A Chicago Story - The history of one of the most popular rock bands of all time.
Perhaps more than any other city in the United States, Chicago, located at the center of the nation, has reflected the cultural diversity that has served as both a nurturer of significant musical talent and a magnet that drew the best from other areas. Jazzman Lionel Hampton arrived in Chicago when he was 11 years old in 1919, blues man Muddy Waters got there in 1943, when be was 28. But Benny Goodman, the King of Swing, didn't have to travel, he was born in Chicago in 1909.
In 1967, Chicago musicians Walter Parazaider, Terry Kath, Danny Seraphine, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Robert Lamm, and Peter Cetera formed a group with one dream, to integrate all the musical diversity from their beloved city and weave a new sound, a rock 'n' roll band with horns. Their dream turned into record sales topping the 100,000,000 mark, including 21 Top 10 singles, 5 consecutive Number One albums, 11 Number One singles and 5 Gold singles. An incredible 25 of their 32 albums have been certified platinum, and the band has a total of 47 gold and platinum awards.
Chapter I: a Dream
Most pop stars who emerged in the 1960's will tell you that they got their inspiration by seeing Elvis Presley perform on TV in the '50's. But Walter Parazaider, born in Chicago on March 14, 1945, had a slightly different experience. "I started playing when I was nine years old because I saw Benny Goodman on The Ed Sullivan Show," he says. "I was a clarinetist to start with." Parazaider came by his interest in music naturally. His father was a musician who had turned from full-time to part-time work when he started a family. "I can't think of a time growing up when there wasn't music in the house," Parazaider says, "whether it was my dad practicing by himself or playing in a band that was rehearsing at the house, or my mother listening to records, and that's from my earliest recollection." As a result, when he began to take an interest in playing music himself, "the support that I had from my mother and father over the years was phenomenal." Parazaider studied and practiced the clarinet for the next several years, and by his teens had displayed so much proficiency that he became the protege of Jerome Stowell, who was the E-flat clarinetist in the Chicago symphony.
But even for a classical music prodigy, the late '50's were a time when other forms of music exerted an influence. "I picked up the saxophone along the way," Parazaider recalls, "and discovered that you could make a buck and get some girls playing a saxophone in a rock 'n roll band. So, I enjoyed a schizoid musical existence, so to speak, from about the age of 13 on, playing in anything from an octet playing all the standard big band tunes, any rock 'n' roll from Tequila to any of the Ventures stuff that they'd use a saxophone on, and did that along with pursuing the classical career, because my idea at that time was to take my teachers place in the Chicago symphony."
Pursuant to that goal, Parazaider enrolled at Chicago's DePaul University, where his teacher, Hobie Grimes, taught, all the while still playing "Many gigs and smoke-filled rooms and dance halls, and also some orchestra balls." It was at DePaul that he met another young Chicago musician, Jimmy Guercio, who years later would become Chicago's producer. "We started playing in different rock 'n' roll bands in the area," Parazaider recalls, "played a lot of the beer bashes at Northwestern University and the surrounding colleges in the area, and we became quite friendly." Meanwhile, Parazaider was maintaining his "schizoid" musical existence at DePaul, though with increasing difficulty. He recalls, "After about a year and a half of realizing I didn't want to study trigonometry and how to teach health class in school, and also realizing with the help of some of my professors that, because I wasn't a patient person, I wasn't cut out to be a teacher. I changed my major. I prepared for about a year and a half and played a degree recital for the principal members of the Chicago symphony and an audience. I passed with flying colors and received a playing degree in orchestral clarinet. In the meantime, I had taken all my masters credits in English Lit."
But while doing all that academia work, Parazaider had also gotten a non-classical musical idea he thought had promise: a rock 'n' roll band with horns. In the trendy world of pop music, horns took a back seat in the mid-'60's, when bands, imitating the four-piece rhythm section of the Beatles, stayed with the limits of guitars-bass-drums. Even the Saxophone, so much a part of '50's rock 'n' roll, was heard less often. Only in R&B, which maintained something of the big band tradition, did people such as James Brown and others continue to use horn sections regularly.
In the summer of l966, the Beatles turned around and brought horns back. Their Revolver album featured songs such as "Got To Get You Into My Life," which included two trumpets and two tenor saxophones.
Chapter II: The Birth of a Band
Parazaider's current band at the time was the Missing Links, which featured a very talented guy named Terry Kath on bass. Kath, born in Chicago on January 31, 1946, had been a friend of Parazaider's and Guercio's since they were teenagers. On drums was Danny Seraphine, born in Chicago on August 28, l948 , who had been raised in Chicago's Little Italy section. Trumpet player Lee Loughnane, another DePaul student, sometimes sat in with the band.
