Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago

We can meet in this thread to discuss the movie. I just think that a band with such a great history, so enduring over decades with so many hits and classic albums, deserves to have their history recognized and told honestly. I really think that's what we're going to get, and Peter Pardini has presented it in a very engaging style with interviews, vintage footage, and cinematic recreations with actors.

As RL fans, we all want to understand why his material was marginalized in the 80s. We'll hear his story, and a variety of other perspectives, and come to some closure.  

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  • I can honestly say that, as a fan of their 60's-70's output, as I felt I was watching their creativity and performance prowess go down the top-40 tubes of the 80's and 90's where composer and session playing duties were being farmed out to people not in the band and marketed as "Chicago" - that DEPITE this the half-dozen shows I saw them play seemed paradoxically (but happily) getting BETTER and BETTER!  Perhaps it was only in stark contrast to the studio "blah" that albums like 21 had to offer that their live shows shined, or perhaps it was their boredom with the studio sessions that they felt they needed to let their hair down on stage. Whatever the reason I've always enjoyed their live shows. I just wish they could keep that passion, integrity and commitment in the studio, and - now that they are wealthy - can afford to record on their own terms, and damn the record sales and chart positions. "If you build it, they will come." "If you record it, they will buy!"

  • Sorry if this is too long a post, I just have so much to say about one of my favorite bands - certainly the one I first liked - and have continued to like - since my formative teenage years. Perhaps the reader can regard this as a review of the documentary, peppered with my questions to the fans, and even Robert if he has any light to shed and isn't too taken aback.

    I just watched this film (twice), and enjoyed seeing and hearing some new things! What was that song "Clouds"? I had never heard it before and assume that it was matched by whatever was playing in the background.

    I was a bit disappointed to have so many albums just skipped over, like III and Carnegie Hall. Would love to have heard more behind the jazz and adventurism behind VII. But, I guess, other documentaries and interviews have covered this, and they couldn't do everything in two hours. Still, once they started flying through the 90's and 00's without referencing a single album (other than Christmas ones as images only) or any songs, including their final #1 hit, it seemed to write off what they've done in those couple decades, including their amazing Night and Day, Stones of Sisyphus, and their most recent "Now." Shame.

    Also a shame that they still couldn't get Cetera to participate. But now it seems even Champlin's departure involved some sour grapes. Dacus got short shrift and Dwayne Bailey not even a mention, so this sort of back-stabbing seemed a little petty. I was a bit confused by the band's reaction to Cetera, who seemed to compliment him only on his singing. Though not the best bassist ever, he was quite good for basically learning the instrument as he went along, and he did grow as a songwriter. Lamm, the original main composer, went through that phase of being dissed by producers in the 80's, so it is strange for there to be amnesia for Cetera's work starting with Where Do We Go From Here onward. He wrote a few duds (but so did everyone else) and some great songs, including classics, with even interesting chord changes. 

    If You Leave Me Now - I'm wondering if the issue was the song's popularity and subsequent identification with all Chicago was known for. Had that fate fallen the band as far back as Colour My World would the band have instead begrudged Pankow for introducing to the band such an uncharacteristic ballad?  As much as If You Leave Me Now is pastiched and maligned, it is still a great song, with - again - a great melody and harmonies/changes, and nice "Latin" arrangement with REAL strings and horns (no synths), very warm, etc. Cetera had tread this territory with Happy Man and then by Lamm himself also on X with Another Rainy Day In NYC. If You Leave Me Now is like no other song on X, but it still works as part of an eclectic whole. I mean, there is no other song like Uptown on XI, but so what?

    I'm also not sure how Lamm (and others) don't consider it a "Chicago" song. Is it more or less a Chicago song that "You Come To My Senses"? Perspective! Consider these other songs/tracks from "classic" Chicago which one could argue are not true "Chicago" songs:

    Free Form Guitar, AM/PM Mourning / Memories of Love, When All The Laughter Dies in Sorrow / Canon / Progress, Motorboat to Mars / Free Country, Critics' Choice, Till We Meet Again, The Inner Struggles of a Man...

    True, some of these are part of a larger suite, but some are stand alone tracks, some "solos" and some not written by the members or arranged or played by them, so, what gives with heaping disdain upon If You Leave Me Now? It can only be because of its popularity.

