After 47 Years, Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us Now
By Stephen Joseph Keeler
South Florida Opulence received the opportunity to probe behind the scenes of one of the oldest continuously performing rock bands in the world – Chicago. In advance of Chicago’s upcoming performance at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach on April 23, I sat down with Jason Scheff, singer and bassist for the band since 1985.
Chicago’s lineup includes original band members Robert Lamm on keyboard, vocals, Lee Loughnane on trumpet, James Pankow on trombone and Walt Parazaider on woodwinds, as well as Jason Scheff on bass, vocals, Tris Imboden on drums, Keith Howland on guitar, Lou Pardini on keyboards, vocals, and Walfredo Reyes Jr. on percussion.
Meet Chicago’s Lead Vocalist
At the ripe age of just 23, Jason joined the band as a replacement for longtime vocalist Peter Ceterra. Chicago was already 17 years young and a longtime No.1 chart-busting band. We asked Jason what it was like and what’s kept the iconic group going successfully all these years.
“I was a struggling artist belting out top-40 songs in clubs and was thrilled to audition for the job,” Jason said with humility. “When they picked me, I looked to keep the great music of Chicago rolling.
“Chicago is structured as a team,” he said. “We’re all about group empowerment, that each of us has a shot. So you keep your ego in check. The band as a group is greater than any one individual, and the whole notion of one of us being ‘the guy’ is an illusion anyway.”
Jason digs deeper for us. “I’ve always kept in my head a great line about the band that Robert Lamm (one of the original group members) said, “Chicago is an ongoing experiment,” Lamm said. “Group members can leave, but the band survives – and the fact that we survived the loss of great artists like Peter Ceterra and are still going strong, is testimony to the truth of Robert’s description. He always wrote songs to include all parts of the band, the brass, the strings, everybody.
“Joining Chicago means joining the sound,“ Jason explained. “The iconic vibe of this band is part of my life; now it’s heartfelt. I’ve written a ton of songs over the last decade, and for our latest album, Chicago 36, the founding members took NOW, a song I co-wrote, as the title track. That was a huge honor for me.”
Jason’s love and talent for music is quite literally in his blood, from both his parents. “I get my creative side from my father.” That would be Jerry Scheff, a well-known session bassist who performed often with Elvis Presley. “I remember telling my classmates when I was a kid and went to see my Dad. Yes, Elvis was the King for them, but for me, all I could see on the TV screen was my Dad.”
And the business side? “That’s all from my mother. My mother is a very beautiful singer and piano player,” Scheff said.
“I joined her band when I was 14, got into the musicians’ union, and went on the road with her. When you find your muse, you don’t need to have people telling you to create, you just do it. And then, you’ve got to work even harder to share what you’ve created – you’ve got to put yourself out there, sweating on the stage. I did my first tour in 1976 with my Mom, and there I learned to show up, to be a professional. And, I loved it. “
Passing on the Legacy
“Hey, I’m a grandfather now!” Scheff said with joy. “I’ve got a responsibility to pass on to the coming generations all that I value. It’s not about trying to sell records, but to participate and continue in the expression, the experiment, that is Chicago. We want to make music that, like the great classics, will still be around and enjoyed 200 years from now.“
And for that, Jason – and all the past, present and future members of Chicago – we are all eternally grateful.