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Interview: Chicago's Lee Loughnane promises firsts for Bangor

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Chicago Chicago Photo: David M.Earnisse

Legendary band set to perform at Cross Insurance Center on Nov. 2

On Jan. 30, 1969, the seven members of Chicago (then known as Chicago Transit Authority) emerged from a New York City recording studio after four fierce days of recording for their debut Columbia Records album. Strict time constraints dictated by a label already nervous about issuing a two-record set by an unproven band necessitated swift results. 

When the musicians left the 30th Street studio, where Miles Davis had recorded 'Kind of Blue' 10 years earlier, they had an introduction packed with carefully crafted songs that merged pop with rock, jazz, soul and some wicked guitar.   

As Lee Loughnane, one of Chicago's founding members, reveals in the following interview, much has changed since that first album. The internet has allowed Chicago to connect with their audience and deliver new material in a way that would have seemed like science fiction in the days of 'Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?' 

The first show on the next leg of Chicago's 2013 tour is set for Bangor on Saturday, Nov. 2, when the group will fill the Cross Insurance Center with decades of hits. During our conversation, Loughnane disclosed that the Bangor audience has some treats in store, including the live world premiere of Chicago's new song.  

'We've just had three rehearsals and have worked on the full version of Introduction,' which is the first song on the first Chicago album,' Loughnane told me in an interview last week. 'Over the years, we had cut it down to a shorter piece. We're bringing back the full-length version, and you'll be hearing that in Bangor along with our new single, America.'' 

Dow: Let's start with the new music Chicago has been recording. Will these songs appear on an album?

Loughnane: Eventually, yes. We're recording them on the road and releasing them, one song at a time, on our website ( We bought Pro Tools recording software and enough gear to do studio-quality recordings while traveling. We've recorded on the bus, in hotel rooms, ballrooms, conference rooms, pretty much everywhere. The music sounds world-class. If we'd gone into a studio, it wouldn't have sounded any better. We have about 10 songs in the pipeline two of which are already up on our website. We're finishing another song now called 'Crazy Happy,' but I'm not sure when we're going to release that one. 

Dow: What inspired you to write the new song, 'America?'  

Loughnane: I was talking with my wife about the problems in this country. It seems like The American Dream is fading away. That was the germ of the song, and the next time I picked up a guitar, I came up with the chorus, which is 'America is you and me.' If we're going to get something done, we have to go back to the Declaration of Independence where it says 'We the people.' I didn't know when I wrote the lyrics that the government would actually shut itself down. That was completely ludicrous. For the life of me, I can't figure out what that has to do with helping the American people.  

Dow: This has been a very busy year for Chicago. How has the tour been going?  

Loughnane: We've been on the road for most of this year and we have a show that spans our entire career. Whatever Chicago song you came to hear, if you're patient, you'll hear it.  

Dow: Do you have a favorite era of Chicago?  

Loughnane: We've had good times all along. I know that sounds like a blanket statement, but I have to tell you, it's true. I've been able to practice my trumpet for a living since I was 11 years old. This is not a bad thing to be a part of (laughing). There have been ups and downs, but that happens with anyone's career. It feels now that we are in a growth period. We've spent the last three years building our website, and now it's ready to deliver original music. 

Dow: Chicago has been putting together a career-spanning documentary called 'The History of Chicago.' Tell me how that's going, and when will we be able to see it?  

Loughnane: I just talked with the videographer today. He was editing some of the interviews and working on concert material. We filmed nine shows, and out of those we're going to put together a full-length concert, so we have two projects going simultaneously. 'The History of Chicago' will probably be ready in January or Feb. 2014 for DVD and Blu-ray.

Dow: From the first album, it seems that Chicago had a plan. Did the band go into it knowing exactly what kind of music you wanted to play?

Loughnane: The plan was to do just what we're doing now, which is to write music regardless of the subject matter. Before we wrote the songs for the first album, we were just a cover band doing the top 40 songs of the time. The club owners didn't want us to play original music. As we stayed together, we started writing and rehearsing original songs and then trying them out at the clubs. That angered the club owners, and they kept threatening to fire us because of it. A couple of them actually did. It got to the point where we had to take it to the next level or disband.

