BOOK’S FOODIE: The Pizza Show – Chicago

From the Munchies channel on YouTube comes the latest installment of The Pizza Show, a presentation where they visit a specific city to show perspectives of what their pizza is about. In this case, many people know Chicago is huge for their deep dish pizza but there’s a lot more to its pizza than just that so they managed to head not only through Chicago but some of its neighborhoods and outlying areas to get people aware of what you can find if you go out of your way to go out of the way.

One thing it reminded me of is, due to how often I visit Portland, Oregon, there’s constant talk about the many changes the city is going through and how what was considered rootsy and neighborhood-ish is being removed by land owners who want to replace it all with apartments. It’s a chance to focus more on the Portland you think you know and look at the neighborhoods and why that can be a truer sense of what Portland is about and that applies in the Chicago edition of The Pizza Show.

DUST IT OFF: “Chicago 13″…35 years later

 photo Chicago13_cover_zps0d0ffc6f.jpg
35 years after the release of Chicago 13, the public tends to look at the album differently than it originally did, but not in a wide sense. Fans of Chicago can be very divided over their friendliness towards the group, with fans loving the Terry Kath era, fans that don’t mind the pop craft that they engaged in in the second half of the 1970’s, and those who are not afraid to embrace the lush pop that lead them to radio and many hits throughout the 1980’s. Yet if there’s still an album that continues to make people question its existence, it’s Chicago 13.

The band had replaced original guitarist and vocalist Terry Kath with Don “Donnie” Dacus, who seemed to look and embrace the feel of other pop stars of the era like Rex Smith and Leif Garrett. He had long blonde hair, so there were some who saw his youth and looks as something that was different from what Chicago had intended. Nonetheless, the man could sing and he could play a damn good guitar, and no one said anything when their 12th album, Hot Streets, gave the world hit songs like “Alive Again” and “No Tell Lover”. It was just new Chicago music, and by that point, original bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera was becoming the band’s primary face.

What made Chicago 13 different was that Columbia Records decided to give the band a chance to film music videos for the songs, or what were called “promotional film clips” back then. There was no music video cable networks in 1979, so the only way you could see these film clips were on public access, in between movies on HBO (maybe), or at record stores which made a special section which involved nothing but a TV with the videos running continuously. Well, at least that’s how music videos were presented in the late 70’s in the U.S,. as England were utilizing music videos as part of a promotional tool for artists, songs, and albums. Here in the U.S., it was extra, if not strange, but Columbia Records were making an effort. The videos made were for the songs “Must Have Been Crazy”, “Run Away”, and “Street Player”, and while the video seemed to get limited exposure on TV, it seemed people were not impressed by what the videos showed. “Must Have Been Crazy” showed the group jokingly lounge at home while a black cat caused terror wherever it walked. “Run Away” involved a master reel of tape going around Los Angeles as the band were practicing at a venue, while “Street Player” showed the inevitable performance. The videos showed a sense of humor that people didn’t expect from them, and perhaps it was way too strange for those who just played “Another Rainy Day In New York City” or “If You Leave Me Now” in front of their couches and fantasized all day.

“Must Have Been Crazy” was Chicago 13 first single but fans didn’t seem to take to it, or more specifically, hearing Dacus take a lead vocal. Chicago were known not only for Cetera, but also pianist/keyboardist Robert Lamm and guitarist Kath before he died in 1977. So who was this blonde guy singing… a Chicago song? People didn’t like the mood, or it didn’t catch on, or radio programmers felt it sounded different than what was going on the radio at the time, which was a whole lotta disco, or at least the last end of disco’s fame and (mis)fortune. Cetera did do background vocals in the song and could be heard in the last minute, but that was not enough. It also had a pleasant guitar solo from Dacus too so if radio tried to push it while a video made tried to let people know who Dacus was, it failed.

“Run Away”, written by trombonist James Pankow, was a great song too, complete with a wicked solo from Dacus that now reminds me slightly of Toto’s Steve Lukather or Journey’s Neal Schon, as he plays throughout and including the fade. But since radio didn’t take to “Must Have Been Crazy”, “Run Away” didn’t have a chance.

