Chicago: Durable Rock 'n' Roll

Chicago 1999 James Pankow; Keith Howland; Bill Champlin; Lee Loughnane; Robert Lamm; Walt Parazaider; Tris Imboden; Jason Scheff www.chicagotheband.com

Their music -- those horns -- first came to life it was in the neighborhoods of Chicago where it first came to life. That sound, a brassy kind of rock 'n' roll, came from a group of college kids, who would eventually name themselves after their city, and make their band and logo as famous as their songs.

Even though they moved to L.A. and hit the big time more than 30 years, the founding members of the band (Lee Loughnane, Jimmy Pankow, Walt Parazaider, and Robert Lamm) still think of themselves as Chicagoans, picking up on conversations like they still live down the street, reports CBS News Sunday Morning Contributor Bob Sirott.

Says Parazaider, "We are very aware of our roots and where we came from."

Adds Pankow, "You know, Tony Bennett sang he left his heart in San Francisco. I left my heart in Chicago. There's nothing like Midwestern folks. And I miss that."

After 35 years on tour, sales of more than 120 million records, and more than 25 albums, they really don't seem to care that their faces have remained almost anonymous. To hear the original members tell it, it was modesty by design.

"We elected early on to not have our faces on the cover of the albums," explains Lamm. "To kind of work behind the famous Chicago logo to keep things kind of low-key and focus on the music and not so much on the fabulousness around the music."

And Pankow says, "We don't think of ourselves, first of all, as 'Pop Stars.' We think of ourselves as musicians. As artists. And that logo kind of embodies this dedication to our art."

They have remained friends since their days at DePaul University on Chicago's north side. It wasn't too far from there that they got together in a basement, and Chicago was born.

But before the basement, in the student union, recalls Parazaider, "Lee, Jimmy and I...just put little horn things together until we found everybody. Robert came over from Roosevelt University one day to have a cup o' coffee and he had a book of 30 songs. And, you know, we just said, 'Let's make a rock 'n' roll band with horns.'"

Soon after, a music producer persuaded them to pack their bags and leave for L.A. "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" would become one of their first hits, beginning an unprecedented five decades on the charts.

When they left Chicago to "make it" in L.A., did their friends and family expect them back?

When you left Chicago to 'make it' you moved to California. Did-- any of you think, "I'm not so sure this is gonna work." Did friends, did family expect you back?

Says Pankow, "My mother and father were standing on the front porch. I had all my stuff in a U-Haul trailer. And I was waving goodbye. As I pulled away, I remember my mother, through tears, telling my father, 'Oh my gosh, he didn't finish college and he's going out to the land of fruits and nuts. What's gonna happen to our son?' And my dad came to her and said, 'Marian, don't worry about a thing. He'll be back in six months for a real job.'"

When Jimmy Pankow comes home now, it's on Chicago's own tour bus. They used to spend more than 300 days a year on the road. Now it's a more moderate 120.

And they have had personnel changes. Bill Champlin is one of the new guys; he's only been with the group for 23 years.

It's like a successful family business, where the employees still love going to work every day, year after year.

And they've survived some hard times -- periods of low record sales, lead singer Peter Cetera's departure, and their worst day, 25 years ago, the day when their bandmate Terry Kath died. He was really the soul of the band. Kath was playing with a pistol he thought was unloaded when he jokingly pointed it toward his head and fired.

"That hole has never been filled," says Lamm. "The person that Terry is -- Terry is, Terry was, can't be replaced. You can find another guitar player and we're very happy with the guitar player we have, but you don't get over it. You just move on."

Adds Pankow, "I think our Midwestern upbringing has a lot to do with it. And, you know, the fact that we have each other. Because if we didn't have each other, it might be a whole different story."

At this point, as far as their relationship with one another, are they like brothers? Battling spouses? What is that like?

"I think it's like brothers. I do," says Lamm.

"It's very close, you know," explains Loughnane. "We travel with each other all the time. But I think the main thing is, when we get on stage, it's always been and still is today a group effort."

And they still appreciate their fans.

"Thirty-five years later, we probably appreciate it more than ever, because, you know, this has become a timeless thing," says Pankow. "We don't know why. I never would have imagined that this music would have had a connection like that with so many people."

"It's part of the chemistry that's kinda kept us together," says Lamm. "There is a kind of amazement that we've maintained the connection with the audience."

Concludes Parazaider, "You can't put it into words. It is an exciting thing. And that is the juice that keeps us coming back."
  • Ellen Crean

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