It was probably at the Big Thing's next appearance at Barnaby's, March 6-10, 1968, that Guercio came back for a second look. Finished with the Buckinghams and impressed by the band's improvement, he took action. "He obviously decided that his initial opinion was correct, and he figured that we indeed would be worth developing," says Pankow. "So, he told us to prepare for a move to LA, to keep doing what we were doing, working on our original material, and he would call us when he was ready for us, and he got a little two-bedroom house under the Hollywood Freeway, and he told us that he was ready. We made the move in June of 1968. We threw all of our lives in U-haul trailers and drove across the country."
The band that moved to Los Angeles in 1968, now renamed Chicago Transit Authority by Guercio in honor of the bus line he used to ride to school, was in a creative fervor. Kath, Pankow, and especially Lamm were writing large amounts of original material, with Lamm completing two of the group's most memorable songs, "Questions 67 And 68" and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" just prior to the departure from Chicago. And once they reached California, work commenced in earnest.
"We got disturbance calls from the neighbors five times a day because all we did was practice day and night in the living room of this house," says Pankow. "The married guys left their wives at home at first because they couldn't afford to bring their families out, and they eventually brought their families out and moved into apartments around the corner from the house, and we just woodshedded and rehearsed original material. We wrote and rehearsed and wrote and rehearsed at constant writing and rehearsal seminars, and all of this material was what was to become Chicago Transit Authority, the first album." "When you think about it," adds Parazaider, "the first three albums that were double albums, and especially the first two, we had enough material for two double albums by the time we ever set foot in the studio for the Chicago Transit Authority album."
"In the meantime, we were working as an opening act at the Whisky A-Go-Go and college bars and other rock 'n' roll clubs in the LA area," says Pankow, "and by word of mouth, we started becoming the new sensation in LA. It started happening all over again. Jimmy Guercio figured that the Whisky would be a great springboard for people in the record industry to hear us, and indeed through those engagements Jimmy Guercio was able to negotiate a contract with CBS."
In his autobiography, Clive: Inside The Record Business, published in 1974, ex-CBS Records president Clive Davis tells a curious story about the signing of Chicago Transit Authority to Columbia Records. Davis says that he received a call from David Geffen (then an agent) praising the group, and that he waited for Guercio to bring them in, since Guercio had a contract giving Columbia first look at all his artists until the label selected three, and two (Firesign Theatre and Illinois Speed Press) had already been picked. But when Guercio did come calling, with producer Mike Curb in tow, he tried to sell Davis the Arbors, a group CBS had dropped from a subsidiary label months before. The wily Davis then insisted he would turn down every suggestion until Chicago Transit Authority was offered up.
It sounds like half a story at best. Guercio disputes it completely. He has a much more involved story to tell.
"I had invested all of my dollars in keeping this band [Chicago Transit Authority] alive," he says. "It probably created the seeds of resentment. It was so tough. I took them out of making $200 a night. I had moved them to California, and I knew they were my best project. The group does not know the struggle. I was beating the shit out of them in rehearsals. 'I don't like this tune.' 'Change the structure.' 'This isn't good enough.' And they were just playing bars. It was very tough. I wasn't real polite about it, 'cause we didn't have much time, and it wasn't an easy thing to do. So, you create a lot of resentment."
When he had the band in shape, Guercio showcased them for CBS at the Whisky (the date was probably August 19, 1968), and the label's West Coast A&R department turned Chicago Transit Authority down. According to the terms of the contract, the label was allowed three opportunities to see each act, and this was strike one. Later (perhaps in late September), they were turned down again.
It is perhaps worth pausing to consider Guercio's position vis-a-vis CBS at this time, since it seems simultanously close and somewhat adversarial, and would continue to be. Today, independent producers are an accepted fact of life in the record industry. But in 1968, producers were usually employed by record labels, and worked only in studios also owned by the labels. Guercio may have worked exclusively for CBS, but he was an early maverick.
"I was an independent producer," he explains. "I was not allowed to exist. It was like being the lowest form of life on the planet. These guys [staff producers] all had overhead, American Express cards, limos, salaries, and a small percentage. They all looked down on me - there were a couple that got along with me. They all hated my guts because I was making a fortune. I had everything signed to me personally, then I leased it to CBS."
POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CHICAGO #2:
That Blood, Sweat And Tears Came First
The group that later took the name Chicago, Walter Parazaider's "rock 'n' roll band with horns," was formed February 15,1967, and spent almost two years rehearsing, playing, writing, and preparing for the release of its first album. Blood, Sweat and Tears was formed in mid-summer 1967, but reached the recording stage sooner because of band leader Al Kooper's established record industry connections.
"I take pride in that we were the first to try this rock 'n' roll band with horns thing," says Parazaider. "Unfortunately - and when you look back at it I have to say I'm happy with the timing of the way everything happened - we just happened not to be the first rock 'n' roll band with horns to get out there on record."
Great minds think alike, but Chicago was there first.
