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Biography of Chicago
Chicago is an American rock band formed in 1967 in Chicago, Illinois, calling themselves the Chicago Transit Authority in 1968 before shortening the name in 1969. The self-described “rock and roll band with horns” began writing politically charged rock music, and later moved to a softer sound, generating several hit ballads. The group had a steady stream of hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In September 2008, Billboard ranked Chicago at number thirteen in a list of the top 100 artists of all time for Hot 100 singles chart success, and ranked them at number fifteen on the same list produced in October 2015. Billboard also ranked Chicago ninth on the list of the hundred greatest artists of all time in terms of Billboard 200 album chart success in October 2015. Chicago is one of the longest-running and most successful rock groups, and one of the world’s best-selling groups of all time, having sold more than 100 million records. In 1971, Chicago was the first rock act to sell out Carnegie Hall for a week.
To date, Chicago has sold over 40 million units in the U.S., with 23 gold, 18 platinum, and 8 multi-platinum albums. They have had five consecutive number-one albums on the Billboard 200 and 20 top-ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1974 the group had seven albums, its entire catalog at the time, on the Billboard 200 simultaneously. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. In 2017, original band members Peter Cetera, Robert Lamm, and James Pankow were elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame for their songwriting efforts as members of the music group.
The group now known as Chicago began on February 15, 1967, at a meeting involving saxophonist Walter Parazaider, guitarist Terry Kath, drummer Danny Seraphine, trombonist James Pankow, trumpet player Lee Loughnane, and keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm. Kath, Parazaider, and Seraphine had played together previously in two other groups — Jimmy Ford and the Executives, and the Missing Links. Parazaider, Pankow and Loughnane met as students at DePaul University. Lamm who was a student at Roosevelt University, was recruited from his group, Bobby Charles and the Wanderers. The group of six called themselves the Big Thing, and like most other groups playing in Chicago nightclubs, played Top 40 hits. Realizing the need for both a tenor to complement baritones Lamm and Kath, and a bass player because Lamm’s use of organ bass pedals did not provide «adequate bass sound», local tenor and bassist Peter Cetera was invited to join the Big Thing in late 1967.
While gaining some success as a cover band, the group began working on original songs. In June 1968, at manager James William Guercio’s request, the Big Thing moved to Los Angeles, California, signed with Columbia Records and changed its name to Chicago Transit Authority. It was while performing on a regular basis at the Whisky a Go Go nightclub in West Hollywood that the band got exposure to more famous musical artists of the time. Subsequently, they were the opening act for Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. As related to group biographer, William James Ruhlmann, by Walt Parazaider, Jimi Hendrix once told Parazaider, «‘Jeez, your horn players are like one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me.'»
Their first record (April 1969), Chicago Transit Authority, is a double album, which is rare for a band’s first release. The album made it to No. 17 on the Billboard 200 album chart, sold over one million copies by 1970, and was awarded a platinum disc. The album included a number of pop-rock songs – «Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?», «Beginnings», «Questions 67 and 68», and «I’m a Man» – which were later released as singles. For this inaugural recording effort the group was nominated for a Grammy Award for 1969 Best New Artist of the Year.
According to Cetera, the band was booked to perform at Woodstock in 1969, but promoter Bill Graham, with whom they had a contract, exercised his right to reschedule them to play at the Fillmore West on a date of his choosing, and he scheduled them for the Woodstock dates. Santana, which Graham also managed, took Chicago’s place at Woodstock, and that performance is considered to be Santana’s «breakthrough» gig. A year later, in 1970, when he needed to replace headliner Joe Cocker, and then Cocker’s intended replacement, Jimi Hendrix, Graham booked Chicago to perform at Tanglewood which is considered by some to be a «pinnacle» performance.
After the release of their first album, the band’s name was shortened to Chicago to avoid legal action being threatened by the actual mass-transit company of the same name.
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