WHERE WOULD YOU TRAVEL? – RICH PASCHALL

When Your Destination Is Not A Place, Rich Paschall


Where would you go if you could travel anywhere at all?  Where would your sense of adventure lead you?  Would it be around the world or around town?  Perhaps it would have to be domestic.  You could go to St. Louis and see the Gateway Arch and the mighty Mississippi River.  You could go up river to Hannibal, Missouri and see Mark Twain’s home.  From there you could head east to Springfield, Illinois and see Abe Lincoln’s wonderfully preserved home, maintained by the National Park Service.

Gateway arch

You might have one of the great wonders of North America in mind.  So you could head north of Buffalo, New York to Niagara Falls and ride the Maid of the Mist right up to the Falls, or you could climb down the cliff to a point where the water falls between you and the land.  On your way home you can stop in the Anchor Bar, home of Buffalo Chicken Wings.  Yes, that’s the place that started what is now a full-blown food craze.

If this does not suit your taste, perhaps you would run up to the northwest corner of Illinois and stop in Galena, the “town that history forgot.”  You can walk through the mid 1800’s.  You can stop at the spot of a Lincoln-Douglas Debate or visit the home of President U.S. Grant.  At this time of year, you could travel down to the Mississippi River, just west of Galena and, with any luck at all, see the proud American Eagle.  The very site of the bald eagle, waiting to come down from the cliffs to fish, will make the trip worth it.  Although you may have to go further inland to the Great Plains in summer to see them.

If none of these northern stops are what you desire, then perhaps you could fly to Orlando, Florida, take in amusement sites then drive to Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota, down to Miami and onto the Keys.  A stop in the Everglades means you can see alligators up close, REAL close.  The Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast can be a playground.

Seeing a rainbow over Germany from France

Seeing a rainbow over Germany from France

If Europe is your adventure you can fly to Frankfurt and go on to Stuttgart for museums and festivals.  You can visit Strasbourg, France or cross the Rhine into Allemand (Germany).  You can visit the magnificent ancient Notre Dame Cathédrale de Strasbourg or ancient castles of Alsace.  There are vineyards and wine festivals and if you like, you can visit the Statue of Liberty in Colmar, France.  It is in the middle of a busy traffic circle so you have to run fast and dodge the cars if you want to get over to it.

If Germany or France are not on your list, how about London?  It is one of the great international cities.  In 1777, author Samuel Johnson, writer of an early English Dictionary, stated words that are still true, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”  A few days or even a few weeks are not enough for the sights of London.

Approaching St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Why do I bring up all these travel ideas?  It is because I am thinking of my recent journey.  Some of my friends may say, “Did you go there again?”  I travelled to the northeast of France.  It is the eighth year in a row my trip ended up there.  In 2010 we made a trip to Stuttgart for an Oktoberfest type celebration, then on to France.  In the  summer of 2013 I went with some friends to Paris, and then on to Strasbourg.  In 2012 I met my friend in Baden-Baden, Germany so we could fly together to London for the Summer Olympics, then we went back to France.  Last year I made it all the way to Selestat, France on my own.  This year my friend met me in Strasbourg and we travelled on from there.  These annual trips were all at different times of year.  Some years my friend came to Chicago as well.

Good wine and good friends, the best destination

For all of these travels we had some specific ideas in mind, but each time we did much of the trip spontaneously.  When I reflect on these journeys, I realize there was no destination.  I could have been going anywhere.  We dreamed and we went, but it didn’t matter where.  The ultimate destination was never a place.  It was a friend.  Yes, we visited new places and familiar locations.  There are always new adventures, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t matter where we go.  We enjoy our trips, large and small, because we are doing them together.  Every stop is fun, every place is exciting, everywhere is new, even if we have been there before.  It is because I am with a great friend.

We have been together on all the adventures I have mentioned above.  Of course, we often set off to see great sites or experience great things, but they were made special by the fact that we shared these adventures.  So I will probably fly to Frankfurt again some day and take the bus on to Strasbourg.   The final destination is friendship, the best destination of all.

