band's distinctive logo on the cover and was called "Chicago II". From the start, Chicago took a conceptual approach to the way it was presented to the public. The album covers were overseen by John Berg, the head of the art department at Columbia Records, and Nick Fasciano designed the logo, which has adorned every album cover in the group catalogue. "Guercio was insistent upon the logo being the dominant factor in the artwork," says Pankow, even though the artwork varied greatly from cover to cover. Thus, the logo might appear carved into a rough wooden panel, as on "Chicago V", or tooled into an elaborate leatherwork design like "Chicago VII", or become a mouth-watering chocolate bar, for the "Chicago X" cover, which was a Grammy Award winner. And then there were those sequential album titles. "People always asked why we were numbering our albums," joked Cetera, "And the reason is, because we always argued about what to call it. 'All right, III, all right, IV!", Actually, the band never attempted to title the albums, feeling that the music spoke for itself.
In commercial terms, the major change that came with "Chicago II" was that it opened the floodgates for Chicago as a singles band. In October 1969, Columbia had re-tested the waters by releasing "Beginnings" as a single, but AM radio still wasn't interested, and the record failed to chart. All of this changed however when the label excerpted two songs, "Make Me Smile" and "Color My World" from Pankow's ballet and released them as the two sides of a single in March 1970. "I was driving in my car down Santa Monica Boulevard in L.A.," Pankow remembered, "and I turned the radio to KHJ and 'Make Me Smile' came on. I almost hit the car in front of me 'cause it's my song, and I'm hearing it on the biggest station in L.A. At that point I realized, hey, we have a hit single. They don't play you in L.A. unless you're hit-bound. So, that was one of the more exciting moments in my early career." The single reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 while "Chicago II" immediately went Gold and reached number 4 on the Billboard LP chart, joining the first album, which was still selling well. A second single, Lamm's "25 Or 6 To 4", was an even bigger hit in the Summer of 1970, peaking at number 4.
Instead of reaching into the second album for a third single, Columbia and Chicago decided to try to re-stimulate interest in the first album, and succeeded. The group's next single was "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?", which became their third Top 10 hit in a row by the start of 1971. Ironically, Chicago's belated singles success cost the group its underground following. "All of a sudden," Loughnane recalls, "people started saying we sold out. The same music! Exactly the same songs!"
As January 1971 rolled around, once again Chicago had found time to record a new double album. "That third album scared us," says Parazaider, "Because we basically had run out of the surplus of material that we had, and we were still working a lot on the road. We were afraid that we were getting ready to record a little under the gun. But I don't think it shows." After the singles from Chicago III had run their course, helping the album to its chart peak at number 2 and its Gold record award, Columbia turned back to the first and second albums which were still on the charts, re-releasing as a single "Beginnings" backed by "Color My World" and then "Questions 67 and 68". "They all became hits," notes Loughnane, "To the point where radio said, "If you release something off that first album again, we'll never play another one of your records." All of this meant that, with its first three albums, Chicago had reached astonishing popular success. All three double albums were still on the charts throughout 1971, and hits came from each one. But how to top that? In October, Columbia released a lavish four-record box set chronicling the group's week-long stand at Carnegie Hall the previous April. Manager / producer Guercio had to fight Columbia to get the label to release the album, due to its manufacturing cost. He agreed to assume the extra expense if the album didn't sell a million units. The bill never arrived. "Chicago At Carnegie Hall" went Gold out of the box and has since been certified for sales of two million copies.
Though Chicago had made previous visits to Europe and the Far East, it embarked on its first full-scale world tour in February 1972. The high point of the tour was in Japan, where Chicago recorded another live album that was so superior to the Carnegie Hall album, there's really no comparison. "The Japanese hooked up two eight-track machines together to make 16 tracks," notes Parazaider. "The sound was excellent." Chicago's next studio album marked a change from its first three studio works in a number of respects. For one thing, "Chicago V", released in July 1972, was only a single album. For another, the lengthy instrumental excursions of past records had been cut down, leaving nine relatively tightly arranged songs. "When we released all those double records, there wasn't a limit on how many songs you could have on a record and how many copyrights you could get off of that record. Then the companies decided that they were only going to pay on ten copyrights per record no matter how many songs there were." The new copyright rule benefited some recording artists at a time when performers were recording extended compositions, sometimes fitting only one per side of a record. But Chicago, which previously had given its fans extra value for their money on double-record sets, suffered. "We wanted to be able to write songs that stretched and said everything we wanted to say," Loughnane notes. "VII was the last double record, I don't think you ever saw another double record, from anybody as a matter of fact, because there was no reason. Monetarily, everybody lost from that." "Chicago V" is perhaps best remembered for Lamm's "Saturday In The Park". The album sold very well, topping the charts for nine weeks, the first of five straight Chicago albums to reach number 1. "Saturday In The Park" became the group's first Gold single, hitting number 3.
