By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Change isn’t usually something that trademarks a band. But Chicago has seen change like no other band in music today -- even its name has changed over the years.
From complex instrumentals to simple power ballads, from lackluster releases to six-time platinum albums, the members of Chicago have virtually seen it all. The band is the first to release albums making Billboard’s Top 40 for five consecutive decades, according to a press release. It has sold nearly 40 million albums in the U.S. -- 25 of their 34 albums (22 studio albums) have gone platinum.
The band will perform its signature rock and jazz fusion Thursday night at Downstream Casino’s Pavilion.
The biography for the band could easily fill a book. Chicago got its start when a bunch of DePaul University students -- including saxophonist Walter Parazider, trombonist James Pankow, trumpeter Lee Loughnane, drummer Danny Seraphine, guitarist Terry Kath and keyboardist Robert Lamm -- wanted to form a rock ’n’ roll band that featured a horn section. The Big Thing started playing in 1967, according to the band’s biography, and a joint gig with The Exceptions eventually introduced bassist Peter Cetera to the band.
Slew of hits
In 1968 the band, then known as Chicago Transit Authority, moved to Los Angeles and worked its way into a record deal with CBS. Its first, self-titled album was released in 1969 and went double platinum, driven by hits “Does Anybody Know What Time it Is?” and “Beginnings.”
The band shortened its name to Chicago in 1970 when it released its second album. Songs such as “25 or 6 to 4” helped that album go platinum, too.
Keeping up a schedule of album releases annually until about 1980, the band kept up a record of consecutive platinum albums until 1979’s “Chicago 13,” which went gold. The band also saw some lineup changes over that decade and toured relentlessly.
In ’78, lead vocalist Kath died from an accidental gunshot wound. The resulting mourning threatened to break the band up, according to its biography.
But they stuck together and, after lackluster albums “13” and “14,” surged back with 1982’s “16,” which triggered a new era for the band and ushered a new generation of fans. A change in producer, record label and lineup -- guitarist and keyboardist Bill Champlin joined -- led to the band going for a different sound.
What followed was “17” -- the band’s most commercially successful release. Hit songs included “You’re the Inspiration,” “Hard Habit to Break” and “Stay the Night.” The era was so big that it opened the door for a solo career for Cetera, who left the band in ’85.
The band kept going, releasing “18” and “19” in that decade and spawning the hits “Will You Still Love Me” and “Look Away.” Singer Jason Scheff took over singing duties from Cetera.
The band’s popularity waned in the ’90s and 2000s, but the band never broke up. It kept on touring with acts such as Earth, Wind and Fire. The same tour that brings Chicago to Joplin will also pair the band with the Doobie Brothers at later dates.
The band’s latest releases include “Chicago 32: Stone of Sisyphus,” an album originally recorded in 1993 but held for 15 years after a rejection by the record company, and “Chicago 33: O Christmas Three,” the band’s third album of Christmas music.
Its current lineup includes Lamm, Pankow, Loughnane, Parazaider, Scheff, Tris Imboden, Keith Howland, Lou Pardini and Walfredo Reyes.