WHAT IS YOUR SONG? – RICH PASCHALL

The Soundtrack of Your Life, Rich Paschall


You have probably heard that phrase before. Oldies radio stations love to use it. They want you to think they are playing the soundtrack of our lives. You know what they mean. They want you to think that they are playing the songs you remember from when you were younger.  That could mean a few years ago or a few decades ago, depending on who they are pitching their playlist at. What is the soundtrack of your life?

After you leave your twenties, your soundtrack is probably set with the most often played and most often heard music. We inevitably love the music of our teens and twenties. It is linked to those big moments that never leave our memory banks. They could be high school dances and proms. They could be college dances and parties. They probably include weddings and select family events. It certainly includes your record, tape, and/or CD collections. In future years our soundtracks will all be held in digital form in some cloud that you can download when you feel nostalgic.

It is certain that people from 16 years old to those who saw the beginning of the rock era can tell you the songs that meant the most to them, that held the greatest memories. I feel confident in saying that these songs will come from earlier years. This is not just because it holds true for me, but it does for many of my friends. This is reflected in the crowds that show up to concerts. In recent years I have seen Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, Chicago, Reo Speedwagon as well as Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, Tony Bennett and Brian Wilson. These stars continue to fill concert venues across the country with people who may have seen them generations ago. The reason is not a mystery. They wrote and performed our soundtrack, and the people who connect with that music continue to go to see them.

Of course, I go to see current acts. I have also seen One Republic, Maroon 5, Hunter Hayes, Lifehouse, Bruno Mars as well as MAX Scheneider, fallout boy and a few others with more current hits. I like their music, but their songs do not hold the nostalgic connection I feel when I see Paul McCartney, Frankie Valli or Neil Diamond.  When I saw The Monkees, minus the then recently departed Davy Jones, I heard screaming inside the Chicago Theater as I came through the door. It was as if the place was filled with teenagers and I rushed in to see what was the commotion. Mickey Dolenz was just starting Last Train to Clarksville and the AARP set were reacting as if it was 1966 and they were teenagers. Yes, there were younger people in the crowd.  These songs were not on their soundtrack, however, but they were ours.

While leaving the Davy Jones songs to a couple of music videos from their 1960’s television show, The Monkees delighted a crowd with an evening of hits. The band’s recording of a Neal Diamond composition, I’m a Believer, was the last number 1 song of 1966 and the biggest selling song of 1967.

One thing the Rolling Stones do not lack after all these decades is energy. Maroon 5 may want to Move Like Jagger, but only Mick can do that, and he still does.  Here I have taken a few moments from the show at the United Center.  They were true rock stars of a previous era.  They went on an hour late.

The opening of Moves Like Jagger is shaky as everyone jumped to their feet, so of course I had to also.  The venue is The Woodlands.  I should have known everyone in the crowd would try to move like Jagger too.

Without a doubt, the number 1 song on my soundtrack is Beginnings by Chicago. The 1969 song, written by band member Robert Lamm, failed to chart on its first go around. A rerelease in 1971 when the band was red-hot brought success to a song that was featured at dances, proms, graduations and weddings for many years to come. The album version ran 7 minutes and 55 seconds while the “radio version” ran about 3 minutes. In July 2010 I did not have a camera that could zoom in close or record in HD, but it got decent sound so I have this piece of nostalgia:

RJ Paschall music videos here.  See my concert videos and “liked” performers.

SEND IN THE FEDS – RICH PASCHALL

The Streets of Chicago, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


When I was in Medellin, Colombia, someone had brought up the name of Pablo Escobar when we were out for food and drinks.  Escobar was an infamous drug lord who had lived in the Andes mountains near Medellin.  My friend commented unhappily that they have to keep telling people that Escobar was killed in the 1990s, meaning he does not live there anymore.  I told him I understand. We have to keep telling people that Al Capone no longer lives in Chicago.  The crime boss died at his home in Florida in 1947.  Sometimes the truth does not help you to shake your reputation.

