Monday, April 28, 2014

chicago transit authority

Chicago Transit Authority created a moving synthesis of jazz and rock and a serious social statement with the free form sonic experimentation, bluesy jams, and brassy pop of this liberating introduction.  The group started from a group of students at Chicago's DePaul University.  After playing in Chuck Madden's cover band The Missing Links; saxophonist Walter Parazaider, guitarist Terry Kath, and drummer Danny Seraphine left to form their own group The Big Thing with occasional trumpet player Lee Loughnane.  They invited  trombonist James Pankow (who had just transferred to DePaul University from Quincy College) into the fold and then keyboardist Robert Lamm who was leading Bobby Charles and the Wanderers at the time.  Pankow remembers:   "We had a get together in Walter's apartment on the north side of Chicago.  It was Danny, Terry, Robert, Walter, Lee, and myself, and we agreed to devote our lives and our energies to making this project work...We figured that the only people with horn sections that were really making any noise were the soul acts; so we kind of became a soul band doing James Brown and Wilson Pickett stuff."

While touring as a sextet, they met up with Parazaider's friend from DePaul Jimmy Guercio who had become a producer for CBS Records. He was very impressed and told them he would be in touch.   In the meantime, they toured with another group The Exceptions and caught the attention of bass player Peter Cetera:   "I had heard a lot about these guys.  I was just floored 'cause they were doing songs that nobody else was doing, and in different ways. They were doing the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" and "Got To Get You Into My Life" and different versions of rock songs with horns...At the end of the two-week stint, I was out of the Exceptions and into the Big Thing."

According to  Loughnane, it was the final piece of the puzzle:   "We needed a bass player at the time.  Robert was playing the bass pedals on the organ. He did a pretty good job, but there just wasn't enough bottom with the bass pedals. You needed a real bass in the band. And we needed a tenor voice. We had two baritones (Lamm and Kath), so we had midrange and lower notes covered. But we needed a high voice for the same reason that you have three horns. You have trumpet, tenors and trombone. You cover as much range harmonically as you can, and we wanted to do the same thing vocally. When Peter joined the band, that solidified our vocals. You could get more color, musically, and we started building from there."

When Guercio came back again he was blown away by their development and urged them to keep working on their original material.  He agreed to become their manager, had them move out to Los Angeles, and came up with a new name:  Chicago Transit Authority.  Pankow recalls:    "He got a little two-bedroom house near the Hollywood Freeway, and he told us that he was ready.  We made the move in June of 1968. We threw all of our lives in U-haul trailers and drove across the country. The married guys left their wives at home at first because they couldn't afford to bring their families out. We got disturbance calls from the neighbors five times a day because all we did was practice day and night."  

The group spent seven months playing around small venues in L.A., building a following, honing their sound, and scraping by.  They were given two opportunities to play for CBS executives and were turned down both times.  At one point Guercio had to take a job producing another band.  Parazaider reveals:   "Jimmy called me up, and be asked me to ask the other guys, would it be okay if he did the Blood, Sweat & Tears second album.  At first I was going, 'Well, jeez, man, that's horns, and what's going on?' and I voiced that opinion to him. He says, 'To tell you the truth, I really haven't recorded horns as a whole band situation. I've recorded horns that did sort of blaps here and there or little parts here and there. This would be a good way for me to learn how to record horns.' I don't think it was lip service, because he really hadn't recorded horns per se. We were basically a band with integrated horns in the band, not as backup horns. I hate to believe him on this because, if you think about it, what the horn section did, from the start, was a lot different from Blood, Sweat & Tears, and the sound was copied many times over after we got the Chicago horn sound. So, I think with Blood, Sweat & Tears the horns were recorded in a much different way than Chicago's horns were. Of course, if you look at the two bands, you would say that they were really a jazz-rock 'n' roll band, where we were different. They called us a jazz-rock band after Blood, Sweat and Tears faded away, but we were basically a rock 'n' roll band with horns."

