There where grumblings from within the Windy City’s mass transportation system in 1969. Seems that a rock band from the area had taken on the same name of the Chicago Transit Authority for their debut album and the CTA was threatening legal action. Rather than be tied up in court, the band relented and shortened its own name to just plain “Chicago”.
Two years earlier a group of six college students from Chicago, Illinois got together to form a band called The Big Thing. The Big Thing was a unique blend of instruments. Besides the usual keyboards, guitar and drums, there was a saxophone, trumpet and trombone. “The band was doing pretty well,” guitarist/vocalist Terry Kath said in a 1971 interview. “So we thought we had to have a manager. This guy kept telling us that rock was the big thing, everyone’s talking about the big thing, our band was the big thing. So he made us change our name to The Big Thing. Can you believe that?!”
The Big Thing was primarily a cover band, but soon they began working on original material. A friend of saxophonist Walter Parazaider – James William Guercio – became manager of the group and relocated them to Los Angeles. Once in LA, the band became Chicago Transit Authority and gained popularity at local clubs. They soon signed with Columbia Records and recorded their self-titled debut album, released in April of 1969. Though the actual Chicago Transit Authority was not happy with the band’s name, the album proved very popular, reaching #17 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. The band’s name was shortened, and Chicago was on its way.
In August of that year, the band began recording their second album. Released in January of 1970, Chicago was immensely popular as it reached the number 4 spot on Billboard Pop Albums. It also garnered Chicago three Top Ten hits: “25 or 6 to 4” hit the No. 4 spot on Billboard Pop Singles; “Make Me Smile” went to 9 and “Colour My World” reached #7. In April of that same year, Chicagowas certified as a Gold Album by the Recording Industry Association of America, meaning it had sold over 500,000 copies in the US alone in just three months.
Chicago has seen many changes in its line-up over the years. Many musicians haft left and others have come aboard. But the most shocking was the death of original member and guitarist Terry Kath. In January of 1978, Kath died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. “He was an unhappy individual,” longtime Chicago trombonist James Pankow said once. “His relationship was not going well. He was also certainly more dependent on chemicals than he should have been. He wasn’t addicted to anything, but he was abusing drugs.”
Peter Cetera – one of the original members of Chicago – left the band in mid-1985 to launch a successful solo career. He had released a solo album in 1981; it did not do well. Four years later, he was ready to take a little break and work on a second solo album, but Chicago was committed to another tour. So Cetera was faced with a dilemma. “They [the record company] sort of forced my hand,” Cetera said in an interview with Ernie Manouse. “They said ‘if you don’t sign this contract [with Chicago] we’ll find somebody else.’”
A long and successful career. 25 of Chicago’s 32 albums have been certified Platinum They have had 21 singles in the Top Ten, 11 of which have gone to Number One. On July 23rd, 1992, Chicago was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The band continues to tour, alone or with other acts. Information on their upcoming tour of the US can be found here.