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Catch Up With Chicago and See Where the Band Members Are Today

These guys were a hard habit to break in the 70s, 80s, and beyond — and some of them are still out there rockin’!

“This is not a soft-rock band. This is not a jazz band. Chicago is a bona fide rock ’n’ roll band with horns. Big, bold horns that were pumping fists hitting harder than any drumline ever could,” Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas declared when he helped induct Chicago into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, two years after they’d made it into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Even legendary axman Jimi Hendrix was a fan. “It’s true,” Chicago co-founder Walter Parazaider has shared. “We played at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles in 1968 and afterwards there was a tap on my shoulder. Jimi Hendrix looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘The horns are one set of lungs. And your guitar player [Terry Kath] is better than I am.’ Jimi wanted to make a record with us – the horn section. Sadly, it never happened.” So, as Thomas put it during his induction speech, “If you think that Chicago is your mom’s band, then, man, I want to party with your mom.”

Chicago (1970)Ian Showell / Stringer

The party officially got started back in 1967, when DePaul University School of Music majors Parazaider (saxophone, flute), Lee Loughnane (trumpet), and James Pankow (trombone) joined forces with guitarist Kath, drummer Danny Seraphine, and keyboardist Robert Lamm, with bassist Peter Cetera coming aboard a little later. They originally went by The Big Thing before changing their band name to Chicago Transit Authority when they, ironically, were in LA in 1968.

A cease-and-desist letter that arrived from the city’s actual transit authority after the band’s 1969 debut album led to the guys going by simply Chicago. The band, as Thomas noted, “[wove] their city’s diverse influences into one, bold, beautiful sound…built on a tight R&B beat, beefed up with big-band horns, and jolted with [guitar] riffs from Terry Kath, who is one of the best and most underrated guitar players of all time.”

Though they formed during a politically tumultuous time, the band embraced the idea that “what music is for is getting away from the problems of life,” Pankow once noted, and Parazaider agreed. “Our songs reflected the time and the unrest in society over the war in Vietnam. But we also felt that when people came to our shows, they needed to escape from all the troubles in the world.

We coined a phrase: ‘We’re in the happiness business.’” And the band was more than happy that early hits such as “Make Me Smile,” “25 or 6 to 4,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is,” and “Saturday in the Park” resonated with audiences, and that later smashes like “Old Days,” the Grammy-winning “If You Leave Me Now,” “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “Hard Habit to Break,” and “You’re the Inspiration” dominated on radio, solidifying their success.

“We loved music so much,” Parazaider has said of the group’s passion for performing and how their unique backgrounds mixed beautifully. “Peter wrote country tunes on the third album.… Jimmy Pankow was a stone-cold jazzer who loved the Beatles. Lee Loughnane loved playing big-band jazz, but loved rock ’n’ roll. The same thing with myself. And then you had people who loved the Jimi Hendrix stuff, like Terry, or just rock ’n’ roll stuff, like Danny, and if you think about it, there is everything from blues, classical, the big-band sound.… Any kind of music, as long as it was played well, was valid.” Together, the guys teamed up to score 11 No. 1 hits and five consecutive No. 1 albums, and they’ve sold well over 100 million records.

members of a band
Chicago (1976)Evening Standard / Stringer

The band’s lineup has changed frequently throughout its 57-year history: In 1974, Brazilian percussionist Laudir de Oliveira joined for a few years, as did keyboardist-singer Bill Champlin in 1981. Of the original lineup, though, only Lamm, Loughnane, and Pankow remain, with the rest of the current Chicago band consisting of Ray Herrmann, Walfredo Reyes, Jr., Neil Donell, Ramon Yslas, Tony Obrohta, Loren Gold, and Eric Baines.

“We are so blessed to have enjoyed a legacy that seems still to be a timeless one,” Pankow recently told Las Vegas Magazine of Chicago’s longevity.“And it’s about this music. Never in our wildest dreams would we have expected this music to become so much of a soundtrack [to the lives] of millions and millions of people. We are, over a half a century later, doing sell-out business. People can’t get enough of this stuff.”

That was proven by their string of shows this February at Vegas’ The Venetian and the fact that a special 2023 concert in Atlantic City — featuring guests such as Steve Vai, Chris Daughtry, and Robin Thicke — was released in theaters this April as a movie titled Chicago & Friends in Concert. And starting in July, they’ll head out on the road again for their 2024 Heart and Soul tour with Earth, Wind & Fire, which kicks off in July. “We can’t wait for it,” Loughnane told Forbes. “We’re going to…do about 30 shows with them. We’ve always played the encore at the end, where we do a half-hour’s worth of music, three of their songs and three of our songs, and everybody plays. It’s really cool.”