But Guercio also had a demonstrated ability to deliver hits, especially with a horn band, which may help explain the amazing turn of events that now ensued. Blood, Sweat and Tears had released its debut album, Child Is Father To The Man, to only moderate sales, and had then gone through a reorganization during which Al Kooper was ousted and singer David Clayton-Thomas joined. Now they were preparing to record their second album. Three guesses who they thought would make a great producer.
The approach came at what Guercio recalls as an outrageous Hollywood party, during which Janis Joplin brained Jim Morrison with a liquor bottle. "Bennett Glotzer (BS& T's manager) is following me around saying, 'You gotta produce Blood, Sweat and Tears,' Guercio recalls. "I said, 'The first album's a stiff, I've already got a horn band, give me a break! Alan wanted me to do the first project.' He says, 'You've gotta do it. It's a new band. We've got this Canadian singer, David Clayton-Thomas. You gotta come back to New York. You gotta see it.' I made it so difficult because I was running out of money, and I was getting turned down by CBS. I said, 'Listen. These son-of-a-bitches have just turned down my group at two showcases.' He says, 'I can get anything you want.' I said, 'You get me a studio, you get me a hotel room at the Drake Hotel for as many months as I want it. You pay for all my plane tickets. I commute to LA every weekend. I fly in for four days. You get this band rehearsed, and I'll think about it. Call me Monday.' And that's what happened. They rolled out the red carpet, and they really were pissed off about it, but Bennett pulled it off. Nobody ever talked to me. Nobody ever put a [purchase order] in front of me. All of a sudden, from being turned down, not being able to get one penny out of CBS, not being able to get studio time, I got carte blanche if I'd do Blood, Sweat and Tears."
Though he was doing the project primarily to continue funding Chicago Transit Authority and to find a way to get them signed to CBS, Guercio was still faced with the problem of explaining his apparent defection to the group.
"Jimmy called me up, and he asked me to ask the other guys, would it be okay if he did the Blood, Sweat and Tears second album," Parazaider recalls. 'At first I was going, 'Well, jeez, man, that's horns and what's going on?' and I voiced that opinion to him. He says, 'To tell you the truth, I really haven't recorded horns as a whole band situation. I've recorded horns that did sort of blaps here and there or little parts here and there. This would be a good way for me to learn how to record horns.' I don't think it was lip service, because he really hadn't recorded horns per se. He has some background horns, and we were basically a band with integrated horns in the band, not as backup horns. I have to believe him on this because, if you think about it, what the horn section did, from the start, was a lot different than Blood, Sweat and Tears, and the sound was copied many times over after we got 'the Chicago horn sound.' So, I think with Blood, Sweat and Tears the horns were recorded in a much different way than Chicago's horns were. Of course, if you look at the two bands, you would say that they were really a jazz-rock 'n' roll band, where we were - they called us a jazz-rock band after Blood, Sweat and Tears faded away, but we were basically a rock 'n' roll band with horns."
"Terry was really pissed off," says Guercio. "I said, 'Terry, there ain't even a guitar player in this band. On top of it, I'm using studio players, and I'm only doin' it three, four days a week. Let's get this shit together. We'll blow 'em off the stage. Don't worry about it.' So, I'm flying back to New York, and I made the most antiseptic record you could ever make, but I thought it was pretty good. But I had a very tough time, and those guys really don't like me, 'cause I was just there for one album. Bennett got me everything I needed, and I felt there was a tacit agreement that I'd get a chance to record Chicago immediately after that."
Trouble was, the tacit agreement didn't seem to be getting any nearer to ink on a contract. This, according to Guercio, is where Mike Curb, also an independent producer in Los Angeles at the time, came in. "I called Mike up," Guercio says. "Mike was the only guy that would help me. He had a little demo studio. I said, 'Listen, CBS has turned them down. I'm having a big problem with Clive Davis. I'm going to do Blood, Sweat and Tears, it's going to be a hit, but they turned down Chicago again, and I've got to record them. I'm running out of money.' He says, 'I'll record 'em.' So we all went in, and we did a demo for Mike Curb (this is the recording Lamm remembers), and Clive heard, which I knew he would do. Mike immediately started touting it everywhere. The minute Mike had an interest and started calling everybody, saying 'There's this incredible band that Jimmy's recording, I let 'em in my studio, listen to this,' CBS changes their position.'
From the New York studio where he was producing Blood, Sweat and Tears, Guercio was summoned to Davis's office. "Chicago gets signed with CBS because Clive insists that it was a mistake by the California A&R department, that they never should have turned Chicago down, and he always wanted Chicago," Guercio says, though he doesn't believe the explanation he received. Rather, he has his own theory. "He (Davis) was trying to break me," Guercio says. 'And he ended up doing it. Chicago's entire advance was $5,000 when Clive eventually caved in."
So, through a complicated series of maneuvers, Guercio had managed to get Chicago Transit Authority signed to Columbia Records, with recording sessions scheduled to begin in January. Seven months after arriving in California, almost two years since they had formed in Parazaider's apartment back in Chicago, and after more than a cumulative half century of playing and practicing, the seven members of Chicago Transit Authority finally were ready to take all they could do and put it onto a record album.
