‘Those are great songs, but …’: Danny Seraphine wrestles with Chicago’s 1980s era

For co-founding member Danny Seraphine, Chicago’s transition into 1980s-era pop stars still represents a conundrum. He pined for the days of their early, more challenging music — but he relished their successes.

“The music wasn’t as challenging,” Seraphine in this clip. “Those are great songs, but they didn’t have the odd times, the great horn arrangements. Once you start walking that line, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do — and that’s kind of what happened.”

Chicago had been, by all accounts, at a low ebb when producer David Foster came into the fold. In the years immediately following original guitarist Terry Kath’s awful death, the group seemed to have lost its way. A trio of Foster-helmed releases between 1982-86 would hurtle Chicago to previously unseen Billboard heights, even as they assumed a more radio-ready scheen.

“It was a different era for Chicago,” Seraphine says. “The real purists don’t really like that. They kind of turned away from the band at that point, as we went on the hitmaking path.”

Together with Foster, they’d sell some nine-million albums in the U.S. during that 16 through 18 era. Of course, once you’ve had those kind of smashes, the standards change. An album rock band from its inception, Chicago suddenly began chasing the charts. Nevertheless, its fortunes faded precipitously after 1988′s 19, as pop tastes changed.

“Living by the hits, and dying by the hits — once you do that, it’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Seraphine admits. “I’ve always felt that if we had stayed true to jazz rock, maybe we wouldn’t have had quite as much commercial success, but our fanbase that was there from the beginning would have stayed with us.”

Seraphine was gone by 1990; he now leads a band modelled after their original sound, called California Transit Authority. Chicago, meanwhile, is working on a new album — its first since 2006.

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  • eknirb

    Danny is dead-on accurate here. Make a deal with the devil, you’re gonna pay the price.