Chicago is in the middle of what figures to be two of the group’s biggest landmark years.
In April, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – an honor that came in Chicago’s 20th year of eligibility.
A new documentary, “Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago,” was screened in February at the Sedona International Film Festival and was voted Best of Fest. And on New Year’s Day, it premiered on CNN and grabbed top ratings for its time slot among adults age 25 to 54.
The band also figures to have a rewarding year of touring with its current run of headlining shows, including a Friday, Feb. 10, performance in Sacramento, and this summer a pair-up with the Doobie Brothers for a run of outdoor amphitheater dates. And 2017 has brought another milestone – the 50th anniversary of the band.
That’s enough to have singer/keyboardist Robert Lamm fully appreciate his career with Chicago. He shared his perspective in a recent phone interview.
“I’ve always said that whether it’s the Hall of Fame or getting a platinum album or getting a Grammy, it’s certainly not the reason that one becomes a musician,” Lamm said. “At least my experience is I love writing, I love composing music, I love recording it, and I love playing it. So to me, those are the ruby red shoes.
“But the fact that we’re going into our 50th year, we’ve had this incredibly magical career and we’ve met so many wonderful people and had such great experiences together, that to me personally, I’m just absolutely grateful that the Hall of Fame has given us the nod.”
The band’s original edition, which formed in Chicago in 1967, is the lineup that was inducted into the Hall. Lamm, Walt Parazaider (flute and saxophone), James Pankow (trombone) and Lee Loughnane (trumpet) remain in the group; the other members were the late guitarist Terry Kath and drummer Danny Seraphine.
Singer/bassist Peter Cetera joined the group shortly after Chicago was formed. Seraphine joined his former bandmates at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony last April, while Cetera declined to attend.
The original Chicago lineup put the group on the music map, with a steady string of hit singles (including “Saturday In The Park,” “25 Or 6 To 4,” “If You Leave Me Now” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”) before Kath died in January 1978 of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound.
After a few years of transition, Chicago brought in guitarist/keyboardist/singer Bill Champlin and hooked up with producer David Foster. He helped the group develop a ballad-oriented, less horn-driven sound that during the 1980s and outset of the ’90s produced a string of hits that included “Hard To Say I’m Sorry,” “Look Away,” “Hard Habit To Break” and “You’re The Inspiration.”
The years since have seen a few more personnel changes – today’s lineup includes Lamm, Pankow, Loughnane, Ray Hermmann (woodwinds), Lou Pardini (keyboards), Jeff Coffey (bass, vocals), Keith Howland (guitar), Tris Imboden (drums) and Walfredo Reyes Jr. (percussion). There have been occasional new albums, the most recent of which was 2014’s “Chicago XXXVI: Now.” While album sales have fallen off, Chicago has remained a popular live act and continues to tour for much of each year.
Its current two-set show gives Chicago time to play plenty of hits and fan-favorite album tracks. Lamm said that while there is some flexibility, the band has some limits on how much the show can change from night to night.
“Obviously there are many, many songs that I’d guess you’d call album tracks, that I wish we could switch in and out from night to night,” Lamm said. “But it creates a headache for the sound crew and the lighting crew and the production. So it’s not like we’re playing clubs and we just call out songs. … We learned this a long time ago that there are certain songs the audience has to hear and wants to hear, and because we get such a lovely reaction when we do, we’ve kept a lot of that stuff in the set.”
Lamm continued, “We’ve really learned our lessons about how to pace our show. It almost doesn’t matter what song is first in the second half of the show. It almost doesn’t matter what the third and fourth song is, but you better start ramping up the climax of the show during the last 45 minutes. Even then we’re lucky, because we can move certain songs in and out depending on if somebody’s voice is not holding up or if we just want to do it give ourselves a break from one of the songs or the other. So we’ve learned to do pacing. And the longer two-part show gives us a lot of flexibility.”
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10
Where: Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento
Information: 916-808-5181, www.chicagotheband.com