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VOL. 133 | NO. 98 | Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Chicago Gets Tribute Before Orpheum Date

By Bill Dries

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Chicago founding members Lee Loughnane, Robert Lamm and Jimmy Pankow say Memphis music helped their band find its voice. The band was honored before Tuesday's sold-out show at the Orpheum with a star in the theater's "Walk of Fame." (Daily News/Bill Dries)

The newest star on The Orpheum Theatre’s “Walk of Fame” sidewalk is for a horn band that built its sound on Memphis soul and rhythm and blues.

The Orpheum Theatre Group unveiled the star for Chicago on Tuesday, May 15, before the band played the theater to a sell-out crowd.

“The roots of the band are very heavily influenced by soul and blues. Before we discovered our own voice and began composing full time and creating a repertoire of our own, we emulated the R&B and soul acts that was the top 40 in the late 1960s,” said Jimmy Pankow, one of the founding members of the band whose first record in 1969 was under the name Chicago Transit Authority. “And it had horns in it, which was a perfect vehicle for doing these dates in all the nightclubs around the Midwest. If it weren’t for all of the great blues artists and R&B artists that allowed us to kind of discover our own signature, God knows where we would be today. We might not have even made it to a record.”

The band first played Memphis in February 1970 as part of the Memphis Pop Festival at the Mid-South Coliseum – a bill topped by Grand Funk Railroad that included Pacific Gas and Electric and Cold Blood, two other horn bands. Chicago was back six months later for a solo date at the coliseum.

The heavy touring schedule was common for the time when album sales grew the more that a band toured. For Chicago, it was a broader touring area with their own sound after touring for several years closer to home doing cover versions for a horn band.

“Most of our repertoire for the first year we were together touring in the Midwest was made up of music and influences that originated right here in Memphis and the general area,” said founding member Robert Lamm.

“We were influenced by just about everybody who came out of here,” said founding member Lee Loughnane. “We love it. Every bit of it.”

These days, Pankow says the band plays to audiences ranging in age from 10 to 70. And its own sound across more than 50 years is itself an influence. 

“It’s an evolution. Anybody who has something serious to say hopefully becomes embedded in that evolution and part of that lineage,” he said. “And you always thank your peers. You always look at what got you to the dance. Little did we know that we would be walking on stage to a sold-out audience 51 years later.”

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