Chattanooga Now 51 years and counting: Chicago is hard habit to break

Chattanooga Now 51 years and counting: Chicago is hard habit to break

May 9th, 2018 by Alan Sculley in Chattnow Music

Chicago, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, has played hits through six decades.

Photo by iChegodar

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated singer-guitarist Keith Howland had left the band Chicago. He has not. He has been joined on vocals by new band member Neil Donnell.

If you go

› What: Chicago

› Where: Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.

› When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 16

› Admission: $69.50, $84.50, $99.50 and $149.50

› For more information: 423-757-5580

Last year, members of Chicago got together for a celebratory dinner to mark their 50th year as a band.

That sort of longevity puts Chicago in a very exclusive club of the few 1960s bands still on the scene — the Rolling Stones, The Who and a handful of '60s pop acts playing perhaps with their frontman or key songwriter as the only remaining key band member.

"We're the ones that have worked every year," trumpet player Lee Loughnane said in a phone interview. "The Stones haven't even done that."

The fact that Chicago has not only endured, but thrived, for 51 years and counting is not lost on Loughnane.

"I have to pinch myself that this is actually me," he said, laughing.

But far from feeling like he has accomplished everything there is to attain within a band or there's nothing left to prove, Loughnane said Chicago's accomplishments only push him to get better on his instrument and help Chicago as a band to improve as a live act.

"So many people have come up to me and said that I was responsible — not only the band, but me personally — for them playing their instrument or getting into music," Loughnane explained. "That makes me want to work harder at it because there's no going back from there. If they come and see you and you're not good, that's bad.

Loughnane and the other members of Chicago are completing a spring tour before headlining a summer amphitheater tour with REO Speedwagon as the opener. The tour stops in the Tivoli Theatre on Wednesday, May 16, for a show — and everyone knows what time it is: 8 p.m.

This year's live show is different than any Chicago has played, with the main set devoted to playing the group's second album, "Chicago II," in its entirety. It marks the first time Chicago has played one of its albums front-to-back on a tour.

The songs from "Chicago II" (which include "25 Or 6 To 4," "Make Me Smile," "Colour My World" and "Wake Up Sunshine") have all been performed in concert by the band, although in the case of some lesser-known songs on the album, only during the early years of the band.

The group will then follow up that set with what's being billed as the world's longest encore: an hour-long selection of hits.

The performance of "Chicago II" won't be the only thing that's new. Fans will also see a lineup that has undergone several changes.

Drummer Tris Imboden and bassist/singer Jeff Coffey have recently departed. Loughnane feels the group found more-than-capable replacements. 

"Tris decided to resign, and also Jeff Coffey," Loughnane said. "To replace them, the tenor vocals are now with a Canadian singer/guitarist named Neil Donell. He's been performing in Canada and various other places with orchestras and tribute bands for years. Brett Simons is now our bass player, and he does high harmony background vocals as well." 

"To replace Tris, Wally Reyes is a drummer in his own right and he just moved over (from percussion) and is playing drums. We brought his brother, Daniel de los Reyes, in to play percussion. But Danny's not going to be able to be with us continuously. He's going to go back and forth with (his other group) the Zac Brown Band."

The new recruits join a lineup that includes original members Loughnane, singer/guitarist Keith Howland, singer/keyboardist Robert Lamm and trombonist James Pankow, along with Ray Herrmann (saxophone) and Lou Pardini (keyboards, vocals). Original saxophonist Walt Parazaider remains a member of Chicago, but no longer tours on a regular basis with the group.

In addition to touring, 2018 will see a pair of releases from Chicago. Loughnane said the band has filmed a performance of "Chicago II" that will air on PBS and then be released on DVD.

On April 6, Rhino Records released a four-CD/one-DVD set, "Chicago: VI Decades Live," a collection of live performances from across the band's career. The set is anchored by the original lineup's August 1970 performance at England's historic Isle Of Wight Festival and a DVD capturing Chicago's 1977 performance on Germany's "Rockpalast" program.

The Isle Of Wight Festival featured a host of now-legendary acts. Loughnane, though, has only general memories of Chicago's part in that event.

"I remember the fact that we were there, we played it, and I was probably critical of it at the time. Usually I was like, 'That wasn't good enough' or 'We should have done this better' or 'I missed those notes,' that kind of stuff. That's usually my take on almost every show I've ever done."

That seems like a fitting statement for a musician who's still striving to improve his craft after 51 years.

Contact Alan Sculley at alanlastword@gmail.com.


This story was updated May 10, 2018, at 12:43 a.m. with more information.