Chicago marks more than 50 years on the road

Founding member Lee Loughnane looks back at the band’s legacy

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Rock band Chicago marks more than 50 years together. Photo provided

When iconic rock band Chicago brings its 2019 “An Evening With Chicago” tour to Greenville later this month, it’ll mark 52 years of nonstop touring for one of the most successful rock groups in history.

Best known for its classic horns and vocalists, the band will be playing some of its greatest hits in a 2.5-hour show at the 2,000-plus-seat concert hall at the Peace Center.

Chicago is a powerhouse of a band, selling more than 100 million records in its 52 years with thousands of concerts, 36 albums (25 of them platinum), and a documentary film.

Surprisingly, the band has never missed a concert date in those 52 years. “We have a reputation for showing up,” says Lee Loughnane, one of the band’s founding members.

Loughnane says the band’s longevity is due to the “commitment of its members and that they just like playing music. It’s a cooperative effort,” he says.

“We try to make each night an event and make every show the best it can be so that way people remember it. We would probably play if the places were empty, but thank God the places are still filling up.”

The band was formed in 1967, originally going by the name Chicago Transit Authority. In 1970, the band’s members shortened their name to Chicago. In 2016, the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Chicago’s success is partly due to the band’s tenacity. “We keep our nose to the grindstone,” says Loughnane. “No matter what you’ve done, it’s what are you doing next. We’re always looking at what we’re doing right now and not looking ahead. If you look up you’ll be, ‘Oh my God, look how far we have to go.’ It’s easier to just keep working.”

Out of the current 10 members of the band, four have been with Chicago since the beginning: Loughnane, who plays trumpet and vocals; Robert Lamm, keyboards and vocals, James Pankow on trombone; and Walt Parazaider on woodwinds. The band lineup also includes Wally Reyes Jr. on drums, Keith Howland on guitar and vocals, Lou Pardini on keyboards and vocals, Ray Herrmann on sax and flute, Neil Donell on vocals, Brett Simons on bass, and Danny Reyes on percussion.

While Loughnane says he can’t image doing anything else, being in a band is not always easy, and touring nonstop can take a toll on family life.

“The hardest part is the travel,” he says, “but it’s just something you deal with. We like playing music, so you put up with the rest — the travel, the airports, whatever. It takes a toll on you to move around that much, but you put up with that just to be able to play music.”

Loughnane refers to himself as a “utility guy” with the band. While his main job is to play trumpet, he says he has been fortunate to do “pretty much everything I want to do and much more than I ever thought I’d be able to or allowed to do.”

Although not one of the main songwriters for the band, Loughnane has penned a few songs over the years. He says the inspiration for the songs comes “pretty much from everywhere.”

“You start with the first note and it sort of comes through you, and before you know it, you’ve got a song. Sometimes it’s quicker and sometimes slower. You never know where it’s going to go. Sometimes the songs are insistent that they are going to be written and it wakes you up in the middle of the night.”

As Loughnane looks back, he says he’s most proud of “the legacy we have put together and continue to play for people.”

“I love being able to do what we do and what I do with it,” he says. “I tell people all the time I could think of a lot worse thing to do with my life than what I’m doing.”

What’s next for the band? “Right now, we’re powering through the touring season,” Loughnane says. “We hope our second album will be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame [Chicago’s first album, “Chicago Transit Authority,” was inducted in 2014]. There really hasn’t been time for anything else. We’re chomping at the bit to play and we’re looking forward to having some fun — so be ready.”

If you go

When: Wednesday, March 27
Where: Peace Concert Hall
Tickets: $65-$95
Info:  864-467-3000 or peacecenter.org

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