We look back at the 50th anniversary of Chicago’s debut album The Chicago Transit Authority with Adam Scovanner, the bassist for The Cincinnati Transit Authority. We also discuss another of his Cincinnati musical entourages, the new group Yacht Rock America.
By Warren Kurtz
Flip side: Listen
A side: Questions 67 and 68
Top 100 debut: August 9, 1969
Peak position: 71
GOLDMINE:50 years ago, I remember seeing the debut double album from The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in a discount store’s record department that I visited each Friday evening in Ohio. The manager, Karen, was very on top of the latest releases, so there were always records that I didn’t see elsewhere. I wondered what their music would sound like as she hadn’t played that album in the store on my visits. Their 1969 single “Questions 67 and 68” / “Listen” wasn’t being played on our AM radio station, either. Due to the inclusion of protest chants of “the whole world is watching” on the songs “Prologue” and “Someday,” there was a rumor I heard at school that this seven piece Chicago band was really the Chicago Seven from the 1968 Democratic Convention, protesting the Vietnam War, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and the rest, as the musicians names were not shown on the back of the album. I think my classmates may have heard that from older siblings away at college, where I understand the album was getting attention. It took many of us the next couple of years to catch up on this first album, after the group’s name change to just Chicago and the hits began. What a fantastic debut. How did you first learn the music of Chicago?
ADAM SCOVANNER: Well, I am the son of two music conservatory graduates. My mom was a piano major and taught lessons for years. My dad actually has three music degrees and was a band director for a while back in the ‘70s before he had to go a different route to support his kids and wife, but he had the early albums, TheChicago Transit Authority, II, III and V on vinyl. I pretty much grew up listening to those when I was in my single digits and then when my parents saw that I really enjoyed the horn band sound, my dad got me started on trumpet, about two to three years sooner than when school bands started. So, by the time I was in fourth grade I was the first trumpet in the sixth grade band. I just loved playing along with Chicago records, even at nine or ten years old. Then my mom introduced me to the David Foster era of Chicago in the ‘80s and I was just blown away that it was the same band. I loved that era too. It was cool for me, at a young age, to be exposed to what was their original era and what was their current era at the time. I couldn’t get enough of it. “Question 67 and 68” was one of the first songs that got me into the band. The chord changes in that song are unique. It stood out from all the other pop stuff. I just loved that first record. When I started playing bass as a teenager “Listen” was a cool thing to jam on when I was getting my bass chops lined up for what would become my career.
GM:So your dad didn’t buy Chicago IV, Live at Carnegie Hall, either? Nobody did. It was too expensive. It was a four album box set of the songs we already bought on the first three albums. I only saw one copy of it at the store and it would sit there week after week. Did you play trumpet in marching band?
AS: I did. I was basically a classically trained trumpet player. I took private lessons from age eight all the way through high school. I also did the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra in high school. During college I took a couple of music electives in my freshman year as a business major, and I was introduced to improvisational thinking and theory. It’s funny that my father used to tell my sisters and me growing up, “I’ve got college degrees in music and look at me. I’m not doing it any more. You should be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer.” So, he encouraged us not to go to music school just because it was a hard row to hoe that didn’t work out so well for him. In later years, obviously, he has told me how proud he is that I have been able to do it. So, I didn’t get a music degree. I guess my talents are through heredity or playing with great musicians through the years.
GM:Our daughter Brianna also played trumpet in the youth symphony and in marching band. We loved hearing her do the solo on “Does Anyone Really Know What Time it Is?”
AS: That opening trumpet line is unmistakable. As a trumpet player, when I was younger, I enjoyed playing along with it, wanting to learn the solo note for note. People talk about Chicago being a horn band, but they are also a powerful vocal band with their harmonies and you can really hear it on that song. Listening to that early stuff helped me develop an ear for harmony. The harmonies on that song, when we perform it, is a blast.
GM:On your website, your video includes my favorite Chicago song, also from the CTA album, “Beginnings.”
AS: That is one of the first songs many who grew up on classic rock stations would hear.
GM:Back in early 1970, from Chicago’s second album with the sheet metal cover, “Make Me Smile” finally got Chicago on AM radio as their first big hit, followed by “25 or 6 to 4,” which was even bigger. At the end of your six song CD, you end with “Make Me Smile.” Is this the song you end yours shows with, generally?