Fans surely won’t want to miss all the fun, or this look at the original members of Chicago then and now.

Walter Parazaider: Chicago then and now

Walter Parazaider
1971/2016Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music / Contributor // Jim Spellman / Contributor

The talented musician — he played saxophone, flute, clarinet, and occasionally guitar — grew to love instruments when he was just 9, and he continued to excel in the arts through his teen years. Though it seemed he was destined to play with orchestras, he had other ideas. Parazaider has recalled playing an show in the 60s in Kentucky that actor Joe Mantegna, a bassist, was also playing at. “We went back to his room and he said, ‘What are you going to do next?’ And I said, “Well, I’m gonna make a band that will be the Beatles with horns.’ The room went quiet. And I left the room. I was told later that one of the guys in Joe’s band said, ‘That guy is bleeping nuts!’” Time proved otherwise, as Parazaider’s bold music vision turned into Chicago.

After playing with the band well into the 2000s, Parazaider retired in 2017 due to a heart condition. Then, in 2021, he took to the band’s official website to announce another important health update. “Five months ago, I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Needless to say, my wife, [two] daughters and myself were shocked and devastated. It has taken awhile to process this news and the fact is, we still are,” the artist, now 79, wrote, noting he wanted to take control of his story before fans “saw rumors on the internet.… I am working hard and not going to give up. With new treatments and therapy, along with my family’s love and support, I feel very positive about the future.”

Terry Kath

terry kath; chicago then and now
1971Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music / Contributor

Terry Kath was another multitalented musician who played drums, accordion, piano, banjo, and the bass, but it was his highly regarded skills on the guitar that truly left their mark. “While the horns may have been the heart of Chicago…Terry was the soul,” The Review Revue wrote in 2006. “Songs like ‘Oh, Thank You Great Spirit,’ ‘Mississippi Delta City Blues,’ ‘Takin’ It On Uptown,’ ‘Scrapbook,’ ‘25 or 6 to 4,’ and ‘Poem 58’ all demonstrate Terry’s soulful proficiency and precise rapid-fire playing style and demonstrate his ability to play guitar melodically as if it were the 4th vocalist in the band.”

“He was an original thinker,” bandmate Robert Lamm has said of Kath, the band’s early vocalist, who was a self-taught Chicago musician who started playing in his teens. “He was an inventor, in many ways. He invented the way he played his guitar… I don’t think there’s ever been a better rhythm player.”

Sadly, though, Kath struggled with alcohol and drugs, and in 1978, at the age of 31, the target-shooting enthusiast died from an accidental gunshot to the head after fooling around with a weapon he didn’t know was loaded. “Terry and I were teenage friends and it was devastating for me,” Walter Parazaider told music journalist Paul Elliott. “When I heard the news on the phone, I almost went to my knees. It was like being hit with a sledgehammer. We thought, ‘Maybe this is the way the band should end.’ We had fan mail saying: ‘Please, don’t stop the band now.” That really helped us. But I have to be honest — there are some things you never get over.”

Kath’s death lead to a string of guitarists stepping in for him, including Donnie Dacus and Keith Howland, the latter of which fully settled into the band in 1995. Chicago honored their fallen bandmate with the 1997 album The Innovative Guitar of Terry Kath, and in the 2016 documentary The Terry Kath Experience: A Daughter’s Journey, director Michelle Kath Sinclair explores the life and tragic end of her father. “I’ve since learned that he is the quintessential story of an all-American boy raised in the midwest, who, at a young age, picks up a guitar, falls in love with it, and goes on to become a famous 70s rock star,” she’s said, noting that he died before her third birthday and, “when, in looking through old photos of him, I realized that I didn’t know his full story.”

Danny Seraphine: Chicago then and now

Dannny Seraphine
1971/2022Tom Hill / Contributor // Alberto E. Rodriguez / Stringer

The Chicago-born drummer, who started playing at age 9, came close to giving up on his professional music dreams in the early 60s but he crossed paths with Terry Kath and Walter Parazaider, which led to the formation of the band that would become Chicago. After simmering internal friction he had with other members through the years, Seraphine left the band in 1990 and was replaced by Tris Imboden for some time.

After his painful parting with Chicago, Seraphine largely stepped out of the spotlight for more than a decade, but he later did musical work for two Broadway shows between 2003 and 2005: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams and Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson’s Brooklyn. “I always try to do something that moves me artistically and spiritually,” he told Modern Drummer of stepping outside his comfort zone. “Both were incredible, with great scores.” He also took his time away from the high-profile recording business and touring to spend quality time at home with his six children in Colorado.

