Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve ... with Chicago!

We kicked off this year's Countdown To Christmas with Chicago ... so it only seemed right to end the series with these guys, too!
With a brand new Christmas CD this year ("O Christmas Three" ... their third holiday offering!), a live concert video shown in movie theaters last week, and a special Christmas Concert on Ice recently shown on NBC, these guys have been all over the place this holiday season.

Here are a couple recent comments we received, including an interview with our FH Buddy Lee Loughnane that recently ran in The Huffington Post.  (We've even got one more track from the new CD to share!)
Merry Christmas to all!  (kk)

Hi Kent,
I meant to write sooner about the Chicago movie.  I went to see the movie with a good friend who is also a big Chicago fan.  I really enjoyed seeing the tour footage of so many great Chicago songs and also some very good interviews.  The sound recording as excellent, some of the best sounding live music I've ever heard!!!
The Christmas songs are scattered throughout the film and are very dynamic, much more so than hearing them on the radio!  Overall the movie was excellent, except for the very end.  The film ends with a music video that, in my opinion, would have been better as a straight performance of the song.  The video has a lame storyline with a very good actor, Joe Mantegna, and just wasn't necessary.
Merry Christmas to all
Eddie Burke,

FH Reader Tom Cuddy also sent us this interview with Lee Loughnane from The Huffington Post, conducted by Mike Ragogna.

A Conversation with Lee Loughnane 
Mike Ragogna: Yeah, we've got Lee Loughnane of Chicago. That's right.
Lee Loughnane: How are you doing, Michael? 

MR: I'm doing good, how are you sir?
LL: I'm doing fine.

MR: Nice. Hey Lee, you're up to Chicago XXXIII--that's a pretty big number. Who knew you guys would have made so many albums and been together for so long.
LL: We had no idea it would go this long either!

MR: What is it like 33 records in?
LL: From the beginning, we thought we would have one, maybe two albums. It's like the impossible dream we're having here. 

MR: As far as Chicago, tell me about the early days.
LL: We went to school together, many of us. The three horn players went to DePaul University and Robert went to Roosevelt University, which was about a block away. We actually saw him playing in a club on the Southside, Bobby Charles and the somethings, I forget what it was. He was like a Ray Charles clone at the time. Robert said he wanted to come play with the band and he already had a book of 50 original songs. We had a good start but the club owners didn't let us play the originals, they wanted us to play the Top 40 hits of the day. They thought that's what would bring their clientele there and keep them there drinking, and doing what you do in a club. From there, we decided to stick it out as long as we possibly could, but we had no idea it would be 44 years later. It will be 45 years in February of 2012 that we have been together. Four of the original members are still with us--myself, Walter Parazaider, James Pankow, and Robert Lamm. Then the other guys that have come along since--Jason (Scheff) has been with us 27 years or something like that. The newest member, Lou Pardini, has been with us a couple of years already, and that's longer then most bands are together. 

MR: You're back together with Phil Ramone on this album.
LL: Yes, we called Phil and asked him if he would like to produce a Christmas album with us. He said, "Yeah, when do you want to do that?" So, we actually recorded it last October in Nashville. All of the writers chose a Christmas song and arranged it and brought our arrangements into the studio and presented them to the band. Then the band went into the studio and made them "Chicago." 

MR: How long did it take to record it?
LL: It only took us three weeks to record the entire album, overdubs and everything.

MR: You had it all charted out?
LL: Yes, exactly. 

MR: The hint that you were in Nashville is that you have Dolly Parton on "Wonderful Christmas Time."
LL: Right. Dolly happened to be in the studio I don't know if she happened to be recording or just hanging out, but Jason went up to the front of the building and Dolly Parton and her manager was with him. She had no idea that she was going to be singing, she was just coming back to say hello. The next thing she knew, she was out singing a couple of lines on "Wonderful Christmas Time." She was so kind and really a nice lady. 

