Bill Champlin - piano, organ, guitar, vocals; Robert Lamm - piano, synthesizer, percussion, vocals; Chris Pinnick - lead guitar; Peter Cetera - bass, vocals; Lee Loughnane - trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, percussion, vocals; James Pankow - trombone, percussion, vocals; Walter Parazaider - saxophones, flute, clarinet; Danny Seraphine - drums, percussion
By the dawn of the 1980s, one of the most successful American groups of the past decade, Chicago, had all but run its course. After losing the guiding light of songwriter, lead guitarist and their most soulful singer, Terry Kath, the band struggled on with rapidly diminishing results. Their last two albums had sold poorly and their longtime label, Columbia, opted out of renewing their contract.
With the future looking precarious, the band wisely recruited Sons Of Champlin front man, Bill Champlin. A soulful singer, accomplished songwriter and gifted multi-instrumentalist, Champlin helped rejuvenate the band's sound, filling the vocal void left by Kath and adding his instrumental strengths on keyboards. The group also retained session guitarist Chris Pinnick who had contributed to the Chicago XIV album sessions. Although Kath was still sorely missed, these two musicians went a long way toward filling that void. The other critical factor at this point was producer David Foster, who redefined the group's sound in the studio. Embracing the latest studio technologies, as well as bringing in outside musicians and songwriters, Foster steered the band away from their ensemble jazz and rock roots and in the process made them appealing to both adult contemporary and younger audiences alike.
The result, Chicago 16, the first Chicago album to be released by Reprise Records, would mark the group's transition into a ballad-based hit machine and would redefine their image. Bass player and vocalist Peter Cetera would benefit most from this makeover and would soon embrace Foster's adult-contemporary focus into a successful solo career. Upon its release, Chicago 16 would rejuvenate the band's career, spawning the #1 hit "Hard To Say I'm Sorry," hitting the Top Ten, and eventually going platinum.
To coincide with that album's June 1982 release, the new Chicago lineup would take part in a taping for a DIR radio network show called Star Sessions a few weeks prior. Recorded live at the famed Wally Heider Studios in Los Angeles, the subsequent nationwide broadcast would feature the group performing both old and new material live in the studio, giving thousands of radio listeners their first taste of the newly revamped band in action.
Presented here for the first time is the complete session for that radio show, featuring all of the music from the original 1982 broadcast, plus quite a bit of material that was excluded. Additionally, this presents the material in the correct sequence, just as it happened on May 14, 1982.
The session kicks off with one of the songs not included in the broadcasts, "Waiting On You To Decide," written by Chicago 16 producer David Foster. Here Chicago performs the song as a warm-up and soundchecking exercise. The set continues with trombonist James Pankow's aptly titled "Alive Again" sourced from the band's 1978 album Hot Streets. Robert Lamm's "Scrapbook" is up next, another song not included in the original broadcasts.
The first of several songs from the forthcoming Chicago 16 album is next with the mellow Pankow/Foster collaboration "Follow Me." Also written by Pankow, the horn-fueled "Just You And Me" follows, giving listeners their first glimpse of the new band successfully applying their skills to one of the older hits. Despite Cetera's respectable lead vocal, another track from the new album, "Chains," is perhaps the low point of this set but, from there on out, the group begins hitting its stride and the remainder of the material is consistently well played. This begins with the group tackling "Satisfaction," another song sourced from Bill Champlin's solo album, followed by Robert Lamm leading a fine rendition of one of the group's classics, "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?"
Three songs from the new album are next played in succession, with the first being another track excluded from the broadcast. This sequence begins with Champlin at the forefront on "Sonny Think Twice," his and drummer Danny Seraphine's contribution to the new album. With its dark, funky groove and Champlin's soulful vocal, this recalls the versatility and compositional skills of the band in its prime. The same can be said about "Bad Advice," which features a brass-heavy, syncopated sound that ventures into funk/rock fusion territory quite successfully. Concluding the sequence is "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" which, with Lamm's forceful "Get Away" serving as its epilogue, remains the catchiest composition on the new album, and it is no less enjoyable here.
For the remainder of the set, Chicago venture back to classic older material, beginning with Cetera's "If You Leave Me Now" from their 10th album. The rest of the session focuses on prime early repertoire, with the group's classic "Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon" suite played in its entirety. With Bill Champlin taking lead vocals on both parts of "Make Me Smile" which bookends the suite, as well as "Colour My World," this best conveys what a wise choice the group made by bringing him on board. Despite the fact that Terry Kath could never be replaced as a guitarist, Champlin does an admirable job on the vocal front. This is a compelling listen of the new lineup tackling the most challenging of the band's older material.
Robert Lamm next fronts the group on his "Saturday In The Park," another of the early '70s hits, before they bring it to a close with a medley that includes two of the most powerful songs from the early repertoire, "I'm A Man" and "25 or 6 to 4." This concluding sequence is a bit different than earlier incarnations of these songs, with an additional Spencer Davis cover, "Gimme Some Lovin''" replacing the post-drum solo sequence in "I'm A Man." Neither of these early Spencer Davis Group covers was included in the broadcast, possibly because of the group's tenuous grip on the lyrics, but it's fun to hear this new arrangement. "25 or 6 to 4," with Chris Pinnick doing a respectable job on Kath's guitar parts, closes the performance in strong form.
-Written by Alan Bershaw