By 2007, he’d formed a new jazz-rock group called California Transit Authority (CTA), which he’s described as “Chicago on steroids.” In 2007 they released their debut album Full Circle, and Sacred Ground came in 2013. Through the years, Seraphine and CTA have welcomed other fellow Chicago alums like Bill Champlin, Donnie Dacus, Laudir de Oliveira, and Jeff Coffey (who, in 2023, become a full-time member) to jam.

The drummer played with his old bandmates for the first time in 26 years when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, and it “was one of the great evenings of my life,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune, adding that he “went into the induction really wanting to mend the fences. But it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen. Those guys really didn’t want that, which was their prerogative. It was their opportunity to mend fences with me and they turned their backs, which was a disappointment.”

Seraphine’s also produced other artists and some films through the years, and in 2010 he released his autobiography, Street Player: My Chicago Story. He has touring dates booked through 2024 and, despite his complicated past with his former bandmates, he still values his musical partnership with them. “I don’t know if the guys know how much it means to me to play Chicago music,” Seraphine, now 75, has said. “People want me to play Chicago music [and] Chicago is always going to be a big part of my life.”

James Pankow

james pankow; chicago then and now
1971/2022Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music / Contributor // Rebecca Sapp / Stringer

A founder and one of the three remaining original members still playing with Chicago, trombonist James Pankow is also responsible for writing many of the band’s most memorable hits, such as “Make Me Smile,” “Colour My World,” “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon,” and “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long,” just to name a few. The St. Louis-born Pankow began playing at age 10 and later earned a full music scholarship to Illinois’ Quincy College.

It was after he transferred to Chicago’s DePaul University that he met and began playing with future bandmates Walter Parazaider and Lee Loughnane. In addition to his success with them and the rest of Chicago, he’s also collaborated through the years with artists such as Three Dog Night, the Bee Gees, and Toto, and in 2016 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

“It seems like I just blinked my eyes and we just started making music yesterday,” he says of his Chicago experience. “I think the reason we’re still around, still relevant after all these years is because it’s still so damn much fun. I mean really, there is nothing I can think of that I would rather do, and it’s a testament to this music that, almost 50 years later, it continues to resonate with people and audiences of all ages and all walks of life! Lemme tell ya, it’s been one hell of a ride!”

At times it’s been so much of a wild ride, in fact, that he worries about spilling too much about it in any sort of band memoir.  “We’ve been approached by several writers, [but] if you do a book, you’ve got to tell the whole story. Our manager said, ‘If you guys told the whole story, you’d all be in prison,’” he recently shared with Billboard in March,laughing. “I mean, there’s been drugs, alcohol, ex-wives, affairs. All that stuff that’s going on, the seedy underbelly. It’s part of life. And I don’t know if there’s any lifestyle that’s more conducive to being a bad boy than what we do. So, there’s things that you can talk about and things that you cannot talk about.”

For now, he and the band will just keep on playing — and they plan to do just that “until we cannot be believable anymore,” the father of four, who’s now 76, noted. “As long as we can get up there and we can kill it every night, I pray to God that we can do that. At this point there is no end in sight. We’re at the top of our game. I say, ‘Retire to what?’”

Lee Loughnane: Chicago then and now

lee loughnane
1971/2022Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music / Contributor // Rebecca Sapp / Stringer

Another original member still playing with the band, Lee Loughnane is a trumpeter who’s originally from the suburbs of Chicago. He started playing at age 11 on a trumpet his father used while serving in the Army Air Force. “It wasn’t too many years later when I decided that I wanted to make the trumpet a career,” he’s said, though his parents “wanted me to decide on a ‘real career’ rather than a fleeting one like being a musician. They didn’t think there was a future in music. Little did any of us know I’d be [doing it] 50 years later.”

In addition to his playing, Loughnane has also written several songs for the band and sang on a selection of them as well, including “Song of the Evergreens.” He was also featured playing the flugelhorn on the Bee Gees’ “Too Much Heaven,” and he’s gone on to produce several of Chicago’s later albums.

Loughnane explained to Forbes that while he and the other current Chicago members are still writing original tunes, there are no plans to formally record them. He remains grateful, though, for his musical brotherhood’s success. “I am ecstatic that we’re still able to do this for a living,” he noted, adding, “I would have thought we’re lucky if we get one album and maybe two. That’s the way we were thinking back then. There’s no way to look, you know, this far ahead and have any idea that you would be able to do this at this level, especially.”

Though Loughnane, now 77 and the father of three, had a minor heart attack in the 1990s, he’s reportedly in good health now. He’s even recently told music journalist Sandy Kaye that he wished Chicago’s last album of original music — 2022’s Born For This Moment — was titled after another track on the record called “If This Is Goodbye,” so fans would be left wondering if it was code for the band calling it quits. “We would have created even more questions. Which would have been great,” he playfully joked, “because we have no intention of breaking up. Not at all.”

