This was, in a sense, a mixed blessing for CTA, since it meant that, initially - and in many subsequent rock history books - the group was seen as copying a band it had in fact preceded into existence. But BS& T's success also helped give Guercio the clout to get CTA’s debut album released in the form he wanted it.
Heard today, Chicago Transit Authority is a time capsule of the popular musical styles of the late '60s, with CTA’s own unique flavor on top. One can pick out the group's classical, jazz, R&B, and pop influences, hearing references to the Beatles as well as Jimi Hendrix. One can hear the band's own history: Kath's "Introduction," which does in fact introduce the band in confessional form ("We're a little nervous"), is CTA’s own version of the kind of funky bar band rave-up of Sly and the Family Stone's "Dance To The Music" or Archie Bell and the Drells' "Tighten Up." Midsong, one moves from the bar to the lounge for some lovely horn playing, and moments later one is in a concert hall listening to a screaming rock guitar solo by Kath.
And so it goes. "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" starts with an acoustic piano that is equal parts Erik Satie and Art Tatum, while the song itself is a bright, pop melody contrasted with a typically antiestablishment lyric. "Questions 67 And 68" combines a stately horn chart with some hot guitar and a musical cadence reminiscent of pop songs such as "Up-Up And Away" All through, there are the inventive horn charts, the sophisticated rhythm changes and startling musical juxtapositions, the alternating smooth (Lamm), soaring (Cetera), and soulful (Kath) singing that would become hallmarks of the classic Chicago sound.
Released in April, 1969, Chicago Transit Authority was played by the newly powerful FM album rock stations, especially college radio. “AM radio wouldn't touch us because we were unpackagable," says Pankow. They weren't able to pigeonhole our music. It was too different, and the cuts on the albums were so long that they really weren't tailored for radio play unless they were edited, and we didn't know anything about editing. Actually, we released three singles off the first album. We edited three sogs and released them, but AM radio was nowhere near ready for this kind of music. The album was an underground hit. FM radio was embraced by the college audiences in the late '60s. All of a sudden, the college campuses around the country discovered Chicago, and it was over. That was the beginning of the snowball. If you didn't listen to Chicago, you weren't hip. It was the college kids and word-of-mouth that made that album such an incredible, enormous mainstay on the pop charts."
The album broke into Billboard magazine's Top LP's chart for the week ending May 17, 1969, and eventually peaked at Number 17. By the end of 1972, it had amassed 148 weeks in the chart (and that wasn't the end of its total run), making it the longest running album by a rock group ever. In June, 1969, Columbia released "Questions 67 and 68" as a 45. It broke into the singles chart for a few weeks, never getting beyond the bottom third of the top 100. It and other songs from the album would be heard from later, however.
POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CHICAGO #3:
Whatever Happened To Walt Perry?
Several rock encyclopedias and history books list a mysterious early member of Chicago, one Walt Perry, who appears on the first album and disappears from the band and, apparently, from the face of the earth. Where is Walt Perry today?
Peter Cetera laughs at the question. "Walt Perry is Walt Parazaider," he says. "See, back then, everybody had stage names. I don't know why. Walt Parazaider was Walt Perry, Bobby Lamm was Bobby Charles, Cetera was in fact Peter Lawrence for a very short period, Danny Seraphine was Dan Sera."
Meanwhile, the band toured incessantly. "I booked every university in this country with over 2,000 kids in it and played it," says Guercio. "The album was selling like hotcakes 'cause we played about 300 days in 1969," says Parazaider. "You figure we should all have been dead after that year no matter how young we were. But we built up quite a following that way."
"Being from Chicago and working the kind of hours that we were so used to working - you know, we were used to a lot of work," says Cetera. "In Chicago, you worked a lot. There were always long hours, and it was hard work, and to be on the road, jeez, that was like fun. That was nothing. I remember in the part of the year we did, I don't know, 250 one-nighters, or whatever the hell that was, I don't know how many. We drove across all of Canada. That was fun to us. Sure, it was tough, but we were low income to middle income boys from Chicago who were happy that nobody was on to us that we were having so much fun in all this work, and we were very naive in every way, but musically we were happy, and that's why we did it, 'cause it was like, 'Jeez, can you believe this, they're actually clapping now.’"
The group's exposure was aided by some of the biggest acts in rock, who invited CTA to open their shows. "We toured with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin," Parazaider notes. "Jimi happened to come to the Whisky A-Go-Go when we were headlining there (probably in September, 1968) and he tapped me on the shoulder and he says, 'Jeez, your horn players are like one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me.' He says, 'I've just gotta take you out. If you'd like to be my opening act, I'd love it, and I'd love to use the horns on a record.' Here's Jimi Hendrix at the height, the apex of his popularity, he taps me on the shoulder, I look right into his eyes, I figure he's gonna turn me into a pillar of shit. But he was very normal and just really, genuinely enjoyed the band. The same thing with Janis when we ran into her. They were really a big break for us."
