Chicago’s songs combine elements of classical music, jazz, R&B, and pop music. They were formed in Chicago, Illinois, in 1967. Chicago began writing politically charged rock music and later moved to a softer sound, generating several hit ballads. The group had a steady stream of hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Walter Parazaider was born March 14, 1945, in Maywood, Illinois, and began playing the clarinet at 9. As a teenager, his growing talent was being groomed for a career as a professional orchestral musician, and he gained a Bachelor of Arts degree in classical clarinet performance from DePaul University.
Inspired by the Beatles’ hit “Got to Get You Into My Life”, Parazaider became enamored with creating a rock ‘n’ roll band with horns. Early practice sessions at Parazaider’s house included guitarist Terry Kath and drummer Danny Seraphine, both friends during his teenage years. Another friend who became involved was future Chicago producer James William Guercio.
Terry Alan Kath ( January 31, 1946 – January 23, 1978) was born in Chicago, Illinois. He acquired a guitar and amplifier when he was in the ninth grade, and his early influences included The Ventures, Johnny Smith, Dick Dale, and Howard Roberts. He was later influenced by George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Mike Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix. Kath was mostly self-taught and enjoyed jamming.
All I wanted to do was play those rock and roll chords.Terry Kath
Daniel Peter Seraphine was born on August 28, 1948, in Chicago, Illinois. He started playing drums at the age of nine while attending St. Priscilla Catholic grade school. When he was 15 years old, Seraphine withdrew from Steinmetz High School. Outside of school, he joined a local gang called the JPs.
In December 1965, after deciding to quit as a professional drummer, he was invited to join Jimmy Ford and the Executives, Dick Clark’s road band. Already in the band was Terry Kath on bass and Walter Parazaider on saxophone. After being let go from Jimmy Ford and the Executives when it merged with another local band, Little Artie and the Pharaohs (under the new name, The Mob) the three of them were invited to join a cover band called The Missing Links.
Lee David Loughnane was born October 21, 1946, in Elmwood Park, Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago, Illinois. He began playing trumpet at age 11, using the same instrument played by his dad when he was in the Army Air Force. Through his friendship with guitarist Terry Kath, Loughnane met drummer Danny Seraphine and saxophone/woodwind player Walter Parazaider.
Parazaider, who was trying to form a rock band with horns, encouraged Loughnane to sit in on rehearsals. To complete the horn section the next to be approached was James Pankow. James Carter Pankow was born in St. Louis, Missouri. His family moved to Park Ridge, Illinois when he was eight years old.
Pankow was influenced by his musician father, Wayne. He started playing the trombone at St. Paul of the Cross Elementary School. Pankow earned a full music scholarship to Quincy College, where he studied the bass trombone. After completing his first year, he returned home for the summer and formed a band that began to play some live local shows. Not wanting to give up this work, Pankow transferred to DePaul University where he met Parazaider. Now the band needed bass and keyboards. They went to a show in a dive on the South Side and hear a band called Bobby Charles and the Wanderers.
It just so happened that Bobby Charles, the piano player, was really Robert Lamm. Lamm was born on October 13, 1944, in Brooklyn, New York City. As a youth, he performed in the boys’ and men’s choir at Grace Episcopal Church in Brooklyn Heights, with harry Chapin. When his mother re-married they moved to Chicago, Illinois. He studied art in high school, particularly drawing and painting, but changed direction in college by enrolling in the music program at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
My first musical training came as a member of that choir. It exposed me to some of the great sacred music from the Middle Ages, right up through Bach and into the 20th century composers.Robert Lamm
Lamm met the Chicago guys at Walt Parazaider’s apartment on February 15, 1967. The group needed a name and since there were so many of them they decided on the Big Thing. They started out playing Top 40 hits in Chicago nightclubs. One night they were the opener for the Exceptions, the biggest club band in the Midwest.
They stuck around to listen and were introduced to Peter Cetera, who had actually come early to hear them play. Solving their tenor and bass problem, they asked him to join. At this same time, they met up with Parazader’s old friend Jimmy Guercio who was now a producer for CBS Records. He had them move to Los Angeles and renamed them the Chicago Transit Authority.
Peter Cetera was born September 13, 1944, and raised in the Morgan Park neighborhood, located on the far South Side of Chicago, Illinois. Cetera’s siblings include two brothers, Tim Cetera (who recorded an album with Ricky Nelson in the early 1970s) and Kenny Cetera. Both are listed as contributing musicians on some of the recordings Cetera made with Chicago and on some of his solo recordings.