1931 Photo Credit: cta Historical Photo Collection

1931    Photo Credit: cta Historical Photo Collection

At the present time you may hear that Chicago is the murder capital of the country, just like in the Capone days.  The leader of our nation has said that crime here is “totally out of control.”  He even tweeted recently that they might send in the feds if we do not solve the problem.  While we are all dismayed at the uptick in violence in our city, one thing we know.  We are not in the top ten in murders per capita on anyone’s list.  We are not in the top twenty either.  Depending on who is doing the measuring and what size cities they go by, we may even miss the top 30.  I know it is hard to believe.  Google it!  You will find many news stories about Chicago, but you will also find plenty of articles about cities complaining they have a higher rate.  You will find many web sites with rankings and wonder where we are.  We’ll wait right here.  Then come back and let’s talk about this.

The murder rate was up in 2016. We have not seen such rates since the 1990s.  It was a big increase over 2015, but when you look at this on a per capita basis for large USA cities, you may ask, “What about Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis?  What about Baltimore and Dayton?  What about Milwaukee?  Can we send the Feds there, too?  Can we send them to Atlanta and Houston and Camden?”  In fact there are many cities with increases, so why does Chicago get so much more coverage than the others?

Perhaps it is because we are the third largest city in the country.  In comparison to New York and Los Angeles, the crime numbers are much higher.  It is easy to look at the three together, as many newspaper articles are fond of doing.  From that vantage point, we look very bad.

Lake Shore Drive

Lake Shore Drive

Perhaps it is because we are the center of the country.  We have the busiest airports.  We are at the crossroads of the nation.  Highways, railways and even ocean carriers move through here, making this their hub and their home.  As a center of commerce, there is no overstating Chicago’s significance.

Perhaps it is because the 44th President of the United States hails from here and the current leader — number 45 — would like to embarrass him.  Perhaps it is because Chicago voted overwhelmingly for his opponent and he is trying to make an example of us.  Or not.  This is likely a minor issue as we were already getting plenty of coverage.  But why don’t we read tweets about any of the cities in the Top 10 of murder rate per capita?

No matter where we rank, the problem has grown and something needs to be done, but send in the Feds?  Absolutely.  No big city mayor is going to turn down help fighting crime.  But there is a slight problem with the leader’s promise.  “What does it even mean?” 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale asked. “It is so vague.”  What kind of help is he sending?

Representative from Chicago, Luis Gutierrez, (my Congressman, by the way) is not impressed with our leader “beating up” Chicago.  “Chicago’s murder epidemic is more serious than a late night twitter threat from the new Tweeter-in-Chief,” he said.  Other Chicago leaders from local aldermen to the Cardinal are unhappy with the treatment.

Instead of vague tweets, where is the partnership with the Justice Department, the FBI, DEA?  If there are resources to send, our mayor is all for it.  We are a big city with big city problems.  There are certain types of help that would be meaningful and possibly effective.  “Chicago, like other cities right now that are dealing with gun violence, wants the partnership with federal law enforcement entities in a more significant way than we’re having today,” Mayor Emanuel said.

In a breaking story this weekend, 20 more ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) agents are being assigned to their office here.  A request for this help is long-standing and the Mayor mentioned it to then president-elect 45 in a December 7th meeting (apparently fearless leader forgot about it).  Federal gun prosecutions in this District fall way behind other big cities and resources were needed.  If more agents have any effect at all, we know who will take credit.

Chicago lakefront

Chicago lakefront

It is tough to be in the spotlight, especially when the light is made brighter by a guy with a Twitter account.  We are a world-class city with world-class attractions.  We have fine airports and railroad stations.  We have a lakefront that runs the length of the city with land that is open and free for all.

We have one of the largest fresh water lakes that supplies our drinking water and our summer playground.  When I stand at the Planetarium out on the lake, I see what I think, in my biased viewpoint, is the greatest skyline in the country.  If someone wants to send help, we are glad to have you.  If someone wants to wage a Twitter war, can he pick on St. Louis and the Cardinals instead?

