How I got into the band Chicago
by on October 14, 2014 in Miscellaneous

It almost seems like yesterday… I guess that’s what happens when an event is so profound it can almost seem suspended in time.

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on this incredible event in my life, that has consequently created many more incredible events…

I’ve been archiving a LOT over the last several years and believe me, it’s taking that long!  Luckily, I’m that insane to want to take on the job(s) but that only came when I started looking for something… looking for one little thing which opened up Pandora’s Box.

Especially over this last year I’ve been digitizing early audio from all my cassette tapes… yes, TAPES!  That’s when I stared to see and hear my story being told.

When I was organizing my audio it was mindblowing to hear the music I was making in early 1985, and then to hear what I started to make at the end of that year going into 1986.

Basically, I had my big break and to listen back now is a classic example of having to make a decision to step up… and I’m so excited to share that with you.

This first writing will be about what happened leading up to me getting the gig to replace Peter Cetera as the tenor lead vocalist/bass player for the band Chicago.

The Early 80s

I moved to LA in early 1980… I briefly went back to San Diego but that was short lived… I got to LA for good in 1980.

I remember thinking, “Wow!  This is the 80s!”  Everybody was looking forward to this so much… the 70’s were a great decade… lots of revolutionary things happening in music and the arts.  An extremely fertile period for music…

Record making had reached an incredible peak with great recording engineers in great studios with the best of the best being in that small category of artists allowed to make records.

It was VERY exclusive… funny how to look back once that changed everybody felt so liberated… “Nothing is holding anybody back!  ANYBODY can make RECORDS!  The barrier to entry has virtually been eliminated!”

Well, for someone who came up in the 80’s and put a lot of hard work into developing and earning my way in… I look back now and see that freedom has gone a bit haywire.

Don’t get me wrong… I still love that anybody can be an artist and on one hand I love that it gives NOBODY ANY EXCUSES.  Put it out there…

But on the other hand it created a generation of extremely delusional people.  It never ceases to amaze me how some people will feel entitled… that you MUST listen to them… and they’re either just not cut out for it, or they’re not ready.

Remember again, this is the way it always was… people have a dream… they go out and try… they aren’t ready, or just aren’t cut out for it, and go BACK TO WORK.  And sometimes those who really weren’t cut out for it just made the decision they were going to do it no matter what anybody said!  That’s very powerful too…

BUT… it seems the amount of people out there wanting to be a musician, an artist, a STAR is just staggering these days. The reality shows haven’t helped the cause… but that’s ok… there is a rumbling of people who won’t settle taking a stand… I’m one of them… first and foremost, to myself… that’s why I’ve decided to start developing teaching models and courses to weed the serious out from the non serious.

One last analogy before I go back even further… where are the reality shows to let someone who hasn’t worked for it, hasn’t developed but just WANTS IT so bad… that has all their friends and families telling them that they’re “Good Enough”, of “Better” than the ones who’ve “Made It” going on television for a few weeks to jump right into the NFL?  And even better, getting VOTED in?  That’s what we have with the singing competitions…

As Simon Cowell said as he was starting to look for the exit door on American Idol, “American Idol” is a *competition*… it’s a *contest* NOT a starmaker.  Very important to remember… it’s all well and good… that’s a great path and one that can potentially lead the right people into the career they are meant to take… BUT, look at the data… American Idol has produced 2 stars out of all the years on TV.  Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.  That’s it.  Some others argue that but what the show is set up to do? What’s the title again?  American Idol?  That sounds like superstar to me…

Ok… sorry but you know me… I digressed MASSIVELY!  On to my story and again, let me say I’m not trying to say I’m better than anybody else… this is just my story…

Back to what happened for me…

I finished up my days in San Diego with “The People Movers” and headed to L.A.  You need to know now that I got there with a mindset that I didn’t know was as on point as it was at the time but now, looking back, I want to share it because I think some might benefit from hearing it.

