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Profile of '80s Pop Superstars Chicago

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Profile of '80s Pop Superstars Chicago
Album Cover Image Courtesy of HD Ready

Formed:

1967 in Chicago. Duh.

Original Members:

  • Terry Kath (born January 31, 1946 in Chicago, died January 23, 1978 in Los Angeles) – Guitar, lead vocals
  • Robert Lamm (born October 13, 1944 in Brooklyn, New York) – Keyboards, lead vocals, key songwriter
  • Peter Cetera (born September 13, 1944 in Chicago) – Lead vocals, bass guitar, key songwriter
  • Walter Parazaider (born March 14, 1945 in Chicago) – Saxophone, other woodwinds
  • James Pankow (born August 20, 1947 in St. Louis) – Trombone, key songwriter
  • Lee Loughnane (born October 21, 1946 in Chicago) – Trumpet, vocals
  • Danny Seraphine (born August 28, 1948 in Chicago) – Drums

Additional Core Members During the '80s:

  • Bill Champlin (born May 21, 1947 in Oakland, California) – Keyboards, guitar, lead vocals, key songwriter
  • Jason Scheff (born April 16, 1962 in San Diego, California) – Lead vocals, bass guitar

Origins:

Fans of Chicago's highly pop-oriented material of the '80s may be surprised to learn that the group started off as a somewhat experimental, politically aware '60s rock band. Emerging from the jam sessions of a group of DePaul University music students, the group quickly turned from covers to originals, benefiting strongly from the diverse musical talents of its seven original members. By 1969, the newly christened Chicago Transit Authority had released its debut on Columbia Records, and immediately the group's Latin-inflected, horn-laden yet somewhat psychedelic rock sound make a mark on the pop music world.

Chicago's First Hitmaking Period – the '70s:

As the '70s began, the band had trimmed down to its familiar, one-word name for legal reasons. And throughout the new decade, the increasingly sleeker group would generate positive artistic energy from the conflict between Cetera's penchant toward balladry, Kath's guitar noise and the overall band's jazz-heavy sound. Such welcome variety is apparent in familiar hits of the decade such as the rocking "25 or 6 to 4" and "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" as well as the softer "Saturday in the Park," "Just You 'N' Me" and "If You Leave Me Now." By decade's end the evolving Chicago was forced to face even more change.

The Death of Terry Kath:

Although tensions within Chicago had begun to increase throughout the '70s as Cetera seemed to wrest ever more creative control away from the collective, nothing could have prepared the group for the tragic loss of its experimental, energetic core, guitarist Kath. After his death from an inadvertent self-inflicted gunshot wound, the band understandably took a couple of years to find its way, releasing one of its best tracks, "Alive Again," but also stumbling into the '80s with generally minimized pop success. But it didn't take long for Cetera to strike pop gold with the addition of new producer David Foster.

Chicago's Pop Metamorphosis Finalized, With & Without Cetera:

Chicago's highest-charting albums and singles for quite some time greeted the band's new approach to its sound. Even so, the group's longtime fans certainly noticed with chagrin that its famous horn section continued to diminish to make room for the bland if tuneful arrangements of Foster and Cetera. Ultimately, the Top 5 pop performances of songs like "Hard to Say I'm Sorry," "You're the Inspiration," and "Hard Habit to Break" did not stop Cetera from bolting for a solo career. Strangely enough, the departure of its signature balladeer meant anything but a return to its roots for the next version of Chicago.

More Pop Than Ever, And Then Nostalgia:

Chicago remained a significant pop act for the remainder of the '80s, but few debated whether or not the band had begun a slow decline. Without Cetera's prolific if generally toothless songwriting, the group was forced to employ outside songwriters, bring in an inferior replacement for Cetera in Scheff, and rely more heavily on newest core member Champlin on vocals. The band recorded its last Top 10 hit in 1989's "You’re Not Alone," but since that time Chicago has remained a fairly stable, well-attended staple on the nostalgia circuit. To date Cetera has not returned to the band that made his name.
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