Cetera attended Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary for one year of high school because, he says, “my mother wanted me to be a priest.” He transferred to Mendel Catholic Prep High School, graduated from there in 1962, and is listed among the “Notable Alumni”. Based on the positive responses he got, Cetera realized around the age of 11 or 12 that he had a talent for singing. At the age of 12, he won a local talent competition for his accordion playing. He eventually took up the electric bass.
The name came from the bus line that they used to ride to school, the Chicago Transit Authority. Kath, Pankow, and Lamm started writing good bits of original material with Lamm writing two of the earlier and legendary songs, “Questions 67 and 68” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”. They began to play around the Los Angeles area.
It was while performing on a regular basis at the Whisky a Go Go nightclub in West Hollywood that the band got exposure to more famous musical artists of the time, like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. It took Guerico a while, in fact, three tries to get the band signed to a Columbia Records recording contract.
Chicago Transit Authority
Chicago Transit Authority is the debut album released on April 28, 1969. It reached number 17 on the Billboard 200 by 1971 and spawned several successful singles, including “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”, “Questions 67 and 68”, and “Beginnings”. On this double album, they also cover the Spencer Davis Group with a 7:43 minute version of “I’m a Man”, a classic rock staple. Possibly my favorite Chicago song opens the album “Introduction”. I also love the Jimmy Hendrix-esque “South California Purples written by Lamm. “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “Beginnings” reached number 7 on the Billboard chart. The band would shorten their name from “The Chicago Transit Authority” following the release of their self-titled debut album the previous year, in order to avoid legal action being threatened by the actual mass-transit company.
Chicago (Known as Chicago II)
Chicago was their second album and was released on January 26, 1970. It reached No. 4 on the album charts in the United States and No. 6 on the album charts in the UK and produced three top ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100, “Make Me Smile”, “Colour My World”, and “25 or 6 to 4”. The first two of these singles were included on side two, of the double album, in the “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” a 12:55 minute suite of seven songs. The album also includes “Fancy Colours” and my favorite “It Better End Soon”, a 10:24 minute anti-Vietnam suite made up of four movements. The alum also includes the Peter Cetera song, “Where Do We Go from Here?”, inspired by the 1969 moon landing.
In the wake of the enormous worldwide success of their second album, Chicago spent almost all of 1970 on the road, an exhausting undertaking. They released Chicago III, the first of the albums to denote the numbering of their LPs with a roman numeral, on January 11, 1971. It provided Chicago with its highest-charting record yet in the US, going to No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The album had two singles, “Lowdown” and “Free”. My favorite on this album was the opener “Sing a Mean Tune Kid” written by Lamm. It included more multi-song suites; the 22:30 minute, 6-song “Travel Suite”; the 5:30 minute, 5-song “An Hour in the Shower”; and the 15:27 minute, 6-song “Elegy”. Included with the album was a poster of the band dressed in the uniforms of America’s wars, standing in front of a field of crosses, representing those who had died in the still ongoing Vietnam War. It also gave the number of casualties from each war up until the time of the album’s release.
Chicago at Carnegie Hall (known as Chicago 4)
Chicago’s first live album was Chicago at Carnegie Hall, a 4-album boxed set released October 25, 1971, and reaching number 3 on the Billboard 200. While touring in support of Chicago III, Chicago played Carnegie Hall for a week in April 1971 and recorded all of their shows. The album runs 2 hours and 48 minutes long. The original LP release of this set contained two giant posters of the band, a poster of Carnegie Hall’s exterior, an insert about voting information, and a 20-page softcover booklet; this last contained photos of the band members playing during the concert, and the back bore a full touring schedule from their first tour through their 1971 US tour. The album ends with an 8:51-minute, incredible, “I’m a Man” jam.