I moved to LA because I’d gone as far as I could in San Diego… “The People Movers” was the best Top 40 gig in town having spawned great musicians who’d go on to do great things… Nathan East, (who I replaced when he moved to LA in 1978), Art Rodriguez (RIP) who played drums for the “Manhattan Transfer”, Pat Kelly the great jazz guitarist who played with many legends as well as having a great solo career as a jazz artist, Greg Araguin who played guitar for kd lang and many others, Pat Hawk who went on to sing background vocals with superstars like Michael Bolton, Bill Medley…  “The People Movers” was the great gig!

So when I had felt I was starting to get stagnant in that gig I decided to head north… actually, I almost bypassed that gig and moved to LA in 1979 but John Auzin, (the bandleader), needed someone to replace Nathan to I went back to San Diego and auditioned… more on that experience in another post…

Now here’s the part of my mindset that really worked for me and to this day it’s still there… I moved to LA with ZERO EXPECTATIONS.  I didn’t move there with the “I’d better MAKE IT by (add cutoff date here), or I’m going back home!” deal.  I went there thinking… “Hey, I can play in Top 40 bands for the rest of my life and it doesn’t really seem like work!  It’s pretty natural… I’ve always been able to work so if I’m going to be playing music I might as well be in PROXIMITY of my heroes!”

I STILL didn’t have any kind of thinking that I’d end up being a front man… a focal point of any sorts in a band… I just wanted to play bass… I was able to get more gigs by singing so I added that on… singing WASN’T part of the master plan… it was just to get gigs and what my mother told me was right… “You sing and your stock goes up!”  She didn’t quite say it that way but that was the message, and she was and is right.  INCREASE YOUR VALUE.

I wanted to go to LA and if I went to 7-11 I wanted to just be able to *bump* into Maurice White!  Gino Vanelli!  Not that I’d ever SAY ANYTHING to them… I just wanted to look at them!  Be close to them… that’s as high as I was shooting for!

Funny enough, I did run into Maurice White at a carwash where we were both waiting for our cars but I was already in the band Chicago so I went up to him and introduced myself and it was a WONDERFUL wait for my car!  And no kidding, as I was pulling into the carwash I had Earth Wind and Fire’s latest c.d. in my player!  Talk about law of attraction?  Yes, I think so!

So that’s why I went up there… to just be AROUND my heroes.  Well, as I played in my Top 40 bands my friends started rising the ranks… namely Aaron Zigman…

Now here is a guy who worked harder than anybody I had ever seen, had a vision… DEFINITELY set goals and went about achieving them.  He and I worked a lot when we both got to LA in 1980 and Aaron would write songs and hire me and my bands to play on the demos… some of my first recording sessions for the demos Aaron recorded on his songs he was writing…

Well, low and behold he keeps at it and suddenly he’s got a publishing deal!  He’s a staff writer at Almo/Irving music and suddenly they’re putting him in touch with all their people… which of course Aaron took me with…

He was writing with Steve Cropper and suddenly the 3 of us were in recording songs we were writing… imagine… next thing you know you’re up at Steve Cropper’s house writing tunes and people like Eddie Floyd are popping by!

Things are starting to heat up and then Aaron and I get an opportunity to go in the studio to cut some songs… An A+R lady named Carol Childs gave us a budget believing in us hoping we’re the next Hall & Oates…

Since it looked like we might have a record deal Aaron’s publishers tell me they want to sign me as well… they told me to get a lawyer, so I did.

I scraped together $500 to put a music attorney on retainer, Aaron and I went into the studio and completely botched our opportunity!  My part of that?  I obviously didn’t take it seriously enough… and the truth?  I didn’t believe it at the time… I wasn’t ready… plus, as I’ve well documented in the past, I was right in the middle of what a lot of my generation was doing in the early 80s… abusing substance…

I was angry at that publisher for having me hire an attorney with money I didn’t have… and when I asked the attorney if I could get a refund he informed me that’s not how it works…

Looking back, that’s one of those classic moments that someone might run from that town, that industry with the VICTIM attitude… hey, I was adopting a bit of it but again, I think the thing that served me was I didn’t have any expectations…

Everybody ELSE were the ones telling us to go in the studio… giving us the opportunities… and when I look myself in the mirror, those folks at Almo/Irving were smart… they saw some kids who weren’t ready… were given an opportunity and it was our game to lose… hey, all we had to do was follow through… but again, I was in no condition to.

