Chicago - still at it after 55 years - and loving it!
I’m sure you’ll agree that Chicago’s first album, 1969’s Chicago Transit Authority, really stood out from the rest. The band itself was unique, placing equal, if not greater emphasis on horns as guitar. Today, 55 years later, and with record sales topping the 100 million mark, 21 top 10 singles and 11 number ones, Chicago is still out there doing it recently releasing their 38th studio album.
You guys just have been on fire for such a long time. You can’t put a foot wrong can you? We have been on the road every year for 55 years, including the year that everyone was off for the pandemic. How did you manage that? We worked early in February in 2020. Our last show was in Las Vegas. And then as we were about to travel to California to continue the tour, the world shut down and, uh, didn’t open up again for 15 months. So that was still a year later, at the end of 2021. So we still worked every year – you snuck it in. Aren’t you sick of it yet? I love playing. I love playing the trumpet. I love practicing the trumpet and I love playing for people. And as a band, we all enjoy the same thing playing for live audiences and live audiences can’t get enough of you. They can’t get enough of you on stage. They can’t get enough of you on record either. When did music first come into your life? Well, it, it entered my life when, when I was a kid. And my dad was a trumpet player when he was young. And I never heard him play cos he had stopped after he got out of the service. He never touched his horn again. But he had all of the big band records from the thirties, and forties. And I used to listen to those all the time. And that’s what got me started when I started playing trumpet, I started playing along with those records, Glen Miller and Tommy Dorsey
Early days playing the trumpet
Ironically my dad tried to talk me out of it because it would be so difficult for me to make it, you know, how, how many people realistically can make it in show business And I just never looked back when I told him I wanted to. Being a professional musician, he started trying to talk me out of it and told me that he didn’t think that there was any future in that . So 55 years is doing pretty good. And before he passed he understood that we were pretty well established and that’s great. So did it make you a more well-rounded human? I don’t know. You have to ask my ex-wives. My kids are on my side. Did they handle it better than the ex-wives did? I think maybe as it was as they were growing up and I was gone. Not so much because they were there with mom, but as they saw the documentary, the 50 year anniversary documentary, they started understanding what it is that I’ve been doing all my life and had more compassion for me.
3 Original Members still in tow and Missing Terry.
We only had six guys when we started playing the clubs. We’re still playing now every night crazy. Myself, Jimmy Panko and Robert Lamb. So to understand half the band is still with us 55 years later. I have to pinch myself. You’ve had lots of incarnations across time, obviously over 55 years, and you’ve lost members of the band. Many diehard Chicago fans will remember that guitarist and singer songwriter Terry Kath, who’ve founded the band, accidentally killed himself in a mishap after a party at the age of 31 back in 1970. Terry used to play guitar and sing lead vocals on many of Chicago’s early hit singles. Lee, what was Terry like? Well, the remaining four members that were with the band when Terry was with us, remember that he was sort of the leader. He would, he would start off with a sort of getting the rhythm together. And then he would, once he got that tempo in his head, then he would count off the song and then we’d start. It was uncanny how he could do that. The documentary is from our beginnings right up to I think the 47th year. Terry gets mentioned quite a bit in it.
Chicago's latest album
You were responsible for bringing the horns section into the band. You were hailed as being one of the most important bands in music since the dawn of Rock and Roll. And in, in part that’s because you brought brass into it. Yeah, Well, the brass became more of an integral part of the songs with us, whereas everyone else was using brass as more of accent parts and percussive type parts, but we were bringing it in as a, as a melodic instrument and it was as important to us as the vocals. And we would weave the brass in and out between vocals. We had a different way of looking at music.
Playing the old hits over and over
You don’t get sick of playing those old hits? No. They go over every night. People want to hear them. You can, as soon as we start the intro, you can hear the reaction and you know the people remembering back to where they were the first time they heard it. And then from there, it’s up to us to make it as good as they want to hear it. It’s a funny thing with music, isn’t it, that it takes people right back to where they were when they first heard it, and they hold those memories so precious. Chicago is your hometown, you would get an especially huge reaction there. In fact, I, I believe that Elmwood Park dedicated a road to you called Leigh Loughnane Way, which is right near your childhood home. Yeah, I think my sister was a little bit involved in that one! She’s still living on the same street. So 38 albums later. You’ve got this one born for this moment, and the single If this is Goodbye has just come out recently. Tell me a little bit more about this new album Born for This Moment? Well, this album follows along in that there’s ballads, up tempo tunes, latin, Brazilian. There’s all, all kinds of flavours of music and tempos and, and I think when you listen to it all the way through, I think you’ll enjoy it.
What does the future hold?
I guess you’d spend more time with each other than you would with your own families. How do you manage? I guess we got to a point where this doesn’t seem like it’s gonna last forever. I mean, 55 years seems like forever anyway. We are happy to be able to still be out there, but there is a time where I’m not so sure that we’ll be getting together once we finish our career because we’ll have, all of a sudden we’ll actually have time to spend with our families instead of our musical family. We won’t be getting together anymore, but I certainly appreciate all the time that we have had. Can you see that time coming anytime soon? You know, not so far. I, our manager, Peter Chiarelli, is booking gigs for next year already. And you’re still happy to be on the road. It’s not any more taxing than it used to be?It is probably more taxing and the travel has always been the most difficult part of it. And that remains a constant. It’s hard, but we put up with that to play the shows, you know, come to the people, play live. We enjoy what we’re doing, or I don’t think we would be able to, because that would show up on stage as well. And everybody feels the same way? Unless they haven’t told me something, I believe they’re all loving it. As far as wanting to go out there and get it right every time, that hasn’t changed from day one so far.
So what are the must haves on the set-list?
Does anybody really know what time it is? Beginnings 25 or six to four. Make me smile. Saturday in the park. Gotta do ’em every night. The audience wouldn’t like it if we left them out at all. They would ask why we didn’t do it. There are so many hits though! We have like 70 hits that charted in the top 40 within, you know, throughout the years. And there’s inevitably songs that people come up and ask us about. But, you know, we, we can’t do ’em all. There’s no way we can stay on stage for like, you know, seven or eight hours . I’m sure not. And they wouldn’t wanna hang around either . Oh, I dunno about that. What would the number one song, the top song that the audience would want to hear from you? What would it be? If you leave me now would come in there. Just you and me. Searching so long and you pick out a lot of the ballads because those were like summer hits and that brought not only the women in, but they would bring their boyfriends along and the boyfriends would go along with it too.
To see my interview with Lee – head for my youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WICyG27VvKc