The fourth studio album, Chicago V was released on July 10, 1972, and their first single record. It would chart at number 1 on the Billboard 200. Two singles were released, “Saturday in the Park” (reaching number 3 on the charts) and “Dialogue (Part I & II)”. “Dialogue” is a song written by Robert Lamm. The album version is over 7 minutes long and is divided into two parts An edited version was released as a single in October 1972, eventually reaching #24 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The album opener is The song “A Hit by Varèse”, a tribute to French-American composer Edgard Varèse. The album ends with Terry Kath’s “Alma Mater”
Their 5th studio album was Chicago VI, released June 25, 1973, and one of my personal favorites. After having recorded all of Chicago’s first five albums in New York City (except for parts of the second album recorded at CBS in Los Angeles), producer James William Guercio had his own Caribou Studios built in Nederland, Colorado in 1972. It was finished in time for the band to record their sixth album the following February and would remain their recording base for the next four years. Robert Lamm authored half of the album’s tracks, including his response to some of Chicago’s negative reviewers in “Critics’ Choice”. James Pankow wrote the album’s two hits, “Just You ‘n’ Me”, which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” (co-composed with Peter Cetera), which peaked at No. 10. “In Terms of Two” was written by Pete Cetera. The album spent five non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in the US. I also love The Robert Lamm song “Darlin’ Dear” and the Terry Kath song “Jenny”.
Their sixth studio album, and again a double, was Chicago VII released on March 11, 1974. The first 5 tracks (a total of twenty-five minutes and twenty-eight seconds) are all jazz-influenced instrumentals. Terry Kath’s “Byblos”, named after a club that Chicago had played in Osaka, Japan, ranked among his best efforts. Robert Lamm, who was recording a solo album entitled Skinny Boy at the time, turned in several new songs, even donating his solo album’s title track, featuring The Pointer Sisters on backing vocals. James Pankow came through with another success, “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long”, and trumpeter Lee Loughnane succeeded on his first try at songwriting with the hit “Call on Me”, both reaching the US Top Ten. Peter Cetera made the biggest strides on Chicago VII, composing “Happy Man” and “Wishing You Were Here” (US #11) which features three of The Beach Boys on backing vocals and which became a big hit in late 1974. I also really like the James Pankow Latin-themed (almost instrumental) tune, “Mongonucleosis”. The album features session percussionist Laudir de Oliveira, who would become a full-fledged band member for the release of Chicago VIII the following year.
Chicago VIII is the seventh studio album and was released on March 24, 1975. Inside the original LP package was an iron-on t-shirt decal of the album cover and a poster of the band in a station wagon being pulled over by a policeman. The album kicks off with the Peter Cetera rocker, “Anyway You Want”. The three singles released were Lamm’s “Harry Truman” (US #13), Pankow’s “Old Days” (US #5), and “Brand New Love Affair, Part I & II”. The Album reached number 1 in the US but was only on the charts for weeks.)
Chicago IX: Chicago’s Greatest Hits was released in 1975 and became the band’s fifth consecutive No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. Chicago X is the eighth studio album, and the tenth album overall was released on June 14, 1976. The album produced Chicago’s first number-one single in the United States, Cetera’s “If You Leave Me Now”.
The single went on to win two Grammy Awards: for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus, the band’s first Grammy Award; and for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists, for arrangers James William Guercio and Jimmie Haskell. Two other songs from the album were released as singles, Lamm’s “Another Rainy Day in New York City”, and Pankow’s “You Are On My Mind”.
The group’s September 12, 1977 release, Chicago XI, includes Cetera’s ballad “Baby, What a Big Surprise”, a No. 4 U.S. hit that became the group’s last top 10 hit of the decade. It also released the singles “Little One” and “Take Me Back To Chicago”, both written by Danny Seraphine and Hawk Wolinski.
While recording Chicago XI, longtime producer James William Guercio’s smothering artistic control had reached its breaking point, with the band deciding to take their career into their own hands and strike out on their own after finishing the album with him.
In 1972, Guercio produced and directed Electra Glide in Blue, a film about an Arizona motorcycle policeman. Released in 1973, the film stars Robert Blake and features Cetera, Kath, Loughnane, and Parazaider in supporting roles. The group also appears prominently on the film’s soundtrack
The 1978 album Hot Streets was produced by Phil Ramone. It was Chicago’s first album with a title rather than a number; and was the band’s first LP to have a picture of the band. Dacus would leave the band after Chicago 13. Chicago XIV is the twelfth studio album and was released on July 21., 1980. Chris Pinnick played guitar in the sessions and would later become an official member.
In Late 1981 keyboardist, guitarist, and singer Bill Champlin (Sons of Champlin) joined the band and Laudir de Oliveira left. Chicago 16 is the thirteenth studio album and was released on June 7, 1982. Now on Warner Bros. Records, they brought in some studio musicians including the core members of Toto.
