Original Chicago drummer keeps their music alive
If you owned a radio in the last century, chances are Chicago’s classic rock hits are still permeating your music memory banks. Founding member and original drummer for the band (1967-1990), Danny Seraphine brought his tribute ensemble CTA (California Transit Authority ) to the Kahilu Theatre last Friday as part of his tour called Take Me Back To Chicago.
Chicago Transit Authority emerged in the late-60s haze of psychedelia and roared out of the windy city as a seven-member jazz-rock ensemble with an explosive double-album debut. They were edgy, sometimes political*, and pushed boundaries with long suites of music, unlike their predictable pop counterparts, Blood, Sweat & Tears.
“They were direct competition,” noted Seraphine in our interview. “It wasn’t all warm and fuzzy between us at first because they got their album out ahead of us, and for us to get signed to Columbia, our producer, James Guercio, had to produce their album. They had some excellent musicians, but we had a richer-sounding band with three lead singers, and we eventually eclipsed them with our songwriting, singing, and arranging talents.” Nevertheless, the group achieved significant success once they shortened their name to Chicago.
Critics say Chicago sailed off into yacht-rock territory by their tenth album and never strayed from the adult contemporary genre. However, the gamble paid off. With 25 of their 32 albums certified platinum, Chicago is still one of the best-selling and longest-running American bands.
Like many classic rock institutions that have hit the 50-year milestone, it’s not uncommon for some members to leave and form tribute groups. Rock Hall of Famer Danny Seraphine did that when he started CTA in 2006 with L.A. guitarist Marc Bonilla. The core quintet features singer/bassist Jeff Coffey, who played with Chicago’s 2016-2018 configuration, rhythm guitarist Travis Davis, and keyboardist Ed Roth.
The backing horn section was superb and included members from UH at Manoa: Reggie Padilla on sax, Arthur Davis on trombone, and trumpeter Mark Minasian, a Professor of Music at Leeward Community College. Remarkably they were assembled for this show only a few days before the performance.
Seraphine wasn’t shy about sharing his age (74) with the audience or taking time between songs to catch his breath and joke about his digital watch’s high heart rate alert. He admitted to having a senior moment when he discovered he’d left his stage clothes back at the hotel shortly before showtime and had to borrow a shirt from his keyboardist. It became a running bit throughout the show. “If it looks like I’m hanging on, I’m hanging on, but I’m having a great time, too,” Seraphine told the crowd.
Despite his age, Seraphine still has his impeccable drum chops and rocked in high gear for the 90-minute concert. His 11-minute version of “I’m a Man” proved that.
CTA’s engaging set mainly drew from Chicago’s greatest hits songbook and helped us relive the spirit of the band’s heydays. Songs performed included “25 or 6 to 4,” “Just You ‘N’ Me,” “Saturday in the Park,” and “Make Me Smile.” The latter, said Seraphine, made enough money to buy a Mercedes Benz and get rid of his VW bug.
Jeff Coffey did an outstanding job of replicating Peter Cetera’s smooth tenor on “You’re The Inspiration,” where Travis Davis handled the songs that Terry Kath sang. In addition, Ed Roth provided a jazzy improvisational solo piece on the Theatre’s Grand piano.
Despite calls from the crowd for a hana hou—and there was one included on the prepared setlist – the show ended at the 95 -minute mark, and everybody went home happy.
Seraphine has plans to record a third album with CTA using Dolby Atmos technology and continue touring for the rest of the year.
Street Player | Old Days | Call On Me | Beginnings | Movin’ In | You’re The Inspiration | Does Anybody Know What Time it Is | Just You and Me | I’m a Man/ Topsy | Hard To I’m Sorry | Getaway | Make Me Smile | Saturday In The Park | 25 or 6 to 4 |
Feelin’ Stronger (not played)
About the author: Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: ©2022 Steve Roby. Images are available for licensing.
Performance date: 07/October/2022
* Inside the album Chicago III (1971), there was a poster featuring the band dressed in the uniforms of America’s wars, standing in front of a field of crosses, representing those who had died in the still ongoing Vietnam War.
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