Top-selling U.S. band allows rock fans to "Sing with Chicago" and fight breast cancer
Preview by Joshua Maloni
I can't believe the phone call I just received.
A few minutes before a scheduled interview with Chicago trumpeter Lee Loughnane, Laurie, a member of the band's management team, gave me a ring to say Lee was running a few minutes behind. Such a courtesy is rare with national acts -- let alone a group that has sold more albums than just about every other U.S. act in history.
The unexpected politeness came as I was trying to wrap my brain around Chicago's 100 million sold records.
That's nine zeroes.
It was then I realized these two mindbenders are related. As www.allmusic.com biographer William Ruhlmann once wrote of Chicago's record sales, "If such statements of fact surprise, that's because Chicago has been singularly underrated since the beginning of its long career, both because of its musical ambitions (to the musicians, rock is only one of several styles of music to be used and blended, along with classical, jazz, R&B, and pop) and because of its refusal to emphasize celebrity over the music."
"I'm so blessed to be as busy as this," a humble Loughnane said.
Chicago rose to stardom in the 1960s, '70s and '80s behind a bushel of hit songs, including "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?," "Call on Me," "Hard to Say I'm Sorry," "You're the Inspiration," "Will You Still Love Me?," "I Don't Wanna Live Without Your Love" and "Look Away."
But now, Loughnane's band has turned its attention from fame and fortune to helping others. For the third year in a row, Chicago has teamed with the American Cancer Society to fight breast cancer. As part of the "Sing with Chicago" campaign, fans bid on meet-and-greet packages, premium tickets, backstage passes and the ultimate music lover's prize: the opportunity to sing No. 1 single "If You Leave Me Now" on stage with the band during a concert (bid at http://www.cancer.org/singwithchicago; all proceeds directly benefit the ACS).
"They are so happy that they are able to come up," Loughnane said of past winners.
The fan performances -- whether good or bad -- are always interesting, he noted.
"We go on completely unrehearsed, so you never know what you're going to get," Loughnane said. "Some of them really perform -- they go out and are personable with the audience. They sing the song and they know the whole thing. Some of them get nervous and they sing the whole song before we finish the first verse.
"No matter what happens, we play the entire song. They get their applause. It's usually a standing ovation from every audience. It's a very cool situation to be involved in -- and gratifying."
Chicago performs Saturday at Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel in Niagara Falls. Loughnane promises the nearly two-hour concert will be "a cross section of our entire career -- from our first album through present day."
"We try to setup the show so that it has flow," Loughnane said. "It starts up, and then it comes down with a little relaxation, and then goes back up again. It's sort of the wave. By the time you ... (are) almost hitting the beach at the end of the show, that's when the crescendos should be heading in."
With Chicago's extensive catalog of hit singles, picking and choosing songs for the set list can be difficult for band members.
"That has been the struggle over the years as we have amassed more hit songs," Loughnane said. "There are certain songs that we can't get away without playing."
Concertgoers can expect to hear "Saturday in the Park," "Beginnings," "25 or 6 to 4" and "Hard Habit to Break" in the mix.
"We try to keep it interesting for everyone -- for us and the audience," Loughnane said.
Loughnane, himself, is excited to perform "Street Player," which "we recorded right at the end of the disco era," he said. "It was at a point where people were down on disco, and they were tired of hearing it, and they melted down -- they took all their disco records and threw them in a huge pile in Comiskey Park -- out on second base -- and melted the whole thing down. 'Street Player' was one of the ones they threw in the pile."
"We came in right at the end of the era and, amazingly enough, we were able to make it through that era, as well," Loughnane said. "We've come through different styles of music -- different genres, I guess -- of rock and roll to get where we are now. It's amazing for us to get as far as we have."
Loughnane offered some good news for fans hoping for another era of Chicago-style songs.
"Everybody is writing music now, and we're putting it together now," Loughnane said of a new album.
"I don't know how long it will take; how many songs there will be; what the style or flavor of the songs will be; what the direction is," he said. "It's all up in the air -- pretty much like it has been from the first album."
With more than 30 albums under their belts, and those astonishing record sales, it's a safe bet the members of Chicago will figure it out.
"It's a new, exciting time for us," Loughnane said.
Chicago performs Saturday at 8 p.m. at Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, 310 Fourth St., Niagara Falls. Visit http://www.senecaniagaracasino.com for more information or for tickets. Chicago is online at www.chicagotheband.com.