It only figures that a band named Chicago knows how to blow the roofs off wherever it plays.
The legendary rock band named after the Windy City it was born in has been been blowing its signature horns since 1967. Now, almost 50 years later, four of the group’s founding members remain and continue to offer their catalog of hits. Chicago returns to the Gallo Center for the Arts on Sept. 13 for a sold-out show; the band also sold out its first appearance at the Modesto venue, in 2013.
Keyboardist and vocalist Robert Lamm, trumpeter and vocalist Lee Loughnane, trombonist and vocalist James Pankow and woodwinds player Walter Parazaider co-started the band. Over the years, the group has sold more than 100 million records, making the “rock ’n’ roll band with horns” one of the most popular bands in history. It is the only American band to chart Top 40 albums in five decades, and has charted 21 Top 10 singles.
The band remains prolific, releasing “Chicago XXXVI: Now” this past July. The album title deviated slightly from the group’s long-held tradition of using only numeric names for its releases.
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Group co-founder and frequent lead vocalist Lamm said the reasons for adding the “Now” were pointed. It is the group’s 23rd studio album and 36th overall release.
“There’s a lot of reasons,” Lamm told Oakland Press Music last month. “I think that there are many people who, whether they like Chicago or don’t like Chicago, assume that what Chicago does is all what you hear on classic rock radio, or that Chicago is some dinosaurlike presence on the tour circuit. And we just wanted to kind of change that perception if we could, by suggesting ‘Now.’ ”
Not that the band needed too much help being remembered. The group continues to make its presence felt in contemporary pop culture, and shared the stage with singer Robin Thicke at the Grammy Awards broadcast in January. The musicians did a medley that included Thicke’s chart topper “Blurred Lines” and the Chicago’s hits such as “Saturday in the Park” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is.”
Last year, the Grammy-winning band’s album art, with its signature “Chicago” logo, was showcased in an art exhibit in New York.
The group continues to play across the country and internationally to packed crowds. Chicago has blended rock, jazz and pop throughout its career. Trombonist and co-founder Pankow told the San Francisco Examiner earlier this summer that the secret to its success has been to emulate one of its own idols. In 1973, the group appeared on Duke Ellington’s final TV tribute, “We Love You Madly,” recorded shortly before his death. Pankow said he remembers meeting the 80-year-old big-band legend after the performance.
“After the show, Walter and I were like two little kids – we ran over to him and said, ‘Mr. Ellington! We’re with Chicago, and we wanted to tell you what an honor it was to play your amazing tribute!’ And he grinned and said, ‘It is I who am honored to have performed with you, because you are the next Duke Ellingtons!’ ” Pankow said.
“And I take that with me wherever I go. We are indeed carrying The Duke’s banner. … And now the band is busier than ever, and Chicago’s music has become the fabric of life for all generations.”