As for “Street Player”, fans praise this song for its use as a primary sample in The Bucketheads’ “The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind)”. Released 15 years after the release of Chicago 13, The Bucketheads knew that the song and the album it came from were one of the band’s biggest failures, but the song was funky in its own right and managed to turn it around and bring it its rightful majestic power. “Street Player” was co-written by drummer Daniel Seraphine, detailing his life as a rough kid in Chicago who almost lived the life of a punk, had he not had music to turn his life around. Seraphine’s primary voice before the release of the song was his drums, playing amazingly in songs like “25 or 5 To 4”, “What’s This World Coming To” and of course their cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man”, but this shined the spotlight on the drummer that most people tended to ignore, or at least not grab the light that Cetera, Lamm, Kath, Pankow, or the rest of the horn section had claimed over the years. The song also gave the spotlight for a solo to jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, identified by some of the man’s high pitched horn squeals to let everyone know he was in the studio. As Cetera sang “I’m a street player…and I’ll play you a song”, the band continued to play their disco groove, which got slightly Brazilian in feel, leading to two horn breaks in the second half. This then leads to another powerful guitar moment for Dacus, all before Cetera sings “street player, what you do, gotta make you groove” and the rest of the band are pumped in ecstasy, figuratively and literally. Ferguson comes back briefly before they all fade the song, running close to nine minutes. To be honest, it remains one of Chicago’s brightest moments and yet the band suffered in the same way The Rolling Stones did with “Miss You” and Kiss did with “I Was Made For Loving You”, in that once they were identified with something disco, they were dead. It would’ve been true had they not continued once the 1980’s started, but the bad luck streak told in the promotional film clips for Chicago 13 were essentially a bit of wishful thinking that, for a few years, they thought was a bit too close to home. Fortunately, Chicago were not ready for home base, at least not yet. Years later, when Chicago kicked Seraphine, one of the band’s founding members, out of the band, he had the last laugh when the “Street Player” sample helped him out significantly in the publishing department. Considering how many Chicago songs became hits, “Street Player” is the one that people know as a sample, even if they might not realize it is a Chicago song, primarily because of its no hit status.

The rest of Chicago 13 had some great material, and with wonderful production from Phil Ramone, who also worked on Hot Streets with the band, the band couldn’t do any harm to their career. Chicago were worthy in 1978 and with “Alive Again” and “No Tell Lover”, they were alive and they returned. Songs like “Mama Take” (Cetera) and “Paradise Alley” (Lamm) showed that the group’s pop and jazz ways were as powerful as ever. Even saxophonists Walter Parazaider and Lee Loughnane even had a joint composition on the album with “Window Dreamin'”, so it seemed the group were spirited and ready to end the 1970’s on a high note.

HBO did run a Chicago concert special in support of Chicago 13 and it was the perfect way for listeners to hear the classics from the group, along with a string of songs from the new album. One of the performances was another song written by Seraphine and David Wolinski, who also co-wrote “Street Player”. “Aloha Mama” hit me because here I am as a kid in Honolulu hearing one of my favorite bands sing one of my words. The song was built on a very nice jazzy groove, with a rhythm that is very funky, what would be called the Purdie Shuffle., in honor of Bernard “Pretty” Purdie. You may recognize the drum rhythm from Steely Dan’s “Home At Last” or partly used in Toto’s “Rosanna”. The band were not only in jazz mode, but vocalist Cetera also put himself in jazz costume as well, crediting himself in the song as P.C. Moblee. The harmonies were perfect, the feel of the song was great, it had the right to be a hit had it been released as a single but that was not to be.

Even longtime Chicago percussionist Laudir de Oliveira had his own song on the album, when he wrote “Life Is What It Is” with Marcos Valle. These days, we would call this type of laid back groove “yacht rock”, complete with added percussion from legendary musician Airto Moreira. The song is smooth, funky, exotic, and perfect to hear in any occasion. You could pop this song in a mix of songs by The Doobie Brothers, Pablo Cruise, and Kenny Loggins and no one would have said a thing. Cetera takes the lead with Dacus handling a few background harmonies and again, this song could have gained some AOL airplay had it been pushed in the right way.

