By Jeff Orvis
It's been more than a few years since I played my trumpet. Only in the past year have I had the honor of joining an awesome choir at church where several of the members are much better musicians than I am. But during that musical gap, I've still maintained an interest in many forms of music. But my main guilty pleasure has always been the group “Chicago.”
Like some school girl from another era anxiously awaiting the next song from Frankie Avalon, I've tried to keep up on every album release from Chicago. The group formed in 1967, the same year I entered high school. They called themselves “The Big Thing” at that time, but just a few years later, they changed their name to the Chicago Transit Authority. Like most guys my age, I was big on rock music at that time. I also was playing in the high school concert band and jazz band. When I first heard the band that would soon shorten its name to “Chicago,” I realized that there was definitely a place for horns in rock music.
If you are a fan of popular music, how many of the artists you like can you honestly say have been recording and performing for more than 40 years? Sunday night was an incredible night for rock fans. The HD Net television network opened the evening with an hour of the group REO Speedwagon, another long time Midwest rock band. The night ended with a concert by the Doobie Brothers.
But the centerpiece of the evening was a nearly two-hour performance by Chicago, playing in a theater in the city of Chicago. Four of the original members are still with the group. Over the years, they have been joined at one time or another by more than 25 musicians as some members of the band decided to get off the grueling tour grind or explore other avenues of music. Robert Lamm on keyboards, guitar and vocals, James Pankow on trombone, percussion, keyboards and vocals, Lee Loughnane on trumpet, guitar and keyboards, percussion and vocals and Walt Parazaider on woodwinds and vocals are the founding members of the group.
If you've ever played a trumpet or saxophone in a band, you know it's hard to imagine doing it sometimes every night of the week, dancing on a stage for more than 40 years! What's amazing is that the Chicago sound is as fresh and up to date in the 21st century as it was in the early 1970s. In Sunday's concert, they stayed with their early hits, recorded on their first 17 albums for their set.
I saw the group in concert many years ago at the Cattle Congress in Waterloo. I paid $14 for the ticket for the Sunday afternoon show. That was a lot of money for a young newspaper reporter. The group was scheduled to perform again Sunday night. I almost spent another $14 to hear them again, but decided I needed milk and bread for the week a little more.
Chicago recently performed at the I Wireless Center in Moline. Money's a bit more tight now and I decided not to try to find the $45 or more it would cost to see them this time. I'm glad I waited. I'm sure they put on a great show in Moline, but playing in the city where they first formed must have given them added incentive.
Sunday night was a real treat. It's not too late to jump on the Chicago bandwagon. The group recently released its 33rd album, entitled “Oh Christmas Three.” It contains 14 holiday charts in an updated, jazzy fashion. Some of their albums have been good, others have not really caught on. Many fans anxiously awaited the release of an album called “The Stone of Sisyphus.” It was recorded in 1993 and was a lot different from the tunes the band had produced before. The band's label at the time, Warner Brothers, didn't like it. The work was shelved and finally released in 2008.
As you can see, this band has it all, longevity, quality, rock, horns and just a little mystery. Here's hoping the guys keep the good music coming!