Archive Interview: Lee Loughnane of Chicago (2011)

Lee Loughnane is one of the founding members of Chicago, who came together in 1967 and have gone on to become the second most successful American band of all-time after the Beach Boys. Of the seven original members, four remain with the group, including Loughnane who not only has been the band's trumpet player, but also one of its songwriters (Call on Me, No Tell Lover), singers and a key member of their restoration team.
Lee Loughnane is one of the founding members of Chicago, who came together in 1967 and have gone on to become the second most successful American band of all-time after the Beach Boys. Of the seven original members, four remain with the group, including Loughnane who not only has been the band's trumpet player, but also one of its songwriters (Call on Me, No Tell Lover), singers and a key member of their restoration team.

We had the chance to talk to Lee from his Chicago home.

Lee Loughnane: We're having fun, still. I have to pinch myself that we're still able to do it at this level. I think we still have the same problem with the media that we've always had. We sort of get overlooked for being too musical. It's crazy.

VVN Music: You guys are on your third Christmas album.

LL: We are.

VVN: What is it that keeps drawing you back to that genre?


LL: Well, here's the thing. We did the original Christmas album in '98. That was our Chicago XXV. At that time we owned all of our copyrights. They had reverted back to us from CBS and we formed Chicago Records. We did a couple of projects with Warner Brothers to combine the Sony/CBS years with the Warner Brothers years. It was the first time the whole career was out on CD and that was very successful so we did a follow-up that wasn't quite as successful because they sold the first one but didn't sell the second one.

VVN: That was the Heart of Chicago albums, right?

LL: Heart of Chicago, correct. After that we recorded the Christmas album and that did very well. Beyond that we realized that running a record company wasn't what we do best so we sold the record company to Rhino, which is now owned by Warners [laughter].

VVN: Big circle.

LL: Yeah, big circle. Since they had it, Rhino wanted to repackage because they repackage everyone. Any product they get, they do repackaging...components, tracks...and they do a great job. They wanted to do that with our Christmas CD Chicago XXV so we recorded six more songs and, instead of actually recording three or four more, with which we would have had another entire Christmas album, they put the six songs on as bonus material on our Chicago XXV album and changed the title to What's It Gonna Be, Santa? That became our second Christmas album. This is, then, the third one which is why we call it O, Christmas Three.

VVN: There's a tremendous amount of material out there that are just great songs, so I could see going into a fourth one somewhere down the road.

LL: That's possible. That's definitely possible but, in the mean time, after the Christmas album, we're going to go back recording Chicago music. Right now we have it set up so we will be able to record our music anywhere in the world. We have a system that will allow us to record anywhere we are. We don't have to go into a studio anymore and we will be able to record world-class studio sound anywhere because [the technology] is available now. You can do it on a laptop. ProTools, it's amazing. So, with very little equipment, you can make what you used to have to go into a studio to do. You can make that happen in a hotel room or on the bus.

VVN: Does ProTools make it easy to take out the ambient noise that you might get while recording?

LL: Yes and there's also software that will take out the ambient noise as well. Obviously, you try to get the ambient noise out before you start...leave yourself as few things to do as possible afterward. That's the idea, anyway.

VVN: Any idea of a time frame as far as a new album goes?

LL: The writing is already happening. It's just a matter of time to put it together. We're going to probably take a couple days off at Christmas once we finish the Christmas tour and then, I'd say, we'd start in January. We're going to do some gigs in Canada starting in February and, as soon as we get everybody together and we're out on the road, we'll just start doing it one file at a time. Put something together and it might come out as one song or two songs or a whole album because you can really release one song at a time now.

VVN: That's true. Everything's changed.

LL: I'll tell you, it's complete different than what we've been used to. It's gone way past the old eight-track. Those were the craziest things. It never ceased to amaze me that I would get surprised when a song would fade out in the middle...”Why's that happening?”...and then it would fade back in again on the next side.

VVN: That's because they had to divide the album in fours equally.

LL: So the music suffered as a result and it wasn't a very long lasting media.

VVN: Is the tour that you are on right now still part of your world tour or the beginning of the Christmas tour?