This album had the single, Cetera’s, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” which was their second 45 to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Chicago 17 is the fourteenth studio album that was released on May 14, 1984, and the last with founding bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera. Four singles were released from the album, all of which placed in the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The success of the singles propelled Chicago 17 to achieve an RIAA certification of six times platinum. Chicago 17 remains the biggest-selling album in the band’s history. The singles were “Stay the Night”, “Hard Habit to Break” (US #3), “You’re the Inspiration” (US #3), and “Along Comes a Woman”.
Chicago has continued to release albums and tour to this day. They released Christmas albums in 1998, 2003, 2011, and 2019. Their latest album, at the time of this post, is “Chicago XXXVIII: Born for This Moment” which was released on July 15, 2022. It was their twenty-sixth studio album and 38th overall.
- Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse (December 22, 1883 – November 6, 1965) was a French composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States. Varèse’s music emphasizes timbre and rhythm; he coined the term “organized sound” in reference to his own musical aesthetic. Varèse’s conception of music reflected his vision of “sound as living matter” and of “musical space as open rather than bounded”. He conceived the elements of his music in terms of “sound masses”, likening their organization to the natural phenomenon of crystallization. Varèse thought that “to stubbornly conditioned ears, anything new in music has always been called noise”, and he posed the question, “what is music but organized noises?” [Back]
- Laudir Soares de Oliveira (January 6, 1940 – September 17, 2017) was a Brazilian musician and producer mostly renowned for his time as a percussionist with the band Chicago. Oliveira grew up in Rio de Janeiro and started working professionally in music in the 1960s, accompanying Brazilian musicians such as Sérgio Mendes and Marcos Valle. In 1968 he moved to the United States. Credited simply as “Laudir”, he also appeared on Joe Cocker’s 1969 debut album, playing on his hit single “Feelin’ Alright”. In 1973, Oliveira was invited to play with Chicago on the band’s sixth album. As Robert Lamm and James Pankow recalled, “Laudir was an incredible percussionist. He was an incredible player. He came out of Sergio Mendes. At first, we experimented with using percussion in the studio, and we liked the way the percussion held the tempos together so much that we decided to keep the percussion aspect part of the band. … Terry Kath in particular felt the need for a percussionist to keep the grooves, and the tempo steady”. According to Chicago’s drummer Danny Seraphine, “[Laudir’s style and mine] fit together perfectly, creating a layered and full sound that reinforced the strong Latin influence that had been building in our music”. After playing on the albums Chicago VI and Chicago VII as a sideman, Oliveira officially joined the band in 1974. The blend of jazz-rock and Brazilian rhythm resulting from his presence would end up defining many of the band’s hits, including “Happy Man”, “Call on Me”, “Mongonucleosis” and “If You Leave Me Now”. He subsequently appeared on all the albums from Chicago VIII through Chicago XIV. Apart from playing percussion, de Oliveira also provided vocals to “You Get It Up” from Chicago X (1976) and co-authored “Life Is What It Is” on Chicago 13 (1979). Parallel to Chicago, Oliveira continued to work as a session man. In 1978, he played with The Jacksons on their album Destiny. During his tenure in Chicago, De Oliveira grew particularly close to guitarist Terry Kath. De Oliveira was the last band member to see Kath alive the night before he died following a gun-related accident in 1978. [Back]
- Jimmie Haskell (born Sheridan Pearlman November 7, 1926 – February 4, 2016) was an American composer and arranger for motion pictures and a wide variety of popular artists, including Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, and the Everly Brothers. His career spanned over six decades. [Back]
- David James “Hawk” Wolinski (born May 13, 1948) is an American keyboardist, songwriter, and record producer, best known for his work with the funk band Rufus and their lead singer Chaka Khan. [Back]
- James O. “Donnie” Dacus (born October 12, 1951, in Pasadena, Texas) is an American guitarist, vocalist, actor, songwriter, and co-producer. He has been a member of the rock bands Chicago and Badfinger. [Back]
- Chris Pinnick (born July 23, 1953) is an American guitarist and songwriter, probably best known for his work with the band Chicago from 1980–1985. Pinnick was born on July 23, 1953, in Van Nuys, California, and took up the guitar at the age of seven. An early example of his professional guitar work can be heard on Herb Alpert’s single “Rise,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1979. [Back]