Sadly, Chicago 13 ended up being bad luck for the group. Music was great, singing was great, songwriting was up to par, and people were fed up with Chicago’s magical power. They were the kings of pop radio of the mid to late 70’s, they had enough. When the group followed it up with Chicago XIV, which brought the group to legendary producer Tom Dowd, it faired worse and they eventually left Columbia Records and moved to a new label. This would eventually lead to a new hit era for Chicago in the decade, and a style of music that didn’t please the earlier fans. It didn’t matter. Pop fans loved the new material and were pleased by the outcome. Chicago stayed on the charts, they sold millions of records, and that was that, even as they too would also bring in new vocalists (keyboardists Jason Scheff and Bill Champlin, the latter a founding member of Sons Of Champlin). Cetera eventually left, and Chicago moved on. However, the group became unfashionable in the 90’s and sales for new music started to drop a bit. Looking back, Chicago 13 was not a massive failure by any means, for it allowed the group to have ten more years of pop chart success, which meant hits. Sure, Chicago fans changed during this time but the album is feared because of that disco beast known as “Street Player”. They looked at the shining light from the 13th floor on the illustrated building with the Chicago logo on the cover and said “I’m not going there. Leave me out of that building now.” Guaranteed, those who discovered the album and found a liking to it all wanted to be on that building, realizing that if you don’t believe in superstitions, you can go further in life. The music on Chicago 13 definitely, in the words of “Street Player”, made you move and made you groove. On vinyl, it’s fairly easy to find at thrift stores because those who bought it have tossed it out, and covers with cut-out marks are plentiful but if you must, don’t ignore it. Play it and hear it from a band who did their best to survive in the game and while the public discarded it, they also did so without listening. It’s your time to listen.


REVIEW: Chicago’s “Now (Chicago XXXVI)”

 photo ChicagoXXXVI_cover_zps4edadbaa.jpg 45 years after they recorded and released their Chicago Transit Authority debut album, Chicago continue to make music and tour actively. We know the group have gone through their pop phase, and yet they know what makes them an unstoppable force: their songs. Now (Chicago XXXVI) is, of course, their 36th album so what type of music are they playing these days? It’s a mixture of what made their 80’s work such a success, so it does have that jazzy smoothness but it works beautifully because of the amazing horn arrangements of James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, and Lee Loughnane. Vocally, Jason Scheff has been underrated for too long but his strengths are heard throughout, showing he has been more than capable of being his own singer in his own right. Robert Lamm is the last original voice left in the band, but he shows why he remains. There are times in “More Will Be Revealed” where he adds a grit not unlike the late Terry Kath, which might surprise a few people but it’s there and it’s more than welcome. They bring back their political side once more in “America”, which will be interesting for those who are only familiar with their pop hits.

There are other songs that sound like a throwback to Chicago VII or Chicago XI, while other songs also focus on what made Chicago 18 and Chicago 19 stand out too. Overall, you could say Now (Chicago XXXVI) should easily be alongside Santana’s late 90’s pop success, as it is that kind of album. We know what Chicago are capable of doing, we also know what they enjoy doing, and everything that has made them a damn good band is in abundance. You want the pop, you want the grooves, you want the ballads, all here. Don’t expect “A Hit By Varese” or “Southern California Purples”, but if you have enjoyed what Chicago have done in the pop world, you will find this album to hold up to those albums quite well. In fact, you might discover this is better than those album.


BOOK’S JOOK: Chicago’s “25 Or 6 To 4” b/w “Make Me Smile”

  • Book’s Jook is a column dedicated to placing a record within my dream jukebox, if I were to have one. The Seeburg jukebox shown below is similar to the one I have wanted since I was a kid. To read more on why I started this column, click here.