In October 1972, a second single from "Chicago V", Lamm's "Dialogue (Part I & II)", with vocals by Kath and Cetera, was released. "Dialogue" became an instant favorite with fans. Guercio meanwhile, bought a ranch in Colorado and built a recording studio there that he dubbed Caribou. He was seeking to avoid the expense and restrictions of the New York studios and what he considered their outdated equipment. "We got a little tired of recording in New York, with maids beating on hotel room doors," says Parazaider. "The sixth, seventh, eighth, tenth and eleventh albums were done up at Caribou Ranch, 8,500 feet up in the Rockies, about an hour's drive outside of Boulder." The first fruits of the new studio were released in June 1973 in the form of the single "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" and the album "Chicago VI". "Feeling Stronger Every Day" was about a relationship, Pankow says, but "underlying that relationship, it's almost like the band is feeling stronger than ever." Pankow's "Just You 'N' Me", which would be released as the album's second single, and which would go Gold and hit Number 1 on the Cash Box chart (number 4 on Billboard), was one of Chicago's most memorable ballads and very much a harbinger of the future. "'Just You 'N' Me' was the result of a lovers' quarrel," Pankow recalls. "I was in the process of becoming engaged to a woman who became my wife for over twenty years. We had a disagreement, and rather than put my fist through the wall or get crazy or get nuclear, I went out to the piano and this song just kind of poured out. We wound up getting married shortly thereafter, and the lead sheet of that song was the announcement for the wedding, with our picture embossed on it."
When Chicago gathered at the Caribou Ranch to record its seventh album in the Fall of 1973, the initial intention was to do a Jazz album. On his own, Pankow brought in another gorgeous ballad, though this time his subject matter went beyond romance. "I've Been Searchin' So Long" was a song about finding myself," he says. "I just had to talk about who I was and what I was feeling at the time. The '70s was a time for soul-searching." Cetera, who never claimed to be a Jazz musician, was discouraged about the original concept of the album, and also at his lack of participation as songwriter. Cetera's last-minute contribution to "Chicago VII" is one of the album's best-remembered songs, "Wishing You Were Here". "There's two people that I always wanted to be," Cetera confessed, "and that was a Beatle or a Beach Boy. I got to meet the Beach Boys at various times and got to be good friends with Carl Wilson." Cetera wrote the song in the style of the Beach Boys, who were at Caribou when it was to be recorded. Guercio, who had known the group since his backup days in the mid '60s, had recently taken over their management. Cetera asked the Beach Boys to sing on the bridge and chorus of "Wishing You Were Here". "They said, 'Yeah, we'd love to," he recalled. "So, I got to do the background harmonies with Carl and Dennis Wilson and Al Jardine. For a night, I was a Beach Boy." As a result of the good vibrations between the members of both bands, it was agreed that a national tour would be fun and exciting for the musicians and the audiences. The following Summer, the Chicago-Beach Boys tour filled stadiums from coast to coast, nearly eclipsing The Rolling Stones, who were touring simultaneously.
"Chicago VII" was preceded by the February 1974 single release of "I've Been Searchin' So Long", which become the band's eighth Top 10 hit. "Call On Me" became their ninth and "Wishing You Were Here" became their tenth, peaking at Number 9 on Cash Box, Number 11 on Billboard. The album was another chart topper. The year 1974 also marked the addition of an eighth member of Chicago, Brazilian percussionist Laudir De Oliveira, a former member of Sergio Mendez's Brazil '66. De Oliveira had first appeared on "Chicago" VI as a sideman. Also in '74, Robert Lamm released a solo album called "Skinny Boy". Chicago began work on its next album on August 1, 1974 at Caribou Ranch, and the results started to emerge in February 1975. Pankow wrote the sentimental "Old Days". "It's a memorabilia song, it's about my childhood," he said. "It touches on key phrases that, although they date me, are pretty right-on in terms of images of my childhood. The Howdy Doody Show on television and collecting baseball cards and comic books." "Old Days" was a Top 5 hit when it was released as the second single from "Chicago VIII", which appeared in March 1975.
