e were aware of two things. One was the stuff that was coming out of Memphis -- "Knock on Wood," "In the Midnight Hour," Sam and Dave. All with rhythm sections, horns, and guys singing. That was the ensemble size we envisioned.
Then we heard what the Beatles were doing on Sgt. Pepper, writing songs that weren't rhythm and blues. No longer was it just guitars, bass, and drums. They were doing orchestrations, which we thought we could do, too. So I guess we just wanted to be the Beatles with brass. That's really where we were coming from.
The founding members of the group were Walt Parazaider, Danny Seraphine, and Terry Kath. I was like an employee who was called in. Somebody called me up and said, "Hey, we heard you play keyboards and sing. Would you be interested in joining a band that we're putting together with brass?" On the South Side of Chicago, where I was from, that was a novelty.
Terry and Danny probably would have been in street gangs on the North Side of Chicago, except they were musicians. I was just this sort of South Side guy, studying music at Roosevelt University, playing gigs at night.
Looking back, it was so strange. I'm not an outgoing person. At the time, I didn't take risks, especially if it meant going to the North Side to meet with a group of musicians. But I got this phone call asking me if I would be interested, and I said yes. I don't know why I said yes, but I did.
We all met at Walt's mother's house because she had a big basement. We all brought our stuff, started playing, and it was magic. We were playing "Papa's Got a Brand-New Bag," "In the Midnight Hour," "Knock on Wood." It was a thrill. I had never played in a band that big.
After Chicago Transit Authority was recorded, we went on the road, and all of a sudden we're opening for Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, when they were at their absolute height. We were exposed to arena-sized crowds, and we were moving so fast that we didn't even realize how successful we had become until we started recording our third album. We turned around and said, "Hey, you know, we're big. People love us. They're buying our records. I mean, really!"
By the time Chicago VIII came around, the magic was beginning to go away. The band started getting into drugs, and the two things went hand in hand. I couldn't see it then, but I see it now. The more we got into drugs, the less productive we were. It started out as something recreational and then became prime time.
And then we did the unthinkable. We fired our producer and arranger, Jim Guercio. It was like firing Hitler. You don't just fire Hitler. You either assassinate him, or let somebody else assassinate him. But we fired him.
And then a high-powered coke dealer got into Terry's ear. He wanted to go into business with Terry. He was the most divisive factor I've ever seen. When Terry died, he went away.
I wasn't there the night Terry died, but I know his death was drug-related. Drugs hampered his judgement. Nobody in the group talks about it too much. A close friend of mine was there when Terry shot himself, and he swears to this day that it was an accident. It was just two guys sitting across from each other. But Terry had been up for a couple of days, and he was playing with a gun. That's like drinking four six-packs of beer and then walking along the edge of a building expecting to make it.
Beginnings still gives me the shiverssss !
I still get a musical thrill every time I hear 25 or 6 to 4. Heard it covered by local band recently and wow what a thrill when that horn section lights up! Thanks Robert..thanks Chicago!
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