Loughnane, born in Chicago on October 21, 1946, was the son of a former trumpet player. "My dad was a product of the Swing Era," he recalls. "He was a bandleader in the Army Air Force in World War II." In that capacity, Chief Warrant Officer Loughnane worked with some of the top players from the big bands of the era, who had been drafted. But he also came in contact with their lifestyles. "My dad knew that they were only going to be with him for a certain amount of time, and then they were going to get shipped out to the front lines," says Loughnane. "So, he was a little more lax in his discipline than he might have been under other circumstances. Some of the guys would go AWOL on weekends to play gigs in town and then come back drunk or high on something, and my dad would cover for them. As a result, he gained a dislike for drugs and alcohol, and when he left the army, he left the music behind. The only thing he brought home was his trumpet, which was the first one that I used. I had never heard him play."
Loughnane began trying to play that trumpet at the age of 11. When he was 11, in the summer of 1959, between seventh and eighth grades, he met with the band director, Ralph Meltzer. "He wanted me to show him my teeth," Loughnane recalls. "If you have any crooked teeth, you start messing up your lip because of the pressure. My teeth were okay. He gave me some "Mary Had A Little Lamb" books, and I couldn't wait to go home and play the songs. My dad then found me a private teacher by the name of John Nuzzo. He started giving me some lessons, and my playing improved immensely."
When Loughnane went to high school, be enrolled at St. Mel's High School rather than St. Patrick's, which was much closer to his home, because St. Mel's had a concert band, a jazz band, and a marching band. Also, the band director, Tom Fabish, had taught Loughnane's father when he was in high school. "Tom was a major influence on my playing, and he and my dad wanted me to go to a school where l could play music," he says. "I didn't like the marching part of it too much, however. They could never get me to lift any legs up and look good as a marcher. 'You want to hear the parts or you want me to march?' I was always into making the music sound good, and that still lives within my thinking on-stage. But now I have learned how to be more of a performer and still play as good as I can rather than trying to jump around and miss a lot of notes. I've always thought it was very important to be true to the music."
By the time he graduated from high school in 1964, Loughnane knew that he wanted to be a professional musician. "There was nothing else that I wanted to do," he recalls. "I had no other calling."
"Tom Fabish was also the band director at DePaul University, so when I got ready to enroll in college, it was the perfect school. Tom, my dad, and I decided that if I was intent upon a career in music, I should get a teaching degree for insurance, just in case my lofty plans at success as a professional musician didn't pan out." But, as with Parazaider, it didn't work out that way. "I loved the music classes, but I didn't so much love the general education classes that I had to take in order to get that kind of degree," Loughnane says, "and I would get to the point where I just wouldn't go to those classes."
Maybe that was because his extracurricular activities were taking up so much of his time. Like other future members of Chicago, Loughnane began performing in local groups. First, there was the Shannon Show Band, an Irish group in which he found himself part of a three-man horn section trumpet, trombone, and tenor saxophone just like the one Chicago would use. Catering to the large Irish population of the city, the Shannon Show Band appeared at such venues as the Blarney Club, playing Elvis Presley, country and western, and Top 40 music, in addition to the obligatory Irish waltzes. "I even sang my first lead vocal in that band," Loughnane recalls. "I sang "Kicks," by Paul Revere and the Raiders. I was so good at it that I became a singing sensation with Chicago. I sang three leads on 23 albums!"
Loughnane's other band in this period was Ross and the Majestics, who earned a residency one summer in a bar in the basement of the Palmer House, a ritzy Chicago hotel. To take the gig, Loughnane was forced to leave a summer job his father had arranged for him on the graveyard shift at Revere Copper and Brass Company. "Dad and I disagreed on my decision to take the job with Ross, but that was the band at the time, and I couldn't let them down."
Another summer job at the Chicago State Hospital only confirmed Loughnane's dislike of manual labor. "I knew that playing the trumpet was a lot more fun and definitely easier on the back," he says. Later that summer, be decided it was time to spread his wings. "I went out and got an apartment, and then I met Terry."
Through Kath, Loughnane met Seraphine and Parazaider, and he started to sit in with the Missing Links. Terry and I became thick as thieves," he recalls. "Walt was the only horn player in that band, and he encouraged me to come by and sit in a lot so there would be two horns and you could get that octave R&B sound. It was sort of the thing at the time, and I really enjoyed playing with the band."