And Aaron?  He obviously was because after that he partnered up with Jerry Knight of “Raydio” and they co-wrote and produced hit records… so who was the problem? Obviously me!

But everything happens for a reason baby!

I went off licking my wounds… I had a few false starts… I wrote about the Crusaders audition which happened probably around the same time as all of this… and again, since I didn’t have any expectations my mind was still in the “Thinking Small” category… “Hey, maybe I’m not cut out to be anything beyond a Top 40 Musician… and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that!”

So I go about my merry way…

One of the guys I met through Aaron that I really took off with was Bobby Caldwell… “What You Won’t Do For Love”.  Yes, THAT Bobby Caldwell!

Bobby and I started hanging out on our own and I took him a song I had started for him… I was staying at my friend Tony Braunagel’s house while he was out on tour playing drums for Bonnie Raitt and I was sitting at his upright piano thinking, “I’ve got to get Bobby’s attention as a songwriter!  What would he sing?” and I proceeded to write the chord changes and melody for the song “Heart Of Mine”.

I went over to where Bobby was staying at the time… and we were sitting around watching some tv.  I love this about the true artists… music always wins… I don’t care what’s going on… when the muse hits EVERYTHING ELSE TAKES A BACKSEAT.

Bobby and I were just sitting there watching a little tv and I got the nerve up to tell him, (in a VERY sheepish tone to my voice…), “Bobby… I started this idea for you and I don’t know if you’d want to hear it or not…”, I was expecting him to say… “Hey man, I’m relaxing right now…” but he says, as any of the great artists do when the possibility of magic is in the air… “Let’s hear it!”…

So he fires up his Fender Princeton amp and the Yamaha DX7 that was in the room… now for those of you who don’t know what those are… imagine the smallest amplifier you can imagine with a synthesizer keyboard and the sound is NOT GREAT.  It’s strictly a writing workspace Bobby had at the time… very portable… very temporary… but it’s all we had…

I barely am able to squeak out the melody to the verse of “Heart Of Mine” and Bobby FLIPS OUT!

He screams, “What is THAT!?” and pushes me out of the way… he proceeds to go into the beautiful chord change of the chorus to “Heart Of Mine” and literally writes the chorus INCLUDING the lyrics ON THE SPOT!  We both knew we had something great…

It completely changed my relationship with Bobby from that point on.  I was not just a bass player but I was a songwriting collaborator… one of the greats… liked me.

Well, being that I was so young, stupid and stoned… (yes… that’s a whole other story and not one I’m terribly proud of…), I didn’t have the discipline of *finishing* it. Again, I really didn’t see myself beyond being a career club musician because there’s nothing wrong with that.

So this song sits around for literally over a year… we just can’t finish it.  Dennis Matkosky got involved but we still weren’t finishing it.

Unicity – my first HUGE BREAK

Well, one day I’m over at Dennis’s house and a great publisher named Ronnie Vance calls Dennis.  He asks, “What are you doing?” and Dennis says, “I’m just writing with Jason Scheff” so Ronnie asks him to put me on the phone…

Ronnie was hearing about me from Dennis and Bobby so he asked what I was doing… I told him and he told me to come into the office to have a meeting.  Ronnie was working with one of the great publishers of all time, Kathleen Carey.  The company was called Unicity and it was up in the Universal offices.

I went up and met with Ronnie and he asked what I had going… I told him I had just gotten my first couple of covers… (songs placed on records), Carly Simon had just cut one of my songs, a great singer/songwriter named David Lasley, (one of James Taylor’s background vocalists) and Ronnie asked what I’m doing with the publishing… I told him Bobby’s manager was handling it and Ronnie looks at me and says, “Jason!  Stop giving your publishing away!  Here’s how it works… you have some songs in the pipeline and I can take that information into Kathleen and then we’re able to put a deal together but we can’t do that if you’re giving your stuff away!”

