Few groups encompass horn-driven pop and funk better than Earth, Wind & Fire and recent Hall of Fame inductees Chicago. The two bands teamed up last year for the co-headlining Heart and Soul tour, with the trek adding a second leg by...
Chicago followed the lead of Blood, Sweat and Tears and the Electric Flag by grafting a horn section onto a rock band. For over a quarter of a century, Chicago has produced 20 Top 10 hits and 15 platinum or multiplatinum albums and sold more than 100 million records.
School friends Terry Kath and Walter Parazaider formed the band in 1967 and named it the Big Thing. After they were joined by James William Guercio, who had worked with the Buckinghams and Blood, Sweat and Tears as a Columbia staff producer, they changed their name to the Chicago Transit Authority. The band's 1969 debut, Chicago Transit Authority, like BS&T's, was an ambitious jumble of jazz and rock, including protesters' chants from the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention.
Under Guercio's guidance and pressure from the city of Chicago, Chicago shortened its name and moved toward MOR pop with a string of hits ("Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" #7, 1970; "Colour My World," #75, 1971; "Saturday in the Park," #3, 1972; "Feeling Stronger Every Day," #10, 1973; "Wishing You Were Here," #11, 1974, and many others) that made the group a constant presence on AM radio and kept its albums in the gold and platinum range. Several band members made cameo appearances in the Guercio-produced and -directed 1973 film Electra Glide in Blue.
In 1974 the group's unofficial leader, keyboardist Robert Lamm, made a solo album, Skinny Boy. Despite its moniker, Chicago worked out of L.A. (Guercio's base) from the late '60s on. In the later '70s the group's appeal began to flag. In 1977 they left Guercio, who had founded his own Caribou studio. Kath died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound (some sources claim he was playing Russian roulette) in 1978; he was replaced by Donnie Dacus, formerly with Stephen Stills and Boz Scaggs. In 1979 Chicago played several benefits for presidential candidate Jerry Brown. Columbia, which had sold millions of Chicago records, dropped the group from its roster in 1981; ironically, with Warners, the group started a second-phase streak of hits: "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" (#1, 1982), "Hard Habit to Break" (#3, 1984), "You're the Inspiration" (#3, 1984), "Will You Still Love Me?" (#3, 1986), "I Don't Wanna Live Without Your Love" (#3, 1988), "Look Away" (#1, 1988), "You're Not Alone" (#10, 1989), and "What Kind of Man Would I Be?" (#5, 1989).
The Stone of Sisyphus, the group's less ballad-oriented 1993 album, remains unreleased in the U.S.; it marked the end of Chicago's contract with Warner Bros. Night & Day (#90, 1995) was an experiment in updated big-band stylings. In 1995 Chicago secured the rights to its Columbia catalogue, which it has since reissued on its own label. The Heart of Chicago, a career-spanning 1997 compilation of hits, peaked at #55; its 1998 sequel hit #154. The band's seasonal, self-released Chicago 25 reached #47 in 1998.
Cetera released a self-titled solo album in 1981. He left the group in 1985 (and was replaced by Jason Scheff, son of longtime Elvis Presley bassist Jerry Scheff) for what began as a promising solo career with "Glory of Love" (#1, 1986), "The Next Time I Fall" (a duet with Amy Grant, #1, 1986), "One Good Woman" (#4, 1988), and "After All" (a duet with Cher, #6, 1989). Nonetheless, none of his albums went Top 20; only one, Solitude/Solitaire, was certified gold, and World Falling Down peaked at #163. One Clear Voice contains "(I Wanna Take) Forever Tonight" (#86, 1995), a duet with television star Crystal Bernard (Wings). In 1997 Cetera and the R&B vocal group Az Yet charted with revisions of "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" (#8 pop, #20 R&B) and "You're the Inspiration" (#77 pop). You're the Inspiration (#134, 1997) contains hits alongside rerecordings of Chicago-era material. In 1987 Cetera produced ex-Abba vocalist Agnetha Fältskog's solo album, I Stand Alone, and sang a duet with her on "I Wasn't the One (Who Said Goodbye)."
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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