The year 1975 marked an early commercial peak in Chicago's career, a year during which the band scored its fourth straight number 1 album, a year when all its previous albums were back in the charts. Chicago's worldwide record sales for this single year were a staggering twenty million copies. The group returned with an all-new album in June 1976, when it released "Chicago X". ("Chicago IX" had been a greatest hits collection.) The big hit from the album was a song that just barely made the final cut, Peter Cetera's "If You Leave Me Now". "That was one of those magical 'We need one more song' (situations)," Cetera recalled. "If You Leave Me Now" shot to number 1, Chicago's first Billboard singles chart topper. It also led charts around the world. "Chicago X" won the band its first Platinum record (the awards had only just been inaugurated that year), selling a million copies in three months. Afterward, the ballad style of "If You Leave Me Now" increasingly seemed to become the preferred style of Chicago's audience and radio listeners. "That drove me crazy," says Lamm. "I know it drove Terry crazy, because that isn't what we set out to be and it isn't how we heard ourselves."
By 1977, after eight relentless years of touring and recording, strain was beginning to show. "We'd cut down the touring from 300 dates to 250, down to 200, which is still a lot of days on the road," says Parazaider. "But let's face it, we were booming." In January, Chicago undertook another world tour, and the band was in Europe when they won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus for "If You Leave Me Now." They also took Grammys for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocals and Best Album Cover. In September, "Chicago XI" was released, but the mounting tensions between Chicago and Guercio finally erupted. The split between group and manager had been a long time coming. Guercio had exerted a powerful control over the members of Chicago, especially in the early days, and as they became stars it probably was inevitable that they would begin to chafe under his harsh leadership. "It started happening with the tenth record," says Parazaider. "He didn't want us to learn any of the production techniques. He'd go to sleep at nine o'clock, and we'd start producing the records ourselves." "As I look back, I was much too hard on these guys," Guercio admited. "I felt a thoroughbred by committee is a goddamn mule. I totally manipulated them for my own ends as well as theirs, whether they understood them or not."
In the short term, little seemed changed. "Baby, What A Big Surprise" sailed into the Top 5, and "Chicago XI" was certified Platinum the month after its release. But only a few months later, the band would be devastated by a terrible loss. On January 23, l978, Chicago guitarist and singer Terry Kath died from an accidental gunshot wound. "Terry Kath was a great talent", said Jim Guercio, who worked with him on a solo album that was never completed. "Hendrix idolized him. He was just totally committed to this band, and he could have been a monster (as a solo artist)." Kath's death devastated Chicago, and the band considered breaking up. A short time after Terry's death, two of their single releases failed to crack Billboard's Top 40, with "Little One" stalling at #44 and "Take Me Back To Chicago" topping out at #83. If the band was going to continue, it would need a new guitarist, and auditions began in earnest in the Spring of 1978. "We felt that we were being left behind by the new music," says Cetera, "And we thought we needed a young guitar player with long hair. We sat through I don't know how many guitar players, but I'm sure it was thirty, forty, or fifty guitar players. Toward the end, Donnie Dacus showed up. He played a couple of songs right and with fire, and that's how he was in the group."