Then, he asks me the best question… he asks, “Why do you want a publishing deal?”  I told him, “Because I want to be able to go into the studio any time I want, not depending on anybody… play all the instruments if I want and just go when I want.”  You see at that point personal recorders hadn’t come out yet… no cassette 4 tracks… no Fostex 8 tracks yet… this was 1985… and until then the only way I could record something, for real, was to depend on my friends… Aaron, The Keane Bros., etc.

So Ronnie says, “Alright, you want to go in and record?  I’ll tell you what… I’ll give you 2 days at MCA Whitney… no strings attached… I won’t even take the publishing.  You want to go in by yourself… go for it.”

Wow… this was the first time someone was banking on just me to go into the studio… so I called Aaron and borrowed his drum machine and his DX7.  Again, the night before I went into the studio I was *trying* to write something… last minute… spur of the moment… no discipline… no focus… and yes, I was getting high… looking back, COMPLETELY NOT TAKING IT SERIOUSLY.

One thing I allowed myself to get into the mindset of was when I told a friend I was going into MCA Whitney they said, “Oh yeah… that’s that beatup old gospel studio…” and that gave me the license to not think too highly of it… my thinking was Ronnie gave me a couple days in some funky studio… probably wasn’t expecting me to do much and we were all just going through the motions…

So I walk into the studio the next day and the first thing I notice is the recording console… Classic early 70’s Neve… WHOA!  That got my attention… this was the REAL stuff!  This was the console we cut the Keane Bros stuff on at Sound City… in fact Dave Grohl’s whole movie on Sound City was based on one of those consoles… the first one in the city that Keith Olsen brought into LA!  And here I was looking at another one at MCA Whitney!

AND, to top it off… the tape machine was STUDER!  THIS was the real stuff!  (Chicago 18 was recorded on a Studer machine just like this one)…

I met my recording engineer and my mind just went immediately to, “You better make something happen here… this is an opportunity… WHAT DO YOU HAVE?” and I thought of “Heart Of Mine”…

We plugged the gear in… I pulled up the *lame* drum groove I’d programmed the night before for the ill fated songwriting attempt I was making, (it was a ballad, of course…), and I played the keyboard part for “Heart Of Mine”.

I added my bass part right after that and then picked up my guitar and played a *lame* guitar part… BUT… the song was there… unfinished… but it was there…


I didn’t worry about fixing the guitar part because the VIBE was there…

I sang the 1st verse twice because we hadn’t written the lyric for the 2nd verse yet… When I was done I called Bobby and didn’t know how he’d react… I didn’t know what protocol was… I said, “Hey Bobby… I hope you’re not mad because I didn’t tell you I was going to do this but I recorded “Heart Of Mine” today in the studio”.  There was a pause and he got excited and asked, “GREAT!  How is it?” and I told him I think it’s pretty good…

He said, “Come over here!” and I did.  I played it for him and he freaked out, in a good way.  He said, “This is incredible… we’re going to finish this song tonight and tomorrow we’ll go back in the studio… I’ll produce your vocal, we’ll sing background vocals and this will be amazing.”

So we got on the phone with Dennis and over the phone finished the lyric.  We went in the next day and as Bobby said we’d do, I went out to sing, he produced my vocal and we did background vocals…

We knew… we knew we had something very special.

I went in the next week to meet with Ronnie and meet Kathleen for the first time and the vibe was just awesome… Kathleen had this incredible presence… you knew you were in the presence of a serious music person.  You could just tell… the way she spoke, listened… all of it…

So Ronnie asks me, “Did you get anything in the studio?” and kind of smirked and my read was that he figured I didn’t come up with anything… I said, “Yeah, I did.” and he perked up!  He asked, “Do you like it?” and I said in a 3/4 confident tone, “Well, yeah… *I* like it…” and he gets excited and starts motioning with his fingers… “Giveth!  Giveth!”  Again, this is an energy that is so powerful… when you’re in the muse… with great writers, great publishers, record producers… artists… there’s something that just becomes otherworldly when the magic is happening… it’s as if the universe is literally expanding right in front of your eyes, and quite frankly? It is…

