Lou Pardini (from left), Tris Imboden, Jason Scheff, Jimmy Pankow, Walt Parazaider, Robert Lamm, Keith Howland and Lee Loughnane comprise the current lineup of Chicago. | Photo by David M. Earnisse
Chicago with the Chicago symphony orchestra
7:30 p.m. Jan. 25, 28
220 S. Michigan
$75-$250 Jan. 25; $50-$225 Jan. 28
Updated: January 24, 2014 7:38AM
When a band has been around as long as Chicago has, firsts are hard to come by.
On Jan. 25, Chicago makes its debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Richard Kaufman.
After the gig, the band flies to Los Angeles where, on Jan. 26, they will perform at the Grammys for the first time, with Grammy nominee Robin Thicke. They jet back to Chicago for a Jan. 28 performance with the CSO (with 62 Grammys to its credit). On Jan. 29 they play a free concert for recent Central Illinois tornado victims at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum in downstate Bloomington, Ill.
And their visionary 1969 debut album, “The Chicago Transit Authority,” is being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
“Not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Chicago trumpet player/vocalist Lee Loughnane chuckled in a conversation from his home in Sedona, Ariz. “That may never happen. We could get old and gray on that one. Who knows what the real answer is? The best thing I come up with is that we still love the fact that we’re working. A lot of people in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame aren’t working anymore. To be above ground is great and to work at this level at the same time is even better.”
For the CSO shows, the band is working up “Introduction,” the jazz-rock-salsa tune that kicks off “The Chicago Transit Authority” that was composed by late guitarist Terry Kath (who died of an unintentional gunshot wound in 1978). The double album, recorded in New York in January 1969, delivered the hits “Beginnings,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is,” and “Questions 67 and 68,” with question 69 being why the band isn’t in the Rock Hall. (Chicago’s mass transit organization laid down a “cease and desist” order on the band/album’s original moniker.)
“We knew the material real well because we had been playing it in the clubs while it was being written,” Loughnane said. “But when we got in the studio and you’re standing in front of the microphones, you realize they hear everything. It sort of puts you on edge — you have to be perfect. Through the years we learned you don’t have to be perfect. You need to be human. The album sounded a little tighter, but initially it was a struggle for us to learn how to record.”
The album was produced by James William Guercio, who had crossover success in 1968 with the similar horn band Blood, Sweat and Tears’ self-titled second album. “We had the midnight to 8 a.m. shift,” Loughnane said. “The rest of the day the studio was booked by Simon and Garfunkel.”
“Chicago Transit Authority” got its legs when Jimi Hendrix invited the band to come on the road as his opening act. It was “Colour My World” with a “Purple Haze.”
“Jimi Hendrix saw us at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go [in Los Angeles],” Loughnane said. “Jimi talked to Walt [Parazaider, woodwinds] and Jimmy [Pankow, trombone] and said the guitar player [Kath] was better than him. Jimi liked the soul and the freedom of [Kath’s] playing. He never tried to hold anything back. Jimi loved the horn section and asked us to go out on the road. Terry would have left us in a flash. He told me he wanted to play bass with Jimi Hendrix.”
“Janis Joplin also took us out as an opening act on a separate tour,” he continued. “She and Jimi were our foot in the door of big time rock ’n’ roll halls. A year or two later we started headlining. When we asked Jimi Hendrix how we could repay him he said to treat other artists the same way he treated us. Give them a shot. We tried to do that [in 1973, Chicago Stadium] with the Pointer Sisters, who had been playing clubs. You look at a picture of us back then and we were like a postage stamp on stage because we were used to playing as though we were in a club. It took a while for us to spread out.” In 1972 Bruce Springsteen opened for Chicago.
Loughnane grew up in Elmwood Park.
“When I was a kid I’d listen to the symphony at Ravinia,” he said. “I’d buy a ticket on the lawn and stand at the railing. I remember Adolph Herseth [symphony principal trumpet player, 1921-2013] was astounding. The brass section of the Chicago Symphony is number one in the world. Talk about just putting it out there in classical form? They did it with reckless abandon.
“Over the last 10, 12 years we’ve been playing with symphonies. Up until a couple months ago we had 10 [Chicago] songs we had orchestrated for the show. Some on the records already had orchestra parts. [“Introduction,” “Old Days” and “Call on Me” now has orchestra.] We’ve added eight more so we’re going to play 18 songs with the symphony.
“But to play with the Chicago Symphony is realizing a childhood dream.”
Email: Dhoekstra@suntimes.com Twitter: @cstdhoekstra