    But most traumatic (to me) were the circumstances of Danny's departure. I've heard so many different accounts now - he was focused more on the business side, he was a violent hothead, and now.... HE COULDN'T PLAY?? I would understand if he was slipping up on LIVE shows, but the comment was made that 19 succeeded IN SPITE OF his playing. What? First, I think any member of the band would resent the producer swapping out their parts to session players. Lamm felt that sting first, but, what is the point if you aren't using the band? The 80's couldn't be the first time Danny had to play to a click. Maybe it was the mechanical "non jazzy" style required that he couldn't "feel" correctly. But honestly, what drumming parts on anything in the 80's (aside from Manipulation) required ANY sort of level of skill as anything prior, with Devil's Sweet at that apex? Seriously? It would be like firing Buddy Rich because he couldn't "square up" his playing enough to cut a song as "easy" to drum to "Hard to Say I'm Sorry." Which leads me to suspect there is more to it than that.

    Other than the genius of Terry Kath's playing, Danny's drumming is arguably the next highly praised INSTRUMENTAL feature of the band. The horns are amazing, but usually referred to as a "unit." I've liked everyone's playing - maybe I'm biased as a drummer. Hasn't EVERYONE had a "bad night" or recording session? At the height of the band's drug use, you mean to tell me that nobody's playing or singing was compromised more than Danny's after having "visited a few castles"? From what I've read Danny "held things together" while the band was high, so during those periods, how many of them would have been "disposable"? Something about it just seemed unfair. Yes, I know, I don't know the whole story. But the story we're told seems odd to me.

    I wish the band continued success, AS a band but also soloists (especially Lamm). But now, alas, even Scheff has departed - I hope amicably. It is something to consider that he has been in the band longer than Cetera, and Champlin longer than Kath, but I guess everyone is disposable. And is Walter okay? He only played on a few tracks on Now.....

    • Hi James, for me Cetera's songs were always the weakest on the early records on the CTA & II he only contributed one song. I'm no drummer so I'll pass on the technicalities of Danny etc - if you read Danny's book there's much digging there much like Graham Nash's dreadful 'Wild Tales'. I just listen to the music and from VII onwards there's very little for me - Xmas records great but this was Chicago! If You Leave Me Now was certainly a game & career changer - the middle of the road beckoned so I  headed for the dtich!

    • Hmm, well, Cetera's first few songs were "Where Do We Go From Here?" and "What Else Can I Say?" and "Lowdown" - and that third one (written with Danny!) was one of the only two minor hits on the amazing III. That's not bad for starting out a songwriting career. They chose his first song as the last song on II - not saving the best for last, but not the worst either. The structure of the song and chord changes arguably rival "It Better End Soon" that precedes it, which works more on its energy, spontaneity and message. I love Lamm's writing, but even he has produced mediocre songs, like Life Saver, where for me the most interesting part is the horn arrangement. Neither does it matter who-had-how-many-songs-on-an-album. Recall that Terry only had one "song" (Introduction) on CTA (not counting the improv Free Form Guitar) and Pankow only had Liberation, which seems more of a showpiece for Kath's amazing extends soloing (as with Poem 58). So, based on that, were Pankow and Kath "slacking" as composers on CTA as much as Cetera was on II? Sure, Pankow got two big hits on the subsequent II (and well as other songs) but Kath, for his gift as a singer, guitarist and songwriter, somehow never penned a "hit." That always bugged me, and perhaps even him and other band members.

      But still, I put it too you Andy Riggs (or anyone else), is If You Leave Me Now such an uncharacteristic and sappy ballad that it deserves the ridicule it gets, compared to, say, if Memories of Love had topped the charts six years earlier and redefined the band as an "easy listening" sad song unit (with no drums or guitar!)?

      If you think about it, If You Leave Me Now is therefore no more or less a departure or experimentation into other styles as was anything else Chicago (or members soloing under the band name) did like Free Form Guitar, Sleeping In The Middle of the Bed Again and In The Garden Of Allah. No?

