Like many of us, the band Chicago has a history that includes a midwestern upbringing coupled with more formidable experiences in Colorado. Given the fact that their most successful lead singer, Peter Cetera, is in town plus a recently released documentary on CNN and their recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it seems a fine time to assess the career and influence of the band. The rock and roll band with horns, that was originally called the Chicago Transit Authority, has sold over 100 million, that’s right 100 million records, had over 70 songs make the Billboard charts and released 24 studio albums in nearly 50 years. Their songs are a staple at every wedding reception you attend plus the inspiration of a thousand prom themes.
The CNN rockumentary is a finely assembled piece on the band that invented horns. The film, produced by the band with near complete cooperation from most members, takes a chronological approach to their history that spans from opening shows for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin to nearly five decades later, when they were inducted into the Hall of Fame with N.W.A. From the beginning, the band stood up for its belief in itself as a singular unit of talented musicians who happened to play mostly instruments that used one’s mouth in addition to hands. Instead of fighting the local bar owner’s mentality to only play cover song hits, Chicago left their hometown for the west coast where they found acceptance and appreciation for what they were trying to do. From there, their story become well, rather cliché.- corrupt managers, drug abuse, a tragic death, out of control egos and record breaking success.
The band’s trials and tribulations even brought them for a period of time to the fine state of Colorado where their successes and excesses became legendary. Their first manager, James Guercio, purchased The Caribou Ranch just outside of Nederland and it was there, that not only did a series of classic Chicago albums get made, but also where some of the coolest footage of the film takes place. Most Coloradans can appreciate the frolic and festiveness of the video shot during their multi-year recluse at the location that some of the Centennial State’s most seminal musical history was made before burning down in 1985.
Which brings us to the band’s revolving door of members and perhaps the most famous of them all- Cetera. Appearing in a solo show this weekend at the VPAC, Cetera, under the auspices at the time of producer David Foster, anchored a major comeback for the band that had been fired by their record label for poor performance. It was putting Cetera’s golden voice and blond hair in the spotlight of songs and videos like “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and their first worldwide No. 1 single, the ballad “If You Leave Me Now” (winning a Grammy Award for Chicago, surprisingly the group’s only Grammy to date). Cetera eventually decided to forego his band membership and embarked on a most successful solo career that brings him to town this weekend.
Is Chicago one of the best American rock and roll bands ever? It’s hard to dispute their longevity, chart hits and genre bending innovations in what a rocking band can sound like. Each day, somewhere, you come across one of their songs and they just might hold the record for most times one of their classics has been used as a bride and groom’s first dance. Where they might lose on the argument is their overall influence on future bands. Only recently have you begun to see more bands put horns front and center; however, their mastery of composition, songwriting that borders on sappy without ever crossing the line and power ballads that make your feet move, clearly makes them a top ten on the list of great bands given birth on the home soil.