Now, Parazaider, Kath, Seraphine, and Loughnane decided to develop Parazaider's concept for a rock 'n roll band with horns. To make the concept work, they needed to bring in additional band members. The first musician Parazaider approached, in the fall of 1966, was a newly transferred DePaul sophomore from Quincy College who played trombone. "Walt had been kind of keeping an eye on me in school," says James Pankow. "He approached me and said, "Hey, man, I've been checking you out, and I like your playing, and I think you got it. I said, "Well, what do you mean, I got it?" He had that twinkle in his eye, and I figured, well, whatever the hell be means, I guess he likes what I do."
Pankow, born in St. Louis, Missouri, on August 20, 1947, had certainly spent enough time with his instrument by then to have gotten something. "I was in fifth grade, and my folks realized that I was a human beat box," he says. "I was kicking to records in the crib before I could walk, and I was snapping my fingers and tapping on walls and making all kinds of gestures in tempo with whatever music they were listening to. They figured they better channel this nervous energy, so they took me to an audition at the local elementary school, and I of course wanted to play drums or guitar or sax. Nobody wanted to play trombone. It wasn't cool."
But a conference took place between Pankow's parents and the band director (who happened to be a trombone player), and, as Pankow notes, "might makes right, and between my parents and the band director, they persuaded me to try something that was less competitive. So, bottom line, I wound up with the trombone, and for the first three years it was sheer hell."
One reason for this was the difficulty for a ten year-old in maneuvering such a large instrument. "It was like putting a dwarf in a semi and telling him to drive to New York," says Pankow. But by his mid-teens, with the encouragement of a father with an enormous record collection who took him out to local nightspots, Pankow began to enjoy the horn, so such so that he even persevered with it during three bruised and bloody years spent with braces on his teeth.
Pankow's musical aspirations were encouraged at Notre Dame High School by Father George Wiskirchen, who, he remembers, "wrote the book on high school jazz lab and big bands," and who took the young trombone player under his wing. "I played in concert band and marching band," Pankow says, "but the high school jazz band was my saving grace and my real love."
After high school, Pankow won a full music scholarship to Quincy College, but like Parazaider and Loughnane, he was starting to be tempted from his studies by the fun he could have and the money he could earn in bar bands. After his freshman year, he went home for summer vacation and put a band together that got work doing society parties, colleges, weddings, and bar mitzvahs. He also acquired an agent who got him pickup gigs with all the big bands coming through Chicago. As fall approached, Pankow had become so involved with his work that he did not want to give it up. He telephoned his teacher at Quincy to say he was not returning for the fall semester. But be intended to continue his education, and so enrolled at DePaul.
Pankow's recruitment brought the new band's complement of horns up to three, but they still needed bass and keyboards. They thought they had found both in a dive on the South Side when they heard piano player "Bobby Charles" of Bobby Charles and the Wanderers, whose real name was Robert Lamm.
Lamm, born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 13, 1944, like Pankow seemed to be rocking in the cradle. "I was interested in music from the time I was a toddler," he says. "Both my mother and father were collectors of jazz records, and there always seemed to be music playing at our house."
Lamm's first formal music training came when his mother put him in a Brooklyn Heights choir. It was here that he began playing the piano and found that be could sit down and pick out songs by ear.
When Lamm was 15, his mother remarried and moved the family to Chicago, where he met other aspiring high school musicians and they put a band together. He also studied with the prominent jazz teacher Millie Collins. His idol became Ray Charles, who both wrote and played, and Lamm named himself after his hero. "I was writing songs in a band or two before Chicago," he recalls, "the dubious quality of which is another discussion. Writing songs wasn't yet the all-consuming passion it is now."
Lamm received a phone call. He isn't sure who called him, but the voice on the other end of the phone outlined the ideas of forming a band that could play rock 'n roll with horns in it and asked it he was interested. He said he was. He was also asked if he knew how to play the bass pedals on an organ, thus filling up another sound in the band. "I lied and told them I could," he says. "I needed to learn how to do it real quick, and I did, on the job."
Lamm met the rest of the guys at a meeting set up to determine how to go about achieving their musical goals. The date was February 15, 1967. "We had a get together in Walter's apartment on the north side of Chicago," says Pankow. "It was Danny, Terry, Robert, Walter, Lee, and myself, and we agreed to devote our lives and our energies to making this project work."
They rehearsed in Parazaider's parents' basement as often as they could. "We figured that the only people with horn sections that were really making any noise were the soul acts," says Pankow, "so we kind of became a soul band doing James Brown and Wilson Pickett stuff."
The group needed a name. Parazaider recalls: "An Italian friend of mine who was going to book us said, "You know, everybody is saying "Thing, Thing this, Thing that. There's a lot of you. We'll call you the Big Thing."
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