MR: You also have the group America on "I Saw Three Ships."
LL: We have toured with them before, and they are good friends of ours. They actually did their recording part of it from California and then sent the files to us. When everything is said and done, it sounds like we got into the same room and recorded it. 

MR: What do you think of that process, long distance recording?
LL: It's a unique process, but it can still work. The proof is in the pudding when you hear the record. It's interesting that it's come to that, because that wasn't even possible that many years ago. You had to be in the same city, in the same room. Now you can use a remote system that's not even incorporated in a truck. We have a Pro Tools Native HD system that we're going to start recording original music with next year, and putting it right out from our web platform.

MR: I remember a few years ago, I was in a storage room with pallets and pallets of Chicago analog masters. There were endless rows of tapes.
LL: It's now all digital. Now we're looking at hard drives and files. Hopefully they don't get corrupted. 

MR: I don't think I would have enjoyed looking at pallets and pallets of hard drives as much.
LL: (laughs) It's a different world, with the tapes. When you pull out an old tape, hopefully, the oxide would stay on the tape when you started playing it. When you would see it start to peel off, you had to take the tape off immediately and bake it in a convection oven. It puts the oxide back on the tape so you can play it one or two more times without destroying the tape. If that oxide comes off, there's no sound anymore. 

MR: The chemistry behind many of the older analog tapes was better than what followed.
LL: That's the thing with any media, you never know how long it's going to last. Seemingly, because it's brand new and shiny and lasts great, it's going to last forever. So, we don't really know how long hard drives are going to last either. You're going to have to keep moving those files from one hard drive to the other just to maintain the integrity. 

MR: Yeah, that's right. Hey, getting back to Chicago XXXIII--O Christmas Three, one of my favorites is your cover of Richard Carpenter and Frank Poole's "Merry Christmas Darling" with Bebe Winans on there. How did you get Bebe on the project?
LL: He lives in Nashville, and one of the guys called him up. All I know is he appeared in the studio and was going to sing the song. Interestingly, he didn't know the song before, so he learned it line by line, and by the end of the song, it sounds like he has been singing it all of his life. He sang it so well that we just left it.

MR: Speaking of singing, although you didn't record as many lead vocals as your band mates, you're no stranger to singing. You sang "Let It Snow" from Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album.
LL: Yeah Chicago XXV, that was a lot of fun. We did that on the Macy's Parade and a few other TV shows, it was very cool. 

MR: You're also the writer for "Call On Me," "No Tell Lover," "Together Again," and "This Time."
LL: You must have Googled me. (laughs) 

MR: What, I can't know that stuff? (laughs) Lee, Chicago these days versus early Chicago, what do you think the difference is between them?
LL: Well, when we started, people said we were very experimental. We had the horn ensemble. Then the music business changed, and around our seventh album, the music industry decided to stop paying unlimited copyrights on a record. The decided that they were only going to pay ten. That eliminated double record sets and long songs, because if you did over ten songs, songwriters had to share their royalties with each other and they decided not to do that on the whole. It wasn't a matter of talking this thing over, it was a worldwide phenomenon that occurred as a result of economics. That changed the music industry, and I feel we continued being experimental but in a smaller shorter window. We still have that about us today. We're still an experimental group, and we will now be able to do the kind of experimentation we used to do when we got together. Now, unfortunately, Terry and some of the other guys aren't with us, so it will be a different look at who we are now.
Interestingly enough, we met with a company called Fathom Events up in Colorado a few months back. They said that they would like to help us promote our Christmas album, and they said they could do a theater event for us. They said they needed 90 minutes of content with surround 5.1 sound. We had just come from a four week tour of Europe and we had filmed the whole thing, luckily, and all of that was already edited together, so we just continued filming and put together a 90 minute retrospective of our year on the road from the band's point of view. Riding on the bus, going into dressing rooms, going over little vocal parts, and just practicing the little intricacies of songs that once you get out on stage, you can't really hear each other as well as you'd like to, but at least you know what not you're going to be singing. So, some of that stuff is on there. We do some interviews and you see us travel the world. When you see us play our performances, you see it from the wings and right on stage. It feels like you're on stage with us.

