Without Robert Lamm, the songwriter behind such '70s smashes as 25 or 6 to 4 and Saturday in the Park, there is no Chicago, a swoony band that's been helping make babies for more than 40 years. And without Chicago, there is no Sean Daly and Steve Spears, the Stuck in the '80s boys who were most certainly conceived to the strains of Baby, What a Big Surprise.
As Lamm and Chicago prepare to play the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Thursday, the keyboardist called in to chat about hanging with Jimi Hendrix, working with David Foster and getting ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
You've been with Chicago since 1967. With so many incarnations — the Terry Kath days, the Peter Cetera '80s, etc. — does it feel as if you've been in 20 bands?
Not for me. But it feels like I have this huge family that's grown over the years. The music is what has remained central regardless of personnel changes. In a way, we're like a St. Petersburg Symphony, if you will.
Casual fans might not know you penned Chicago's early hits: Saturday in the Park, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? Tell us about the making of our fave Lamm tune, 25 or 6 to 4.
During those days, we were still rehearsing in California. We had a regular gig at the Whisky a Go Go. The house where we lived, I had a piano that looked out over the city. After I'd get back from a gig, I'd come home and play a little bit. That's when I started writing songs and teaching myself how to write the brass part. That song was lyrically was about the process of writing.
The Whisky on the Sunset Strip circa the '60s and '70s? Insanity?
We met everyone who was making music. Everyone knows the story about Jimi Hendrix coming in: He heard us and invited us to tour with him.
Producer David Foster took over in the '80s, especially on Chicago 16 and 17. Is he as egomaniacal as advertised?
Chicago always had a plethora of ideas and directions, so David was the ultimate referee of ideas. … His forte is really working with solo artists, whether it's Celine Dion or Michael Buble. So with Chicago, he kind of made believe he was working with just Peter Cetera.
Chicago has always been relatively "faceless," a consortium of great musicians. How important is the team idea to the band's health?
I really believe that it's vital. It makes it possible for the individuals to have a life that is not overwhelmed by who we are or what we do. My wife and I have this running, funny disagreement with one of our kids who doesn't believe that people sometimes recognize me and sometimes will ask me for an autograph. It does enough to make it gratifying but never annoying.
Speaking of annoying: How bad does it rankle to be left out of the Rock Hall of Fame?
At this point, it's sort of funny. We've gotten over being hurt. … There's some kind of personal vendetta going on. We don't know the root of it, and at this point, it doesn't matter.
Last question: What's with Chicago's insistence on numbered album titles?
I think it was the pretentious idea of our original producer to mimic the titling of works by the classical composers, whether it was Beethoven or Haydn. We haven't been quite as prolific as Beethoven, but at this point, I think numbers are required.
You know, we're pretty sure Beethoven's not in the Rock Hall of Fame, either.
There you go.
To hear the entire Robert Lamm interview, go to entertainment.tampabay.com. E-mail Stuck in the '80s at [email protected]