Chicago life and biography

Chicago picture, image, poster

Chicago biography

Date of birth : -
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2012-04-20
Credited as : Rock band, called the Big Thing, Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three

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Chicago is an American rock band formed in 1967 in Chicago, Illinois. The self-described "rock and roll band with horns" began as a politically charged, sometimes experimental, rock band and later moved to a predominantly softer sound, generating several hit ballads. They had a steady stream of hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Second only to The Beach Boys in Billboard singles and albums chart success among American bands, Chicago is one of the longest-running and most successful rock groups in history.

With distinctly midwestern roots and a distinctive big-band sound, Chicago took the pop music world by surprise in the 1970s with their jazzy, full instrumental arrangements. Though they were often compared with another big-band-sounding pop group, Blood, Sweat and Tears, member Robert Lamm points out one of their differences by saying, "Our roots are basically rock, but we can and do play jazz; Blood, Sweat and Tears is basically a jazz-rooted combo that can play a lot of rock."

Originally called the Big Thing, a phrase Lamm said "Mafia types" used to describe the band's unique music, the group later changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority, then, after their first album, simply Chicago. The musical diversity in the group was astounding from the beginning, with only two of the original six members (Robert Lamm, James Pankow, Danny Seraphine, Terry Kath, Walt Parazaider, and Lee Loughnane, with the addition of Peter Cetera in the late sixties, and, in 1974, percussionist Laudir De Oliverira) being self-taught, and the rest having considerable formal training. The group boasted competent musicians not only on drums or guitar, but also on clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and piano. The group's impressive blend of jazz and rock elements and improvisational energy attracted a varied audience.

Before gaining national popularity, the band played at a number of rock clubs in the Los Angeles Sunset Strip district, eventually receiving a small following and favorable reviews from underground papers. They stepped into the spotlight with Chicago Transit Authority in 1969, an album that slowly made its way onto the charts to stay there well into 1971. Lamm's pop ballad "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is," became a hit single in 1969 and remains one of the group's most popular songs. A series of hit singles, including "Make Me Smile" and the curiously titled "25 or 6 to 4" followed the release of the group's second album, Chicago, in 1970. The disc also contained one of the first of many unusual tracks, a six-movement rock composition entitled "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon."

More orchestral work was to follow in the band's third LP (a two-record set) with multiple-movement suites "Hour in the Shower" and the entire-side-long "Travel Suite." Another two-record set came in the form of a live album, Chicago at Carnegie Hall, released in 1971. According to Rolling Stone, the latter was "probably the worst live album in history." Released against Chicago's wishes, the band blamed their sloppy performance on the constant interference of the record's producer on stage. Said Pankow, "The horns on that record sound like kazoos.... How can you play? Every two seconds a curve was being thrown to everyone onstage." Nevertheless, the set rose swiftly into the top ten.

Subsequent albums were released almost every year, with two released in a single year on more than one occasion, and all were certified gold. Top-selling singles rose out of almost every album and included such songs as "Saturday in the Park" in 1972 and "Feelin' Stronger Everyday" in 1973. The group was immensely popular in concert as well, including a number of college and university campuses among as many as 200 concerts a year. The group also traveled to Europe and were extremely well-received in Scandinavia, belying any suggestion that their brand of jazzy pop was only a U.S. phenomenon. Their 1976 Chicago X album garnered three Grammys, with the single "If You Leave Me Now" recognized for both best arrangement and best pop vocal performance by a duo or group for the year.

Despite the overwhelming success enjoyed by the band, Rock Who's Who maintains they were "a big-band rock group that initially utilized jazz-style improvisations," later degenerating into "a pop group of huge popularity, issuing album after album of formulaic, predictable, middle-of-the-road fare." Again, the group members found fault with their producer and what they interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm. "It took so long to do things" Parazaider told Rolling Stone. "That's when it becomes like a factory gig, then you're just pumping it out." The band began coproducing their albums, then, finally, began coming in after-hours to record alone. "With [producer] Jimmy [Guercio] everything had to be technically correct," adds Seraphine. "Sometimes he would lose some of the magic because he was so meticulous." Eventually, toward the later seventies, the group's popularity seemed to fade, their vitality weakened by the tragic death of Terry Kath in 1978 and their previous cessation of ties to longtime producer/manager Guercio. This low point was not to last long.

