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Backstage with The Arcada Theatre’s Ron Onesti: Neighborhood guys from “CHICAGO” still Rock!

Ron Onesti:  Neighborhood guys from “CHICAGO” still Rock!

As we enter our NINTH month of complete lockdown and COVID hell, I continue to try and stay as positive as I can.  I know in my heart we will be back together enjoying music and meatballs again soon.  And aside from the countless posts, emails, calls and texts of love and support we have been receiving from all of you, what helps me get to the next day are great memories of amazing shows on our historic stage.

I am reminded of an incredible show we had with true Chicago icons!  Actually, most of them are all pretty amazing, but last year at The Arcada we put on an event I called, “Rockin’ Chicago Style”, and it was a true, home-town party!  The concert event featured the garage-rock superstar band, “The Buckinghams” which was formed by local guys from Chicago in the early 1960s.  As they always do, the band overdelivered with their huge radio hits and other songs from the era.

Joining them on the bill was “The California Transit Authority (CTA)” that features the original drummer of the band “Chicago”, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Danny Seraphine, and keyboardist/vocalist Bill Champlin, who was with the band “Chicago” for over twenty years.  CTA did an amazing set of “Chicago” hits and a couple of jazzy, CTA originals.  Believe me, the audience truly got its money’s worth that night!

Since both groups originated in Chicago, there were many family members and lifelong friends of the bands in the audience.  That made the evening special in and of itself, as the guys played their hearts out, much to the joy of the on-its-feet crowd.  It really felt like a combination family and high school reunion!

Just before the show, I was at the breakfast table reading the Daily Herald (of course), and I came about some bad news.  “Addison” Al DeCarlo (he lived in Addison), a veteran musician from the early 1970s, had passed away.  He was good friends with the band “Chicago” in its early days.  Terry Kath, original “Chicago” vocalist/guitarist was such a fan he asked Al to play on his solo record.  Then when Kath was accidentally wounded fatally, DeCarlo was strongly considered to take his place.  The record company went a different direction, though.  Al went on to form “Bangor Flying Circus” which became “Madura”, a highly respected rock trio.

I called Danny that moment and asked if we could do a tribute to Al.  Without hesitation, he got on the phone with Dennis Polkow, a Rock media friend who put together a video montage to be used for the tribute.  Then Danny got video tributes from surviving bandmates David “Hawk” Wolinski and Ross Salomone, and producer of “Madura” and “Chicago”, James Guercio.  With DeCarlo’s nieces in the audience, it was a touching tribute.  Another musical genius has left us.

The show ended with “The Buckinghams” returning to the stage to join Danny and the boys for the Bucks’ hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and the “Chicago” smash “25 Or 6 To 4”.  It had the crowd going nuts!

On his way off the stage, Carl Giammerese, a founding member and the vocalist of “The Buckinghams” whispered to me that it was a career moment to have sung a “Chicago” song with Danny Seraphine at the drums.

The next day, Danny called to thank me for the gig.  He said just how much he enjoyed working with “The Buckinghams”.  “Ya know, they were the first Chicago rock band that really made it big,” he said.  “They were a big influence on us.”

He’s right.  “The Buckinghams” were formed in 1966 as “The Pulsations” and ruled the music charts in 1967 with all five of their biggest hits released that same year.  “Chicago” was formed as “The Big Thing” later in 1967, before becoming “The Chicago Transit Authority”, ultimately shortening its name simply to “Chicago”.

As I sat on the edge of my seat, singing along to every song myself, I saw fifty years of rich music history on our stage.  First were bars, clubs and high school proms.  Then came radio hits, arena tours and television shows. All coming full circle that night at The Arcada.

During the show, CTA performed “Take Me Back To Chicago”, a song that was a decent hit for the band “Chicago”.  It was co-written by Seraphine and David “Hawk” Wolinski.  The song was poignant that night as I watched both bands proclaim mutual respect for each other for what wound up being kind of a “bucket list” show for all involved.

Some of the song lyrics are:

I still dream of the lake of peacefulness

The warm summer breeze

Cause my life was so much simpler then

Street corners and Tastee Freeze

Take me back to Chicago

That song really hit home for us all that night.  These “neighborhood guys” never really left “The Windy City”.  The waters of Lake Michigan still runs through their veins, their souls still hangin’ on Chicago city street corners, sitting on bungalow stairs and playing softball in the parks.

Chicago has such a rich history when it comes to Rock and Roll because of the many bands of the 1960s and 1970s who began in the basements and garages of our “Toddlin’ Town”.  They really made it big in the music biz, and these guys are still out there, playing like it was the 1960s all over again.  Thanks to these guys and all the others who bring us home-town fans the pride of being Chicago Rock and Rollers.  And thanks for taking US back to your “Sweet Home Chicago”.