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Running on Chicago time

April 24, 2008
By JON WOODHOUSE, Contributing Writer
Quick pop quiz: How many bands have managed to score hits in each of the last five decades?

Answer: Only two — The Rolling Stones and Chicago. That’s just one of the impressive feats attained by a group that has been captivating audiences since 1967.

With record sales topping 100 million, including 21 Top 10 singles, five consecutive No. 1 albums and five No. 1 singles, Chicago is one of the longest running and most successful U.S. rock groups, second only to the Beach Boys in terms of singles and albums sales.

The group’s many hits like “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “25, or 6 to 4,” “Beginnings,” “Saturday In The Park,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long,” “Baby What A Big Surprise,” “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” and “Wishing You Were Here” still strongly resonate with audiences today.

“For some reason, many of our songs have acquired a timelessness that was impossible to foresee or even imagine when they were new,” says Chicago’s founding trumpet player Lee Loughnane. “We were too busy working rather than wondering how long the career would last.”

Currently fielding four founding members including keyboardist/vocalist Robert Lamm, trombonist James Pankow and woodwinds player Walt Parazaider, the group also features Bill Champlin (of the Sons of Champlin fame) on keyboards, guitar and vocals, Jason Scheff on bass and vocals, drummer Tris Imboden and guitarist Keith Howland.

Chicago’s unique, hard driving, horn-propelled, complex rock sound resulted from a diverse array of influences.

“Our influences are wide ranging, from classical to jazz to blues to rock ’n’ roll,” Loughnane explains. “There was no conscious effort to craft any particular sound. We just simply played and what came out became the sound.”

From their earliest days, they were known for recording lengthy songs that often necessitated releasing double albums. Their very experimental, double debut, “Chicago Transit Authority,” was a rarity at the time, and only allowed by their label after the musicians agreed to a royalty cut.

“We had to release a double album or there would have been only four or five songs on the record,” says Loughnane. “We only had 12 songs prepared at the time and we wanted to get all of them on the album.”

Released in 1969, the record became an underground radio hit first and by the end of 1972, it had remained on the charts for 148 weeks, making it the longest running album by a rock group up to that time.

Besides crafting memorable music, the band’s recordings were distinguished by consecutive number album titles and variations on the group’s logo.

“Except for the first album, we entitled every album ‘Chicago,’ which forced the record company to put a number on each one to differentiate them from one another,” Loughnane notes. “The first time we changed that formula was the 12th album, ‘Hot Streets.’ Then we went back to the numbers.”

With the release of their second double album early in 1970, including Lamm’s hit “25 or 6 to 4” and Pankow’s “Make Me Smile,” the band was off on a run that was remarkable for its musical and commercial success.

By the mid-’70s, the band began releasing a series of hit romantic ballads spotlighting vocalist Peter Cetera. When Cetera left in 1985, Jason Scheff stepped in as a replacement. Some fans’ fears were soon allayed when Scheff sang lead on the Top 10 single “Will You Still Love Me?” from the gold-selling “Chicago 18.”

In 1995, Chicago released a unique album of standards, “Night & Day,” featuring classics associated with Glenn Miller, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington. The jazz legend had encouraged the musicians back in the ’70s, when he invited them to perform on his TV special.

“Duke Ellington seemed to be able to see into the future,” Loughnane reports. “He prophesied that we would have a long career. He said, ‘Chicago will be the next Duke Ellington.’ ”

Still going strong after 40 years, Chicago has profited from a remastering and repackaging deal with Rhino Records, which has included a platinum-selling 39-song collection, “The Very Best Of Chicago: Only The Beginning,” and a comprehensive five-CD box set.

“We are proud of the fact that we have remained a viable act this many years later,” concludes Loughnane. “We still enjoy what we’re doing and Rhino Records has allowed us to have a voice in the continuation of our legacy.”

So what’s the secret to their longevity and success?

“The secret of remaining relevant, or at least productive has been the continuing curiosity and love of music, all types of music, with each of us striving to learn more and improve our skills,” explains Robert Lamm, who wrote many of the group’s early hits.

“We have always enjoyed engaging our audience in live concerts, and we’re touring the world yet again in 2008. We know exactly how fortunate we are to enjoy such international success for so very long, and that has kept us energetic.”

One of the worlds most renowned female a capella groups, Sweet Honey in the Rock returns to Maui for a show tonight. Mesmerizing audiences for more than 30 years with an impassioned repertoire that routinely draws standing ovations, these six African-American women transform their shows into marvelous celebrations weaving together diverse strands of American music.

Part of their special appeal lies with their passionate interpretation of material from 19th-century spirituals and hymns, and classic gospel and quartet songs, to soothing and heartbreaking love songs, and compositions that document vital issues like racism and sexual oppression.

Founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon in 1973, they took their name from an ancient Bible parable about a land so rich, honey flowed from rocks.

The group currently comprises Ysaye M. Barnwell, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil, Carol Maillard and Louise Robinson, and sign language interpreter Shirley Childress Saxton.

Creating a shared experience that seeks to dissolve barriers between artist and audience, Sweet Honey shows often attain the exhilarating peaks of revival meetings.

“The music does reach really deep into people’s hearts,” says Carol Maillard. “It opens up the soul, and it’s healing and rejuvenating.”

Celebrated for its vocal virtuosity and ecstatic spiritual intensity, one of Pakistan’s most popular qawwali groups, Mehr and Sher Ali, makes its Maui debut on Wednesday at the McCoy Studio Theater.

A hypnotic, devotional music style of the mystical Sufi sect of Islam, qawwali is designed to elevate the spirit and draw both performers and listeners closer to God. A qawwali ensemble comprises a vocal chorus, tabla and harmonium, marked by explosive hand-clapped rhythms, concise melodies, cascading improvisations and trance-inducing climaxes.

“The Pakistani masters of qawwali pick up where the late, great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan left off, leading their ensemble in the swirling, ecstatic and uniquely spellbinding music of Islam’s Sufi sect,” praised the Boston Globe. The New York Times lauded their “flamboyant virtuosity” in a performance defined by “exhilaration, passion and drive.”

Originally performed at Sufi shrines throughout what is now India and Pakistan, qawwali music became popular around the world through the recordings and tours of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This vibrant musical tradition stretches back more than 700 years, to 8th century Persia. Based on mystic poetry by Sufi masters, songs typically portray divine love, and the sorrow of separation, and union with the beloved.

“We sometimes go into a trance during our performance, we are so moved by the text and music,” Mehr Ali reported in an interview.

Pioneering nouveau slack key guitarist Makana headlines a benefit on Saturday at Voyage East at the Pauwela Cannery for the Education Alliance of Maui seeking to establish an Upcountry charter high school.

Immensely gifted, Makana is an innovative, virtuoso guitarist who dazzles audiences with his “slack rock.” Taught at an early age by slack key guitar great Sonny Chillingworth, he has developed an original voice, employing a Hawaiian foundation to embrace culturally diverse music. His memorable debut album incorporated Indian tabla, cello and didgeridoo, while the follow-up, “Koi Au,” opened with a beautiful instrumental that combined traditional slack key guitar with an ancient Chinese harp. A Hawaii Music Awards winner for Best World Music Album, Makana played on the Grammy-nominated CD “Hawaiian Slack Key Kings.”

Metallica’s lead guitarist Kirk Hammett raved about his playing in a Guitar World magazine interview. “I’ve gotten way into (classical guitar legend) Andreas Segovia and this Hawaiian guitar player called Makana,” he reported. And a review by the San Francisco Chronicle praised: “Fast-fingered, sweet-voiced Makana is the slack-key guitar equivalent of ukulele prodigy Jake Shimabukuro.”

Besides the Pauwela show, Makana will give an in-store performance and CD signing at Borders Books Music Movies & Cafe in Kahului at 1 p.m. Saturday for his latest release, “Different Game.”

• Contact Jon Woodhouse at'>

Article Photos

Chicago collage

Maui Arts & Cultural Center photo

Fact Box

Fast Facts

• Chicago (clockwise from top left, Robert Lam, Keith Howland, Walt Parazaider, Bill Champlin, Lee Loughnane, Jason Scheff, Jimmy Pankow and Tris Imboden ) performs at 7 p.m. Friday in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s A&B Amphitheater. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.
• Tickets are $46, $56, and $66, plus applicable fees, all reserved seating, available from the MACC box office, 242-7467, On the day of show, will-call and new ticket purchases will be transacted at the box office, photo ID and the credit card used for advance purchase required.
• Parking: $5, cash only, in MACC and MCC lots.
• Food / drink: Menu price range $5 to $16 (see Side Orders), MACC scrip required; photo ID required for alcohol purchase
• Not allowed: Chairs, umbrellas, large backpacks/bags, coolers, outside food and drink, exit and re-entry, cameras, videocams or other recording devices.

• Sweet Honey in the Rock performs at 7:30 tonight in the MACC’s Castle Theater. Tickets are $40, $25, and $10, plus applicable fees, available as listed above.

• Mehr and Sher Ali and their ensemble perform on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets are $25, and half-price for kids 12 and younger, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7467,

• Makana plays Saturday at 8 p.m. at Voyage East at the Pauwela Cannery. The benefit evening includes a pre-concert performance by Lily Meola, Cole Whitney and friends. Tickets are $100 for a pre-party (with food) and concert (at 6:30) and $25 for concert only. Call 283-8529 for reservations.



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