Chicago: A hard habit to break


In 1969, a band named Chicago Transit Authority knew exactly what time it was.

"We were lucky," recalled singer/keyboardist Robert Lamm. "We hit it at the right time."

Yes they did. When in 1969 Chicago Transit Authority released a self-titled debut album, it broke new ground — a double album of jazz-influenced rock with a powerful horn section. The songs included what are now rock standards: "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" "Beginnings" and "Question 67 & 68," all written by Lamm.

Those hits are familiar enough. But there's more to the story. "When we recorded that first album, that was all the songs we knew," Lamm said by phone from his home in California. "We did record that album quickly, and we were well-rehearsed. We had a sense we were breaking new ground. But that was pretty much all the songs we knew."

Turns out it was only the beginning for the band that soon changed its name to Chicago and kicked off a string of strong albums and dozens of hit singles, including "Make Me Smile," "25 or 6 to 4," "Colour My World," "Saturday in the Park," "If You Leave Me Now," "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" and "Hard Habit to Break."


Many of those songs will be performed when Chicago takes the stage April 28 at Mayo Civic Center.

"This year, for the first time, we're doing a two-set show with an intermission, which will allow us to play many more songs," Lamm said. "There are songs we know the audience wants to hear and if we don't play them, then a good portion of the audience will be disappointed."

Plus, as he pointed out, most of the band's later hits were ballads. "If we play too many of them, it slows the show down," Lamm said.

Most of those ballads came after the 1978 accidental death of guitarist/vocalist Terry Kath, which seemed to rob Chicago of some of its rock 'n' roll ballast. The band soon floated into the pop ether atop power ballads sung by bassist Peter Cetera. Ironically, after defining that formula, Cetera left Chicago in 1985 for a solo career.

The hits have dried up, but Chicago continues to be a success on stage, performing 120 concerts a year, and is recording new music, according to Lamm.

"We're recording as a band over the Internet," Lamm said. "I'm laying down tracks and I send the stems to various guys in the band. So far it's working out."

Making further use of new technology, Lamm said the band intends to release new songs as digital-only singles. "At some point, when it makes sense to issue physical CDs or an album, we'll do that," he said.

In other words, there won't be any more two-disc sets, as Chicago's first three albums were. But the business and the culture have changed a lot since then.


"That early music still holds up," Lamm said with pride. "I don't think there are any bands doing that kind of experimentation today."


What: Chicago

When: 7:30 p.m. April 28

Where: Mayo Civic Center, 30 Civic Center Drive S.E., Rochester

Tickets: $60 and $50, available at the civic center box office (no service fee) or through Ticketmaster at Walmart and by phone 800-745-3000.

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