So he puts my demo of “Heart Of Mine” into the tape player… (yes, cassette tapes were the standard back then) and my demo starts to play… I have the initial nervousness of hearing the first notes and wondering for a split second “What if I’m out of my mind and it’s not that good?” and then I look at Kathleen close her eyes and take this music in… I watch her like a hawk and can see the music moving her, deeply.  Ronnie too but this is the first time I’ve met Kathleen…

The song finishes and Kathleen opens her eyes and has the biggest smile on her face staring right at me… she literally looks over at Ronnie and says, “We have to sign this guy RIGHT NOW”.  Wow…. literally time stood still… Ronnie asks, “Are you sure you don’t want to go on your vacation next week and think about this?” and she says, “No… we’re signing him RIGHT NOW.  Jason, get a music attorney and let’s get this moving.”  (Ahhh, the music attorney thing again!  haaaaa   but this time I knew it was all on me… just follow through Jason!)

And it was just like that… I had my feet to the fire… I had an opportunity… I was goofing around, not taking it seriously and luckily it was the GEAR that got my attention… isn’t that funny and amazing?  It took the gear to get my to wake up… thinking, “Whoa… this is bigtime… don’t waste this opportunity.”


Original Demo Recording of “Heart Of Mine”


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So there I was, a staff writer with Unicity Music starting to meet GREAT writers… Joseph Williams was one of them… he was signed to Unicity as well and we really hit it off… Joseph and Bobby had written”Pamela” and I sang backgrounds with the 2 of them on the demo… that song ended up being a hit for Toto when Joseph joined them as their lead singer.

I should also point out that when Ronnie asked me why I wanted a publishing deal another huge reason was I wanted someone to talk about me.  I saw what Almo/Irving had done for Aaron… they talked him and us up bigtime… so I wanted my own representation…

Chicago comes a-knocking…

Well, I had been with Unicity for about 2 months or so… I had a whopping 3 songs in my catalogue when all of a sudden Michael Ostin of Warner Bros. called Unicity asking if they had any songs for Peter Cetera’s solo album, and/or someone to collaborate with him for it.  They said, “Sure, we have this new kid… let me send you his stuff…” and apparently, the story goes… the next day Unicity gets a call from Michael’s assistant asking “Who’s singing these songs?” and they told them it was the writer, Jason.  Warners said thank you and hung up.

I got a call from Kathleen saying, “Jason, SOMETHING’S going on!  I don’t know what it is… but I can feel it… SOMETHING IS GOING ON.  Be prepared!”  I said, “Be prepared for WHAT?  What is it?”  and she said she didn’t know but she could feel it.

Soooooooo, apparently once they got my tape, Michael was listening to it and shut the tape off and called up to Lenny Waronker’s office and said, “Lenny!  You gotta come hear this… forget Peter’s album for a second but I think we’ve finally found the guy to replace him for Chicago 18!”  Lenny comes down, confirms and that’s when they called Unicity to find out it was me singing the demos…

At that point my tape was distributed to ALL the band members of Chicago, David Foster and Humberto Gatica, Chicago’s management, all of the key Warner Brothers executives and at the end of the week they felt I was their guy… at least that was the consensus… I had no clue.

They called Unicity and told them at which point Kathleen called me and said, “I knew it… I knew something was happening… Chicago thinks you’re the new lead singer.  You have to call their management”.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  The stupid stoned kid who wasn’t taking things serious enough?  No goals… just wanted to be in proximity?  Well guess what… you’ve done it now!  You’ve gotten yourself in deep… but, being young and stupid enough a part of me was thinking, “Why not?  You always knew you’d be a part of something great so here’s your opportunity…”

I spoke with management and they asked, “What do you play”  I said bass and they squealed!  “Wow, we thought you were a keyboard player… this sounds like a match made in heaven!  How old are you?”  I told them 23… and you could hear the wind get taken out of their sails… they said, “Uh oh… can’t you say you’re older?” and I said, “Of COURSE!  I’ll be 80 if you want me to!” and he said, “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”