LL: Well, they sort of merged themselves together. I'd say this is part of the Christmas tour since we actually started doing one of the Christmas songs a couple of months ago when we came back to the states for a five week tour in August. We started doing Rocking Around the Christmas Tree every night. We'd bring a Christmas tree out and we'd run around the tree. It was our attempt at showbiz I guess.

VVN: I had read that you were involved a lot with the restoration of your catalog. Is that still an ongoing effort?

LL: It's been pretty much restored. They took it up to XVII. I don't think they did XVIII or beyond, maybe XVIX or beyond. Then they released Stone of Sisyphus which was the 22nd album [note, it was not released at the time of recording] and it became the 32nd album (XXXII). I get a little crazed with the numbers. You know, people are still amazed that we still call every album Chicago. I don't know if they believe it when I tell them the first album was called Chicago Transit Authority and then every subsequent album after that we called Chicago. The only thing that differentiated them was the number.

VVN: Do you have a lot of vault material still unreleased?

LL: We already did that. We found everything that was not used previously and we put them on the re-releases of the Rhino stuff. Anything we could find that was finished. I think we put on a few things that weren't finished as we got further on in years.

VVN: I know also that Rhino Handmade put out what I guess is considered Chicago XXXIV: Live in '75.


LL: That's correct and it came out before the Christmas album. We were done with the Christmas album first and we called it XXXIII so they had to call this [the live album] XXXIV.

VVN: Any other older, archived live material that you have any plans to release?

LL: Not at this point. They haven't come up and I was hoping to have more multi-tracks that I could have done more mixing with but, as it turns out, that pretty much typified how we sounded in that period. Just the wild, young, energetic insanity that we would go through on a night-to-night basis.

VVN: You know, it's amazing that, 44 years on, you still have four of your original members with the group. There must be a real special rapport there.

LL: Well, I'll tell you that we can still ride on the same bus, stay in the same hotels and stay in the same dressing rooms. I know a lot of guys just see each other on stage. I don't know how we do it other than we still enjoy each other as musicians, as people and we know when to get in each others way and out of each others way. That, pretty much in a nutshell, is how we stay together. If you can't get in somebody's way and tell them they're getting off the track a little and try to help pull them back, then its probably not going to last anyway.

VVN: Do you have any contact at all with any of the former members of the group?

LL: No, not really. It just happens that way when we split up. We're continually busy, anyway. I don't have enough contact with my own family [laughter]. I've never come across any of their paths and they've never put themselves in mine so we've never said hi since we parted.

Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three was released last week by Rhino Records and Chicago XXXIV: Live in '75 is available through Rhino Handmade.

We had the chance to talk to Lee from his Chicago home.

Lee Loughnane: We're having fun, still. I have to pinch myself that we're still able to do it at this level. I think we still have the same problem with the media that we've always had. We sort of get overlooked for being too musical. It's crazy.

VVN Music: You guys are on your third Christmas album.

LL: We are.

VVN: What is it that keeps drawing you back to that genre?


LL: Well, here's the thing. We did the original Christmas album in '98. That was our Chicago XXV. At that time we owned all of our copyrights. They had reverted back to us from CBS and we formed Chicago Records. We did a couple of projects with Warner Brothers to combine the Sony/CBS years with the Warner Brothers years. It was the first time the whole career was out on CD and that was very successful so we did a follow-up that wasn't quite as successful because they sold the first one but didn't sell the second one.

VVN: That was the Heart of Chicago albums, right?

LL: Heart of Chicago, correct. After that we recorded the Christmas album and that did very well. Beyond that we realized that running a record company wasn't what we do best so we sold the record company to Rhino, which is now owned by Warners [laughter].

VVN: Big circle.

LL: Yeah, big circle. Since they had it, Rhino wanted to repackage because they repackage everyone. Any product they get, they do repackaging...components, tracks...and they do a great job. They wanted to do that with our Christmas CD Chicago XXV so we recorded six more songs and, instead of actually recording three or four more, with which we would have had another entire Christmas album, they put the six songs on as bonus material on our Chicago XXV album and changed the title to What's It Gonna Be, Santa? That became our second Christmas album. This is, then, the third one which is why we call it O, Christmas Three.

VVN: There's a tremendous amount of material out there that are just great songs, so I could see going into a fourth one somewhere down the road.

