Until 1967, the recipe for rock ‘n’ roll music was pretty clear; three chords, one or two guitars, bass, and a drum set.
Then, in a blur of brass and saxophones, it all changed.
The arrival on the scene of the Chicago Transit Authority, later shortened to just Chicago, made blistering musicianship and brilliant arrangements part of the rock cannon. The band fused rock with elements of classical, jazz, R&B, and pop; redefining what was possible on radio and in the charts.
Half a century later, the musical legacy of Chicago reaches beyond mere innovation, having sold over 40 million units in the U.S., with 23 gold, 18 platinum, and eight multi-platinum albums. They have had five consecutive number-one albums on the Billboard 200 and 20 top-ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100. The band was also inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.
“I started the band, just to have some fun and play some of my favourite music,” says trumpet player Tony Carlucci, founding member of the premier musical tribute to Chicago, Brass Transit. “I quickly realized it was bigger than that.
Carlucci brought together eight of Canada’s most in demand musicians out of a common love for Chicago’s music. The idea was to play a few shows, and celebrate the music. Shortly after their second show, this idea became quaint.
“We did a video of our second show ever, we were guinea pigs for a new video company, and my son put it up on YouTube,” says Carlucci. “The next thing you know it turned into this animal.”
Brass Transit found themselves getting more requests for shows than they could handle.
“The phone started ringing off the hook and we went for it,” continues Carlucci. “We’re touring North America and playing 40 or 50 shows a year.”
Show after show, audiences praise the band for its energetic yet accurate performances and spectacular attention to detail. Hits like, Saturday In The Park, 25 or 6 To 4, If You Leave Me Now, Feelin’ Stronger Every Day and Beginnings have generally left crowds standing, begging for more.
The, not-so, secret to Brass Transit’s success is the sheer pedigree of the musicians in the band. A quick glance at their bio reveals them to be the first call sidemen of artists like Chuck Berry, Ben E. King, Aretha Franklin, Del Shannon, Kim Mitchell, Sass Jordan, Corey Hart, Gowan, and dozens more.
Some have gone as far as saying that Brass Transit are a better version of Chicago than the band that tours as Chicago today. Carlucci pushes back at that right away.
“It never crossed my mind that we were competing with them,” he said. “They’re my heroes.”
More recently, the authenticity and musicianship of the group managed even greater praise when their lead singer, Neil Donell, was hired away from the group by Chicago themselves.
“I just took it as a compliment,” laughs Carlucci. “Neil deserves it too, he really is an incredible singer.”
The band has a history with Markham too, having become a favourite outdoor party act on Unionville Main Street.
“We seem to have quite a fanbase in the Markham area,” says Carlucci. “We’ve played the Unionville bandstand a bunch of times and filled up the street pretty good. When those crowds turned massive, we did the theatre and sold out. It’s years in the making.”
Brass Transit is returning to the Flato Markham Theatre on January 16th, and the band couldn’t be happier about it.
“I absolutely love playing at the Markham Theatre,” Carlucci says. “It’s one of my favourites to play, and I’ve played over 400 of them. “The crew there is fantastic. I love the sound there too, they’re great pros.”
When asked what being in the audience for the Markham show will be like, Carlucci doesn’t hesitate.
“At a Brass Transit show, you’re going to get blown away by musicianship. You’ll come out singing many huge hits and feel like you just saw Chicago at their peak.”
Photo: Brass Transit performs at the Flato Markham Theatre on January 16.