Sunday, April 23, 2006

This post is about the group... such, there was no way I could keep it short. Sorry 'bout that!

CHICAGO I, ("Old days")
...The best guitarist that no one remembers anymore...

You've heard of Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple), Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Ted Nugent, but does anybody out there remember TERRY KATH? Who, you say? I'm talking about the late Terry Kath, lead guitarist for the group Chicago. He accidentally shot himself while cleaning one of his guns on January 23, 1978. (He was a firearms aficianado, evidently.) When the band Chicago started out, they were actually called the "Chicago Transit Authority" (they were forced to change the name; the REAL "Chicago Transit Authority" of the City of Chicago threatened 'em with legal action. Hence, "Chicago".) Back in those early days, I've read that none other than Jimi Hendrix saw Chicago with Terry Kath in the lineup, and Hendrix was blown away by Terry Kath's guitar work. So much in fact, that Hendrix actually TOURED with Chicago in those early days, which is written about in a song called "Scrapbook" on Chicago X (the "Chocolate Bar" album).

This is the late great Terry Kath. It's his voice you hear on such Chicago classics as "Make Me Smile", "Colour My World", on the verses of "Wishing You Were Here", "In The Country", (an album track from "Chicago II"), and he can be heard alternating verses with Peter Cetera in the song "Dialogue" (On "Chicago V"). To me, the guitar solo on the album version of "25 Or 6 to 4" is one of the most amazing guitar leads I've ever heard by ANYONE. Kath played with precision, yet he played in a coarse, husky, driving manner that really added a much-needed rough element to counterbalance the precision of the rest of the group. And, he could play jazz, too. Check out "Aire" on "Chicago VII". It is just a shame his life ended so soon, and he's basically been long-forgotten. I was working the late shift in a radio station when the teletype went "ding-ding-ding", indicating an "urgent" story, and that's how I heard about Terry's demise. I remember slamming my fist into the desk over and over, shouting, "no, No, NO!!!"

I saw Chicago TWICE, in 1971 and 1972, when they played at the Spokane Coliseum, and I was immediately struck by how HARD Terry Kath was working all during the group's performance. Even though Chicago was a horn band, underneath it all, Kath was furiously bashing away at his guitar, with a churning funky rhythm that really drove the band. Maybe one of the reasons he's so underrated is that he couldn't "step out" as much to solo, as could, say, Eric Clapton with Cream. Chicago had a LOT of stuff going on, but occasionally, space would be provided for Terry to rip away with a blazing solo, and he was amazing. I have a couple of bootleg DVD's of Chicago in Concert in 1972 (at the Budokan Hall in Tokyo), and yep, it's just like I remember 'em. Terry Kath was such an important part of Chicago. And those were Chicago's best days. To quote a song title from "Chicago VIII", the best days were indeed the "Old Days".

CHICAGO II: "Look Away"!
...which is pretty-much what their later music has caused me to do!

Chicago has long been one of my favorite groups, but something just DIED when Terry Kath's life ended. Chicago's music, while still good for a while after Kath's death, was just never the same; the soul, the funkiness, the hard edge was just MISSING. And then, with stupid love ballads like "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" and "You're The Inspiration", things just kinda went downhill. Chicago slid further downhill with the hits "Hard Habit To Break and "Will You Still Love Me", in that they were recording sappy ballad material by outside songwriters, and while those songs were hits, they rank among the absolute WORST pop material I've ever heard. Especially "Hard Habit To Break"; in my mind, that song is pure listless GARBAGE. The song is an unequivocal MESS. Chicago's penchant for syrupy pop actually began way back in 1976, with "If You Leave Me Now" (not a bad song), and really STUPID pop songs like "Baby What A Big Surprise", and "No Tell Lover", which is one of the most AWFUL, INSIPID songs I've ever heard. It's a song about having an affair...hell, why not just call it "MOTEL Lover"? It'd be funnier that way!

I didn't know this for a long time, but Chicago's late 80's song, "Look Away" was a #1 hit; I actually kinda liked that one; same with "What Kind of Man Would I Be"; another nice tune. I don't hate ballads, I just hate CRAPPY ballads. But the thing that's spun out of control with Chicago is the same thing that happens whenever there's an influx of new blood into any organization; the "new version" is so different from the "old" version, it just ain't the same thing. If there were "truth in advertising" principles applied to this band, they should call themselves "Chicago Lite" perhaps. Robert Lamm, the keyboard player (he's a really cool guy, and still a GREAT singer) and the three horn players are the only original members of Chicago left. Peter Cetera, an original founding member, left the band in 1983, and has sung nothing but CRAP ever since. Of the "replacement" Chicago members, bassist Jason Scheff (who took Cetera's place) doesn't enunciate clearly, and sings in an overblown breathy style; I can't bear to watch him...Bill Champlin, keyboardist, led his own band, the Sons of Champlin, back in the 70s. I saw an A&E Chicago concert, and he sounds absolutely TERRIBLE; he tries to sing in a soul-brother way that DOESN'T work! Keith Howland, the guitarist, sings well and plays good guitar, as a matter of fact, he sings the high notes better than Jason Scheff does. Scheff should keep his yap shut and just play bass! And the drummer, Tris Imboden, plays okay, if VERY unimaginatively.

