When the band Chicago released its first album in 1969, the group’s combination of jazz and classical elements with rock music was unlike anything ever heard before.
Now almost five decades later, the band is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The group will be performing at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino on Friday, July 1.
During a recent phone interview, Lee Loughnane, one of the band’s four remaining original members, discussed the group’s 2016 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“It took 25 years to get nominated,” Loughnane said. “It’s not that we didn’t care, but we didn’t think it would actually happen. When they decided to nominate us, we were shocked and excited. Even then, it was possible during the voting that we wouldn’t be elected to the induction ceremony. When that happened back in December 2015, and they announced the inductees, and we were one of them, it was pretty exciting.”
Also part of the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class: N.W.A. Loughnane said there was only one thing that disappointed him regarding N.W.A.’s controversial induction.
“I would have actually liked to have seen them perform at the ceremony. That’s one of the reasons you’re on the map—you’re there to show how you got you there,” he said. “For whatever reason, they decided it wasn’t appropriate. But it’s fun to be included with your peers—past, present and future. That’s something that something no one can take away from you. It’s like winning the World Series.”
When Chicago first began playing all those many years ago, the band was known for lengthier than usual songs. However, that changed somewhat over the years.
“Radio did a lot of editing,” Loughnane said with a laugh. “That’s how you keep them under 4 or 5 minutes. They usually only allow 3:30 or something like that. It’s very rare to hear a song that’s over 4 minutes on the radio. They have to pay their way and do a lot of ads. That’s what cuts the music down.
“Initially, we just wrote music. It wasn’t until commercial radio decided they wanted to play something of ours (that songs got shortened). We didn’t worry about how long a song was and just wrote and played. We do the same thing now.”
An oft-stated fun fact about Chicago is that Jimi Hendrix was a huge fan of the band and envied the guitar-playing abilities of Terry Kath. Chicago even toured with Hendrix.
“I remember hearing him say he thought Terry played better than him,” Loughnane said. “… (He felt) that he just played one gig after the other and got tired of the stuff he was playing. He felt that he should have been further than he was. But honestly, he was fine the way he was. It was just that internal push with the artist wanting to be better and open new avenues of music. There’s an inevitable period when you feel you’re not going it. When we met Jimi, it was at the end of his career just before he died. It was fun playing with him, opening for him and hanging with him. Not many people can say they got to do that.”
The accidental death of Terry Kath in 1978 due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound is still a tough subject for the original members of Chicago to discuss, even though the band kept on going.
“Terry’s death was the hardest thing to get through. … As memory serves, we thought that was the end of the band,” Loughnane said. “That was only a couple of weeks, and I’d be really surprised if it was more than a month before we realized Terry was gone, but the rest of us were still together, and it was still viable, and we had to replace Terry, which was no easy feat.”
From 1969 to 1980, the band released an album every year—racking up numerous hits along the way. Through most of the 1980s, the band released albums every other year. As a result, Chicago has a massive catalog of hits.
“It’s impossible to play all the hits in one show,” Loughnane said. “We have experimented through the years with various shows … and we put things in, and if it doesn’t work, it gets pulled out of the set, and we put something in that does. For the most part, we have been successful every night in making people happy.”
Loughnane said the city that gave the band its name is still a great place for music.
“Obviously, it influenced us. We grew up listening to blues and rock ’n’ roll, along with jazz and all the other musical influences that came through Chicago. It was part of our being as we became musicians. Today, that has continued with other artists growing up in the city and being influenced by whatever types of music they were listening to at the time. You can tell that Chicago is musically multifaceted.”
Chicago will perform with Rita Wilson at 8 p.m., Friday, July 1, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio. Tickets are $39 to $79. For tickets or more information, call 760-342-5000, or visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.