Dow: In my opinion, Terry Kath was one of the most underrated guitarists in rock history. We know that he was a gifted musician, but what was he like as a person?  (Note:  Kath was Chicago's original guitarist and appeared on the first dozen Chicago albums. He died in January 1978 from a self-inflicted 9 mm pistol shot to the temple one week shy of his 32nd birthday. Accounts indicate that Kath believed the gun's magazine to be empty and that his death may have been a form of 'Russian roulette.')

Loughnane: He was great to work with. Terry was very outgoing and very straightforward. What he said, he meant. In many ways, Terry was really the musical leader of the band. He would start a rhythm chain by himself and get a tempo going in his head and then count the song off for the band. During a solo, he would feel where the solo was going and when it peaked. When he sensed it was getting near the end, he would give off a high-pitched whistle that permeated any decibel level that we could possibly reach. Once he whistled, and we could hear it over the top of everything, we knew we had eight bars left and it would come into the song again. He would conduct onstage during the songs.   

Dow: Over the last 45 years, has Chicago ever come close to breaking up?  

Loughnane: I'd say the closest we ever came was when Terry died. Losing Terry created a huge hole in the band and we had to reevaluate whether or not we wanted to keep doing it.  Pretty quickly we realized that the majority of us wanted to keep going, and I believe Terry would have wanted us to continue. We had to figure out how to fill that gap. It wasn't just musical. It was emotional, spiritual and all of the other things involved with having a member that put so much into the band.  

Dow: Was Terry your introduction to the band in 1967?  

Loughnane: I met Terry, Walt (Parazaider - Chicago's sax and flute player) and Danny (Seraphine - Chicago's original drummer). They were in a band called The Missing Links. I used to go and sit in with those guys. When that band broke up, we formed Chicago and started playing clubs.  

Dow: Back in the 'era of excess,' did you ever go through a phase with drugs as a member of Chicago?  

Loughnane: Oh yeah. Drugs and booze. At the time, I felt that it was a normal element and it just seemed like it was part of rock and roll. I got sober because it stopped working for me. It wasn't getting me to the point where I used to get and that scared me more than anything. Since I discontinued booze and drugs, it's been a wonderful life. Exactly the opposite of what I thought would happen happened. I started growing up and being the person I wanted to be. Who knew? You have these misconceptions thinking that (if you stop using) the creativity will go away or you tell yourself 'I'm not going to be able to play the same way.' You actually play better because you're thinking better.  

Dow: What was your drug of choice?  

Loughnane: Anything and everything under the sun.  I did my share and your share too. But I lived! That's the thing. If you live, you get to grow up. Hopefully. 

Dow: Some of Chicago's music is so intricate - some of those parts are so tricky. I don't know how you managed it in a fog. How long has it been since you became sober?  

Loughnane: Thirty-one years. But really I have one day. I have right now and I just keep moving forward.  

Dow: The new Larry David HBO movie 'Clear History' has an entire subplot featuring Chicago. What was it like to work on that movie with the man behind 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and 'Seinfeld?' 

Loughnane: It was great meeting Larry, Liev Schreiber and Eva Mendes. We were able to watch it being filmed. When we filmed our scene, we were able to see how Larry works. He makes everything up on the fly. He starts with a basic idea. He'll say, 'the scene is going to be about this.' He'll say, 'We'll meet here, you stand here and why don't you say something like this?' And he comes up with a line. That line leads to another line and then we put the scene together and keep rehearsing it until it gets smooth or funny or whatever they want to get out of it. When they feel they have it, they move on to the next one. We had no idea that Chicago would be a subplot in the movie. We knew what our scene would be about but we didn't know that it was going to continue on through the movie. 

Dow: Do you have time to listen to music from other artists? What would we find in your record, CD or mp3 collection?  

Loughnane: You would find Shostakovich, Petrushka - the ballet. You would find Miles Davis, Art Farmer, Mingus and all kinds of jazz stuff. All kinds of big band, rock and roll I just love listening to music.  

Dow: Is there anyone making new music today that you like?  

Loughnane: Justin Timberlake is doing some great stuff. Bruno Mars is doing some great music too. They are both incorporating established musical elements and incorporating modern elements at the same time. They are creating a new version of what has been around for awhile. It's very cool to watch music coming back in with real melodies.  

'The Big Morning Show with Mike Dow' can be heard on Big 104 FM The Biggest Hits of the '60s, '70s & '80s - airing on 104.7 (Bangor/Belfast), 104.3 (Augusta/Waterville) and 107.7 (Bar Harbor)

Last modified on Sunday, 27 October 2013 21:04


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