Sources:

Murders Up in U.S. Cities–But Crime Rate Still Near Record Lows,” Time, December 20, 2016
Highest Murder Rate Cities,” Neighborhood Scout, Location, Inc.
Most Dangerous Cities in the United States,” World Atlas
FBI’s Violent Crime Statistics For Every City In America,” CBS local, October 22, 2015
Emanuel to Trump: Chicago Would Welcome Federal Partnership to Quell Violence,” nbcchicago.com, January 25, 2017
Rahm To Trump: ‘Straight Up,’ No Troops In Chicago,” dnainfo.com, January 25, 2017
20 More ATF Agents On Their Way To Chicago,” Chicago Sun-Times, February 3, 2017

THE WEATHER OUTSIDE IS FRIGHTFUL

Be Delightful, by Rich Paschall


If you live anywhere in the United States, except the extreme southern portions, you will eventually get your share of winter weather.  The further north you live, the worse it is likely to be.  Here in the upper Midwest, we are likely to get a lot of snow and much sub freezing weather.  Some years we get a lot of subzero weather when I can look forward to the possibility of the pipes to the kitchen sink freezing.  It is somewhat less than joyful to discover the water does not run in the kitchen.

During my many years in Chicago land,  we have enjoyed some of the biggest snowfalls ever.  By enjoyed, I mean we were all stranded somewhere.  Hopefully, you made it home before the snow got too deep.  In 1967 as a youngster, I thought it was fun to have over two feet of snow.  School was cancelled and we got dig out cars and play in the street.  We could walk right down the center of usually busy Irving Park Road (Illinois 19) and not worry about traffic.  Buses were stranded everywhere as they were connected to overhead electric wires and could not get around stalled cars and snow drifts.

January 1967 Pulaski and Irving

January 1967 – Pulaski and Irving Park Road

By the Blizzard of 1979 we were not as amused with the snow as we were at a younger age.  In fact, it was the storm that pushed Mayor Bilandic out of office.  We can forgive almost any sin in this town except not moving the snow.  If he had not insisted the city was on top of the situation as the blizzard was raging on, he might have survived the poor effort. Like the snow in a soft storm, Bilandic was pushed to the curb in the following election.

We did not have another great blizzard until 2011, but we have had plenty of large snowfalls before and since.  I have done enough snow shoveling for a lifetime.  If you are lucky enough to have a snow blower, you learn they are not much good when you start measuring the snow in feet instead of inches.

February 1, 2015

February 1, 2015

Recently at work we heard that there was a state of emergency in the Atlanta area as they expected 1 to 4 inches of snow.  One to Four!  Of course we were all amused that they had to shut everything down over an amount of snow we would consider practically nothing.  On the other hand, they do not have mountains of road salt, a fleet of snow plows and an army of city workers prepared for even the smallest of snowfalls.  If the Department of Streets and Sanitation does not move our snow in a timely manner, the mayor will be the ex-mayor after the next election.

One year we decided to escape the winter with a week in Florida.  That was also the year that Florida did not escape the winter.  Everywhere we went from Orlando to the southernmost reaches of the state, we heard the locals swear to us that they NEVER have an entire week of weather like that.  Even Mickey Mouse must have gotten giant ear muffs for his mouse ears.

At least we had the beaches to ourselves.  From Clearwater to Sarasota and Miami to Key West, we did not have to fight crowds of locals and tourists for a spot in the sand.  Only the seagulls were walking around.  Perhaps it was too cold for flight.

Florida in January?

Florida in January?

Perhaps there just is no escaping Mother Nature.  If she so desires, she can stalk you around the continental USA like the merchant of evil she can sometime be.  Winter vacation in Florida is no guarantee of warmth.  When it is barely warmer than 1300 miles to the north, you are being advised that you should have stayed home.

So if the cold and the snow has overtaken your area, what should you do besides fret about the accumulations outside?  Aside from clearing a path in the snow, it may be time for a snowman, snow fort and snow ball fight.  It could be the time to get out the sled or toboggan.  You may wish to lace up the ice skates if you can actually get to the ice rink.

At this point in life, I can recall all those things fondly, but would rather delight in the inside of the house.  After all, there are so many things I consistently delay, a snow day or two would seem like a great time to start.  I have accumulated many books over the years that I have intended to read.  It would seem that not being able to go to the Wild West Sports Bar and Grill should not be so troubling.  I can always start one of the mysteries on hand or dive into the John Adams biography.

