Most folks, from late 20-somethings to the baby boomer generation, would probably include some hits of Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire in the soundtrack of their lives. I know I would.
Which makes the concert pairing of Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire seem so special. Separately, you would find the groups today heading up music festivals or playing smaller venues and casinos, their best work years behind them. Pairing such forces of the ’70s and ’80s together for the first time, though, is a fusion that’s sure to produce some serious stage power.
Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire play at Alltel Arena on Sunday, Oct. 24, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The groups share the stage for three songs, then EWF will have a retrospective hour of hits, then Chicago gets an hour covering its four decades of work. Finally, they’ll combine forces again for six songs.
Loughnane says he loves EWF’s music and getting to perform on several of those hit songs. "We are playing ‘In the Stone’ with them and I always admired that song."
The bands have several connections, the main one being that both originated in the Windy City. Before being renamed Chicago by producer and friend James William Guercio, the Big Thing was playing Midwest clubs and putting a horn-influenced interpretation to the Beatles "Got to Get You Into My Life." A decade later, EWF’s version of that song would be the highlight of the film and soundtrack "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band." Bill Champlin, who joined Chicago in the early 1980s, was a co-writer on EWF’s 1979 hit "After the Love Has Gone," as was David Foster, who would write several Chicago hits in the 1980s with Peter Cetera.
I knew there was something special about Chicago when I first heard "Make Me Smile" on the radio in 1970. As a kid getting 50 cents a week allowance, I rushed to the record store to get the single. "Colour My World," played at every junior cotillion coast to coast for years, was the flip side. College-age fans at the time had already picked up on Chicago through its first album, "Chicago Transit Authority," then an FM-radio staple whose best songs would be regenerated as AM hits after the group had second and third albums out. Robert Lamms’ piano and smooth mid-range vocals meshed nicely with the high tenor of bassist Peter Cetera, while soulful singer Terry Kath added a heavy rock guitar flavor. Loughnane, sax man Walter Parazaider, and trombonist James Pankow added the complementing horns.
EWF’s albums blended jazz and African rhythms when it transcended urban-based radio (at least finally in Central Arkansas) with its songs "Shining Star" and "That’s the Way of the World" in 1975. Those early recognizable Chicago songs — "25 or 6 to 4," "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is," "Beginnings" — and the EWF hits will be performed with a stage full of performers.
"Because we have six horns and so many vocalists, we can cover so much range that some bands would overdub," Loughnane said.
Former EWF frontman Maurice White, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, no longer tours with the group. But main cogs Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson are still in place. Bailey also fills in for the departed Peter Cetera on Chicago’s first Billboard No. 1 hit, "If You Leave Me Now."
Chicago, meanwhile, has resurrected itself a couple of times in the past 37 years. When Kath accidentally killed himself with a gun in 1978, Loughnane says, the band had reached a crossroads.
"That was the lowest part of our history, in my mind," Loughnane said. "We had to make a decision if we were going to stay together. When we made the decision that we felt Terry would want us to maintain the band and that we were a living and viable band and loved what we were doing, the hard part was finding somebody who could replace Terry. That took a long time. But Bill Champlin came aboard and we’ve had Champlin for 22 years.
"Then Cetera decided to leave the band [in 1984]. That was easier. We knew he didn’t want to be in our band or any band anymore, that he wanted to be solo. We hired Jason Scheff and he’s been with us ever since." Tris Imboden replaced original drummer Danny Seraphine in 1991.
Loughnane has been working in the studio mixing a couple of songs from the tour that will be featured on a CD to be released by Rhino Records. There is also a DVD featuring the bands when they played in Los Angeles’ Greek Theater, plus a condensed portion of the full-concert DVD that will be available on pay-per-view TV sometime in October.
In the meantime, he’s raising an 18-month-old with his second wife (he has kids from a previous marriage as well) and is living in L.A.
"We’ve been out here since 1968," he said. "I’ve got a pretty well-rounded life."
Tickets are $49.50 and $35 through Ticketmaster or the arena box office.