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PNE Summer Nights Concerts: Chicago
When: August 28, 20:30
Where: GMC Stage, PNE Amphitheatre, Hastings Park Fairgrounds
Tickets/information: From $15 on Ticketleader.es
In February 1967, Robert Lamm received a phone call from trombonist James Pankow to join a new group called The Big Thing as keyboardist and contributing singer/songwriter. Renamed the Chicago Transit Authority in 1968, the seven-piece band relocated to Los Angeles and in April 1969 released their self-titled debut album.
After the current CTA threatened legal action, the band shortened their name to chicago.
One of the most successful American bands of all time, they can claim 23 gold, 18 platinum and eight multi-platinum titles under their belt with sales in excess of 100 million. The group brings its horn sound to PNE’s 2022 Summer Nights Concert series on August 28.
More than half a century later, Lamm is still making music with the group that still features co-founding members Pankow and trumpeter Lee Loughnane.
“The simplistic answer to longevity is that we’ve always been primarily a performance band because we really like to play,” Lamm said. “Personnel changes over the years have never really changed that dynamic, because we’ve always found the right new people to work in the mix. I know I’d still be writing whether I was in the band or not, but to be able to take on the projects that come up and still be on tour is pretty cool.”
Lamm wrote seven of the 12 tunes on the big debut, including such enduring singles as Does Anyone Know What Time It Is? and the favorite live show Beginnings, and is credited with many of the group’s other big hits. As time went on, he wrote less for the group as other members took on a larger role in generating new material. In the late 1970s, he launched a solo career that continues.
“When we started, we were completely ignorant of anything to do with the business and our management and our label completely guided us and knew what they were doing,” he said. “That meant we rode the radio wave even before the rock album format came along and benefited from it. Naturally, over the years, we all became very savvy about the business we were in and that’s another reason we’ve kept going.”
From the rocky early days to chart-topping David Foster-led power ballads like Hard to Say I’m Sorry and You’re My Inspiration, Chicago proved capable of adapting to the tastes of the time without leaving to hold on to their original fan base. Some of this adaptability was built right into the band’s DNA since its formation. None of the members were interested in giving up following musical directions and all were quite capable of playing just about anything.
Lamm doesn’t hesitate to point out what was behind the explosion of musically savvy acts like his band, Tower of Power, Blood, Sweat & Tears and others, all arriving in a particular time period.
“Blame the Beatles, because they were right not to write for bass, guitars, drums and they broke the mold when it came to pop songwriting,” he said. “We were all of a similar age, had listened to similar music, and got caught up in the cultural zeitgeist of the day, which was about expanding rock to include brass and so much more in the mix. Working with such talented arrangers as trombonist Jimmy Pankow and (late) guitarist Terry Kath meant I could do whatever I wanted and know it would sound great.”
The net result of that broad interest and willingness to work together built a band infrastructure that allowed multiple writers to express themselves without the personality battles that are so common in contemporary music. While there was always conflict, the atmosphere of the workshop meant that anything coming out of the camp would feel like a group effort. One of the benefits of this was that writers could spend more time on their contributions instead of worrying about putting out a full record.
“Every time we decided to make an album, each one would bring the best of what we had been working on and then we would start working on it to see if it was right or not,” he said. “That meant someone like Peter Cetera didn’t emerge as a writer until many years later, but then he teamed up with David Foster and wrote some really beautiful stuff. The only competition was to come up with the best of what we had to record.”
Lamm revisited this method of creation during the pandemic lockdown for Chicago’s new album, going down the wishing well with ideas he’d amassed over the years, seeking out old friends and new.
“Lyrically, I found myself going deeper than I had in a long time and it was a wonderful thing for me to have time to really focus,” he said. “Among the fruitful pairings that came out of that was working with Jim Peterik, best known for his work on Survivor, who is a fantastic writer and gamer. A lot of that material forms the backbone of the new Chicago album.”
BMG producer Joe Thomas heard some of the Lamm/Peterik tracks and proposed the idea of these songs being part of a new Chicago album. At first there was resistance to the idea of the 38th album, as all the members were doing different things during the lockdown period. But in the end everything came to fruition.
In keeping with the tradition of number album titles, Chicago XXXVII: Born for This Moment was released on July 22. Not counting the 2019 Christmas album, it is the band’s first new music in eight years and the first recording to feature Canadian singer/guitarist Neil Donnell. , which was incorporated in 2018.
The PNE Summer Nights Concerts series runs from August 20 to September 5 and features a lineup ranging from Blue Rodeo (August 21) and TLC and Shaggy (August 31) to country stars Brothers Osborne (September 1). and Canadian rock legends. Bachman Cummings (September 3). Reserved tickets are required for all shows this year and admission to the fair is extra.
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