This January, I have continued my quest to watch all of the James Bond movies in order. I am now on the Daniel Craig films and have just one more to go. There are other DVDs I have had for a long while that I would like to watch, or watch again.  When the thermometer shows Zero degrees or the snow is piling up, the fire can be so delightful.  If you have a fireplace, that is.  Otherwise, just get a warm blanket.

EAT LOCAL, DRINK LOCAL

Enjoying the Local Cuisine, by Rich Paschall


Imagine getting on a plane and flying for eight hours, landing in another country, to go to McDonald’s.  The premise may sound a bit absurd, but it is the sort of thing many people do.  When we stayed in London recently, we found a street nearby that has a Burger King, Subway sandwiches and a Kentucky Fried Chicken.  In fact, there is no shortage of American fast food places near the tourist-laden Paddington area.  These familiar sites attract many tourists, largely American, as well as some others and some locals.  We walked past these familiar stops in favor of local businesses.

It does not matter how many seats they have

It does not matter how many seats they have

For some the familiarity is the thing that drives them into the establishments they know from home.  They will certainly get food they can eat at prices that are still reasonable.  To me, it does not matter.  I did not go all that way to eat at someplace I can visit walking distance from my house.  If I want a Whopper with Cheese, fries and a diet Coke, I know where to get it.

On the same street with the American fast food giants were local coffee shops and restaurants, a pub or two and even a London Chicken stop that looked like they may be providing fast food.  We skipped it too. Of course, if you are on a limited budget, you may wish to go places where the food is cheap.  However, local business may also have food at reasonable rates.

My friend from France has a motto by which we travel.  “Eat local, drink local.” That does not include local fast food.  We always skip those.  If we are unfamiliar with a location, we pick out something that looks good and we give it a try.  Sometimes you must have a sense of adventure.  It does not mean you have to spend a lot of money.

Beer, Food, Beds!

Beer, Food, Beds!

Within walking distance of our London hotel, we found many shops and small restaurants for breakfast and lunch.  At dinner time we checked out the local pubs, never going to the same one twice.   In a spot called the House of Paddington, where they served Fish and Chips all day, the edge of the awning advertised Beer, Food and Beds.  Since we passed it everyday, our curiosity was finally aroused enough to visit it on the last night.  As I did not yet have Fish and Chips on the trip, I went ahead and ordered.  And yes, they do have beds for weary travelers or maybe for someone who has stayed too long.  They run a hostel on the floors above.

Some think that food in England is rather bland, but the only thing I found to be that way was the fish (cod) and chips.  Everything else was tasty.  We washed down dinner with local ales, taking recommendations from the bartender at each stop.  “Nothing too bitter” was my request each time, while my travel companion was content to drink the dark and bitter stuff.  We had plenty of selections that we had never heard of before.

Drink local

Drink local – London

If you can not afford to eat at local spots, no matter how reasonable, then you may consider dropping into local markets for your breakfast and lunch and picking out items that are easy to make or you can eat on the run.  Some years ago when I visited Paris with a friend, we discovered that our tiny room also came with a tiny refrigerator.  We pushed aside those hotel items to make room for some yogurt, water and whatever we could make fit.  In that way, we ate out less often and did not pay for the mini bar items. In fact, I have used this trick a number of times.

I love the food and wine in France.  I am fortunate to have a close friend in the Alsace region and we have toured there a lot.  Of course, he took me to some of his favorite spots, and at other times we tried something that was new to us both.  It is good to know someone who knows all the good wine tasting locations as well.

French cuisine and fine wine

Eat local, drink local – France

Once we met in Frankfurt and travelled to Stuttgart by train.  We attended the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart during the traditional Oktoberfest season, but I have wisely decided not share any of those pictures.  Let me just say the food and drink were excellent.  We have a pastry shop picture instead.

Eat local - Germany

Eat local – Germany

When my friend from Alsace makes the long trip to Chicago, he does not want to see the Burger King or Ronald McDonald when there are so many good restaurants and sports bars.  I could name locations in this country as well as others, where we avoided the fast food for the local fare. When you are on the road, find out what is good to eat at your destination city, and skip the fast food you can get at home.