Guercio cut a demo and that started a buzz in the industry and led to CBS president Clive Davis making the call to sign them.  They were flown to New York and given only ten days to record their debut album.  Parazaider confesses:    "We actually went in and started making 'Chicago Transit Authority' and found out we knew very little about what we were doing.  I had done commercial jingles in Chicago, but this was a totally different thing for all of us. The first song was 'Does Anybody Really Know What Tine It Is?' We tried to record it as a band, live, all of us in the studio at once. How the hell do you get seven guys playing it right the first time? I just remember standing in the middle of that room. I didn't want to look at anybody else for fear I'd throw them off and myself, too. That's how crazy it got. I think that we actually realized after we didn't get anything going that it had to be rhythm section first, then the horns, and that's basically how we recorded a lot of the albums."

The sessions took place at Columbia Recording Studios with Peter Cetera on bass, vocals, and agogo bells;  Terry Kath on guitar and vocals;  Robert Lamm on keyboard, vocals, and maracas;  Lee Loughnane on trumpet, vocals, and claves;  James Pankow on trombone and cowbell;  Walter Parazaider on woodwinds, vocals, and tambourine;  and Danny Seraphine on drums.  With three songwriters (Kath, Lamm, and Pankow) in their ranks, they had enough material for a double album; but Colombia would only go for it if they would take a cut in their royalties.  It was agreed and 'Chicago Transit Authority' was released in April of 1969.  It took a month for it to chart, with college students embracing the sound on FM album oriented radio stations.  It would peak at number seventeen and spend over one hundred and seventy one weeks on the album chart, eventually going double platinum.   When they went on tour, the group was sued by the actual Chicago Transit Authority over the their name and agreed to shorten it to Chicago.  

Parazaider ponders:  "Your life dream is to have a hit record.  It was amazing because we were close friends, we had gone through all of this upheaval of leaving Chicago, moving to L.A. at a young age, leaving our families, just rolling the dice. We stuck real close together, kept everybody's ego in check. I think for some guys in the group it was harder to cope with the success than others. I don't think there were any of us that sat down around my kitchen table that day in February of '67 and said, 'Hey, our goal is to be famous.' The one good thing that seemed to help us is, we were the faceless band behind that logo."

'Chicago Transit Authority'  went to number nine in the UK.  Lamm says the response from the crowds during their first European tour gave them more confidence:   "Even we were not aware of how edgy and different the first album was.  We were just doing what we were doing, and we were hoping that it was different enough for people to notice it was different. But when international audiences heard the album, it just really stopped them cold. We played in clubs all over Europe, and the audience took to it much more readily than we had experienced anywhere in the States. When we came back, the album had gone gold, and we began headlining a little bit, but still the feeling was that American audiences didn't really get it. They got that the band was becoming popular, but we didn't have the sense that they were hearing the music for what it was. So, I think laying in Europe and being treated to a certain musical and artistic respect was eye-opening and really encouraging to the band. It made us realize that what we were doing was substantial, was artistic, and was respectable rather than just this pop commodity that we always felt like in the States, because of the audience, the press, and the way the record company regarded us. That success in Europe and the feeling that we got from the regard we were given as artists really told us in a way that has lasted to this day that this is more than just kid stuff."

"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" went to number seven in 1970.  

"Beginnings" made it to number seven in 1971.  

"Questions 67 and 68"  
only charted at number seventy-one in 1969; but would peak at number twenty-four when it was re-released two years later.

"I'm a Man"  hit number forty-nine in 1971.

'Chicago Transit Authority' 
full album:

Side One
1. "Introduction" Terry Kath  lead vocals:  Kath 6:35
2. "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" Robert Lamm  lead vocals:  Lamm 4:35
3. "Beginnings" Lamm  lead vocals:  Lamm 7:54
Side Two
4. "Questions 67 and 68" Lamm  lead vocals:  Peter Cetera/Lamm 5:03
5. "Listen" Lamm  lead vocals:  Lamm 3:22
6. "Poem 58" Lamm  lead vocals:  Lamm 8:35
Side Three
7. "Free Form Guitar" Kath 6:47
8. "South California Purples" Lamm  lead vocals:  Lamm 6:11
9. "I'm a Man" Steve Winwood/Jimmy Miller  lead vocals:  Kath/Cetera/Lamm 7:43
Side Four
10. "Prologue, August 29, 1968" James William Guercio 0:58
11. "Someday (August 29, 1968)" James Pankow/Lamm  lead vocals:  Lamm/Cetera 4:11
12. "Liberation" Pankow  lead vocals:  Kath 14:38

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