MR: The name of the show is Chicago The Band Presents An Evening of Holiday Music and Greatest Hits.
LL: That's what they're calling it. That's what's been confusing with some of the people, because we're playing shows in six or seven of the cities that the event is going to be in, you know, in the theaters, and they've been complaining that it looks like we're playing a concert there and it's keeping people from buying tickets. So, I just want to tell everyone it's not a concert, it's a look at the band from a completely different standpoint. The concert will be one song after another, which will run through our whole career from the first album all the way through XXXIII.

MR: With your hit "25 Or 6 To 4," I think everyone knows the title but not what it means. What's the story behind the song?
LL: The simplicity of the title, I think maybe is a little off putting. It's nothing mysterious at all. Robert was writing a song, getting tired, and looked across the room and he could barely see. It was four o' clock in the morning, and it was either 25 minutes or 26 minutes to 4 AM. I think he went to bed, and pulled the pin then. 

MR: (laughs) I guarantee you most people didn't know that story.
LL: It takes some of the mystic out of the title. 

MR: What about "Colour My World"?
LL: "Colour My World" came out of a movement in the Ballet for a Girl In Buchannon, which is a 14 minute piece that James Pankow wrote for the second album. Interestingly our first single came out of that 14 minute piece called "Make Me Smile," which is the beginning portion of the suite, and also it's a reprise at the end. So, we took them out, stuck them together, and that became "Make Me Smile." Radio would not play us previous to that. On our first album, we released "Beginnings" and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" They wouldn't play them because we didn't have a hit yet, which was sort of interesting that little catch-22, "How do you have a hit if you can't get anything played?" So, we came out with the second album, and they were interested in "Make Me Smile" and it became a hit, so we went back and released those songs and they became hits as well.

MR: "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" Is that it or is there any story behind that?
LL: I think the lyrics are the story. He was walking down the street and somebody came up and said, "Do you know what the time is," and he says, "Does anybody really know?" Sort of a smart ass answer.

MR: My favorite kind. Got anything on "Just You And Me"?
LL: When Jimmy introduces "Just You And Me" every night, we have now started saying that our songs have two audiences--people that were married to them, and people that were conceived by them. (laughs)

MR: And my all-time favorite is "If You Leave Me Now."
LL: That was an after thought as well, everybody had pretty much left and we needed one more song. We had gone back to LA--most everybody, Cetera was still at the ranch in Colorado. They recorded "If You Leave Me Now," and that was our first international number one success.

MR: There's just a beautiful mixture, with that song, of sound and performance.
LL: It was a very interesting phenomenon how that occurred. Then, of course, once that success was there, the record company and radio stations wanted us to recreate that over and over again. That's not the way creativity really works. From then on, we were put into a niche that said we were a ballad band, and as far as I'm concerned, the ballads were experimental. Those tunes are not what your normal ballad would do. They are interesting songs--I think they change keys about two or three times before you even get to the verse. This is experimental musical, and usually someone starts out in one key, and if they change keys at all, it's to move up the feeling of it toward the end of the song. It's not a matter of course or to make this song interesting musically. 

MR: Can I ask you a possibly touchy question?
LL: Sure. 

MR: Personally, I always saw a connection between Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Chicago. Was there?
LL: No, what it was was that Al Kooper, who was a staff producer for CBS in the late '60s, saw us play at the Whiskey A Go Go in LA, and he went, "That's what I want to do." He went back to New York, wrote the songs for the first album, hired the studio players to come in and do it, and they had their record out before us. We were the 12-to-8 (recording) shift. When we finally got to New York to record our first album, we knew the music backwards and forwards, but we hadn't worked in the studio yet. So, we were freaked out when we had that microphone in front of us that was going to hear every little nuance of every note. We had to learn how to record as well. As I said, we did the 12 to 8 shift. We started at 6 in the evening and ended at 6 in the morning. Then Simon & Garfunkel came in and they had the studio blocked out. We couldn't get into the studio again 'til that next night. It only really took us a couple of weeks to record the whole album, that's my recollection. As far as being the same as Blood, Sweat & Tears, they put out their record and we put out our record. The differences in the two of them was that our influences came out of the music, and Al wanted to combine jazz and rock and he did that just by writing songs. But the jazz players played like jazz players, and the rock players played like rock players. It wasn't a melding of the genres. 

