Drummer Danny Seraphine will take Park City audiences back to Chicago
Ambush jam session restarted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s musical career
Drummer Danny Seraphine stopped playing music for 15 years when Chicago, the band he helped form, fired him in 1990.
“I was disillusioned with the business and burned out,” he said. “I wanted to manage and produce, and not play any more.”
Thanks to an ambush jam session in 2005, Park City will get to see Seraphine and his band CTA, California Transit Authority, perform Chicago hits when the “Take Me Back to Chicago” tour makes a stop in town on Friday, Nov. 26, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
The session that took place 16 years ago was the culmination of subtle prodding by the drummer’s circle of musical friends — most notably, the late writer, keyboardist, arranger and producer Peter Fish and DW Drum President Don Lombardi — to get him back on the drum throne, he said.
“One Thanksgiving weekend, Peter, who I had became close friends with during my exile, called me and said it is a ‘sin against humanity that you’re not playing drums anymore, and before I die I want to be in a band with Danny Seraphine,’” said Seraphine, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. “Now, I don’t think that way about myself, but he told me to think about it.”
While Seraphine reflected on his time with Chicago that spanned from 1967 to 1990, he realized he missed playing drums.
“I’m very proud of the music I helped create with the band, and I felt that there was a
hole in my life,” he said. “At the same time, I was worried about being that guy who is like the athlete who should have stayed in retirement.”
Seraphine decided to ask his friend Joe Porcaro, the father of the late Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro, for some brush-up drumming lessons.
“Joe, who recently passed away, was a close friend of mine, and someone who I really trusted,” he said. “After I took a few lessons, he told me I still had it. And that gave me a little more confidence.”
At the same time, Lombardi took Seraphine to lunch and urged him to do some drum clinics.
“Don said I needed to show kids the way I was able to mix jazz with rock,” he said.
A few weeks later Lombardi and Fish set Seraphine up with an innocent gathering at the home of Gregg Bissonette, the drummer for Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band.
In attendance was the late Bob Birch, known for being Elton John’s bassist, and guitarist Marc Bonilla.
“They all grew up on Chicago music, and it was fun for me to tell them stories about the band,” said Seraphine, whose influences include Gene Krupa, Sandy Nelson and Cosy Cole.
After one of the tales, Bissonette said, “Let’s go jam downstairs,” and that’s when Seraphine knew the gathering had been an intervention.
“They had amps for Marc and Bob, and there were two drum sets,” he said. “So we jammed on Chicago tunes, including some deep cuts like ‘Policeman,’ that I really haven’t played a lot since I recorded them.”
The band played “25 or 6 to 4” and “South Carolina Purple,” and Seraphine found himself connecting with Bonilla.
“Afterwards, Marc suggested we put together a jam band and have fun,” he said.
The two pulled in Fish in to play the synths, and recruited Pat Benatar’s bassist Mick Mahan.
“Our first gig was a charity for a photojournalist named Lissa Wales, who had cancer and needed a bone marrow transplant,” Seraphine said. “Modern Drummer magazine got involved and there were a lot of other musicians there.”
Seraphine’s fledgling band played three songs: “I’m a Man,” an instrumental version of “Make Me Smile” and “25 or 6 to 4.”
“When I took a bow, everyone in the audience had their lighters going, and it was very emotional for me,” he said. “It showed me how much I missed it.”
After the gig, Bonilla and Seraphine decided to form a serious band, and the drummer suggested the name CTA, an acronym all Chicago fans would recognize as Chicago Transit Authority, which was the band’s original name and title of its 1969 debut album.
“Marc said, ‘Won’t we get sued for that?’ and I said it would mean California Transit Authority,” Seraphine said with a laugh.
Today, Seraphine owns the rights to the acronym, and has added the “Take Me Back to Chicago” tour phrase on all of his promotional spots.
“The band, which had fought me on a lot of things, allowed me to do that, because they know I’m not competing with them,” he said.
CTA has recorded two CDs — “Full Circle” and “Sacred Ground” — which features Tower of Power vocalist Larry Braggs.
The current band consists of Seraphine, Bonilla, vocalist Tony Grant, bassist Travis Davis and keyboardist Ed Roth. The lineup for the Nov. 26 concert will be rounded out by a horn section from Los Angeles.
Fish was in the band until earlier this year, when he passed away. That loss only strengthened Seraphine’s belief about how lucky he is to be performing today.
“I’m fortunate and blessed to play with these guys,” he said. “They are all great players”.
The Nov. 26 performance won’t be the only Park City appearance Seraphine will make next week.
He is scheduled to hold a student outreach session with the Park City High School band.
“It’s important for me to pass on the legacy, and remind kids of how we did what we did,” he said. “I show them the importance of approaching the music with integrity, and emphasize that they shouldn’t go into music to become a rock star. If they go in with that mindset, they will be disappointed, because the chances of doing that are very slim.”
Musical integrity is one of the things that inspired the Grammys to give Seraphine a 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.
“The meaning of that award is almost beyond words,” he said. “I think of all the amazing people who have won Grammys, and how could I not be grateful? It’s a validation of the hard work and sacrifice. It shows people still remember and are still moved by the music you helped create.
I feel very grateful that the music still has a positive effect on people’s lives.”
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 26
Where: Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd.
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