The band went to Miami's Criteria Studios with producer Phil Ramone, who had mixed many of their singles and television specials. "'Hot Streets' was a scary experience," says Pankow of the album even band members occasionally slip and called "Chicago XII". "Guercio was no longer in the picture, and neither was Terry. But Phil Ramone believed in the band from the beginning. After recovering from the enormous tragedy of losing Terry, I think we did a damn good job." Perhaps the album's most notable song is the up-tempo "Alive Again", which was also the first single. "If you read between the lines, it's a tribute to Terry Kath's passing," said Pankow. "That's the first song we recorded subsequent to Terry's death. It's the band saying we're alive again, and Terry's looking down on us with a big smile." To mark the new era, Chicago changed their album design. "Hot Streets", released in September 1978, was the first Chicago album on which a picture of the group was the dominant feature of the cover. "After the album came out, the record company did a survey," says Pankow, "and 90 percent of the people surveyed didn't give a shit about what we looked like, much to our chagrin. They wanted to see the logo. The music has always spoken for itself, and the logo has as well. Its like Coca-Cola: When you see it, you know what it is." "Hot Streets" was certified Platinum before the end of October, and produced two Top 20 singles, "Alive Again" (#14) and "No Tell Lover" (#14). "It got us over the letup," Parazaider says, "And we proved to ourselves we could go on and sell records." The band went on the road to support the album and did a concert tour with a small orchestra conducted by Bill Conti, who had risen to fame as the Oscar-winning composer of the soundtrack to Sly Stallone's Rocky. Ultimately, Donnie Dacus didn't work out and left the band, though he remained through the 13th album. The personnel problem was compounded by a musical one: As the late '70s wore on, the sophisticated, Jazz / Rock, Pop-oriented style of Chicago was being squeezed by Disco on one side and Punk / New wave on the other, each or them making the band seem unfashionable. Responding to pressure to change the sound, "Chicago 13", which was released in August 1979, contained the song "Street Player", which has a Disco flavor. According to Parazaider, the album "Hit the wall at 700,000 copies, a good sale for some, but very disappointing by Chicago's standards."
At this time, Chicago signed a new, multi-million dollar record contract with Columbia. "There was no way either party should have made that deal," says Lamm. "It created a lot of animosity at the company." After "Chicago XIV" suffered disappointing sales, Columbia bought the group out of the remainder of the contract and released "Greatest Hits, Volume II", which counted as the 15th album. To replace Donate Dacus, Chicago had hired guitarist Chris Pinnick as a sideman. "Chris came closest to Terry's rhythmic approach," said Lamm. Laudir De Oliveira also departed the group at this point. In the Fall of 1981, Chicago asked Bill Champlin, a noted Los Angeles session singer and musician, to join them. "They needed a little bit of guitar work," says Champlin, "And they needed somebody to sing Terry's stuff." "Bill might come the closest to Terry's gutsy lead vocals," said Parazaider. Also a songwriter, he co-wrote "After The Love Has Gone", which was a hit for Earth, Wind & Fire and a Grammy R&B Song Of The Year. He would win a second R&B Song Of The Year Grammy for co-writing "Turn Your Love Around", which became a hit for George Benson just after he joined Chicago. Champlin had worked closely with Canadian producer and songwriter David Foster, whose other clients had included Hall And Oates and the Average White Band. "A lot of people think Foster brought me into Chicago," Champlin notes, "And it's the other way around, I actually brought Foster into Chicago." Champlin knew Danny Seraphine, and Seraphine went to him for advice about Foster, who had been considered as a possible producer for the 14th album before the job went to Tom Dowd and was now being considered for the 16th album. "Danny called me and said, 'What do you think of David Foster as a producer?'," Champlin recalls. "I said, 'You'll probably end up rewriting a lot, but I think Foster would be great for you guys."
As Champlin had predicted, David Foster took a strong hand in the making of "Chicago l6", co-writing eight of the album's ten songs, including "Hard To Say I'm Sorry", which became a worldwide number 1 single when the album was released by Full Moon / Warner Brothers Records in June 1982. The album went into the Top Ten and sold a million copies. "We had a resurgence then," remembers Parazaider. "I had a kid come up to me and say, "I have your first record, would you mind signing it?' This was somewhere in North Carolina. We were going on stage and I told her I would sign it after the show. And what she had was the Chicago 16 album. She had no idea about the others that came before it. That reality hit. We had gained another generation." "It was a new career for us again," says Loughnane, "And I think also Warner Brothers liked being able to sell something that Columbia said wasn't going to be able to. That kind of competition could only benefit us because they would work harder to make their company look better than the other company."