MR: Getting back to the new album, it's called Chicago XXXIII: Oh Christmas Three. Clever title.
LL: We were going to call it just Oh Christmas Tree, because in Chicago, they go, "One, two, tree," but we decided against that. (laughs)

MR: I also wanted to bring up "Rockin' And Rollin' On Christmas Day" with Steve Cropper.
LL: It was a lot of fun. Jason's father actually played with Steve at some point in his career as well as with Elvis Presley and Elvis Costello. Jason knew Steve since he was a boy, and he asked Steve if he wanted to come in and play on one of our tunes, and we chose "Rockin' And Rollin' On Christmas Day."

MR: And back to "Merry Christmas, Darling," which is one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time.
LL: Ah, yeah the Carpenters. 

MR: What a classic Christmas song it's become.
LL: It's perennial, it keeps coming back every year. It has been made as a classic, and that's one of the reasons it's going on the album. It doesn't sound forty years old--you don't find out until forty years later that it's timeless. You have no idea when you're actually writing it.

MR: What is your advice for new artists?
LL: If this is your passion, do not let go of it and move forward. It's always going to look like there's no way you're going to make it. Trust me, there's a way, and if you're intense enough as we were, once you get your foot in the door, you never take your foot out. You just keep getting better on the instrument, your writing, your singing, and all of the stuff that goes with it. If you're intense and that's your passion, go for it. That's pretty much with any business. Find what you're most interested in, the thing that comes the easiest for you, then do that. That's where you're going to be the happiest in your life. 

MR: Anything we haven't covered?
LL: I have one other thing that I wanted to add. On "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," we did a music video of that, and we asked our friend Joe Mantegna, and an up and coming comedic actor named Kyle Mooney, who's got a following on YouTube, to come in and do some acting parts. So, we wrote a little story and filmed "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" that is now up and playing on our YouTube channel chicagotheband1. We have many thousands of plays already.

MR: Terrific. Lee, it's really great that you've guys have stayed together all of these years. And the future?
LL: Our manager has already booked many shows for next year, so you will be seeing us, and check out the website and all of the tour dates will be up there. As I said we're going to start recording brand new material and releasing it on the website. 

MR: You're meeting the future head on.
LL: Yes, we have a traveling world class studio coming on the road with us.

MR: Any other predictions for Chicago, like for maybe a year from now?
LL: We will be talking again, and we will be going over the 45th year. I don't know what we will be coming up next, but this year has been interesting because this is our first theatrical event. Hopefully, it won't be our last. This is our introduction to it, and it (was played) on Monday December 6th, and it might be repeated on December 15th, there are a bunch of theaters that have committed to that.

MR: Lee, Thank you so much for spending time with us.
LL: Thank you very Michael, it's been a pleasure talking to you.

1. Wonderful Christmas Time - with Dolly Parton
2. Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
3. I Saw Three Ships - with America
4. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays
5. What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
6. It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
7. I'll Be Home For Christmas
8. On The Last Night Of The Year
9. Merry Christmas Darling - with Bebe Winans
10. Rockin' And Rollin' On Christmas Day - with Steve Cropper
11. My Favorite Things
12. O Christmas Tree
13. Jingle Bells
14. Here Comes Santa Claus/ Joy To The World

And this from the winner of the Chicago Christmas CD through our Forgotten Hits Christmas Give-Away:

