Chicago: A Love Story

It seems that every music geek has a My First Band story and mine centers around the band Chicago.

For those not familiar with them, the group Chicago started out as one of the so-called 70s "jazz-rock" bands along with Blood, Sweat and Tears. As a new trombonist in 7th grade (circa 1983), I was looking for role models and since they had a horn section, they were obviously meant for me.

I began my journey into Chicago with Chicago Transit Authority, their first album. It was my first exposure to a real warts-and-all "double album" from the wide-open world of late '60s rock. The big CTA tracks that made me happy were "Questions 67 & 68," the Spencer Davis Group's "I'm A Man," as well as the current classic rock chestnut "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is." Many avant-rock fans fondly remember this album for Terry Kath's feedback-laden guitar freakout "Free Form Guitar," but my 7th grade self barely remembers it. It was wonderful to hear a trombonist in a rock band kicking it and being a real part of a real band.

None of the other albums gave me the kick like the first one but I dutifully collected them all, including the turgid four-LP set "Live At Carnegie Hall" (aka Chicago IV). I was proud of my band, like all First Band Fans are, even though by 1983, they had basically dropped the whole jazz-rock concept and had gone straight for the MOR ("middle of the road") pot of gold with hits like "Stay the Night." They were My Band and mine alone.

Since they were My Band, I had to go pay them tribute. Finally, my chance came about two or three years later. With the help of my car-enabled friend Tom, I got to see the band at the Patriot Center in suburban Virginia. I don't remember much of the show but I do remember that every time I saw the trombonist wander my way, I stuck my fist out in tribute. And to my young mind's amazement and surprise, he began returning my salute! In retrospect, doing that while playing trombone was a pretty trick.

I came home from the concert walking on air. But that was the end of my love affair. I didn't know how to go any further as a Chicago Fan. After the trombonist saluted me, what was left? I grew aimless and bored with the band. Not too much later, a classmate named Joy gave me a tape that would change the rest of my life (and of course that is another tale).

In the end, I tried to sell my collection to the nearby record shop Yesterday and Today Records, which was owned by Dischord Records supporter Skip Groff. Naturally, they did not buy a single one and all my First Band records ended up in the trash.