The next Chicago-Foster project, "Chicago 17", released in May 1984, became the band's greatest seller. Such hits as "Stay The Night" (#16), "Hard Habit To Break" (#3), "You're The Inspiration" (#3)and "Along Comes A Woman" (#14) propelled the album past the six million mark and reaffirmed Chicago's status as one of America's top bands. They once again played sold-out concerts in North America and Asia. But Chicago's renewed success pre-saged a new challenge when Peter Cetera, whose singing and songwriting on a series of romantic ballads had fuelled that popularity, decided to leave the group and launch a solo career after the 1985 Summer tour. In an ironic twist however, the beginning of his new solo act would lead to the successor who helped Chicago maintain and extend its glory days. "When Peter left, he stayed with Warner Brothers," explains Jason Scheff. "I had just signed a song publishing deal, and Michael Ostin at Warner Brothers called over to my publisher and said, 'Do you have any songs for Peter's solo album and/or someone to collaborate with him for the album?' They said, 'Yeah, we just signed this new kid.' So, they sent the demos of the first three songs that I'd brought in, and the story that I have always heard is that Michael heard the voice and said, 'Wait a minute, this could be the guy we're looking for to replace Peter in Chicago.' I didn't know this was going on. I just got a phone call one day saying, 'We have heard your tape, and we think that you could be the guy to replace Cetera in Chicago.' It was a pretty amazing phone call to get at 23 years old."
With Scheff in place, along with new guitarist Dawayne Bailey, Chicago went into the studio with David Foster to make "Chicago 18". The album emerged at the end of September, 1986 as the band took to the road for a Fall tour to introduce the new members. "Chicago 18" proved to be a Gold-selling success, and Scheff's acceptance by fans was cemented with the Top Ten status of the single "Will You Still Love Me?" (#3) on which he sang lead. It was the hit that finally convinced him that he belonged. "When I first joined the band, they put all of their confidence in me and never looked back," he said. "They invested in me as the future of the franchise. There were a lot of people who were sceptical. 'Will You Still Love Me?' was a big hit, and then I finally felt comfortable that I was in."
The next hurdle, Scheff noted, was to keep that success going. Working with producers Chas Sandford and Ron Nevison, Chicago recorded "19", released in June 1988. The album yielded three Top 10 hits, with "Look Away" becoming the fastest rising single in the band's history and hitting number 1. It was, Loughnane notes, the first Chicago hit single in a long time not to be a ballad sung in a tenor voice. Bill Champlin sang lead. That should have broken the radio demand for ballads and allowed the band greater musical flexibility. Instead, says Loughnane, "People still didn't understand that that was Chicago! We would play that song live in concert, and you could see people going, 'What are they doing that song for? I didn't know they did this song. My God, that is them!' It didn't really translate to Chicago because of what had been." "We had come to the tail end of this long, great run that was really dominated by Pop ballad songs," notes Scheff, "And coupled with that was the fact that two of the singles on l9 ("Look Away" and "I Don't Wanna Live Without Your Love") were not even written by us.
In the Summer of 1989, The Beach Boys and Chicago joined force once again for a memorable tour. Also, two greatest hits albums were released simultaneously in the U.S., "Greatest Hits 1982-89" (counted as the 20th album), and in Europe, "The Heart of Chicago", which contained hits from both the Columbia and Warner years. The band entered the next decade with another hit single, Jason Scheff's "What Kind Of Man Would I Be" (#5) originally released on "19" and included on the new hits collection. This gave Chicago hit records in four consecutive decades. The group faced another personnel change in 199O when they dismissed original drummer Danny Seraphine. After using some session players, the position was filled permanently by veteran drummer Tris Imboden in time for their next album, "Twenty 1".
"Chicago Twenty 1" was released in January 1991. Again, the group called on Diane Warren for two songs, "Explain It To My Heart" and "Chasin' The Wind". Both were released as singles, but this time they did not result in big hits. "Explain It To My Heart" failed to crack the Hot 100 and "Chasin' The Wind" topped out at a disappointing #39. The album marked the beginning of a resurgence of the Chicago horns as a driving force and a return to the composers within the band as the principal source. In a sense, through the album, Chicago was rediscovering where its heart lay, and that effort transcended commercial considerations. As Lamm said, "We considered the possibility that perhaps it was better to succeed or fall on our own merits." The same year, Chicago was honored with its own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.