Hi Kent, 
Thank you so much.  The Chicago CD just showed up at work, perfect timing, we are closing the campus down Thursday at 4:oo pm and will not be returning until January 3rd.  I will be checking in the Forgotten Hits while I am home relaxing.  Thank you for the perfect Christmas gift will be listening to this tonight with my feet up and a glass of bubbly.  Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 
Your friend in the oldies ... 
Janice Burns 
Orlando, FL

Here's one more from the guys ... it's their version of "Jingle Bells", wrapping up another holiday season here in Forgotten Hits!  (kk)

Meanwhile, we've got a few OTHER winners to congratulate, too!
Copies of Joel Whitburn's "Christmas In The Charts, 1920 - 2004" are going out to Rich Klein of Plano, Texas, and Ed Salamon of Nashville, Tennessee.  Joel Whitburn picked their names out of our Christmas stocking and is personally sending off copies of his special Christmas Chart book. Congratulations!!!
And, we've got a few Runners Up Prizes to give away, too!
FH Reader Dwight Rounds has donated six copies of HIS book "The Year The Music Died", a look back at "the best era of pop music, 1964 - 1972".  Congratulations go out to Fred Glickstein of Arlington Heights, IL, Dereck Staines of Hertfordshire, England, Bill Savage of Neosho, Missouri, Rich Altman of Crystal Lake, IL, Mark Bertram of LaCrosse, Wisconsin and John Ryall of Carle Place, New York, each of whom will be receiving a copy after the first of the year!

And ... speaking of Christmas in the Charts ... and Chicago ... FH Reader (and publisher of the WLS and WCFL local chart books) just sent us this note regarding his research and Christmas tunes on the charts, Chicago-style:

I spent more than a few minutes over the past few days compiling the
Christmas / Winter hits on the Chicago charts (enclosed). And, just as I'm sure Joel Whitburn found out -- many of your favorite hits never actually charted.
Here would be Chicago's Top Twenty-Five Charted Christmas songs (leaving out the "Winter" songs and religious songs not specifically about Christmas).
1) The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late) -  The Chipmunks with David Seville (1958, 1959, 1962)
2) Do They Know It's Christmas - Band Aid (1985)
3) I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - Jimmy Boyd (1952)
4) Nuttin' For Christmas - Barry Gordon (1955)
5) Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt (1953)
6) The Little Drummer Boy - Harry Simeone Chorale (1958, 1959, 1962, 1963)
(A version by Eric Jay tagged along one year, but I'm leaving it out)
7) Snoopy's Christmas - The Royal Guardsmen (1967)
8) White Christmas - Bing Crosby (1951)
9) Christmas Dragnet - Stan Freberg (1952)
10) Twinkle Toes - Crew Cuts (1954)
11) Monster's Holiday - Bobby "Boris" Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers (1962)
12) Mary's Boy Child - Harry Belafonte (1956)
13) Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer - Gene Autry (1951)
14) Pretty Paper - Roy Orbison (1963)
15) Jingle Bell Rock - Chubby Checker & Bobby Rydell (1961, 1962)
16) Santa Claus Is Watching You - Ray Stevens (1962)
17) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas - Alan Sherman (1963)
18) Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Four Seasons (1962)
19) Baby's First Christmas - Connie Francis (1961)
20) The Happy Reindeer - Dancer, Prancer & Nervous (1959)
21) The Christmas Song / White Christmas - Andy Williams (1963)
22) Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer - David Seville & the Chipmunks (1960)
23) Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon & Yoko Ono (1971)
24) Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms (1957)
25) Nuttin' For Christmas - Kenny & Corky (1959)
You want forgotten? Try numbers 9, 10, 21 & 25.
Merry Christmas.
-- Ron

I'm surprised to see how many of these we featured this year!  Thanks, Ron ... that's quite a list ... and Merry Christmas to you, too!  (kk)

And, this just in ... Bob Stroud will be doing a very special Christmas Edition of Rock And Roll Roots on Christmas Music, featuring all kinds of Christmas Rock and Roll Classics on his program.  
You can tune in and listen live here:  
Click here: The Drive 97.1 - Soundtrack Of Our Lives

To ALL of our readers ...