Looking back again, the potential for a 23 year old kid to get a break like this… becoming the lead singer and focal point for a record following their biggest ever… the followup which literally was a make or break situation… EVERYTHING WAS RIDING ON THIS NEXT RECORD, Chicago 18… literally following “You’re The Inspiration”, “Hard Habit To Break”, etc. I can see how they were concerned… but here’s where another decision I made early on worked for me…

I’m not condoning this in any way but I quit high school… I quit at the beginning of my 11th grade… quit to go into a gig… and never stopped working… I knew where I was going… but again, I learned this is not something I want to promote… I saw people struggle mightily watching what I did and wanting to follow that path… I not only knew where I was headed but I was lucky as well… you have to be.

But what worked in my favor was I was a full time Top 40 musician at 16 years old working 5 nights a week, just starting to sing… horribly at first but I consider those years my college years… by the time this opportunity with Chicago came up I was a 7 year veteran as a professional musician.  Rather than possibly being 1 year out of traditional college, a 23 year old probably not ready for the rigors of touring and being able to survive out in the world… I was a seasoned vet… plus, I was ALWAYS working with people older than myself… it’s where I felt comfortable… always been a soul beyond my years, they tell me.

So I go in to meet face to face with management… and he says to me, “The guys really love your tape.  They think you are a great choice for this… there’s only one other guy who they’re talking to, Mickey Thomas.”  my head sunk when he told me that… I thought, “I’m done… this is Mickey Thomas!  “Fooled Around and Fell In Love” Mickey Thomas!  Jefferson Starship MICKEY THOMAS!” and that’s when I learned another great lesson which I’ve passed on since… when he saw me dejected he said, “JASON… they want it to work with YOU.  Go get the gig” basically telling me it was my game to lose.

Knowing they wanted me was the only way I could walk in with any kind of confidence and still I wasn’t brimming with it… but, I went for my first audition…

Auditioning for Chicago

They had me learn 3 songs… “You’re The Inspiration”, “25 or 6 to 4” and I think “Along Comes A Woman”… we played the first one and it went real well!  Jimmy complimented me on my bass playing so it was going well…

After the 3rd song one of them said, “Wow… that’s really great… I wish we had you learn more songs” and I said, “Well, let’s try something.”  I think it was Robert who asked, “Did you learn anything?” and I said, “No, but your music is in my DNA… it’s in EVERYBODY’S DNA!  Been listening to you guys on the radio for so long I’m sure I know the stuff!”  (Good old Top 40 Training coming into play here!)  Robert asked, “Really?  You haven’t learned anything else?” and I said, “No but let’s play something!”  He asks, “Well, what do you want to play?” and I thought of the song I first discovered Chicago by, “Just You and Me” so I suggested it… Robert, one more time asks, “Did you learn it?” and I said, again, “No, but I’m sure I know it!”

So we count it off and we do the song… I think again 2 things probably worked for me… they saw I was a bit fearless and that I was either enough of a fan/student of their music or I picked stuff up quickly… and I believe these things worked in my favor.

We finished that song and one of them, I think it was Robert again, said, “Ok, I’m sold!” and one of the other guys said, “Wait a minute… this is a big decision… he was obviously nervous…” and I think it was Jimmy who said, “Well I’ve heard his tape…” man, looking back when I think of that it’s amazing how I was sliding into this… that’s kind of like a half compliment… “Sure, he’s not really pulling it off here but I know he can record…” and you know what?  Like I’ve said up until this point, that’s how I felt as well!  Part of me WASN’T ready… but, they were showing belief in me.

And then, one of the weirdest things I’ve even been through happened… Robert said to me, “Jason, I hate to ask this but we need to talk about this… can you go out on the driveway and let us talk about this?”  and I walked out on the driveway… I was standing out there having just auditioned for Chicago and they were in discussing my fate!  WOW!  How surreal!