LL: That's possible. That's definitely possible but, in the mean time, after the Christmas album, we're going to go back recording Chicago music. Right now we have it set up so we will be able to record our music anywhere in the world. We have a system that will allow us to record anywhere we are. We don't have to go into a studio anymore and we will be able to record world-class studio sound anywhere because [the technology] is available now. You can do it on a laptop. ProTools, it's amazing. So, with very little equipment, you can make what you used to have to go into a studio to do. You can make that happen in a hotel room or on the bus.

VVN: Does ProTools make it easy to take out the ambient noise that you might get while recording?

LL: Yes and there's also software that will take out the ambient noise as well. Obviously, you try to get the ambient noise out before you start...leave yourself as few things to do as possible afterward. That's the idea, anyway.

VVN: Any idea of a time frame as far as a new album goes?

LL: The writing is already happening. It's just a matter of time to put it together. We're going to probably take a couple days off at Christmas once we finish the Christmas tour and then, I'd say, we'd start in January. We're going to do some gigs in Canada starting in February and, as soon as we get everybody together and we're out on the road, we'll just start doing it one file at a time. Put something together and it might come out as one song or two songs or a whole album because you can really release one song at a time now.

VVN: That's true. Everything's changed.

LL: I'll tell you, it's complete different than what we've been used to. It's gone way past the old eight-track. Those were the craziest things. It never ceased to amaze me that I would get surprised when a song would fade out in the middle...”Why's that happening?”...and then it would fade back in again on the next side.

VVN: That's because they had to divide the album in fours equally.

LL: So the music suffered as a result and it wasn't a very long lasting media.

VVN: Is the tour that you are on right now still part of your world tour or the beginning of the Christmas tour?

LL: Well, they sort of merged themselves together. I'd say this is part of the Christmas tour since we actually started doing one of the Christmas songs a couple of months ago when we came back to the states for a five week tour in August. We started doing Rocking Around the Christmas Tree every night. We'd bring a Christmas tree out and we'd run around the tree. It was our attempt at showbiz I guess.

VVN: I had read that you were involved a lot with the restoration of your catalog. Is that still an ongoing effort?

LL: It's been pretty much restored. They took it up to XVII. I don't think they did XVIII or beyond, maybe XVIX or beyond. Then they released Stone of Sisyphus which was the 22nd album [note, it was not released at the time of recording] and it became the 32nd album (XXXII). I get a little crazed with the numbers. You know, people are still amazed that we still call every album Chicago. I don't know if they believe it when I tell them the first album was called Chicago Transit Authority and then every subsequent album after that we called Chicago. The only thing that differentiated them was the number.

VVN: Do you have a lot of vault material still unreleased?

LL: We already did that. We found everything that was not used previously and we put them on the re-releases of the Rhino stuff. Anything we could find that was finished. I think we put on a few things that weren't finished as we got further on in years.

VVN: I know also that Rhino Handmade put out what I guess is considered Chicago XXXIV: Live in '75.


LL: That's correct and it came out before the Christmas album. We were done with the Christmas album first and we called it XXXIII so they had to call this [the live album] XXXIV.

VVN: Any other older, archived live material that you have any plans to release?

LL: Not at this point. They haven't come up and I was hoping to have more multi-tracks that I could have done more mixing with but, as it turns out, that pretty much typified how we sounded in that period. Just the wild, young, energetic insanity that we would go through on a night-to-night basis.

VVN: You know, it's amazing that, 44 years on, you still have four of your original members with the group. There must be a real special rapport there.

LL: Well, I'll tell you that we can still ride on the same bus, stay in the same hotels and stay in the same dressing rooms. I know a lot of guys just see each other on stage. I don't know how we do it other than we still enjoy each other as musicians, as people and we know when to get in each others way and out of each others way. That, pretty much in a nutshell, is how we stay together. If you can't get in somebody's way and tell them they're getting off the track a little and try to help pull them back, then its probably not going to last anyway.

VVN: Do you have any contact at all with any of the former members of the group?

LL: No, not really. It just happens that way when we split up. We're continually busy, anyway. I don't have enough contact with my own family [laughter]. I've never come across any of their paths and they've never put themselves in mine so we've never said hi since we parted.

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