Lamm marvels at Chicago’s success, appeal
By John Berger / email@example.com
Inspiration can strike a songwriter at any time. Robert Lamm, keyboardist and founding member of Chicago, says he woke up in the middle of the night with “Dialogue (Part I & II),” a song that ranks among the group’s most memorable early recordings, “already written.”
Calling from Santa Monica, Calif., Lamm said, “It was just matter of jotting down the lyrics I was hearing and a little of remembering what the chord changes would be. … I was on the road somewhere, got up, walked over to the table in my underwear. I don’t even think I turned the light on. I just started writing.
“I wish that would happen all the time.”
Where: Blaisdell Arena
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Cost: $45, $55 and $75
Info: 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com
The song starts out with Terry Kath’s light funk riff on rhythm guitar. Kath sings, “Are you optimistic ’bout the way that things are going?”
Peter Cetera responds (as his bass also provides counterpoint): “No, I never ever think of it at all.”
By the time the “Dialogue” reaches its second part, the delivery has reached full force, as the band sings in harmony, “We can make it better. … We can save the children. … We can make it happen!”
The song, released in 1972 in two parts — and a condensed version to fit on a 45 — became one of Chicago’s hits, reaching No. 24 on the Billboard singles chart. Chicago fans are likely to hear it tonight when the group opens its 2013 tour in the Blaisdell Arena.
Other early Chicago hits that could show up on the set list are “Saturday in the Park,” “Make Me Smile,” Color My World,” “Beginnings,” “25 or 6 to 4″ and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” — all of them big hits here.
THE MAGNITUDE of Chicago’s work through the years is evident in the 49 singles that made the Billboard Hot 100 since 1969, and the band’s discography of least 46 albums. (The actual number of albums depends on how some reissues and foreign concert albums are counted.)
However they’re tallied, when you sift through all the multiplatinum albums and the timeless love songs, “Dialogue (Part I & II)” still stands out.
Lamm wrote it during the final years of American involvement in the Vietnam War, when the country was also torn by urban unrest. Four decades later the lyrics remain relevant.
The “dialogue” takes place between a politically aware observer who is concerned about poverty, oppression and America’s involvement in foreign wars, and a college student whose personal goals are “to study further, a few more years or so” and “keep a steady high.”
“If you had my outlook, your feelings would be numb. You’d always think that everything was fine,” the student explains.
Lamm said his personal views were best represented by the activist (sung by baritone Kath) rather than the student (tenor Cetera, who left the group for a solo career in 1985).
“I like to think that a majority of people in that era who are of similar generation as me sympathized pretty much with (Kath’s character),” Lamm said. “The tenor voice that (Jason) Scheff now sings was this sort of Young Republican, or just someone who didn’t want to get involved.”
The song can be heard in its original form on “Chicago V.” The edited single was popular enough here that one of Hawaii’s top Wakiki club bands, the Dimensions, included it in its late-night dance sets at the Tiki.
The Dimensions, big as it was in Waikiki at the time, broke up in the mid-70s. Lamm and three of the other surviving founding members of Chicago — Lee Loughnane, James Pankow and Walt Parazaider — have been working together for more than 40 years. Scheff replaced Cetera in 1985; Tris Imboden, who replaced founding member Danny Seraphine in 1990, has also put in more than two decades with the group.
With all that history and countless touring miles behind the group, Lamm said he never gets tired of going to new places.
“I’ve always been the guy (in the band) that wants to try to play some place we’ve never played,” he said.
“There’s been some years you could set your watch by the day and time that we play Dallas or Cincinnati or Kansas City,” he noted. “Thankfully in the last five years it’s changed quite a bit. …
“We just returned (last month) from three weeks in Asia, playing places we’ve never played before, which I find exciting. Markets that just weren’t ready for Western music (five years ago) are ready.”
CONSIDERING THE critical acclaim the band has received, and the commercial success of its music, Lamm said there was an element of luck involved.
“The appeal of Chicago’s music is that stylistically it’s fairly broad, and that’s because the songs come from different people within the band who have different interests and different influences. … None of that was ever intended. We were lucky that that’s how it played out,” he said.
Lamm said he’s now “trying to pull songs from all the guys in the band who write, get everybody back into recording mode. Of course nowadays there’s no sense in releasing albums, so our plan is to release pairs of singles through the next year or so.
“At some point, if there’s any interest, we could actually make a physical album.”
“My wife has often reminded me that I’m a workaholic, although I’ve never felt like I was a workaholic,” he said. “I love to travel, I love to tour and basically I’m a songwriter — so that’s what I do.”