Talking with trumpet player Lee Loughnane, a founding member of Chicago, I couldn’t get past just how nice he was. Not like customer service at Starbucks nice, but nice like a pat on the back for a job well done or a birthday card from Grandma. Loughnane seems like he’s the type of guy who would not only give you the shirt off his back, but also ask if you wanted his pants and shoes to complete the ensemble. Which, I suppose, is pretty much what you’d expect.
Let’s face it: Chicago gets a lot of criticism because of this attribute, not in spite of it. Songs like, “You’re My Inspiration,” “Make Me Smile/Now More Than Ever,” and more recently, off the band’s soon-to-be-released album Now, which includes the lyrics, “Let’s make a place where love is happening/There is no better time than NOW!” stand as landmarks in a long career of positive attitudes with percussion.
Chicago goes to show that perhaps being nice, a trait that doesn’t seem to be synonymous with “rock band,” might be a quality ingredient for success.
The band formed in 1967, and it’s been playing strong ever since. They are currently on tour, promoting a new album, and pairing up with symphonies across the country.
The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra teams with Chicago for the first of two outdoor concert events on May 31 — the symphony performs with Christopher Cross on June 6. Starry Nights was resurrected for this season after a 10-year hiatus.
Loughnane says he has 17 songs that have been written with the symphonies in mind, but other than that, the only difference in the performances is that they now have 70 more people on stage. They practice only once, a few hours before the show; any more is unnecessary. “These guys are great; they are very good at what they do,” Loughnane says.
Of the touring, he admits it’s stressful but doesn’t act like he has a choice in the matter. Chicago has toured every year since they started, never taking a year off.
“We don’t see any slowing down anytime soon. We’ll probably do another 100 shows next year. We are well within our 48th year of touring without a year off and that impresses even me.”
After Chicago leaves Jacksonville, it will be traveling to Orlando, Spain, Germany, Italy and France, as well as doing a short stint with Carnival Cruise Line. All within a span of a month.
Chicago’s new album, Chicago XXXVI (that's 36 for those of us who need translation), will be released this July 4. Among the songs are “America” and “Naked in the Garden of Allah,” reminiscent of their earlier, more politically charged songs like 1970’s anti-Vietnam song, “It Better End Soon.” Loughnane is hesitant to brand them as having a political agenda, however. He says that, specifically, the song “Naked” gets a lot of attention because, “[people] think it is politically charged because it has the word Allah in it.” He admits, however, that the song is, “a song about freedom, live and let live.”
The song “America” has a more generic, blasé sense of nationalism to it. Perhaps given the date the album is to be released makes the lyrics, “America is free/everyone’s free/America is you and me/The declaration tells us we are all free,” feel less grating and more like hot dogs and fireworks.
The method the band used to record during their constant touring schedule is impressive. Loughnane has set up a recording device (nicknamed “the rig”) that enables them to record music “in different rooms all around the world.” They have been able to record the entire new album while physically on the road touring. Loughnane says that it feels like they have the capability to be in a studio no matter where they travel.
“Our first album we recorded on a 16-track machine; now we record on computers that pretty much have an endless supply of what you can put on for content. … [Technology is] constantly moving and that’s why we put together our little rig to be able to grow with the times. … This is [coming] from a band that thought we would have one, maybe two albums.”