DC at Night

DC at Night

Thursday, August 2, 2012

CTA Covers the Real CTA

Chicago Transit Authority drummer Danny Seraphine
I vividly recall the 1st time I ever heard the sounds of  the Chicago Transit Authority. It was a hot June day in 1969. In just hours, I would be graduating from Bridgeton High School. All 680 members of my graduating class were sitting in the stands of the football stadium, anxiously waiting to receive our tickets for commencement night. Several students had brought transistors radios. From the tiny speakers of one near me, I heard a bass. Duum duum duum-da-duum. Duum duum duum-da-duum. Duum duum duum da da da da da-duum-da. Duum duum duum da da da da da-duum-da, I rushed over and turned the radio up as loud as it would go. The bass was joined by drums, then the rhythmic chink of a strings-muted guitar. Next came wood block, then cowbell, then tambourine. Finally, a screaming Hammond B-3 brought in the downward chords to the Spencer Davis classic "I'm a Man," but a version of "I'm a Man" as new as the post-high school life that awaited me. This sounded like freedom. I was hooked.

All that summer, Chicago Transit Authority was one of the LPs on my turntable. The same held true in freshmen and sophomore years in college. CTA was also in heavy play on the underground FM radio stations that I listened to when one of my records wasn't spinning. But as the 70s wore on, my interest in Chicago (by then they had shorted their name) waned. They became pop superstars, releasing hit after million selling hit, but for me the excitement and innovations of the 1st few LPs were gone.

Last night, I got a chance to revisit the past as Danny Seraphine, the original Chicago Transit Authority drummer, who in his book Street Player: My Chicago Story claims to have been instrumental in initially forming the band that later fired him, bought his new group to The Hamilton here in D.C. That group is also named CTA, but this time that acronym stands for the California Transit Authority, which is where Seraphine now resides.

Seraphine and CTA, supported by a trio of New York session horn players the drummer dubbed The Skid  Row Horns, played a jazzy blend of early Chicago staples, new originals, and one cover - "Dreams," one of the great songs on the 1969 debut album by the Allman Brothers.

The CTA songs that I once loved were back. "South Carolina Purples." "Beginnings." "Make Me Smile." "25 or 6 to 4." And oh yes, a rousing, extended  "I'm a Man."

"Man, I love playing these things," Seraphine told the small, but quite supportive Hamilton audience. "I hope you like them."

Well, Danny, if you're reading this you don't have to worry. We did.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
While Chicago moved to the bottom of my list over the years, my wife Judy always kept them as her #1 rock group. Her favorite Chicago song is, and has always been, "Color My World." The new CTA played a revised, guitar-driven version of "Color My World" last night that we both really liked. In fact, Judy loves "Color My World" so much that she chose it as her song to be played at the church during our 1973 wedding. For the record and the sake of full disclosure, I chose "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
 by the Rolling Stones. In my defense,  I was obsessed by Mick, Keith, and company. I wore the same style suit to my wedding that Mick had worn to his. Of course, I wasn't totally insensitive to Judy's feelings. I learned to play "Color My World" on the piano so I could serenade her whenever the need arose.

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