They made music history by blasting their horns on classic rock and roll. This Friday, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Chicago will perform at the MGM National Harbor.
Listen to the full conversation on our “Beyond Fame” podcast.
OMCP’s Jason Fraley Presents Chicago at MGM National Harbor (Part 1)
They made music history by blasting their horns on classic rock and roll.
This Friday, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Chicago will perform at MGM National Harbor.
âThis is Chicago and their biggest hits,â band guitarist Keith Howland told WTOP. “It’s over two hours of music with a 20-minute intermission, so we’re pretty much hitting the nail on the head.”
Born in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1964, Howland grew up visiting Chuck Levin’s Wheaton Music Center and Washington Music Center, while listening to Chicago music.
âMy brother was taking drum lessons at Wheaton Music and his drum teacher sent him home with transcriptions of Danny Seraphine’s ‘Chicago II’,â Howland said. âHe brought this record home and we sat in his roomâ¦ He had the four speakers, quad sound like surround sound, right sitting in the middle of the room and we were blown away. We had never heard of anything like it.
Thus, he became a longtime Chicago fan, unaware that he would later join the group.
âOur parents started helping us go to concerts in Chicago,â Howland said. âMy first gig in Chicago was in 1975 at the Capitals Center in DCâ¦ My first year with the band in 1995, we played at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. It was a trip to come full circleâ¦ with my family in the audience, to go on stage with the group that I grew up going to see in the same place.
Chicago officially formed in Windy City in 1967, as an offshoot of an existing group with Terry Kath, Danny Seraphine, and Walt Parazaider, who performed with Dick Clark.
âWalt decided it would be a good idea to start a rock ‘n roll band with horns,â Howland said. âTerry Kath played bass but switched to guitar. Walt recruited Jimmy Pankow and Lee Loughnane from DePaul [University] to form the brass sectionâ¦ Peter Cetera arrived at the end of the match. Robert Lamm came up with a lyric bookâ¦ Originally, it was the six guys.
Originally, they played at dinner clubs around Chicago as a well-dressed cover band.
âThey wore suits and ties, did choreographed dance moves and performed in Motown,â Howland said. âThe owners of the club were like, ‘You can’t play your original music.’ … They all dropped acid and listened [The Beatlesâ] ‘Sgt. Peppers â, and the next day they said,â Forget it, we’re not doing covers anymore, we’re going to do our own thing. “
It was a real turning point in the history of the group.
âTerry Kath literally ripped his costume off on stage, as the legend says, and only did original material all night,â Howland said. âThe club owner tried to shut them down. Robert Lamm dove off the stage, jumped on the guy and started a fight. Of course they were fired, but at that point they said, “We’re a legitimate, original musical rock band and that’s all we’re going to do.”
Soon they were discovered by producer Jim Guercio, who brought them to LA
âThey started playing whiskey every week, creating an audience, and then Jimi Hendrix walked in, heard them and invited them to come down the road,â Howland said. âIt was the great exhibition moment. I don’t think they even released their first albumâ¦ At the very beginning, Chicago was considered underground progressive rock. They were forward thinking, political, proggy, not mainstream. “
Their debut album, originally titled “Chicago Transit Authority” (1969), featured a hit song with a unique swing vibe: “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
âIt was literally the very first song the band recorded in the studio,â Howland said. âThese guys were basically just kids, teenagersâ¦ They were like deer in the headlights. Everything was new to them. They were in town, they had never been in a studio, the red light came onâ¦ This song, we play it every night, I’ve probably played it 2,500 times now or more, and it never gets old .
Their second album, “Chicago II” (1970), featured the catchy and enigmatic “25 or 6 to 4”.
âRobert Lamm was sitting in his apartment in New York City trying to write a song,â Howland said. âHe was waiting for daybreak, looking for something to say, flashing lights in the sky, giving up, I close my eyes. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, 25 or 6 minutes to 4 a.m. ‘ It’s a song about writing a song, it’s getting really late and he feels like he’s stuck.
In 1972, they found another hit with the bouncy “Saturday in the Park”.
“Robert had a knack for proposing hooky [songs]”Howland said.” I always said to him, ‘You do your best when you sit in front of a piano.’ â¦ This is how ‘Saturday’ was. He had a little room where he would write and sit at the piano with a tape recorder and that riff came outâ¦ He was still living in New York looking out the window in Central Park and this song came out.
In 1982, the band took it to the next level with the apology song “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”.
âIt was a Cetera-David Foster thing,â Howland said. âIt was literally the song that essentially set another era in Chicago’s career. The group suffered the death of Terry Kath [by suicide] in 1978â¦ In 1981, between David Fosterâ¦ They went to the studio, he and Cetera hit it off, they wrote this song, which became a # 1 single and kicked off the 80s era of Chicago.
In 1984, they landed another success with the pop love song “You’re the Inspiration” (1984).
âPeter and David Foster were like, ‘Do you want to try writing a song for Kenny Rogers’ new record?’ They went into the studio and wrote “You’re the Inspiration”, Cetera sang it and they sent it to Kenny Rogers, who refused to record the song, “Howland said. âBasically what’s on the record is basically the demo they cut to present it to Kenny Rogersâ¦ It ended up being a huge success.â
After Cetera left the band for a solo career, they promoted bassist Jason Scheff to lead vocalist for their album “Chicago 18” (1986), including the hit song # 3 “Will You Still Love Me. ? “
âIt was the first shot after Peter Cetera,â Howland said. âPeter Cetera had finished making his first solo album. According to Jason, David Foster got his hands on a raw mix of “Glory of Love”, which was to be Cetera’s first single. He walked into the studio, played it for the guys and said, “This is what we have to beat.” They looked at each other and said, ‘Whoa.’ â¦ Both songs were huge.
After that, Scheff brought the band to lead vocals in the future.
âI remember when Cetera left I was like, ‘Oh boy, this is huge,'” Howland said. âI lived in Richmond, Virginia. I went to buy ‘Chicago 18’ vinyl and brought it home. I put the record on and the first song was ‘Niagara Falls’. I heard Jason’s voice and he had that very high-pitched tenor voice and I said, ‘Wow, I think they’re going to be okay with it. Looks like they found a guy.
Howland’s dream came true when he joined the group in 1995.
âI lived in LA and had done a year with Rick Springfield,â Howland said. âI started making phone calls. One was to a friend named Dave Friedman, who was an amplifier repairer. His shop was in a rehearsal studio in North Hollywoodâ¦ A month later he said, âChicago is here auditioning guitarists today. â¦ I threw all my gear in my car and got out.
In 2016, Chicago was officially inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but sadly Howland couldn’t join them despite playing with them for 21 decades at that time.
âIt’s always been a bone of contention with a lot of bands entering Rock Hall,â Howland said. âEven Jason Scheff, who was with the band for 30 years and had several hit songs, was not inducted,â Howland said. “They talk a lot about the original group.”
OMCP’s Jason Fraley Presents Chicago at MGM National Harbor (Part 2)
Listen to the full conversation on our “Beyond Fame” podcast.