The release this month of the documentary DVD, “Chicago: World Tour 2011 - Backstage Pass,” reveals just how immensely popular the rock group Chicago has become and remains. It features footage of their concerts and comment from their fans in such cities as Oslo, Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Zurich, Brazil and dozens of stops in the United States, Australia and Canada.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Lee Loughnane, the trumpet-blowing co-founder of the famous ensemble in 1966 when they still went by the name The Big Thing. “Back then, we weren’t out to be rock stars. At that time, we aspired to be a Vegas-style show band.”
That this bunch of talented music makers have come a long way from their college years and trying to create a new sound by blending jazz, pop, and rock, is underscored in the gushing and glowing introduction former President Bill Clinton gives Chicago prior to a performance, reminding fans they were the first American band to chart Top 40 albums in five consecutive decades.
After performing for Presidents, winning multiple Grammy Awards, selling more than 100 million records (including 21 Top 10 singles, 11 Number One singles with 5 of those consecutive), and having countless accolades heaped upon them, Loughnane said he is most proud that Chicago has lasted at the top of their game for 46 consecutive years and can still sell out arenas worldwide. Chicago and The Beach Boys remain the two most successful American music ensembles of all time.
Loughnane is also proud of something few if any other veteran bands can claim. “Chicago has never once canceled a single show during our 46-year career,” he crowed. “We were late to a gig once because of a snow storm, but the audience understood and waited and the show happened.”
As to why now was the right time to self-release this in-depth documentary that includes considerable interview footage and gives fans a look behind-the-scenes, Loughnane explained the economic and technological times we live in have dictated it. “
“In the last couple of years Chicago has been actively putting together a strong web platform as have many other groups, who want to survive in the computer age. Let’s face it, record companies and other ways of the past have significantly changed. Things are too costly to do them the old-fashioned way as well. So building a presence to keep our story going forward online is the way to go. The DVD is our first real project undertaken entirely by the band itself.” The DVD is presently available only on the band’s web site – ChicagoTheBand.com – and at the group’s merchandise booth at live gigs.
Chicago hired a cameraman to capture their entire last tour and Loughnane has spent the last year sitting down with him and a couple of others to review the seemingly endless hours of visuals and edit them down to a workable length for the DVD. “It took us a long time as you might expect,” said the brass man, who volunteered for the massive undertaking. “Most of the band never saw any of it until the final edit was done and the DVD was ready to go.”
Chicago has two distinct sounds. Older fans will remember the group’s early jazz-rooted and politically-charged songs, while younger fans best recall the power ballads of the latter day group. “I like the ballads, but if I had to pick one or the other, I’d say that I favor the older songs,” said Loughnane, who added he and his band mates are currently writing songs for a new album he guesses will be completed by the year’s end. “The new album is more of a return to the older sound I think,” he said. “All of the members of the group write and we’ve come up with some really good stuff.”