All of a sudden Robert comes out and says, “Hey man, you did well… it’s looking good but we need to at least offer Mickey the opportunity to come audition… I’m not sure he even wants to but we need to honor that.  Also, we might have another audition with you in a proper rehearsal complex.  A soundstage with our setup so we’ll all be able to hear better.  I’ll be in touch…”

And I said goodbye to the boys and went on my way…

A few days went by and I got a call from Robert saying we were going into a soundstage for a 2nd rehearsal… I was thrilled…

I felt a tiny bit more comfortable but still was feeling pretty outclassed… we go through the rehearsal and I can’t remember what they had me learn but a good handful of tunes…

We finish the audition, they all huddle up on one end of the room and suddenly Robert walks up and puts this cap on me.  I’ll never forget it… it was like a regular baseball cap with a SUPER LONG BILL.  He said, “Congratulations, welcome to the band!” and I felt my life change, on a dime, on the spot… (but only for about 30 seconds!)  All of a sudden someone says, “Robert, could you come here for a second?” and he goes back into the huddle…

They talk for another 10 minutes and then he comes back to me, takes the hat off and says, “It looks real good, we just need to talk about how to do this.  I’ll call you but we need to figure this out… stay tuned.”

And I left there with TONS of stuff running through my head!  One thought I had was maybe they auditioned Mickey and they wanted him to be the lead singer, they’d possibly hire me as a bass player and maybe I could sing a song on the album?  And hey, I would have been THRILLED with that!  In fact, that would have been the most comfortable way to come in… the least amount of pressure… sure, there was a part of me dreaming that I was going to be the GUY but I’d gladly slide into the *just the bass player* role!

The next day Robert calls me and I wasn’t there so he leaves a message saying, “Hey Jason, Robert Lamm here… give me a call, I’ve got good news for you.”  I was freaking!  I called him and he wasn’t there!  So I left a message and my mind was racing… I was starting to kind of think maybe the Mickey/Jason scenario was in the works…

Robert calls me again, and I’m not there!  Leaves a message but just says to get back to him… no details!  I’m dying!

Then, the next day management calls… they say, “So, have you spoken to Robert?” and I said, “No, but he left me a message telling me he has good news………………………………” there was this pregnant silence where time stands still and you KNOW your life is about to change MASSIVELY… and he says, “Yes……… so who do we talk to to make a deal?”

As I type this out remembering it… I’m going to pause for a second and take that in again…

Wow… I just closed my eyes and meditated on it for a little bit and it all came back to me… the answer… YOU’RE OUR GUY.  WE BELIEVE IN YOU…  Whoa…

All the stuff you’d hear about the Hollywood fairy tales on how people get their breaks and suddenly everything is easy street… well, for obvious reasons this was the band to join… going on almost 30 years now, as of this writing… when Kathleen and Ronnie were squealing telling me, “This is GREAT!  You’re gonna get a good 5 years out of this!”… to all my friends saying “You MADE IT!  You can buy any car you want now!”, etc.

You know what?  The feeling I had from day one, and still have, is “This is an opportunity… just like going in MCA Whitney Studios… NOTHING IS A GIVEN.  Don’t take anything for granted… don’t EVER get too comfortable which brings on complacency.”

I knew I had a CHANCE… an OPPORTUNITY… that’s all… it’s time to go to work… I came up that way… joined a band with that work ethic and that’s who I choose to associate with these days as well.  I teach this to my kids too… get prepared… get READY.

And there it is… I know, this was a full blown novel… but, there’s no other way I can tell it… that’s my story of how I got into the band Chicago.

16 Responses to How I got into the band Chicago

  1. Remie E Brown says:

    Jason ….. You have a beautiful voice better than Peter C…..for the past 20 years or so I have enjoy all the love songs you been singing to your lovable fans….just recently, you been singing solo by yourself at the stage “Will You Still Love Me? so passionately
    giving me goose bumps. All of Chicago love songs made my husband and I more in love for the rest of our life. Thank you so much….And so happy that Robert Lee Walt and Jimmy chose you to be part of the Chicago band and their family
    See you at concert this year at Hollywood Bowl and Valley Center near your city….San Diego
    Love you all

  2. Barry Hairston says:

    Great story, we have a lot of things in common, except I’m a Soldier. I really, really, really appreciate your song Now. It got me through Afghanistan, couldn’t stop listening to it. And once again as I told you on Facebook, Peter who!!

