The History of Chicago - Now More Than Ever documentary Review

By:  Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool ,

If you have listened to my podcasts and read my articles for long enough then, by now, you know I was a hard rock guy.  My passions lay with Rush, Black Sabbath, Metallica, and that sort.  So, it might surprise you that I have been a long time fan of the band Chicago.  I know, the rock band with horns seems like a complete antithesis to Rush or Black Sabbath and, yes, they are.  I can't even really explain my fandom of Chicago.  You just like what you like I guess.  

Chicago was fully into their ballad era when I first became aware of them.  Chicago 16 was in the top 40 when I was 11 years old then Chicago 17 came out when I was 13.  I have always liked the singers who sang in those up scales like Don Henley, Steve Perry, and Peter Cetera.  I suppose that's what appealed to me at first.  So yes, not only have I betrayed my brotherhood of metal heads by liking Chicago, I actually liked the ballad era Chicago.

I began listening to their vast back catalog as well and, pretty soon, had discovered Terry Kath and bought everything all the way back to the Chicago Transit Authority album.  Even back then, while everyone else was ga-ga over Terry Kath (and what an amazing guitarist he was!) I still preferred Peter Cetera's voice.

I was smack dab in the middle of high school when Peter Cetera left Chicago and went out on his own.  Yes, Glory of Love was the main event of every high school dance I can remember.  But, by that time, I had already became a fan of the Chicago the band and enjoyed the horn section and had developed an appreciation for their ground breaking earlier music as well.  Initially, I was thrilled that they continued on by bringing in Jason Scheff to replace Cetera.  I would later regret that.

Over the years, the animosity between Peter Cetera and Chicago only grew.  I saw the Chicago 17 tour with Cetera up front once but that was my only time to see Cetera in concert.  I must have seen the Jason Scheff era half a dozen times.  Every anniversary that went by I hoped that Cetera would return.  25 years, no.  30 years, no.  40 years, no.  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  Almost, there were rumors but, in the end, Cetera didn't even put in an appearance.  That one hurt.  It was a selfish affront, not to the band with whom there is obviously a huge resentment toward, but it was an affront to the fans.  An unpardonable sin.

In the various interviews and written barbs that went back and forth around the time of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, Peter Cetera came off looking incredibly bad.  Petty and arrogant.  Admittedly, I think it took a lot of the buzz away from the event.  Chicago had won the fan vote for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by a landslide but Cetera couldn't be bothered to show up.  Even Danny Seraphine, who had much bad water under the Chicago bridge, mended fences to return and play with the band in the end.  Yes, Peter Cetera look like a monster heel this night.  Steve Perry, I hope you are taking notes because Journey is up next.

On January 1, 2017 the long talked about Chicago documentary - Now More Than Ever aired on CNN.  It was as in-depth a look at the iconic band as we have ever had.  Never before seen film footage brought to life the early years and rise to success that made Chicago a staple of 1970's radio.  Terry Kath shined like a star once again some 40 years after his shooting death.  Of course, Cetera couldn't be bothered to participate.

I went into the documentary hoping to come away with a renewed appreciation of, probably, one of the hardest working bands in history.  They still tour upwards of 100 dates a year and have done so, without a hiatus, since the 1970's.  That's impressive.  I hoped at the end of the night I would be excited to see Chicago in 2017, who will be touring with the Doobie Brothers, this time around.  That's what I hoped.

Instead I came away... well, sad.  In October of 2016, Peter Cetera's replacement, Jason Scheff, finally left the band.  Scheff sounded fine on tape but I long had loathed his nasally singing and odd and distracting word pronunciation live.  I am not a Jason Scheff fan.  I'm sure he's a perfectly nice guy but I loath his singing.  So, Peter Cetera's replacements replacement is Jeff Coffey whom I know absolutely nothing about.  Maybe he's better.  Maybe not.

I came away with the impression that a hard working band had gotten together in the late 1960's, made some really inventive music, got hot for a while, then, got strung out on drugs, yet made some more good music.  Then, Terry Kath was killed and it sucked the life out of the band as Peter Cetera asserted more and more power.  Along came David Foster, and he and Peter Cetera took over and made some extremely marketable music, which, the rest of the band highly resented.  Then Peter Cetera left the band and was replaced by Jason Scheff who, along with Bill Champlin (who also decline to participate in no uncertain terms saying he had nothing good to say about being in Chicago) had a few more hits before becoming a touring nostalgia act for the last couple decades.

I came out of the documentary not really being much of a fan of any of them any more.  I can almost understand Peter Cetera not wanting to take center stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sing If You Leave Me Now while the rest of the band gritted their teeth in the background.  The resentment of that era by the rest of the band was disheartening.  They certainly had no problem cashing the checks, nor have they turned away decades of fans who have come out since the 1980's to hear Jason Scheff whine his way through You're the Inspiration.  I found that whole thing a real turn off.

Now, more than ever, I wonder why Chicago the band can't be proud of their early, groundbreaking work, and grateful for the era that made them a ton of money and kept them touring for almost 30 years past their last top 40 hit.  Does anyone really think that Chicago would still be doing 100 dates a year in five to ten thousand seat venues off the success of Saturday in the Park?  I don't.  I think they would be relegated to small festivals and small towns instead of remaining a top touring act year after year.

Now, more than ever, I wish Chicago continued success.  I know nothing about Jeff Coffey but I hope he hits a home run. I hope he belts out Feeling Stronger Everyday in perfect pitch and the band has another decade or more of success.  But, I also hope, now more than ever, that they can come to a better place with their resentment toward their most commerically successful era.  While I doubt a reconiliation with Peter Cetera will ever happen, I still hope for a happier ending to their story... now more than ever.

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