When Downtown Magazine publisher and owner Grace A. Capobianco found herself with some backstage passes to Chicago’s recent Atlantic City performance, she also landed the opportunity to ask some questions to Lee Loughnane, founding trumpeter. A member of Chicago for nearly 50 years, Lee has seen the world dozens of times over. However, when asked by Grace of what keeps him going, he explained that he’s still learning as a musician, and that touring life is still a lot of fun for him.
A resident of Sedona when not on the road, Lee was able to give some insight into what’s ahead for the legendary rock band. Fans of the touring package with Earth, Wind & Fire ought to rejoice, although there ought to be plenty of surprises ahead from Lee and crew.
Back in 1967, I believe it was February 15th, Walt said that you guys were going to make this band work and probably go on forever. That’s something you really wanted to do, keep the band together.
Lee Loughnane: I believe we actually said something more like “Let’s just keep playing until we can’t play, until I guess people were not having fun.” And we’re still having fun. It’s 48 years now, we never thought it could possibly last anywhere near this long. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to be stopping anytime soon. It’s pretty amazing, I have to pinch myself. (laughs)
It is a lot to give up, it’s a lot to keep this band together and work this hard to give people your music. What is it that you really have to go through to live that life? How do you do it?
L: Well, I think the biggest thing that has been sacrificed is time with the family. This band has been together longer than my marriages. I’m in the midst of a fourth divorce now, which is the last thing I wanted to happen. I have every intention of my raising my son, who’s 12 years old, until he’s a full-grown adult and doesn’t want to live with me anymore. It’s a lot of fun having that relationship with him.
Personally, how does it feel to still be doing what you’re doing all these years later?
L: You might think this is unbelievable, but I’m still learning more about the trumpet every day. My practice is getting to a point now where it’s pushing me even further to be a better trumpet player, and I’m loving it. I’ve always loved playing the trumpet and just the act of practicing and preparation for the shows.
Is there anything you do on the road that keeps you balanced?
L: Yeah, I work on music, I watch sports on TV, every once in a while I’ll exercise. (laughs)
You’ve done multiple summers tours with Earth, Wind & Fire and Huey Lewis & The News in which Chicago played other bands’ hits, which is a unique concept. Are you thinking of doing one of these for next summer?
L: Most likely. Hopefully we’re going to be doing more shows with Earth, Wind & Fire next year in places we haven’t played on this tour or in a while. Our first time [on tour] with them was 2003 or 2004. We’ll probably do some of those dates we did on that original tour and anywhere else we haven’t played recently. We’re hoping to play the United Center [in Chicago] or a bigger place like that. Maybe partner with someone else later on in the summer, but I don’t know who yet, Peter Schivarelli, our manager, will let us know.
This tour’s setlist didn’t include some of your iconic hits like “Look Away,” “Make Me Smile,” “Old Days” and “Will You Still Love Me?” Is it fair to say that one of the biggest challenges of touring for Chicago is choosing a setlist that keeps everyone happy?
L: Definitely. Each band decided we would play an hour apiece. I think both bands stretch it a little more and play 65 [minutes], just to get a little more time, an extra song. Realistically, we can only play a few songs, and then we play songs together. When you see the whole package, with them playing an hour and us playing an hour and then a half-hour together, it’s a full show. I think most people leave without realizing even that we have left out two #1 songs, you know? “Look Away,” “If You Leave Me Now.” I think that would actually slow the show a little, even though it would be very poignant. We leave that for other shows, where we can bring the tempo down and then build it back up again for a finale.
Is there any place that you’ve played that’s the most exciting for you as a group?
L: All the shows, we try to make each show equally exciting, so there isn’t one particular venue. All the audiences around the world pretty much enjoy hearing what we have to offer, and that’s really cool.
Did you do any recording on this tour using the [Pro Tools] rig that you recorded Chicago XXXVI on?
L: The rig is traveling with us, but we didn’t do any recording. That hasn’t been any time.
Is there anything planned for the band’s 50th anniversary beyond touring? Maybe a new studio album or EP?
L: So far, all I know about is touring. But I’m sure that Peter Schivarelli has multiple events in store for us that we don’t know about yet.
I would not be doing our publication justice if I did not ask a question about Downtown New York City. Coming up soon is another anniversary of 9/11. I lived downtown, I worked downtown.
L: So you were there?
I was there. So where were you during 9/11?
L: We were touring. My wife, who’s now my ex-wife, she called me. We were in Portland, Oregon and she woke me up about 6:30 in the morning, because it was about 9 o’clock [Eastern Standard Time] when the first plane hit or a little earlier. She called me up and told me to turn on the TV and check it out.
Was it difficult for you to continue?
L: I actually was in the minority. I wanted to go right back out and play. I was sort of like [Donald] Trump, “Give me another one, I’ll build it back, I’ll show them.” We decided to take one night off and play the next night.
When you come to the New York City area, have you ever stayed downtown? Do you know the area?
L: No, I haven’t stayed in that area. We’ve always stayed at the Trump [Soho]. (laughs)
-by Darren Paltrowitz