AS: Yes, we have ended the show with that, but for the show coming up, we’re going back to “Free” as our encore song.
GM:Ah, “Free” from Chicago’s third album with the patriotic denim cover, matching a look I would see some of the kids wear at school in 1971. By then, we were Chicago fans and I remember my friend Mark buying the album right away, and going over his house in 7th grade to hear “Lowdown,” “Free,” which is so energetic, and so many more, but I don’t recall making it all the way to side four to hear “The Approaching Storm,” which you do a great version of.
AS: “Free” is a challenging one to play. Rick, our lead vocalist, is the one who really spearheaded the idea of us putting the band together. He and the drummer Adam and the trumpet player Mike have worked together for at least a decade in a Steely Dan tribute act called Aja. Rick just decided to do another one, in this case, Chicago and decided to bring those guys with him. Adam is the one who covers Peter Cetera’s parts as he has an insanely high voice. Rick picked the songs for us to cover and with “The Approaching Storm,” as an instrumental, I think was to showcase the talent of our soloists as much as giving Rick a chance to take a break vocally. It is an audience favorite, with a lot of hooping and hollering when the horn players start to do their thing.
GM: “Poem for the People” from Chicago’s second album, on your CD, is another one that people may not know. Another one from Chicago’s second album that I enjoy is “Where Do We Go from Here,” and of course “Colour My World,” which was on our wedding reception tape when my wife Donna and I married at the end of the ‘70s.
AS: Sure. Many people have said that “Colour My World” was their first dance song in the ‘70s. With “Where Do We Go from Here,” I have always loved that one. Peter Cetera’s voice is just perfect for that song. You can really hear a lot of emotion in his singing. That song and “Someday” from the CTA album, not only lyrical content but the emotional content in them helped me open my eyes to some social awareness at an age that I probably would not have otherwise been thinking about those kind of things, what you may call activism. It opens your mind and makes you think.
GM:You are also involved in a new project, Yacht Rock America. We enjoy listening to the Yacht Rock Sirius XM station in Donna’s car. I was pleased to hear you cover Jay Ferguson’s “Thunder Island” in your video from Sorg Opera House in Middleton. That song is one of our favorites. It was also great hearing “Baker Steet,”as Gerry Rafferty is another favorite of ours. I have interviewed some of the acts for Goldmine including Franke Previte of Franke and the Knockouts, Burleigh Drummond from Ambrosia, Bobby Kimball from Toto and I will be talking with Glenn Shorrock from Little River Band soon, all receiving airplay on the Yacht Rock station.
AS: I wonder who coined that phrase. We are playing the songs of Seals and Crofts, Hall & Oates, a lot of ‘70s and a bit of early ‘80s, like Lionel Richie. Adam Wheeler, our CTA drummer and I, and four other people who are part of another part of the Cincinnati music scene, are part of this and we will be doing events with full ‘70s outfits. I am proud of this group as well, especially our harmonies. That ‘70s music, just across the board, is full of harmonies.
GM: I am happy to hear Seals and Crofts in your list of acts. They are a big favorite. Donna and I were fortunate to see them in Ohio in the late ‘70s. The Summer Breeze album is a classic. I bought the sheet music book for the album and a mandolin in ’72.
AS: “Summer Breeze” is by far their most recognizable hit. We hope to get Yacht Rock America dates set up soon. Our next CTA date is Saturday. We were talking about Goldmine at our rehearsal and Rick and I and the rest of the band thank you for the coverage and this celebration of the music of Chicago.
All 6 cover songs on this CD are have been licensed to the band.
The Cincinnati Transit Authority will be at the 20th Century Theater in Cincinnati, Saturday, February 9 and below is what they plan to perform.
- DOES ANYBODY REALLY KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS
- POEM FOR THE PEOPLE
- WAKE UP SUNSHINE
- SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PURPLES
- 25 OR 6 TO 4
- HAPPY 'CAUSE I'M GOING HOME
- SATURDAY IN THE PARK
- DIALOUGE (PARTS ONE AND TWO)
- POEM 58
- THE APPROACHING STORM
- MOVIN' IN
- QUESTIONS 67 AND 68
- MAKE ME SMILE
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.