Finding new confidence and enthusiasm in guitarist Donnie Dacus and co-producer Phil Ramone, the band turned out one of their finest albums, Hot Streets, in 1978. Instead of perfection, Ramone emphasized the group's natural sound, drawing on the excitement of an essentially "live" recording. Strong tracks from the album included the Bee Gees-backed "Little Miss Loving" and the chart-topping "Alive Again," which People described as exploding "with an awesome blend of power and finesse." Addressing the longstanding problem of the band having a recognizable "logo" but not "ego," the members were photographed on their album's cover for the first time. Newly focused and pushing foward as professional musicians concerned with the vitality of their music and its potential impact on future generations, the group did indeed appear to be "alive again."

After the release of Chicago 17, however, longtime member Peter Cetera left the group to pursue a solo career. His departure appeared to have little effect on the group, whose "corporate, or maybe it's municipal, kind of sound" (as reproduced on Chicago 18 ) remained unchanged. Still, People noted the album included a remake of the early hit "25 or 6 to 4," suggesting a certain desperation for hits that would lead them to "resuscitate its old ones." Despite such criticism, though, the LP found favor as "basic, hard-core Chicago, which history has shown to be a lot of people's kind of music."

The band continued in the decade of the 1990s, even though their popularity began to decline. There was also another personnel change: founding member Danny Seraphine was fired by the band in 1990 and was replaced by drummer Tris Imboden, who first appeared on the 1991 album Twenty 1. Imboden was well known in the industry as the longtime drummer for Kenny Loggins. Chicago was recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on July 23, 1992.

In 1993, Chicago wrote and recorded their 22nd album, Stone of Sisyphus. Their record company at the time though, Reprise [Warner Music Group], was unhappy with the finished result, and thus the album was not released, although in succeeding years bootleg recordings of the album went on to surface worldwide, including over the Internet. It is also rumored that the label would not release the album as a result of being unable to reach a licensing agreement with band management over the back catalog.

During a Los Angeles concert in 1997, Chicago teamed up with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra to perform a James Pankow/Dwight Mikelson orchestral arrangement of Pankow's rock epic "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon". Also during this year, the group released The Heart of Chicago 1967-1997, a compilation album which went gold and yielded the No. 1 Adult Contemporary hit "Here in My Heart."

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 album was re-released with additional tracks in 2003, under the title What's It Gonna Be, Santa?.) The album featured Howland's first (and to date only) lead vocal on a Chicago record.

Despite the personnel changes over the years, the group is still active four decades after its founding. They are one of the few major rock groups that have never broken up or even taken an extended hiatus. As of June 2010, four of the six surviving founding members (major songwriters Lamm and Pankow, plus Loughnane and Parazaider) remain providing continuity, while Jason Scheff has been with the band 25 years, Tris Imboden 20 years, and Keith Howland 15 years.

Chicago continues to appear in big and small venues worldwide. In 2004–2005 they toured jointly with the band Earth, Wind & Fire; a DVD recorded during that tour, Chicago/Earth, Wind & Fire - Live at the Greek Theatre, was certified platinum just two months after its release.

June 17, 2008 saw the official release of the Stone of Sisyphus album by Rhino Records, recorded in 1993 and originally slated for a March 1994 release until being shelved by Warner Records. The album contains eleven of the original twelve tracks (the raucous "Get on This", considered by many fans to be the best track on the album, was left off), plus four demo recordings.

The band re-teamed with producer Phil Ramone (who produced Hot Streets, Chicago 13, and the new tracks for the expanded Christmas re-release What's It Gonna Be, Santa?) to record a new Christmas album. Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three was released in October 2011. In the meantime, Rhino released Chicago XXXIV: Live in '75, a concert from 1975. In 2012 Chicago once again teamed up with the Doobie Brothers for a joint tour.

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