In 1993, Chicago began to work on a new album with producer Peter Wolf, who insisted the band prepare all the material themselves and work in a manner similar to the way they worked in their early years. Parazaider recalls: "Peter Wolf said to me, 'I want you to bring over your bass clarinet, your clarinet, all your saxes, all your flutes, everything. We're going to use everything the way you used to use it in the old days,' and that was a very exciting thing for us." The result was the album "The Stone of Sisyphus". "That was a record that had to be made," says Parazaider. "Especially after all the prodding by Warner Brothers, with the success of all of the ballads that we had, this band had to go back into doing a band approach, band concept album, where the band lives with the music from the get-go. We're all involved in it, from the writing to throwing in our suggestions to rehearsing the stuff or whatever, and that's what we did with Sisyphus." Parazaider is unequivocal about the importance of the album to Chicago. "I think at that point, if that record wasn't done, the band wouldn't be together in the form that we see it," he says, "Because we were frustrated that we weren't doing what we wanted to do, cranking out things that Warner Brothers wanted us to do that sold. You can't look a gift horse in the mouth, a hit is a hit is a hit. But there was other stuff for us to say, and that's where Sisyphus comes in." Band members felt strongly that this was one of their finest albums, but their enthusiasm was not shared by their record label. "Warner Brothers didn't get the record," says Parazaider. "In fact, they disliked it so much, they figured maybe we should part ways, which we did. But the master tapes weren't burnt, because we believe in it, and I know you'll see that somewhere along the way this thing will get released." Some of the songs from the album are already beginning to show up on international greatest hits albums such as "The Very Best Of Chicago" in Europe. The album remained unreleased until June 17, 2008, after a delay of fourteen years and ten more albums.
Chicago moved on to a new project, embracing an idea put forward by record executive John Kalodner, and recording "Night & Day (Big Band)", released in May 1995 on Giant Records. The album features standards associated with Glenn Miller ("In The Mood") and Duke Ellington ("Don't Get Around Much Anymore", "Sophisticated Lady" and "Take The A Train"), among others. The association with Ellington helped convince band members to try the project, since it seemed to pay back a musical debt to the Duke. Back in the early '70s, Ellington had asked to have Chicago appear on his TV special, Duke Ellington: We Love You Madly, along with such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee and Count Basie. After the show, Parazaider and Pankow went to meet Ellington, who was near the end of his illustrious career. "I said, "Mr. Ellington, it really was an honor to be asked to be on your show," Parazaider recalls, "And he looked at Jimmy and me, and he said, 'On the contrary young men, the honor is all mine because you're the next Duke Ellingtons.' Jimmy and I were gassed to meet him and that he said that. We were going away, and I said, 'Yeah, right, now if we can make another hit record to pay the rent we'll be happy,' not thinking about the long haul. When the idea for the Big Band album presented itself, at first it got a lukewarm reaction by the band. Then Jimmy and I remembered this, and I thought maybe this is what we were supposed to do in the scheme of our musical life. So, that was one of the reasons that we warmed up to the idea of it." "It was a great musical experience, and that's what it's all about in my mind," Loughnane concludes. "I think it should have been more popular than it has become, but it's still a great piece of music as far as I'm concerned, and I'll take that to the grave with me. I know we put everything we had into it, and it came out sounding great."
In 1995 Chicago once again faced the task of finding a new guitarist after Dawayne Bailey announced his departure. The band scheduled two days of auditions to hear a select group of prospects. As it turned out however, the new group member would be one who crashed the party. "They had a pretty firm list of guys that they were going to listen to," recalls Keith Howland. "I actually heard that Chicago was looking for a guitar player on the first day of the auditions through a friend of mine who happened to be working in the building where they were being held." Howland contacted the band's management only to be told that the audition was closed. They must not have heard anybody who satisfied them, because Howland got a call from Scheff that night saying they had extended a third day just to hear him. I went down, and I was the only guy to play that day. I was so nervous it was ridiculous, I played through a bunch of tunes with them, did some a cappella background vocals with Bill, Jason, and Robert. We finished up, I was packing up my gear. They all went into the hallway and were talking. Bill came walking back in and said , 'Hey, you want a gig?'" That same year, Chicago secured rights to its catalogue of recordings originally made for Columbia between 1969 and 1980. That collection has now been reissued on the group's own Chicago Records label, which also has released solo efforts by the band members as well as other projects. "We are Chicago Records, which means we can look for talent, we can look for other catalogs to put out on our record company," said Parazaider. "We've got some interesting things coming up."