    Last week I posted a new edition to my dream jukebox but as I was reaching the last sentence, I began to question myself. Should the “Colour My World”/”I’m A Man” 45 by Chicago be in there, because I realized I had a slightly more powerful record, also by Chicago, in mind. I decided to leave it alone and post the article but when I did, I came up with the conclusion I may have been wrong with my initial decision.

     photo Chicago25MMS_labelsSML_zps0f4b80a5.jpg
    As much as I like the softer, more delicate side of Chicago’s music, it was the rockers that always got to me first, and “25 Or 6 To 4” is my all time favorite Chicago song. Say what you want about where Peter Cetera’s career went to in the 1980’s, but in 1970, he belted it out with passion and of course, his bass work was powerful and incredible. You can’t help but hear a song where I wondered “what are they talking about?” Is it about drugs? Is it about something else? Or is it some guy who is up at 3:35 in the morning, unable to finish a song and realized “maybe I should just write a song about how frustrated I am by not being able to complete this.” It made for a good story, whatever the story is. On top of that, you have the majestry of Terry Kath’s guitar work, and while the 45 single edit removes the part where he hits the wah-wah pedal for a wicked run towards the finish line, the single edit seems to shorten this song nice and promptly. The single edit does remove a verse, but my introduction to the song was through the edit and I was content until I bought my own copy of Chicago II and learned there was about 90 or more seconds extra.

    This 45 too was part of Columbia’s Hall Of Fame series, offering two hit songs on the same record so the B-side had another song from Chicago II, “Make Me Smile”. It sounded funny to me, not as full as “25 Or 6 To 4”, and I would later learn that the original safety masters were destroyed so it sounded like someone used a cassette dub of a cassette dub of a cassette dub, where the quality sounded muffled. This was a mean rocker too, with Kath handling the lead vocal duty, and I would learn that this too was a short edit of the original song. I would also later learn that the single edit of “Make Me Smile” actually spliced a part of the original and “Now More Than Ever”, which then made me learn those were part of the mini-opera known as “Ballet For A Girl In Buchanon”. These two songs were the ones that made me want to know how much more music Chicago had made, outside of the popular songs I heard on the radio. The old Chicago was far better than the then-latest Chicago but I wanted to like them all. I’m glad I did.


  • BOOK’S JOOK: Chicago’s “Colour My World” b/w “I’m A Man”

  • Book’s Jook is a column dedicated to placing a record within my dream jukebox, if I were to have one. The Seeburg jukebox shown below is similar to the one I have wanted since I was a kid. To read more on why I started this column, click here.

     photo ChicagoColourIAM_label_zpsdf8f93c2.jpg

  • If there is a place where my love of Chicago started, this is one of the first places. I was always told that my Uncle Wayne loved “Colour My World” and that it was one of the easiest songs to play on piano. My next door neighbor had a piano so when I was able to pay a visit, I tried it out. I realized it was very easy and in my mind, I knew how to play the piano. It was about the song that made me like it, from Terry Kath’s sensitive vocals to Walter Parazaizer’s flute solo, that just set it off for me.

  • This pressing is notable because it’s part of Columbia Records’ Hall Of Fame series, which was a part of their “Oldies But Goodies” series where music fans could have the hits “back to back”, or have two older hits on the same record. There was a special section near the regular 45’s where you could specifically buy the older material, and it seemed like a bargain because you were getting two popular sons on one 45 opposed to the hit plus “a piece of junk” on the B-side. This was a mentality before I got into collecting and realized the B-side can sometimes be where the true winner is. Anyway, it was a chance to have two Chicago hits on the same record, so I was happy.
  • The B-side of this record had a solid rocker, and I believe I heard this version of “I’m A Man” before I heard The Spencer Davis Group’s original version of it. While the label listed it simply as Chicago, this was done by Chicago Transit Authority from their debut album, I knew that before I even had the full album because my neighbor had the CTA album plus CHICAGO II. “I’m A Man” was awesome not only because it’s the one Chicago/CTA song sans horn section, but because of the drum break from Daniel Seraphine. I loved how jazzy it was, even though I wasn’t aware at the time of his jazzy roots, it just sounded like something I might’ve heard on one of my uncle’s jazz albums, yet there was something else about his drumming too. As a kid who admired the drums and wanted to play the drums so bad, I’d find myself playing this song over and over and doing air drums to it, properly accurate to the 45 edit on the record. When I bought the CTA album, I realized there was three extra minutes, which means more air drum learning.

