PRESS RELEASE: Chicago (the band) Drummer Inspired by Huntington Beach 4th of July Parade

 
Chicago, the world famous rock band's drummer credits the Huntington Beach parade as his inspiration to become a drummer.

Chicago faced a personnel change in 1990, when they parted ways with drummer Danny Seraphine. To replace him, they turned to that surfing drummer who had become a fan of theirs 22 years earlier at the Shrine Auditorium. "I was really taken by surprise when I got the phone call, and they said, 'Would you like to join Chicago?'" says Tris Imboden. I said, 'Letmethinkaboutit.Yes!.'"

Of course, much had changed for Imboden in the intervening decades. Growing up in the beach cities of Orange County, south of Los Angeles, he had experienced an earlier defining moment as a child that determined his career path. "This sounds kind of corny," he admits, "but I'll never forget it. When I was five years old, my dad took me to a Fourth of July parade in Huntington Beach, California. This marching band came marching by, and the drum section was just smoking. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, I was so deeply moved. But I knew at that moment that was what I was going to have to do."

Imboden's parents encouraged him, at least until it began to look like he was going to be a professional. "My folks had very eclectic taste," he says, "so I was exposed to a lot of jazz in my home, as well as rock 'n' roll and R&B and everything, and I'm grateful for that."

Imboden's first paying gigs came in high school, playing in surf bands. Fresh out of high school, he was invited to join a newly forming band called Honk. Although the group made three albums and attracted critical attention and a cult following, Imboden acknowledges, "We didn't meet with national success or a hit record." They did, however, attract attention from other musicians and producers, and then they broke up. Imboden moved to Los Angeles and began to get session work.

He also got steady jobs as a backup musician, first for ex-Fairport Convention and Matthews Southern Comfort founder Ian Matthews. Then, he auditioned for Kenny Loggins. Chosen over 187 other applicants, Imboden became Loggins' drummer for the next several years, playing on his records and tours. It was, he recalls, "a lot of hits and a lot of great music."

By the mid-1980's, Loggins, like much of the industry, had begun to use drum machines more and his tours and records came less frequently. Imboden continued to work on the road, playing with Chaka Khan and Al Jarreau.

But in 1990 he was facing his first summer ever without a tour when the call came from Chicago. "The timing was exquisite," he says, "and gratefully the chemistry amongst the band and myself was immediate. It was just really, really a great thing, musically and personality-wise, too."

Chicago Twenty 1 was released in January 1991. Again, the group drew on Diane Warren for two songs, "Explain It To My Heart" and "Chasin' The Wind," and they were released as singles. But this time they did not become big hits. "Those first two singles were really nice songs," says Scheff, "but you're releasing something that you're going to try and top songs like 'Hard Habit To Break' and 'What Kind Of Man Would I Be?" Ironically, Chicago's long-term success made radio resistant to the new music: They were competing with themselves, while their recent hits continued to be played as recurrents."

Especially in the case of "Explain It To My Heart," that meant radio missed out. "I thought that was the best Diane Warren song that I'd ever heard up to that time," says Loughnane. (He thinks Warren finally bettered it with "Because You Loved Me," the 1996 Celine Dion hit.) "It was gorgeous, and it was in our style. I thought, and I still think to this day, that that's a Number 1 record." But "Explain It To My Heart" was not typical of the album as a whole, since it was one of only three songs in 12 not written by members of the group. Chicago Twenty 1 marked the beginning of a resurgence of the Chicago horns as a driving force and a return to the composers within the band as the principal source. In a sense, through the album, Chicago was rediscovering where its heart lay, and that effort transcended commercial considerations. As Lamm says, "We considered the possibility that perhaps it was better to succeed or fall on our own merits." The same year, Chicago was honored with its own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

In 1993, Chicago began to work on a new album with producer Peter Wolf, who insisted the band prepare all the material themselves and work in a manner similar to the way they worked in their early years. Parazaider recalls: "Peter Wolf said to me, 'I want you to bring over your bass clarinet, your clarinet, all your saxes all your flutes, everything. We're going to use everything the way you used to use it in the old days,' and that was a very exciting thing for us."