Robert Lamm

robert lamm; chicago then and now
1984/2022Harry Langdon / Contributor // Rebecca Sapp / Stringer

The third and final original member still playing with Chicago these days is keyboardist Robert Lamm. The Brooklyn-born musician grew up surrounded by jazz music, and as a boy he sang in a choir with fellow future artist Harry Chapin. He landed in the city of Chicago at 15 after his parents split up, and he was influenced by artists such as Fats Domino and James Brown. His painting and artistic pursuits gave way to a focus on music by the time he was in college.

After becoming one of Chicago’s founding members, he became its first member to release a solo album, 1974’s Skinny Boy, and he’s released several others through the years, most recently 2017’s Time Chill: A Retrospective. “While I enjoy playing and singing, I realized it was composing that would always be my primary interest,” Lamm has shared, telling the Ventura County Star that he’s proud of “the quality of truthfulness in the lyrics” he and the others in Chicago wrote. In 2016, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, having penned some of Chicago’s most memorable tunes, including “Questions 67 and 68,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “Saturday in the Park,” “Harry Truman,” and “Dialogue (Part I & II),” among others.

“I understand there would be no ‘Robert Lamm’ without Chicago,” the musician, a father of three who’s now 79, shares. “Being a part of a band with its ethic, and its willingness to embrace each others’ musical path, has been a rare blessing. Because of what we do…there has been mutual enjoyment, shared experiences, satisfaction, disappointment, amusement, the acquisition of a bit of maturity, and something like wisdom.”

He’s often shared that wisdom with future generations of songwriters, having guest lectured at both NYU and Stanford University about songwriting. “I think that you have to believe in what you’re writing,” he told, “[and] I’ve always tried to not repeat myself ever in writing songs, whether it’s the lyrics or the musical structure. I have always said, ‘Don’t repeat what you’re doing.’ I’ve always thought that writing a song is like learning something completely different than I’ve ever done. Writing the song, I’ve learned something. It might be a small thing, or it might be a big thing.” 

Peter Cetera: Chicago then and now

peter cetera
1971/2016Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music / Contributor // Daniel Boczarski / Contributor

Peter Cetera was playing with another band called The Exceptions when he hooked up with the rest of the guys who co-founded the group that became Chicago. Raised on the south side of the city of Chicago, Cetera discovered his talent for singing as he neared his teen years, and he chose to pursue that career path rather than the priesthood, which is the direction in which his mother wanted him to go. After excelling at the accordion at a young age, he moved to the acoustic guitar around age 15, later shifting again to the electric bass.

He and Chicago enjoyed great success after forming, but Cetera started to get a lot of notoriety and the lion’s share of face time once the band entered the 80s and the world of MTV during their period with producer David Foster, with whom he co-wrote such classics as “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “Love Me Tomorrow,” “Stay the Night,” and “You’re the Inspiration.” All the attention led to internal friction within the band.

“People were bringing in songs that were just weak,” Cetera told Knox News of that period, “so David Foster and I started writing songs and the things we were coming up with were really good… And it was kind of right at the time that was ushering in videos and the director of a video will go, ‘Well, who’s the singer?’ The lead singer is always the lead actor in the videos and that was me. So, yeah, it caused a lot of strife and hence the parting of the ways. They didn’t like that. What do you want me to do, stop writing? So it was a problem.”

Cetera — who’s songwriting and vocals on 1976’s “If You Leave Me Now” helped win Chicago their first and only Grammy — left the band in 1985, and he was replaced at the time by Jason Scheff. Cetera, of course, went on to enjoy a successful post-Chicago solo career, scoring No. 1 hits with “Glory of Love” (the theme of the 1986 film The Karate Kid Part II) and “The Next Time I Fall” with Amy Grant. He also duetted with Cher on their No. 6 hit “After All” from the 1989 film Chances Are. Other collaborations with Chaka Khan, Madonna, the Beach Boys, Billy Joel, and more made him a high-profile and popular act on TV and award shows.

In 2016, Cetera was scheduled to be inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame, but prior commitments prevented him from being able to attend the ceremony — which has a “no attendance – no induction” policy — so he technically never received the honor. While he was formally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of the original Chicago lineup that same year, he chose not to attend that ceremony due to ongoing clashes between him and his former bandmates.

Cetera continued to tour on his own and with another band he created called the Bad Daddies, but in 2019 he announced on a podcast that he was “done” performing after a group of final shows he did in 2018. The father of two, now 79, explained that the demands of touring — on his body and his voice — influenced his decision to step away, and that he was setting out to “learn how to be an out-of-work singer.”

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