See, Chicago's music took imagination to play. Very polished, intricate, groove-oriented. Trouble was, as Chicago's career progressed into the 80's, they were relying on digital keyboard sequencers and electronic percussion, which I've read was much too stifling for Chicago's original drummer, Danny Seraphine. So what did the group do after Seraphine had been with them for only 25 YEARS? They FIRED him!!! Chicago...the band that eats its young! So now you hear the "old" Chicago music done by the "new" lineup, and the drummer just kinda goes "thumpa-thumpa-thump". Is it me? Do I not want to accept new things? I don't know, but these days, to THESE ears anyway, Chicago just kinda goes thru the motions, playing for an ever-aging audience who "kinda" remembers them, and for new generations of music listeners who've grown up on just awful, crummy music, who weren't around when Chicago was a GREAT band. Recently, Chicago put out "XXX"; it was their first album in ages; it consists of more love ballads and half-baked originals; it's okay, but I'm nowhere near as excited about that album as I was when I first heard "Chicago II" or "Chicago V" way back when I was a kid.

Ironic, then, that back in 1993, this same new Chicago lineup (well, with a different guitarist that they ALSO fired), released an album called "Stone of Sisyphus", which was REJECTED by their record company. I've heard a bootleg CD of it; I taped it, and even though the disc features the same AWFUL singers I referred to in the paragraph above, it is a great album, because it is enthusiastic and punchy and contains only a couple of ballads. "Sisyphus" is highly original, and it "lives and breathes" the way the old Chicago albums I grew up on did (and still DO). If you ever get a chance to hear "Stone of Sisyphus", DO SO; it is full of great music throughout. It's a much better album than the recently-pressed "Chicago XXX" CD is. So why did I buy "XXX"? I may not really dig what Chicago's done since Peter Cetera left in the '80s, but I wanted to see what the band was doing. Like I said, "XXX" ain't bad, it's just kinda "there". In closing, I want to comment on the audience which was present for Chicago's 2004 A&E concert, which I have on DVD...does it NOT matter to them that the band consists of largely NEW personnel who don't sing or play as well as the original personnel? It sure would matter to ME! And another thing...even though this concert was televised in 2004...only TWO of the songs were originally recorded before Peter Cetera left in 1983. In short, if you read between the lines, Chicago's song selection that night was pretty much an (unconscious or otherwise) indictment of all the junky, klunky schlock they're recorded, almost without exception, over the last couple of decades.

If there is one lackluster later-period "Chicago" album to avoid at ALL COSTS, it would have to be "18". It features klunky electronic percussion in which the drums sound like overamplified dinner plates when you hit 'em, and contains a really awful RE-recording of "25 or 6 to 4", and it is amazing how much they SCREWED UP that tune, which had sounded so GREAT in its original incarnation. The entirety of "18" is too overproduced, too "in your face", too "mechanical"; it is an album that I have to ENDURE when I play it (which ain't a LOT, by the way). It has yet ANOTHER purely AWFUL ballad, "If She Would Have Been Faithful" which almost TIES "Hard Habit To Break" as the WORST song in the world. Even the best tracks on this album are rendered virtually unlistenable by the big-over-amplified '80s production. A purely awful album. And I never thot I'd say that about a Chicago album. One last Chicago note: I always thought "You're The Inspiration" would make a great "Arrid Extra-Dry" jingle: "You're the ROLL-ON in my life, you fight PERSPIRATION"! How 'bout it, Madison Avenue?

This next section has to do with collecting BEATLES records! I know this post has gone on waaay too long already, but I don't give a damn. Anyway, there are certain Beatles records out there that are hard to find! That's because certain "issues" of Beatles records were short-lived, and as such, they're hard to track down. They consist of the same Beatles' songs we've all come to know and love (well, except for Revolution 9, I guess), but the difference is, the PACKAGE those songs were issued on. For example: You've seen the '62-'66 and '67-'70 collections out there; they're not worth all that much in terms of collectability because millions of copies of it were issued. But, those two albums were issued, in part, because the following UNAUTHORIZED Beatles Collection was issued:

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present "The Beatles Alpha and Omega Vol. 2"...this is a 4-record set featuring all kinds of Beatles material, group performances as well as, strangely, cuts from some of John, Paul, George and Ringo's SOLO, post-Beatles albums. A set like this in mint condition can go for upwards of $300.00! And, yes, there is a "Vol. 1", also. I FOUND "Vol. 1" the other day at a second-hand store; they charged me $6.00 for the 4-record set. I had no idea of its worth. So I "Googled" it, and was I ever surprised at the collectors' value! The "box" of my set is in rough condition, but the records are virtually scratchless. I priced copies of this record in similar condition, and the copy I have is worth anywhere from $60 to perhaps $120. Not a bad return on a six-dollar purchase! That's the cool thing about record Forrest Gump said, it's "like a box of Chocolates; ya never know what you'll get!" This record set was advertised on TV and Radio, and the ads were PULLED after only ONE DAY. So there aren't a lot of copies of this out there. Lawsuits were filed against the TV network and the manufacturer of this record, for it didn't have the RIGHTS to issue this compilation!

I will freely admit I should keep my OWN yap shut when it comes to most topics. But, I've read every book on pop music I can get my hands on, and have gotten RID of more records than the average listener buys in his lifetime. A record collector friend of mine said "it's an addiction; it's a disease". Yep, I kinda agree.


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