The result was the still unreleased album The Stone of Sisyphus. "That was a record that had to be made," says Parazaider. "Especially after all the prodding by Warner Bros., with the success of all of the ballads that we had, this band had to go back into doing a band approach, band concept album, where the band lives with the music from the get-go, we're all involved in it, from the writing to throwing in our suggestions to rehearsing the stuff or whatever, and that's what we did with Sisyphus."

Parazaider is unequivocal about the importance of the album to Chicago. "I think at that point, if that record wasn't done, the band wouldn't be together in the form that we see it," he says, "because we were frustrated that we weren't doing what we wanted to do, cranking out things that Warner Bros., wanted us to do that sold. You can't look a gift horse in the mouth, a hit is a hit is a hit. But there was other stuff for us to say, and that's where Sisyphus comes in."

Band members felt strongly that this was one of their finest albums, but their enthusiasm was not shared by their record label. "Warner Bros. didn't get the record," says Parazaider. "In fact, they disliked it so much, they figured maybe we should part ways, which we did. But the master tapes weren't burnt, because we believed in it, and I know you'll see that somewhere along the way. This thing will get released." Some of the songs from the album are already beginning to show up on international greatest hits albums such as The Very Best Of Chicago in Europe.

Chicago moved on to a new project, embracing an idea put forward by record executive John Kalodner, and recording Night & Day (Big Band), released in May 1995 on Giant Records. The album features standards associated with Glenn Miller ("In The Mood") and Duke Ellington ("Don't Get Around Much Anymore," Sophisticated Lady," and "Take The A Train"), among others.

The association with Ellington helped convince band members to try the project, since it seemed to pay back a musical debt to the Duke. Back in the early '70's, Ellington had asked to have Chicago appear on his TV special, Duke Ellington: We Love You Madly, along with such august company as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, and Count Basie. After the show, Parazaider and Pankow went to meet Ellington, who was near the end of his illustrious career. "I said, "Mr. Ellington, it really was an honor to be asked to be on your show," Parazaider recalls, "and he looked at Jimmy and me, and he said, 'On the contrary young men, the honor is all mine because you're the next Duke Ellingtons.' Jimmy and I were gassed to meet him and that he said that. We were going away, and I said, 'Yeah, right, now if we can make another hit record to pay the rent we'll be happy,' not thinking about the long haul. When the idea for the big band album presented itself, at first it got a lukewarm reaction by the band. Then Jimmy and I remembered this, and I thought, maybe this is what we were supposed to do in the scheme of our musical life. So, that was one of the reasons that we warmed up to the idea of it."

"The approach that we wanted to take on Night & Day - and I think were successful in doing - was to contemporize," says Imboden. "We didn't do anything traditional, at least in the rhythm section." At the same time, however, the album continued the effort Chicago has always made to bring horns back to a primary place in popular music. "Horns were the vocals of the time," says big band enthusiast Lee Loughnane of the Swing Era. "They did all the playing, and then halfway through the song the vocalist would come in with a couple of choruses, and then he'd sit down again. Then rock 'n' roll comes out, and what was the rhythm section, the guitar, became the lead voice for a long time. And then Chicago comes, and we try to make the horns the lead voice again, and we've been pretty successful at it."

Says Robert Lamm, "When we embarked on this project, we weren't trying to say, well, this is what Chicago has always been about. Rather, we wanted to see where we could take it by staying within what we do, which is rock-pop with horns." Bill Champlin agrees. "For me, the challenge was to arrange the vocals so they would sound like traditional Chicago without taking away from the original feel of the songs," he says.

Joining Chicago on Night & Day (Big Band) were such diverse guest artists as world music favorites the Gipsy Kings, the hip hop R&B trio Jade, Aerosmith's Joe Perry, and David Letterman's bandleader Paul Shaffer, who also wrote the liner notes. Bruce Fairbairn, known for his projects with such hard-rock acts as Van Halen, AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Bon Jovi, among others, handled the production chores at the Armoury Studios in Vancouver.

"It was a great musical experience, and that's what it's all about, in my mind," Loughnane concludes. "I think it should have been more popular than it has become, but it's still a great piece of music as far as I'm concerned, and I'll take that to the grave with me. I know we put everything we had into it, and it came out sounding great."

Credit: Chicago, The Band Website  chicagotheband.com