A Half a Penny for a Half a Decade?  Lee Loughnane Toots Chicago’s Horn

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It’s hard to imagine logging 50 years in one of the industry’s top-selling bands, but it’s nearly impossible to remember all the details of the journey. Fortunately for Chicago, every decade of their 50-year career is marked by tangible milestones that measure the past successes and remind the band why they still love what they do.

As the first American rock band to chart Top 40 albums in six consecutive decades, Chicago has an impressive 25 of their 36 albums certified platinum. The band has toured every year since the beginning. The band has earned a Grammy Award, multiple American Music Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a street in their hometown of Chicago dedicated in their honor. The album Chicago Transit Authority was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2014 and on April 8, Chicago will be inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

Now in their 49th consecutive year of touring, Chicago hits the road March 23 with Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "Earth, Wind & Fire" on the Heart & Soul 2.0 Tour which begins at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

“We started playing tours with Earth, Wind & Fire in 2004. At the end of last year, there was so much demand for us to do more shows that we added 15 more shows,” says founding member and trumpet player Lee Loughnane. “The thing that makes the package work the best is that both bands get together on stage and play each other’s music simultaneously. I always like playing ‘In The Stone.’ They’re all fun, but ‘In The Stone’ is great with that big brass intro. Both bands are very well-rounded in different types of music. Obviously, Earth, Wind & Fire is more R&B oriented, and we’re more rock oriented, but it gives the fan base of both bands something that they haven’t seen before and brings an excitement level that makes one and one equal four. It just takes it to another level.”

A fitting to preamble to the Hall of Fame induction was the recent premiere of the documentary Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago Feb 20 at the Sedona International Film Festival. It was recently accepted into the Sarasota Film Festival, and the band is trying to get into the Chicago Film Festival as well. “Hopefully, that will happen,” he says. “We’ll have the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame write the Chicago Film Festival.”

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago details the band’s rise to fame and all the trappings that come with success. Loughnane was “intimately involved” behind the scenes in the making of the film, which he says is a visual diary of the band’s legacy and a love letter to the families left behind during years of constant touring. “They can see why I wasn’t with them. My ex-wives have definitely kept me out there working,” he says. “It was interesting to remember some of the stuff that, thank God, I lived through during my alcohol and drug years. It was the fog of the 70s.”

“People can say we’ve toned it down, but I’ve never gone along with that, because, yes, we had a whole different wave of success with David Foster and the ballads that he produced in the 80s, but people love that era. And they also love the fact that we play those songs every night, and, I’ll tell you, man, they go over every night just as much as the stuff that we wrote in the 70s. We had the number one Song of the Year with ‘Look Away’ in 1989. The success has been unbelievable for us, and the fact that the music that has come through has resonated with so many different generations is something you can’t plan and you can’t prepare for.”

Before selling out arenas and touring worldwide, Chicago came up in the clubs. Loughnane says young bands had it good back then; just show up and play, and let the business stuff sort itself out. The expectation for new bands trying to break out in the business today is staggering by comparison, and, as a result, the average lifespan is considerably shorter.

“They have to know how to entertain right off the bat and have to be a multi-million dollar seller, or it goes nowhere. And, if the next one doesn’t immediately sell millions, they are done too. When we were recording our first album, we were thinking that we would have one album, possibly two. There was no way that we would imagine having 36 albums almost 50 years later. We just kept going, one step at a time.”

“We love being musicians, and we worked at it. And when you hear us live, it sounds like it. We can actually play that stuff. Chicago and also Earth, Wind & Fire both made our bones in the clubs, so we learned how to play for 45 to 50 people doing five sets a night. That was before the bands had to actually bring in their own audience. It was great because we just had to play, and people came in to drink and have a good time and hear some good music at the same time. And we got to learn how to entertain, so it all worked. We have to work even harder now to figure out how to get the music out there. The record stores are going away. The record labels are grasping at trying to stay in business. It’s a difficult landscape to navigate. We’re trying to make a point of telling people it costs not only the time and effort it takes to record a song, but it costs money to make music. It’s not fair for people to get it for free. Even streaming, you don’t even get a penny. You get a fraction of a penny. Music is worth more than a penny. Are you kidding me?”

Despite the challenges of making music for a living, Loughnane says the band is writing new material and ready to celebrate its longevity in the business with a sixth, even seventh decade. “We’re sprinting uphill to our 50th anniversary, which is something that no one could’ve imagined. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing for sure and whatever comes next. It’s the same thing that kept us going when we first got together. We love to play music, and we love to play music for people, in front of people,” he says. “You’re never finished paying your dues. Ever.”


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