  3. Blake Whitten says:

    Dear Jason:

    My name is Blake Whitten, a statistics professor at the University of Iowa. I’ve met and spoken with you several times at Vegas Chicago meet-and-greets through the years — where you were always warm, kind, and thoughtful to me.

    I want to say THANK YOU for telling this story! It appears (as of 10/29/2016) that you may have split with the band, and it’s unclear to me why. Regardless, thank you for being such a kind and loving soul. I will always consider myself to be your friend (and fan!), no matter which twists our respective careers and lives take.

    As a Chicago fan, you’ve brought me almost immeasurable joy through your performances — thanks again! I wish you happiness!

    P.S. Your solo album “Chauncy” is a personal favorite of mine!


  4. Gloria says:


    Thanks for sharing your story of this amazing opportunity. I’ve been in a state of “mourning” (for lack of a better word) since the Chicago split. However, I’m grateful to have access to these great stories and unheard music.

    Thanks for sharing your talent, positivity and ESPECIALLY the music.

    God Bless–


  5. Beth McAvoy says:

    I love “Will You Still Love Me” . Your debut was great. A fresh new face for Chicago, you were sweeter than sunshine . I wish you good luck and good health. Your story is great!

  6. Tim says:

    I truly enjoyed the many concerts and recordings I heard you with that great band. You will be missed.

  7. Eileen S. says:

    Thank you for sharing this story!!! You should publish a book.

  8. Denny Dias says:

    I like it! If we had met at the beginning of Steely Dan you would have been the lead singer and you would have lasted past the second album.

  9. Jeffrey P. says:

    I went to a Chicago- Doobie Brothers concert last night..New lead singer was good on many songs in the higher register, but his voice packed the “mellowness” that I associate with Chicago.

    Either way, 30 plus years in any organization is an incredible run. Best of luck!

  10. Ron Bittle says:

    Hey Jason, I’m a huge fan of Chicago and a huge fan of yours! In my estimation I’ve seen Chicago 65 times (live). All but my first show you were in the band. I took last year off but I will be seeing Chicago in a week. I’ll be seeing them in Camden NJ where I won(by bidding to support breast cancer) the opportunity to meet you and the band around 10 years ago. You were and still are an amazing human being! You were so kind to me and my son. Chicago will never be the same again with out you and Walt! Hopefully we will know the real reason why you left the band some day. My son and I wish you all the best and I hope our paths cross again some day. One of your biggest supporters, Ron

  11. Olinda says:

    Great site. Just had a quick read.

  12. Great song I got Heart Of Holes based on the events of 1929. Maybe you’ll be back with Chicago who knows.

  13. Ron Hall says:

    Super story, Jason! It gives all of us the message that we should continue to endure until we reach our goals! Love your music – love the long tenure that you had with Chicago! Keep going, OK?

  14. Elaine Z. says:

    Great story, amazing where hard work and talent will get you. Love your music.

  15. Ivonne Fragachán says:

    Hola Jason, me gustó mucho tu manera de contar como ingresaste a la Banda Chicago y por todo lo que pasastes antes de tù ingreso a la Banda.
    Me encantan tus canciones como solista, siempre te he seguido, dejame decirte que me gusta Peter Cetera, pero.. él no le inyectaba la energía que tú le ponías al grupo, lamento mucho tu salida del Chicago, me puedes contar ¿por qué saliste? Después de tí creo que no han podido hacer la magia, falta tu energía y magia.

  16. Rogeria Tavares says:

    Great story, Jason! Thanks so much again for sharing so much of your personal experiences with us. Quite an inspiration and a testimony of what one can accomplish when you persevere, when you face a challenge despite the fears, the insecurities, etc. I myself look back at many events in my life and remind myself today, when the self-sabotage tries to blow my plans away, of what I managed to do despite the doubts then. I did what I wanted and knew I had and loved to do and tell myself now: you do not have to fear. If it is meant to be, with your efforts, you will make it…I did it many times before. It is not different now… God bless you!

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