  • The record seemed perfect: delicate ballad on the A-side, mean rocker on the B. At the time, Chicago’s bit hits were “Alive Again” and “No Tell Lover” and I wondered “how come the Chicago on my record sounds better than what’s on the radio?” In time, it would lead me to buy Chicago’s entire U.S. discography, all except Chicago 21. Yet. As I’m wrapping this article up, I was positive that this was my formal introduction to Chicago but I realized that it was not. It’s a respectful introduction but I now know that my parents showed me the yellow brick road with a different Chicago record. I’ll share that title next week Monday.


  • SOME STUFFS: Chicago Transit Authority’s 1969 set from Fillmore West released by Wolfgang’s Vault

    When these gentlemen shot this photo, little did they know they would become one of the soft rock kings of not only the 1970’s, but the 1980’s, at a time when most bands who came up during the same time were long gone. Before they were simply Chicago, they were the Chicago Transit Authority, and they played at a number of colleges and made it through the normal hippie spots, including the Fillmore West. As over 200,000 music fans congregated to Bethel, New York for the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, CTA did a three night stand at the Fillmore West 3000 miles away from August 15-17th (so if any of you ever wondered where Chicago were when Woodstock was happening, now you know.) The band played two sets a night, an early show and a late show, customary for a lot of groups back then. CTA had released their debut album that were becoming staples of freeform FM radio, and their late show set from August 17, 1969 has been widely bootlegged over the years. You can now purchase an official recording of the show from Wolfgang’s Vault, the official site for anything and everything that had to do with Bill Graham‘s venues. Graham was able to have almost every artist documented in his venues, primarily audio but occasionally video. Wolfgang’s Vault have opened up their collection to fans, and now they’re able to hear this CTA set officially, available as MP3’s or in beautiful FLAC (lossless) files.

    You can find out about this show by heading to

    REVIEW: Bill Champlin’s “No Place Left To Fall”

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic You may not be familiar with who Bill Champlin, but I bet you have heard him many times before. He was the founder of the late 60’s band Sons Of Champlin</a (later shortening their name to The Sons), who were signed to Columbia. He put the group on hiatus, made an attempt at a solo career but for the last 18 years most were exposed to him as a member of Chicago, where he was featured in such songs as “Hard Habit To Break”, “Will You Still Love Me”, “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love”, and “Look Away”, the latter with Champlin taking the sole lead vocal.

    Even when he was with Chicago (him and Chicago recently parted ways), he continued to release solo material to share the inner voice that he had not been able to do so within the context of Chicago. No Place Left To Fall (DreamMakers Music) shows the mixture of his influences, from blues, rock, and country, to a songwriting craft that has beem a major factor in all of his music in the last 40 years. For this album he plays something that seems a bit more rootsier than the sound Chicago had become known for, in fact one can easily see him jamming with Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, or popping in with any jam band from the Bay Area to Nashville, and he could fit in perfectly. “Lover Like That” could easily be mistaken for a Bee Gees, George Michael, or Richard Marx song, so the material could find its way onto adult contemporary radio as it could on a classic rock station. The song that may gain a lot of airplay is “Never Been Afraid”, a duet with former Chicago member Peter Cetera. (Chicago fans will also be happy to know that Cetera and Robert Lamm have been writing material too, although not within the context of Chicago.)

    If you were a fan of his through Chicago, those touches he shared with the band are all here (he even revisits “Look Away”). If you like the more rough and rugged side of Champlin, that’s here too. He also throws in some new elements too. No Place Left To fall may have been a title that was pre-determined by some kind of cosmic trippiness, for now he has nowhere to go but forward. With this album, talents, and capabilities, Champlin has no reason to fall or fail. Job well done.