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Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire

Chicago still feelin' strong after 37 years

Chicago trumpet player Lee Loughnane has simple advice for those who come to see that group's tour stop with Earth, Wind & Fire — be there when the show starts.

"Come out early because we start off with a bang," Loughnane promised.

This may well be one case where such a statement isn't just pre-show hype. The two veteran bands open the show together on stage, teaming up to perform a few songs from each other's catalog. The spectacle of some 20 musicians sharing the stage — and generating the full sound that comes from having multiple keyboards, guitars and vocalists, plus a six-piece horn section, promises to make quite an impact.

"When we open up and both bands are on stage, people are like agog," Loughnane said. "(They're like) 'Oh my God, you guys really are playing together.'"

The opening salvo won't be the only time fans get to see Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire join forces during the evening. After each band plays a full set of its own, they get together once again to bring the evening to a close with an extended encore.

Loughnane, for obvious reasons, didn't want to disclose what songs Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire are performing together, but he said with the added instrumentation, they will sound different than ever before.

"I think what we tried to do was get strong songs from either band, pull them out of our single sets and then put them together and maybe mess around with the arrangements a little bit, fill out the horn parts, fill out the vocal parts," he said. "And because there are two bass players, three or four keyboard players, three guitar players, they had to really work together as to who was going to play when and what, so it doesn't just sound like a 'schmeer' of everybody playing the same parts.

"And everybody is good enough musicians where we've been able to do that and really separate who's playing what where and it comes out sounding stronger than before, rather than being an audio mess, which it very easily could,'' he added.

For Earth, Wind & Fire, the Chicago tour follows last year's release of "The Promise," the first new studio release in six years from the veteran R&B band, which is famous for such hit singles as "After the Love Has Gone," "Shining Star," "September" and "Sing a Song."

Chicago, by contrast, largely has been in a retrospective mode during recent years.

The last studio CD for the band was "Night and Day/Big Band," a 1995 release on which Chicago interpreted classic big-band songs.

Since then, Chicago has concentrated mainly on its back catalog.

The group has released two greatest hits collections, "The Heart of Chicago, 1967-1997" in 1997 and "The Heart of Chicago, 1967-1998/Volume II" a year later; a holiday CD ("Chicago 25/The Christmas Album," which was re-released with six additional songs last year); a live CD ("Chicago 26/Live in Concert"); another greatest hits collection ("Only the Beginning/the Very Best of Chicago"); and a box set ("Chicago: the Box").

The various hit collections have given fans a chance to survey Chicago's entire 37-year career. Founding members Walter Parazaider (woodwinds), Loughnane, Terry Kath (guitar/vocals), Danny Seraphine (drums) and Robert Lamm (keyboards/vocals) had formed Chicago in 1967 around the idea of starting a hard-rocking band with horns. Joined soon after by Peter Cetera (bass/vocals) and James Pankow (trombone), the group put that sound to work, beginning with its 1967 debut double album, "Chicago Transit Authority."

The group quickly established its signature with such hits as "25 or 6 to 4," "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is," "Saturday in the Park" and "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" and enjoying an unbroken string of hit albums throughout the 1970s.

The momentum tragically was interrupted in December 1978 when Kath died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Band members pushed forward, muddling through several albums before things turned around with 1982's "16." That CD featured the debut of singer Bill Champlin and production and songwriting assistance from David Foster.

A ballad from that CD, "Hard to Say I'm

(See STRONG, Page 24A)

Sorry," went No. 1 and started the string of five ballad-laden hit albums.

By the time the 1992 album "Twenty-1" was released, Cetera and Seraphine had left the band, with bassist/singer Jason Scheff and drummer Tris Imboden filling those slots. A new guitarist, Keith Howland, joined in 1995. Chicago, as a band also had tired of the ballads and grown determined to return to its horn-infused roots. But a 1993 CD that followed that direction, "Stone of Sisyphus," was

shelved by Warner Bros. Records, and the band hasn't done a studio record of original material since.

Loughnane said various members of the band have been writing new material, and hope to go into the studio sometime soon. Whether that CD will continue in the harder-rocking, horn-heavy direction of "Stone Of Sisyphus" is anyone's guess.

"It's hard to say where the direction is going to be because the individuals write on an individual basis," Loughnane said. "Then once we

start recording, then we start hearing the material, what (style) the material is, where it came from. So we don't even know yet."

Chicago and Earth, Wind & fire perform Saturday, July 31, at the UMB Bank Pavilion, Interstate 270 and Earth City Expressway. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show range from $17 to $62.

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