    • Hi James a robust and passionate reply. Are you comparing Introduction to If You Leave Me Now? Surely not. Where Do We Go From Here closed II on a fitting note. They were seen as a progressive rock band with brass that was different - all of CTA stands up today as a trail blazing record. Yes RL has written several lame songs 'Policeman' and I do recall a song 'Id rather be rich, than digging a dtich'. You can put it to me but my point was that Cetera is was a lightweight song writer confirmed by his schlocking solo stuff.

  • Hi Stephanie, read your review and you make many excellent observations, things I hadn't really given much thought to. There was just one oversight which was Danny's candid sometimes painful response to the claim from the band that his playing had somehow changed or was no longer at the level it had once been. That must have been such a life changing moment for him. He was one of the brothers, a founder, providing that driving rhythm and beat and then he couldn't do it. Very sad. He acknowledged and owned it and the truthfulness of those interviews in the movie, including Danny's was heartbreaking to me. It seemed almost cruel and for a moment I was angry at them for casting him aside but in the end it was all about the music, not the friendship or social aspect but about creating the highest level of quality music they knew they were capable of. A powerful moment and I think Pardini laid it out beautifully.
    • And surely became less important on the later records as there was much synth drums! And live as they became a greatest hits package the level of musicianship became less important? If you see the TK documentary Danny says about the skeletons in the cupboard 'you want to go there'?

    • Thanks Kathi. I think the comments by and about Danny speak for themselves. It doesn't concern me and would be rude to discuss. I don't even remember Danny, but I agree that Peter Pardini did a very diplomatic job is getting all sides.

    • How do you not remember Danny ??

      That really was one of the main issues of that film and it really was good to see everyone including Danny finally put that issue to rest. Kinda hard to leave him out of a review of this film or for any of the 'original' C albums. I was gonna use the analogy of leaving out Ringo on a Beatles review but I think Danny was a better drummer than Ringo in his prime
    • As I just said in my (too long) post, I was most troubled by the circumstances of Danny's departure. It just didn't sit right that the consensus of the band that the same guy who played so amazingly on stuff like Devil's Sweet would be "unable to play" to a click on any of the 80's Warner Brothers era. What song on, say, 19, can any member point to that does not have good timing, for which the album succeeded "in spite of it"? Did he not do enough interesting fills? If anything, my guess is he became bored with the material, that it presented LESS of a challenge to him as a drummer (which is why he got into the programming and "mixing" side of drumming). Perhaps this caused him to practice less because he felt it wasn't necessary. Just guessing. How many times can you woodshed "Look Away" before saying "okay, I think I've got it"?

      From what I recall, wasn't there an army of session keyboardists on that album as well? How does the band conclude that Robert's playing was up to snuff when so many other session musicians were used, but Danny just couldn't cut it anymore? My hunch is there is more to the story. People often wonder what Chicago would be like if Kath were alive. As Robert related, Kath was not just the heart and soul of the band, but the guy who called him a hypocrite for catering to the fan's craving of only the hits instead of the more challenging material. How would he have reacted during the 80's? Would Foster have brought in session guitarists behind his back? Whatever might have happened, things would have been very different, including possibly the band breaking up over the creative differences that would have resulted in resisting the corporate politics that "rescued" the band from their post-Disco/Punk slump and dumping by Columbia. It is fun (and comforting) to imagine what could have been, but nobody really knows, and given the way so many other members have been axed it is conceivable that even Kath might have left or been fired at some point. But his tragic end helps preserve him on his pedestal. The dead can do no wrong, and are immortalized, becoming legends. I was especially touched how Lee is still upset (visibly) by Terry's passing. Kath has gotten, if not the recognition he deserves, then certainly a fitting eulogy by everyone. But - Kath was human, too. I'm sure they've seen him at his worse, too, at his most unkempt, flawed and outrageous. Enough time has passed to hear more about him the man and not the immortal legend.

      Had it been Danny rather than Kath, everyone would be mourning the loss of an amazing and innovative jazz-rock drummer, rather than disclosing how they fired the guy who couldn't keep time on an 80's pop ballad. Danny can still play great, and I hope that he continues to. Tris is great too - but I've always felt his  drumming was more technically great and precise than innovative. But to be fair there hasn't been much drum innovation in pop since the 70's, except in the more fringe progressive movements. And I haven't heard a live version of Ballad for a Girl in Buchannon since the 70's that has been at the original tempo, so is that Tris's fault, or are the others slowing down?

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