In 1998, Chicago released "Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album", which mixed traditional holiday favorites with an original Lee Loughnane composition. It went Gold in the US. The following year the band released a live album, "Chicago XXVI". In 2000, the group told their story in an episode of VH1's Behind The Music. This included tales such as Pankow relating this story from the early 1980s: "One record company said, 'Man, if you get rid of the horn section, we'll sign ya...' That's like tellin' Elton John to get rid of the piano." The show, however, was not without some difficulties. The episode put more emphasis on the death of Terry Kath than on their entire career, and Peter Cetera refused to be interviewed or to allow his songs to be a part of the soundtrack.
As the new millennium rolled on, Chicago licensed their entire recorded output to Rhino Records, which released a two-disc compilation, "The Very Best of Chicago: Only The Beginning" in 2002. The set reached the Top 40 of Billboard's 200 album chart and sold over two million copies in the U.S. alone. In 2003, a five-CD / one DVD boxed set was issued and in 2005 Rhino released still another compilation called "Love Songs". The band continued to tour world-wide, appearing with Earth, Wind And Fire in '04 and '05 and a live CD, "Chicago / Earth, Wind And Fire Live At The Greek Theatre" went Platinum just two months after it was released.
In March, 2006, Chicago issued "Chicago XXX", their first album of all new material since "Chicago XXI". While sales started strongly, the LP fell off the Billboard chart after only two weeks. During the Summer, the band toured with Huey Lewis And The News and wrapped up the year by appearing at CD USA's New Year's Eve party in Las Vegas. The following year's tour was shared with the band America and in October, 2007, Rhino Records released a two disc set called "The Very Best Of Chicago: 40th Anniversary Edition". Earth, Wind And Fire rejoined them for another tour in 2009. In August of that year, Bill Champlin, who was with Chicago for 28 years, left the band to focus on his own music and solo career. He was replaced by keyboardist Lou Pardini.
In 2010, Chicago toured with The Doobie Brothers and performed in the City of Chicago to produce a video for the HDNet cable channel. The band also appeared on the American Idol 9th season finale. On July 24th, 2011, Chicago played a full-length symphonic concert accompanied by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at Red Rocks in Colorado. The band again teamed with producer Phil Ramone to record a new Christmas album, "Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three", which was released in October 2011. In the meantime, Rhino released "Chicago XXXIV: Live in '75", from a 1975 concert. A 2012 tour saw them swing through Western Canada and the U.S. and in late 2013, the band began releasing singles for a new album, starting with "Somethin' Comin', I Know" in August, "America" in September, "Crazy Happy" in December 2013, and "Naked in the Garden of Allah" in January 2014. The album, titled "Chicago XXXVI: Now", was released on July 4, 2014 with original members Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, and Walter Parazaider still in the fold.
Decades after they first gathered at Parazaider's apartment, the members of Chicago continued the legacy of music they inherited from their parents and their teachers and that they have brought to millions of fans. According to Billboard magazine, Chicago was the leading US singles charting group during the 1970s. They have sold over 38 million units in the U.S., with 22 Gold, 18 Platinum, and 8 Multi-Platinum albums. Over the course of their career they have charted five #1 albums and have had 21 Billboard Top Ten hits. In December, 2015, Cleveland's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame announced that Chicago would finally be inducted at their ceremony in 2016. In February 2016, it was announced that original drummer Danny Seraphine would join the current lineup of Chicago for the first time in over twenty-five years for the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Peter Cetera, absent since 1984, declined the invitation, saying, "At this point in my life, I don't care to reintroduce the same negativity, misplaced egos and petty jealousies I left behind years ago." He continued to tour as a solo act. The Hall Of Fame induction ceremony took place at Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Barclays Center on April 8th, 2016. In January, 2017, the band announced that they would tour again with The Doobie Brothers for 30 shows slated for the following June and July.
In January, 2018 drummer Tris Imboden left his role as Chicago's drummer to spend more time with his family. The band's percussionist, Walfredo Reyes Jr., became their new drummer. Jeff Coffey, who replaced Jason Scheff as bassist and singer in October 2016, also resigned. The band hired Neil Donell to take over on vocals, and Brett Simons to handle bass. Tour plans for 2018 included a string of Summer dates across the U.S. with REO Speedwagon.
People have always wondered about the name Chicago. One simple sentence from the liner notes of the very first album eliminates any question as to their identity. "If you must call them something, speak of the city where all save one were born, where all of them were schooled and bred. Call them Chicago."