(UPDATE: It’s now early evening and I have in my hot little hand my very own copy of the CD. I’ll incorporate some thoughts about it in the rest of what I say here…)
I wrote about this CD a couple of years ago when I found it on some Chicago-fan sites in bootleg version. In fact most, rabid Chicago fans have actually had a copy for years.
The legend of the CD is that Warner/Reprise, Chicago’s label at the time, wanted them to continue to make and release the “ballads” that the band was getting known for in the early 90s. But the band had other ideas. They wanted a return to the edgier, horn-driven rock that so long defined this supergroup.
Subsequent information has revealed that what was also at stake were negotiations between the label and the group regarding the licensing of Chicago’s entire back catalogue. The label’s decision to not release the CD may have not just been over artistic reasons but also business retaliation when the talks didn’t go the label’s way. (Either way, it shows you the power of the big label, and everything that’s wrong with the music business…).
Here’s a story from CNN about today’s release.
It’s a very good story with quotes from the band and some very eager fans.
Here’s a promotional video from Robert Lamm’s YouTube channel, featuring the title track:
One of the very cool things about the new CD are the liner notes. There’s a couple of pages of backstory to the CD and its tortured history.
The liner notes start with four pages called “The Lost Chicago Album.” Here’s a selection:
“In ‘The Greatest Music Never Sold,’ author Dan LeRoy calls Chicago XXII: Stone of Sisyphus “an authentic return to form” and bemoans the fact that one of America’s most exciting and creative bands had been forced, for purely commercial reasons, to shelve such a daring, expressive set of songs….
The sessions found the musicians on fire, with a rekindled enthusiasm that had been all but lost as Chicago’s identity was progressively eroded away by the frustration that comes with creative soul selling…”
Besides the great music, these liner notes are the best reason to own this CD. And, there are nice, extended quotes from a different band member about each individual song too. For fans like me who have enjoyed the bootleg for years, these notes provide a very nice reason to go ahead and buy the CD anyway.
For those of you who buy the CD, you’ll be interested to know that Dawayne Bailey, one of Chicago’s guitarists at the time, has a “Stone” page at his website that has lost of good info on the CD, including soundclips, lyrics, and pics. They lyrics page is an especially nice companion to the CD.
I must say I really like the CD. And, like many other fans, I cannot help but wonder what the trajectory of the band might have been had this edgier release been allowed into hands fifteen years ago. Not that they’ve been on a bad trajectory these past fifteen years. But there is some serious hit potential on this CD.
The title track, “Stone of Sisyphus,” and the songs “Plaid” and “The Pull” are all serious rockers, with the power of the horns behind them. “Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed” was described yesterday by my daughter Maria (listening to the bootleg one more time…), as “kind of like a rap song, a rock song, and a jazz song…”
Yep, that’s kind of what I thought too…very genre-bending stuff.
In fact, in the liner notes, Walter Parazaider says, “I think the only things we haven’t covered are Dixieland and polkas, and give us long enough we’ll probably do that too.”
One of my favorites on the CD is a ballad called “Bigger Than Elvis,” and was written by Jason Scheff. Jason is Chicago’s longtime bass player.
I’ve known Jason’s brother, Darin, for some years now, as the owner of the company that hosts this website. (and this one…and this one…and soon the official Connections site too…) So, I’ve gotten to know both Scheff’s a little, via video-chat now and then.
The cool historical note is that their Dad, Jerry Scheff, was Elvis’ bass player for about a decade…one of the best known bass players in the business in his generation. (In fact, Darin was showing off one of Jerry’s basses from the Elvis days, via video-chat sometime back…)
So, the point is, Jason wrote a really fine tribute to his Dad, and it made it on the album. The song is a fitting and touching father-son tribute. (Especially a few days after Father’s Day, now that I think of it…) What I come to find out today, now that I’m looking at the liner notes, is that Jerry Scheff played on the song, without knowing it. Here’s how Jason describes it in the liner notes:
“We brought him in to play on the song, but didn’t tell him what it was about. We muted the vocals. And that Christmas he was over at my house, and I played him the finished song. He had headphones on, and I’ll never forget it. He sobbed when he heard it.”
Tell you what, I’ve always been admirers of the Scheffs. But this just puts it over the top. These are good folks.
(BTW, earlier when I said that Jason is Chicago’s longtime bass player, I am sure some of you were thinking, “Isn’t that guy’s name Peter Cetera?”
Know what? Jason has now been with the band longer than Peter ever was!!! More than twenty years now.
Kinda gives you perspective, huh?)
The liner notes also go into depth about the fights with the record label, and point to several songs –“Plaid,” and “The Show Must Go On” that are direct critiques of the music business culture.
Chicago’s been on my mind a lot lately. We can now know what the money raised at Friday’s Connection’s show was.
Friday was our largest audience ever (possibly 500!) and our largest single offering from the “night-of-the-show” crowd. With some funds that came in over the weekend, we can now announce that we raised more than $6,000 for UMCOR….awesome.
Then, on Sunday, at the old Starplex, Connections Band had a family night, and tooks spouses and kids to see The Doobie Brothers and Chicago…one artist we love to perform, the other we’re going to be learning very soon.
It was a great show…especially the final six songs, where both bands took the stage together and traded off on some of their best known stuff….it was awesome. And a great time to celebrate with our Connections family.
But, today’s all about that mysterious CD.
From the song “Plaid”:
“Some will say it’s too late
So don’t change the story
There’s too much at stake to grow
Yesterday was so great
Just bask in the glory
Don’t let your feelings show
And I say, “Oh Yeah”
Like a man with a condition, I wait for my heart to stop
They say, “Stay down,
Gotta plan hold that position.
You can’t afford a flop.”….
I’m not asking for permission
Are you ready for me to be me?
Just pass the ammunition
This prisoner’s about to bust free from your chains”
You can get the CD here.
You can also get it at just about every music store anywhere.
However you get it, I recommend that you get it.
Because it’s a little piece of modern music’s history, coming alive today.