Interview With Lead Vocalist/Bassist Jason Scheff
BY JEFF CLARK
When Jason Scheff replaced bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera in 1985, the band was at the top of pop charts as the multi-platinum “Chicago 16” and “Chicago 17,” both produced by David Foster, created hit after hit. Cetera, a founding member of the band, left to pursue a solo career and Scheff was picked to fill Cetera’s vacant spot. Scheff did so by giving the band its first post-Cetera hit with “Will You Still Love Me,” which was co-written by Foster.
Although some critics said at the time of Cetera’s departure that the band wouldn’t make it, almost 30 years later Scheff, along with founding members Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow and Walt Parazaider, continue to tour with veteran members Keith Howland, Lou Pardini, Tris Imboden and Wally Reyes, selling out shows across the country.
Scheff spoke with The Packet about the band’s role in the HBO film “Clear History,” which stars Larry David and premieres in August, releasing new Chicago music and keeping the show on the road.
Can you tell us about the band’s role in “Clear History?”
It’s actually the original members of the band. It’s the horn players and (keyboardist/vocalist) Robert Lamm. I don’t want to give any of the story away but it has to do with something that took place in the 1970s. We’re all excited about it. We’re going to the premiere next week in LA.
Are you still living in Nashville, where you were a part of the singer/songwriter scene?
I actually moved my family out to Utah. My wife’s side of the family is out there. I moved them all out there. We still have a place in Nashville, so you never know. I still love the city and I love going back there and I love the songwriters and talent there. Although I’m not currently residing there, I’m not ruling out being a Nashvillian again.
Tell me about the “Nashville Sessions” album. It’s a great sounding record.
What’s funny is that it started as an idea to redo the old songs with the current lineup and to try and match the essence of those recordings. It’s pretty cool because Robert (Lamm) put me in as the guy to get them going. I was working at a studio called The Sound Kitchen, which is a legendary facility in Nashville. I had a room that I was using as an artist in residence. The horn players and the band were scheduled to come out on a certain day. I took (drummer Tris Imboden) in there and we started recording the old tracks so that by the time the other guys got out there it was all set up for them. It was really neat to see Robert Lamm slide into his parts. You could tell it was in his DNA. We didn’t cut it to any clicks or anything. We just did it in the spirit of the original recordings. It’s amazing to see someone like Robert just slide into that stuff so effortlessly and naturally — the same thing with the horn players. We recorded it digitally, but the room we recorded it in had a bunch of great outboard gear and consoles like an old console. I brought my own mic collection. I have a pretty extensive collection of vintage mics.
Do you guys plan to release any new songs in the near future?
It’s nice because several of us have been writing songs constantly over the years and there was always this hesitancy to record. I had an incredible period of productivity in Nashville. But then the planets just aligned and the founding members decided to start putting a collection of the best of our songs out — we have a lot of great material.
(Horn player) Lee Loughnane took it upon himself to build a great mobile recording setup. He’s really taken the helm of recording these songs. I don’t even know if it’s going to be an actual disc or CD. My personal preference is that I think we should be releasing a song at a time constantly. Chicagotheband.com is the homebase of all this stuff. My vote is to just constantly keep releasing new material a song at a time.
What can the fans expect from this year’s tour?
Well, if you’ve been to any shows in the last year or so, we’re doing a two-set show, with an intermission, which is different. We have something in the middle of the show which I’m not going to reveal, but it’s a very special moment and people are really going to say, “Man, that is the coolest thing.” We’ve done it before, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise for anyone who doesn’t know what we do. We’ve been pulling songs out and putting songs in that we haven’t done in a while. That’s the beauty of having a songbook like this is that there are so many hits.
Are you guys going to play “Questions 67 and 68?”
Ok, I’ll reveal that. Yes, we are playing that.
We’re really looking forward to seeing you guys in Tunica.
I’m looking forward to it, man, I always love that area because of two people who are near and dear to my heart — my father (bassist Jerry Scheff) who was Elvis’ bass player and the great guitarist and producer Steve Cropper.