Eat local - Chicago

Eat local – Chicago

HEATHROW EXPRESS

Our London Trip, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


One of the things that my younger friends get to enjoy when we travel together is the discount I can get using my AARP membership.  There is actually value to being over 50 and a member of the organization.  I use the AARP travel site, powered by Expedia, several times a year.  Not everything gets a senior discount, but I have uncovered some good deals there.  I do take the time to check around on other sites.

For London I relied on a flight and hotel package from Chicago.  Many hotels are suggested and unless you opt for the higher priced well-known names, I find the selection to be hit and miss.  The hotels all have reviews, but they seem to me to be of limited value.  You can find good and bad comments for each one.

We were lucky to get a direct flight on British Airways from Chicago O’Hare to London Heathrow airport.  The service was better than other flights I have taken across the Atlantic and the unlimited drinks were certainly a plus for a few travelers.  The entertainment options are amazing, but I chose to try to sleep a while each way.  If you can not sleep on the plane, try to stay awake all day when you arrive.

London train station

London train station

It is always good to research your destination in advance, especially how to get around your destination city.  Trust me, you do not want to drive in London.  Aside from the driving on a different side of the street, the roads tend to be quite crowded at almost any hour.  We decided to get into town on the Heathrow Express train from the airport to Paddington station.  We bought the round trip tickets online before leaving home.  This gave us a small discount over the train station price. We printed out the vouchers and exchanged them for real tickets when we arrived at Heathrow.  Don’t worry about finding the train.  There are plenty of signs in your native tongue, if you read English.

By car and by bus it is estimated to take about an hour and 20 minutes to get from Heathrow to Paddington.  The Heathrow Express will get you there in about 15 minutes.  The few extra dollars is more than worth it, especially for tired travelers who may have been up all night.

Paddington Station

Paddington Station

As Paddington is a main train station and a convenient stop for tourists, you can find many pubs, hotels, souvenir shops and currency exchanges in the area.  Do not use the first currency exchange you see.  There are likely two more on the same block.  Go in each and ask for the rate, then go back to the best one.  We found an exchange for 1.25 USD for one British pound.  Down the street we could have paid 1.35.  Those dimes add up if you exchange a lot of cash.  It is better to change cash than pay your credit card’s foreign transaction fees, unless you have a card that does not charge it – lucky you!

Since the street is littered with souvenir shops, and some are the currency exchanges too, you should check the prices in several before you buy.  I saved 3 pounds on a soccer scarf by pricing the exact same item several times over a couple of days.  There is no hurry to buy souvenirs if you will be in the same spot for 5 nights, 6 days as we were.  If you really need a Paddington bear, you can find all sizes up and down Craven street and surrounding areas.

A hotel with great location

A hotel with great location

Our hotel was picked off the online site.  Unless you are going to pay for the much more costly package deal, your room choice may be just luck of the draw.  We selected one based on website pictures and location.  The relative location to the train, the tube, the buses, the pubs and restaurants made it a good stop.  In reality it was barely adequate and a disappointment.  I have generally had good luck with hotels and hostels, but was disappointed a few times as well.

When you leave the train station, there are many hotels within walking distance.  Fortunately, my travel companion has a good sense of direction and researched the walk in advance.  I may have gone off in the other direction.  We were pleased with the surrounding areas and all it had to offer.  After three days in a room too small for two and somewhat uncomfortable, we got a better room for the asking.  I was prepared to use my laptop to find something else if they had not changed our room.  Do not be afraid to complain or ask for a change if it is truly warranted.

Do they all look the same?

Do they all look the same?

We explored the area on foot the Sunday we arrived.  We were surprised at the spots that were closed or opened very late.  London is not Chicago (or San Antonio) and the local customs are much different. We walked extensively through the area, down to Hyde Park and across to Kensington Gardens and back through the neighborhood using a paper map. Yes, we know it is the era of phone apps, but we did not have phone service, nor wish to pay international rates to get it.

The homes and apartments of the area all seemed to have a similar style.  In fact, on some streets all the houses looked the same to me.  I guess there are streets like that here.  We enjoyed our walks in Paddington, and the days ahead would take us to the famous sites around town.  We got an “Oyster Card,” rode the tube and got the pictures I guess every tourist gets.

