Chicago Tribute Band “25 Or 6 To 4” plays the Key City Theatre  August 16.

Chicago Tribute Band “25 Or 6 To 4” plays the Key City Theatre August 16.

The sweet horns of rock and roll

Chicago tribute band rocks the Key City Theatre August 16

Ferdy Belland

“I grew up listening to the music of Chicago,” recalls former Cranbrook music impresario Rick Lingard. “I was always in awe of them; they approached songcrafting unlike anyone else. Melody, hooks, strong vocal lines were their forte, but turbocharged with this incredible fusion of horns and power rhythm section. They’re a bookmark in musical history…they fused a horn section with a rock band and created an entirely new sound.”

Lingaard’s love of Chicago manifests itself onstage at the Key City Theatre on the evening of Saturday, August 16, as his Chicago tribute band “25 Or 6 To 4” faithfully reproduces several hours’ worth of enjoyable high-energy musical thrills from the iconic 1970s band.

“In transcribing and arranging the songs, I spent almost 200 hours scrutinizing every instrument’s every note in every song of theirs we’ve tackled. All that work just increased my respect for them. Peter Cetera is one of the most underrated bassists ever. I mean, his basslines were ridiculous … so challenging to reproduce. And Terry Kath…again, one of the world’s most under-rated guitarists. Sadly and tragically, he died way too early.”

Originally formed in 1967 as Chicago Transit Authority (and forced to trim down their band name due to the wrath of Chicago city mayor Richard Daley, Chicago quickly gained a regional following for the novelty of including a full big-band horn section into a standard-format guitar/keyboards-oriented rock band. Beginning with experimental psych/prog adventuring and politically-charged lyrics, Chicago gradually evolved through the 1970s and 1980s into a worldwide radio-friendly phenomenon with hit singles like “Saturday in the Park,” “If You Leave Me Now,” “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” and “Stay the Night.”

“I’ve waited a few years to tackle this,” Lingard admits. “I wouldn’t have touched this until I’d assembled the perfect cast of characters. If one piece was missing, I would’ve scrapped the project. I’ve committed the better part of a year preparing for this.”

Lingaard’s fellow musicians for the 25 or 6 to 4 project include Selkirk College Music Program instructors Melody Diachun (vocals) and Darren Mahe (lead guitar), as well as local keyboard heavyweight Colin Spence and virtuoso drummer Tony Ferraro. And adding further spice to the band’s extended horn section is Cranbrook’s own trumpet wizard Dave Ward of the Little Jazz Orchestra. Although primarily assembled for shows in Nelson, the Kaslo Jazz Fest, and the upcoming Cranbrook show, the band is eager to keep the project alive for future musical adventures.

“When I had to pare it down to just 24 songs, divided into only two sets…it killed me!” Lingard bemoans. “I pained over the decision…’how can I lose this tune? I love this tune!'” Having said that, Lingaard explains that the band’s material will be drawn from Chicago’s earlier (pre-1975) years, up to the material found on their tenth album ‘Chicago 10.’

“So, you will hear the hits: ‘Beginnings,’ ‘Feeling Stronger Every Day,’ ‘Colour My World,’ ‘Make Me Smile,’ and of course ’25 or 6 to 4.’ But you’ll hear some amazing funky, driving, more esoteric tunes that kick! Sometimes the meters change every few bars but the tunes are so well-written that they’re fluid and you can’t tell.”

With horn-sections popping up now and again in the pop mainstream (as with the revivalists of ska and Big Band sounds), Lingaard was asked if modern musicians could learn much from the technically-advanced groups of yesteryear.

“Of course I love guitar-focused bands like Led Zeppelin and Boston, but when I first heard the horn bands, I was in love! Even bands like Aerosmith used horns occasionally! The really great writing comes from bands that live and breathe together; Chicago was a family through thick and thin, and ALWAYS rehearsed. Even when they partied, they were usually writing and creating. They had a creative bond…and a mission!”

Kootenay-based band ’25 or 6 to 4′ recreate the thrilling music of Chicago at Cranbrook’s Key City Theatre the evening of Saturday August 16; 7:30pm.