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
During the course of 1969, Chicago Transit Authority became, simply Chicago. Why did the change come about?
Manager Jim Guercio explains. "We heard from the municipal transportation district," he says, "that it was the proprietary property of the city of Chicago transportation department and that if we continued to use the name, they would look at all their legal remedies if we didn't cease and desist. It was that kind of letter. They never filed a suit. It was my decision to shorten the name. And I just didn't want to have any problems."
'As it was, we almost sued the bus line 'cause the CTA was actually using 'Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?' without paying any royalties, using it to plug their bus line," Walt Parazaider notes. But by 1976, fences had been mended, and Mayor Daley awarded the group the city's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Merit.
By December, Chicago Transit Authority, still without benefit of a hit single, was a gold-selling album, and Chicago was a famous band. It changed their lives. "Your life dream is to have a hit record," says Parazaider. "It was amazing because we were close friends, we had gone through all of this upheaval, emotional upheaval plus a physical upheaval of leaving Chicago, moving to LA at a young age, leaving our families, just rolling the dice. We stuck real close together, kept everybody's ego in check. I think (for) some guys in the group it was harder to cope with the success than others, just from the fact that the fame part of it wasn't something that really was our cup of tea. We didn't like it. I don't think there were any of us that sat down around my kitchen table that day in February in '67 and said, 'Hey, our goal is to be famous.' Our goal was to try to make the best possible music, to go for it and see where it would take us. It did change our lives, and it changed our lives forever because we became famous people whether we liked it or not. Now, the one good thing that seemed to help us is, we were the faceless band behind that logo."
Indeed, though critics would always misinterpret their intentions, Chicago's logo and its facelessness were very much in keeping with the style of the times, the late '60s anti-fashion that valued group effort over individual ego, a leaderless "movement" that eschewed stardom. For Chicago, the music was more important than the image, but critics, never known for their logical consistency, insisted on seeing a kind of creeping corporatism in the stylish logo that adorned the albums and berated the band for rejecting the kind of starmaking the critics themselves claimed to oppose. It was one part of what would be a continuing paradox in the way Chicago was seen by the press.
In between tour dates in August, 1969, Chicago had found the time to record its second album. Once again, the material was extensive. "I was writing all the time," says Lamm. "Especially during those days, I never really wrote with the album in mind. I just wrote because that's what I did, and for the next six or eight albums, whenever it became time to get together and rehearse to prepare to go into the studio, I just brought an armload of music and we went through it."
One of the first songs Lamm brought in for the second album was called "25 Or 6 To 4," a song with a lyric Chicago fans have pondered ever since. What does that title mean? "It's just a reference to the time of day," says Lamm. As for the lyric itself: "The song is about writing a song. It's not mystical."
Perhaps the album's most ambitious piece was Pankow's "Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon," which affected the tone of the whole LP. "The second record had more of a classical approach to it," says Parazaider, "whereas the first one was really a raw thing. The second one seemed a little more polished."
"Originally, I had been inspired by some classics," says Pankow of the "Ballet." "I had bought the Brandenburg concertos, and I was listening to them one night, thinking, man, how cool! Bach, 200 years ago, wrote this stuff, and it cooks. What a concept, I mean, if we put a rock 'n' roll rhythm section to something like this, that could be really cool. I was also a big Stravinsky fan, and his stuff cooked. These Russian composers, they boogie. It's classical, but yet it's got a great passion to it, and it's got some really rhythmic stuff going on. So, I kind of toyed with the idea. We were on the road, and I had a Fender Rhodes piano between Holiday Inn beds, and I came up with things that emulated the classical composers, but yet identified with the modern idioms. The next step was arranging some horn lines with these grooves that I had come up with, and then I found myself just going back to some arpeggios, a la Bach, and along came 'Colour My World.' It's just a simple 12-bar pattern, but it just flowed. Then I called Walt into the room, and I said, 'Hey, Walt, you got your flute? Why don't you try a few lines?,' and one thing led to another. These things were disjointed, but yet I liked it all. So, I figure, I wonder if I can sew all this stuff together and do kind of a mini-symphony thing. That's what Stravinksy does, after all. One movement is completely different from the next. Why can't a rock 'n' roll band do that? And, bang, we started rehearsing it, and ultimately it was a matter of just sewing these things together, creating segues and creating interludes to sew one little piece to another."
Back to Chicago Main Page
Page Group Portrait Main Page (Track Listings)
or Pages 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 of this collection