He’s a founding member and trumpet player for the legendary rock band, Chicago. He is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. He has played on albums for the Bee Gees, Leon Russell, and Elton John. He is also a husband and a father. He is Lee Loughnane. Now 71, the upbeat, spirited musician has been working hard since 1967 and has yet to even think about stopping. Seriously, Chicago is touring this summer with REO Speedwagon, as the two iconic bands celebrate some of their most memorable and beloved songs and albums. Lee is simply one of the most dedicated people in rock music, as he just wants to live his dream, focus on his passion, and continue to have all the fun in the world while playing his music to people who still adore it.
On this tour you are playing Chicago II in full for the first time since it came out in 1970. What do you think made this a good time to bring that idea to life?
Well, it is the first time since the album first came out and at that time we only had the first and second album, so that is all we did live. [Laughs] But now, bringing it back again and the possibility of it also being nominated for the Grammy Hall of Fame, that is pretty exciting, so we took it upon ourselves to relearn the songs. We had forgotten how intricate and interesting these songs were — are! And it is just a lot of fun playing them.
I bet! There are a lot of really great songs on that album that so many of your fans have been waiting to hear live again.
Yeah! I think SiriusXM radio calls it “deep cuts.”
I like that term! Now, speaking of the history of Chicago, you guys have had over 20 Top 10 singles over the course of your career. What is that feeling like? I can’t even imagine having that extensive of a collection of amazing music.
You know, those are just things that sort of happen along the way. It is more important to me to be able to play these songs every day and have people accept it as they did 50 years ago when we first wrote them. It is really a joy to go out on stage and be able to play music for people.
It really must be, especially because it seems like you all have a lot of fun doing it.
Oh, you bet!
Do you find anything different with music as a whole and the music industry between starting out and now?
For sure. You know, the music industry has changed completely from when we started. I mean, you can swear on every song now and get away with it! [Laughs] We would’ve been thrown off the label if we did that back then! You know, it was also completely analog back then and everything is digital now. There have been quite a few changes, but the thing that remains the same is that the talent level always rises to the top. The new artists who are really serious about their craft are always going to come through.
Absolutely! Going back the tour that you are on that — I know that fans near and far cannot wait to go see — what are some of your personal favorite songs to perform live? With such a discography, it must hard to even pick a favorite album, let alone a few songs.
Well, with the second album — which I am excited that we finally get to play live, I have always loved “Poem for the People.” To me, it is a complete song and is always a lot of fun to play. Again, one of those deep cuts that for years and years I could only hope that we would be able to play it again live on stage and now we are able to do that, so I am getting my wish! My bucket list!
Yeah! That’s so lovely. Lee, your integration of trumpets and horns has really helped make Chicago continuously stand out of the years. How did you get into that instrument and what does it mean to you today?
Simple: my dad asked me one day if I wanted to play trumpet when I was 11 years old in the grade school band. I said yes, and it has sort of been a daily thing with me ever since then. The trumpet is something that has never failed me as long as I practice it and keep my chaps together, it does not fail me.
You can tell that throughout all of the band’s songs and with all that you have done with it.
It is an interesting instrument… as brass instruments are! They require continual effort in order to keep it together.
Really? That’s interesting. Can you tell us a bit about the transitions and adaptations that have come about after being in a band for just so many great year?
Oh my god, a myriad of events occur over the years and over different tours. There is just ups and downs of life, pretty much. These happenings are a result of musicians working together and sometimes, not so much together, and then you have discussions about it to work the stuff out and then you just have to move onto the next day. Basically, we have gone through this amazing career without not being able to achieve harmony, which I don’t think a lot of bands have been able to achieve.
Right, I agree. And did you guys ever imagine that almost five decades after you formed Chicago that you would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Did you ever see that day in your minds as you began writing and recording music back in 1967?
We actually started thinking that it was not going to happen, so when it finally did we were pretty excited! We had a lot of fun through the whole process of being inducted, doing the TV show and the rehearsals, playing our songs, seeing all the guys. It was just an enjoyable experience. It’s something like winning the Super Bowl — you can’t get it take away from you.
Of course, you have had such a fulfilling and successful career and life over these decades. That is yours to be proud of.
It is. Although, the hardest thing is still being away from our families. It doesn’t get any easier over the decades. In order to be able to play for people, you have to go to where the people are. You can’t bring your family with you all of the time because it just doesn’t work out, and it is hard enough to be out on the road by yourself.
Wow, and you and your bandmates have had to do that time and time again.
Right! And you have to keep reminding yourself that in order to precede and follow your dream, you have to make some sacrifices. I think my children now have more of an understanding of what it takes to really continue on with your passion in life. As much as I would have enjoyed being there with them all the time, this particular job just has not allowed for that. As much as I can see my kids, still, even when they are grown up now, I try to keep in contact with the kids and it is important to me. I think they see how important it is to keep up with something that is really a passion of theirs. Hopefully that means that my not being there hasn’t put them off from trying to follow their own passion, because you really do have to take risks and make sacrifices with whatever you do.
Catch Chicago performing live at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden, NJ on August 1.