We learned to “mind the door,” “mind the train,” and “mind the gap.”  Keeping all of this in mind, we also learned to “mind our cameras” on future stops.  These pictures came from my phone.

Related: London Calling,” Sunday Night Blog

CHICAGO “NOW”

In April of this year fans of Chicago the band got to see what they had been waiting for.  Some thought the honor was deserved years ago, even decades.  Now the classic rock and roll band has entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Along with a notable string of hits, the band has garnered a loyal following based on their annual tours.  If you live in Chicago, you get the chance to see your favorites every year.
Of course the band has changed since its
Beginnings.  Terry Kath is gone.  Peter Cetera left for a solo career.  Danny Seraphine was asked to leave.  Original woodwind player Walt Parazaider, the oldest of the group, does not appear regularly.  In May longtime member and the replacement to Cetera, Jason Scheff, took a leave of absence for family health reasons.  Scheff insisted he was not leaving the band.  Last month, Chicago announced that Jeff Coffey, who had been filling in for Scheff, had officially joined the band. Characteristically, the band has little else to say on the topic.  Next year will mark their 50th anniversary.

Chicago XXXVI, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


In 2014 Chicago, the band, did something most older bands are reluctant to do.  They put out a new studio album of original music entitled “Chicago NOW.” Legendary bands with staying power such as Chicago make their living off their faithful fans at live performances and sales of older albums.  They know that only a select handful of older bands can actually sell new singles and albums.  The buying public for new music is mainly in the 13 to 34 age bracket and many of them tend to stream music rather than actually buy it.  The main buyers of CDs are in the 45 and over crowd but they are buying “catalog” music, or that is to say, classics from their favorite artists of the past.

Studio time can be expensive, both in terms of the studio cost and the lost concert performance time.  A touring band like Chicago, who spends most of the year on the road, does not like the idea of stopping for an extended length of time.  But Chicago is not ready to stop composing and recording, so how do they tour and record?  The answer came with a new recording system they call “The Rig.”  They have pushed the technology forward with a portable system so good, they record as they travel.  Much of Chicago NOW was done in hotel rooms across the country and around the world.

Founding member and trumpet player, Lee Loughnane, took charge of the project to put out a new album without stopping the show, so to speak.  Each composer of a song got to act as producer for his entry to the album and various band members helped with arrangements as well as select musicians from outside the group.  The group not only recorded on the move, they did not all have to be there at once.  Members would record their parts at different times.  Hank Linderman, a long time studio engineer, was the coordinating producer.  A “collaboration portal” was set up and tracks were sent at all times from Chicago and contributing musicians.  The result is a stunning contribution to the Chicago catalog and worthy of their best early efforts.



The title track, released as a download prior to the album début, has now worked its way into the current tour performances.  Written by Greg Barnhill and Chicago band member Jason Scheff, the number was produced and arranged by Scheff.  It is an energetic start to the album.  Scheff also contributed “Love Lives On” and is co-composer to founding member Robert Lamm’s  song, “Crazy Happy.”



While the horns section technically remains in tact with founding members Lee Loughnane on trumpet and James Pankow on trombone, founding member and woodwind player Walt Parazaider appears in the videos but in fact only played on three of the recordings.  Now at age 71, a variety of health issues in recent years has limited Parazaider’s time on the road.  Long time fill-in Ray Herrmann is also credited on three of the songs, though he is not listed as a band member.  While Herrmannn is now a frequent performer, the audience does not always realize it.  From a distance he somewhat resembles Walt.  Other sax players contributed to the album as well.

Guitar player Keith Howland sings the song he composed with Scheff and drummer Tris Imboden, “Nice Girl.”  He also contributes, along with Imboden to Lamm’s “Free at Last.”  As expected, Lamm leads the way on this album, being credited with lead vocals on six of the songs and background vocals on others.

Previously, I wrote about “America” released the autumn before Chicago 36. It appears on the album as well.  Lou Pardini drives home the song and the social commentary on lead vocal and keyboards.  Also on percussion for the band is Walfredo Reyes, Jr., a more recent addition to the Chicago lineup, a talented nine guys.

Chicago

Chicago in Chicago, August 2014