SO MUCH TO SAY, SO MUCH TO GIVE
Only the beginning
Of what I want to feel forever more
"Beginnings" by Robert Lamm
In January, 1969, when Chicago Transit Authority flew to New York to begin work on its first album, it faced two problems it knew nothing about. Their first was the status of its producer/manager in the record company to which CTA was signed, with regard to a project it had nothing to do with. Let us return briefly to Jim Guercio's studio work of the previous October.
"I'm doing Blood, Sweat and Tears, I'm going over budget, I'm a total prima donna," he says. "But as soon as I finished the record, they told everybody the guy that swept the halls produced it" As far as the label was concerned, the cleaning man might have been an improvement. When Blood, Sweat and Tears was turned in for a December release, record executives felt it fell between the chairs of jazz and rock, and would be an inevitable flop.
"I finished the record, I am accused of destroying one of their best acts," Guercio says. "But nobody knew what the record was. It wasn't rock 'n' roll, it wasn't jazz, and that was it for me. I'm finished. They only shipped about 5,000 copies."
Worse than that from CTA’s perspective was that Columbia curtailed the amount of time the band would have in the CBS studio, instead scheduling in another act. (Recall that a CBS performer had to record in a CBS studio.) "They took all of my recording time because Blood, Sweat and Tears was not a hit. It was a disaster, and Clive Davis wouldn't take my calls," says Guercio. The group was allowed only five days of basic tracking and five days of overdubbing. And then there was the second problem. Although they were well rehearsed, the band members had never been in a studio before.
We actually went in and started making Chicago Transit Authority, and found out we knew very little about what the hell we were doing," says Walt Parazaider. "Being a reed player, I had done commercial jingles in Chicago, but this was a totally different thing for all of us. The first thing we ever did was with Roy Halee, who did all the Simon and Garfunkel records. He was the engineer. The first song we recorded - and we tried to record it as a band, live, all of us in the studio at once-was 'Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?' How the hell do you get seven guys playing it right the first time? I just remember standing in the middle of that room. I didn't want to look at anybody else for fear I'd throw them off and myself off. That's how crazy it got. I think that we actually realized after we didn't get anything going that it had to be rhythm section first, then the horns, and that's basically how we recorded a lot of the albums." (Halee, however, left the sessions after the first night.)
But after working out the basic mechanics of recording, the large bulk of material the band had amassed began to be a problem to fit on the then-standard 35-minute, one disc LP Though Terry Kath and James Pankow had come up with some strong songs, Robert Lamm had been especially prolific.
We were being encouraged and given carte blanche to create music of our own," Lamm recalls, "and I considered the very broad palette of a band with brass and a great guitarist and a great bass player and three vocalists, and just that idea was very stimulating. So in my own naive way, I basically learned by doing, and every time I wrote a song I learned something valuable about music and I learned something valuable about what the band was capable of, which was nearly everything. A tune like 'Beginnings,' for instance. When we got to California, there was a club called Ash Grove that featured mostly blues and folk or folk-rock artists, and I went to see Richie Havens. I loved the rhythmic approach that he played guitar with, and that inspired the approach to 'Beginnings.' All the time, I was writing lyrics about my life and writing what I was seeing around me, my take on what was going on."
If the band seemed to have a lot to say, both musically and lyrically, this seemed like the time to say it. Early 1969 was a period when what was increasingly being called "rock" rather than "rock 'n' roll" was taking on a seriousness and ambitiousness undreamed of only a few years before. The Beatles had recently released their two-record "white" album and had also shattered the previously sacrosanct "three-minute limit" for a single by spending over seven minutes singing "Hey Jude." Producer Jim Guercio and the band felt it was necessary to make a statement with the first CTA album.
'Along the way, we realized we had so much material that it was going to be a double album," says Parazaider, "and Columbia freaked out over that. They came back to us and said, 'Who do they think they are? The Beatles just put out their double white album, and here they want to put out a double album, and they want to have it black, and they're a new group. Guercio just went back to them and said, 'The group feels so strongly this is a statement of where they are right now, and we really believe strongly it should be a double album.' So, Columbia came back, the business people said, 'We'll let them have the double album. It's gonna cost us more money.' Records at that time were $3.99, $4.99. They said, 'If they believe in it so much, have them cut their royalties.' And we did, because we die believe in it that much."
Guercio's hand was strengthened in his roller coaster dealings with cm by a new wrinkle in the Blood, Sweat and Tears saga. While he had beer frantically trying to do the CTA album in a matter of days in late January, the BS& T album was becoming an unexpected hit. Released with little fanfare in December, 1968, it finally hit the charts on February 1, 1969, with "You’ve Made Me So Very Happy," the first of three gold-selling singles, following in March. By the end of 1969, Blood, Sweat and Tears would be one of the five biggest selling albums of the year, and it would win the Album of the Year Grammy the following February.
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