When the great COVID-19 lockdown dampened the entire live music industry, like any other touring group, Chicago and its members were forced to return home and wait for the pandemic storm to end. .
For founding member Robert Lamm, that meant traveling to Southern California with Joy Kopko, his wife of 30 years, where the couple held seclusion for months. It was both a shock to the system and a welcome respite for Lamm, who has recorded and toured with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since launching it in 1967 with Peter Cetera, Terry Kath, Lee Loughnane. , James Pankow, Walter Parazaider and Danny Seraphine. For the self-described loner, this metaphysical pause button allowed him to deepen his creative side.
“For me, I knew it was going to be long, I just didn’t know how long,” Lamm recalls. “Lately in my life I haven’t really had time to plan anything, so I just sat in my little studio at the piano and started playing. I started to take out ideas that I had accumulated over the years and explore this music. I started to think about how I always wanted to write with this or that guy. I just started calling old friends and in some cases new friends. I started to collaborate using file sharing. This sort of thing has really become my everyday thing. It was so much fun and such an old process to sit down and find out what was there – what do I have to say? On the lyric side, in particular, I found that I was getting deeper and deeper in terms of the things I wanted to say and do the things I wanted to express, but I just didn’t have the time to say. ‘explore this first. It was truly a wonderful thing for me.
One of Lamm’s collaborations has been with Jim Peterik, a founding member of the horn group The Ides of March and later Survivor. Although he only met Peterik at a show a few years ago, Lamm quickly bonded with his new writing partner. (“His way of working and my way of working really got mixed up.”) Before long, the Lamm / Peterik partnership caught the attention of BMG producer Joe Thomas (Brian Wilson / Dave Matthews Band), who insisted on the fact that Lamm’s new songs could form the basis of a new label deal for the band, an idea that surprised the 70-year-old musician.
“[Joe] asked me if I thought Chicago might want to record some of these songs and I said I could only ask because it wasn’t really my plan, ”Lamm said. “It turned out that was the plan. We’re halfway through a really interesting album with Joe Thomas as the producer and BMG as the release label. I guess it’s going to go down right after the first of the year. We thought we were done and that no record company was interested in Chicago at the end of their career. But they were very interested after hearing the songs.
As an actor known for his relentless touring schedule, not having missed a year of touring since the start, Lamm said the group had work to do to get back on track before tackling the 80 or so. shows scheduled until the end of 2021. There was also the challenge of incorporating newer material into the Chicago classics.
“We just spoke briefly and we’ll start where we left off,” Lamm said. “There are probably a few small adjustments that we intended to make anyway in terms of songwriting, who sings what and where they’re going to stand when they sing it. [Playing new songs] is always a delicate thing. We’re a legacy band so we really have to take care of our fans when we do this. I know that when I go to a show, I want to hear the songs that I know from the artist whose concert I attend. I don’t particularly want to hear a lot of things that I don’t know.
One of the biggest changes in the group is the absence of Parazaider due to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease he received in April of this year. Parazaider’s health problems had kept him from touring with the group in recent years. Lamm discovered the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s shortly after his announcement.
“Walt’s wife texted us and I had a conversation with him,” Lamm said. “It wasn’t too long after his discovery and he was already under treatment and therapy. We hope for the best. We’re a little bit at the age where we really realize that some people are no longer there. C is the passage of time and life.
As for Chicago’s longevity via a career that has seen the band sell over 100 million records worldwide while amassing 47 gold and platinum records and 70 songs on the charts, Lamm believes some ‘between them can be attributed to a delicate balance between the enjoyment of the players and the Fans.
“The context of a long career and a large repertoire is actually a constant discussion of ‘What can we do and leave out where we can bring something really fun to play? ” he said. “The year before last was where we went and did a full top-to-bottom version of ‘Chicago II’ live. We’re good enough to do that and interested enough to ask ourselves, “What were we doing with the second album?” “Why were we writing like this and why did people like it? “But I guess they did, so let’s do it again.” “
This latest milestone in Lamm’s career extends beyond his work with Chicago. In his spare time, the Brooklyn native has done songwriting, diving deep into the catalogs of composers ranging from Neil Young and Burt Bacharach to exploring a myriad of golden age soundtracks. from Hollywood. Those efforts have paid off in the form of a potential solo on BMG which could be released next year.
“As I was flooding Joe Thomas with these songs, he said that after this album (Chicago) was released, he would produce my solo album for BMG,” Lamm said. “I asked him if he was sure BMG would want it and he said, ‘Believe me, they are going to want it.'”
Chicago performs at the Johnny Mercer Theater at the Savannah Civic Center on Wednesday, December 8 at 7:30 p.m. Visit savannahcivic.com for tickets and more information