By the Way

Chicago’s Robert Lamm on revisiting ‘Chicago II’ and the band’s long and winding road

Chicago’s Robert Lamm opens up about the band’s “Chicago II” project and the possibility of recording new music in 2018.
Chicago’s Robert Lamm opens up about the band’s “Chicago II” project and the possibility of recording new music in 2018. Courtesy Chicago

Chicago founding member Robert Lamm knows it’s soon going to come to an end.

But before you hit the panic button, the band isn’t going away, but 2017 is. In a year that’s seen the band sell out shows around the world, including a summer run with The Doobie Brothers, there’s still work to be done before Chicago takes a much-needed end-of-the-year break.

But before the band goes home for the holidays, there’s the matter at hand of “Chicago II.”

On Nov. 7 and 8, Chicago will perform the album in its entirety at WTTW’s Grainger Studio in Chicago. The show will later be aired on the PBS show “Soundstage.”

In a phone interview with the Sun Herald, from South Bend, Indiana, where Chicago was making preparations to perform with the legendary Notre Dame Marching Band, Lamm talks about revisiting “Chicago II,” his love for The Beatles and the impression a young Elvis Presley made on his life.

Tell me about the upcoming revisiting of “Chicago II” — was it difficult to relearn those songs?

As you probably already know, the album “Chicago II” was remixed at the request of Rhino Records, which owns the master. It was done by Steven Wilson, who is a British producer. It’s not really a remix, because he was just really working with a stereo master. He was able to bring out certain aspects of what was really an 8-track recording. And, by the way, that remix has been very favorably reviewed by some of the most demanding music journalists around.

Because of those good reviews and because of Rhino’s satisfaction with that work and because the album once again has been nominated for a the Grammy Hall of Fame, a couple of projects have arisen. One of them is performing the whole album top to bottom live, which is also going to be filmed. We are actually in rehearsals for that as we speak.

Is it tough revisiting some of those songs? I know you’ve been playing “Wake Up Sunshine” from the album on this tour. But is it challenging playing songs you haven’t played in 47 years?

Yes. For me, personally, yes and probably because of my hesitation to go back and re-examine even some of my own songs I wrote and I have not performed or even listened to for decades.

But I’m pretty excited about performing it in front of an audience. I would say all of it has been interesting, especially from a songwriting and arranging point of view. Some of the songs were written by Terry Kath, but I arranged them. Looking at the charts we used when we actually arranged them reveals certain qualities that I left long ago. I like to think that over the years that I’ve improved as a musician and as an arranger and songwriter. We were all a little bit dubious when we agreed to embark on this, and now that we have, everyone is pleasantly surprised.

The band is doing a residency at the Venetian in Las Vegas Feb. 7-24. Do you see that as an opportunity to revisit some of the older material, as well?

Actually, our concert in Tupelo and the rest of concerts in 2017 will be the current production, set structure and light show that we’ve been doing this year. We’re forming a whole new production for 2018 and we hope to encompass “Chicago II.” The plan is to do the first half of the concerts in 2018 as “Chicago II” and then a set of the greatest hits with an all-new production.

You dropped a new album, “Time Chill: A Retrospective,” in June. Did you curate it yourself?

I had a hand in it, along with with Brad Rosenberger, who owns Omnivore Recordings, which released it. He’s a big and an old friend. He and I had been talking for a couple of years about doing something like that. I let him choose and then I kind of edited his choices. I think it’s a pretty good retrospective. We both wanted to avoid things that sounded as if they were recorded in the late ’80s or early ’90s, although some of them were. We were listening to things that sounded more 21st Century.

You’re playing Tupelo on Nov. 2. What kind of impact did Elvis have on you as a child?

Elvis had an impact on everyone — Elvis and The Beatles. Both of those artists are the reason most of us are musicians, those of us that come along in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I can’t remember if I heard him first or if I saw his performance on the “Ed Sullivan Show” first. But I had all of his 45s as a kid in the 1950s — “Hound Dog,” Heartbreak Hotel” — all of them.

You’re a first-generation Beatles fan. I’ve always been curious what it was like for a first-generation fan to see their progress from an “American rock band” to things like “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver.” What was that like as a music fan?

By that time, this band was forming. Like young music fans today, you have a band you love and you cannot wait until the next album comes out. You can’t wait to crack it open and listen to it and grow along with the music you are hearing. That was definitely my experience. Terry Lath, Lee Loughnane and myself were roommates those first couple of years that the band was performing and we just loved it. So between “Sgt. Pepper’s” “Magical Mystery Tour” and “The White Album,” those three albums really informed us and made it OK to expand and reach for the stars.”

Last time we spoke, you discussed the possibility of the band doing some recording in 2018 with the current lineup, which includes new singer Jeff Coffey. Is that still a possibility?

Our problem in 2016 and 2017 has been an intense scheduling of concerts. But we have several months in 2018 that we may use to record an EP. I think it’s definitely a possibility. We recorded our last album “Now” on the road. Although that was a good result, it was pretty taxing. I’ve been pretty adamant about not recording that way for what we do next. We’ll probably record at Lee Loughnane’s studio in Arizona.

Chicago on Tour

Thursday, Nov. 2 at Bankcorp South Arena in Tupelo, Mississippi

Friday, Nov. 3 at BJCC Concert Hall in Birmingham, Alabama