Keeping Time With Drummer Danny Seraphine
Danny Seraphine, the original drummer of Chicago and the engine behind some of the greatest rock songs of all time, is on a whole new mission and is about to take the music world by percussive storm.
Along with former Chicago bandmate Bill Champlin, guitarist Marc Bonilla, and keyboardist Ed Roth, Seraphine has created California Transit Authority, who will bring their distinctive sound to Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale at 8 p.m. Friday, March 14. Tickets can be purchased by calling 480-850-7734 or www.talkingstickresort.com
Seraphine is known for his fast chops and inspiring creativity. Rolling Stone magazine recently ranked him as one of the top 100 drummers of all time, who formed the nucleus of California Transit Authority in 2006. They released “Full Circle,” a CD collection of reimagined Chicago hits in 2007 and more recently, the critically acclaimed “Sacred Ground” in 2011.
The legendary drummer spoke to Get Out about his days with Chicago, his controversial departure, and how he’s found new life with a band of “Alpha dogs.”
Q: Chicago has sold more than 122 million albums and is considered the second most popular American act of all time behind The Beach Boys. I take it you are proud of your accomplishments?
DS: It’s a long and great history. I’ve now been out of the band longer than I was with the band but people always associate me as Chicago’s drummer and I’m proud of that. I was a co-founder of the group with Terry Kath, so yes, very proud of what the group was able to accomplish.
Q: Your 1990 departure from Chicago was controversial and left for interpretation. But in reading your book, “Street Player: My Chicago Story,” I get the feeling you’ve forgiven everybody everybody?
DS: I have forgiven, but I haven’t forgotten. One thing about writing that book was that in order to do it, you have to have a certain amount of honesty. That in and of itself is really cathartic because then you’re forced to look at your own behavior and realize your part. If you go through life saying, “Well, they really screwed me over,” then it holds you back. To be honest, I went through that phase for a while and sometimes I even fall back into that phase… there are certain things that open up old wounds but that’s so counterproductive. The book made me realize my part in it all and I know that if some of them had to do it all over again, they wouldn’t have done it. It is what it is and in a way, I’m grateful that it did happen because my life is in a really good place now. I wouldn’t be the human being that I am today. To give you a good example of that – Bill Champlin – who led the charge in my dismissal, is in my new band, so that shows you the power of forgiveness. I feel we’re really lucky to have another chance at this and making the most of it.
Q: It’s been said that Jimi Hendrix was instrumental in helping to launch Chicago?
DS: Without a doubt Jimi Hendrix played a role and so did Janis Joplin. They liked the band for different reasons. Jimi loved Terry Kath’s guitar playing. After he saw us at The Whisky in L.A. he came backstage and told us how much he enjoyed us. It was such a strong validation for the band and let us know that we were headed in the right direction. He made sure to let everyone know who crossed his path that Chicago was a band to watch out for. Then he brought us out on tour for a dozen dates or so, which really helped break our first album, “Chicago Transit Authority.” We have always been grateful to Jimi for his help and when he died, we all cried. Such a tragic loss. He was a big part of the Chicago story. Same with Janis Joplin. There was a generosity back then to help new and younger artists break through. That made me in turn want to help other artists. I know we helped Seals and Crofts, the Doobie Brothers and The Pointer Sisters, who opened some tours for us. And they were all good people, too. They were all sweethearts and we were glad to help just as Jimi and Janis helped us.
Q: It’s been said that all the great drummers are A-type personalities.
DS: Yes, it can be that way but it’s been an evolution. Drumming wasn’t really seen as an instrument in the early days of rock. We were told what to do by other musicians until we became masters. The jazz drummers had no problem commanding that respect but the rock drummers took a long time to get there. Now it’s common knowledge that a good drummer can make a mediocre band sound okay, a good band sound great, and a great band go through the roof. In order to have a great band, you have to have a great drummer. The type A personality comes from having the responsibility, time, tempo, groove and cohesiveness to keep everybody together. It’s a lot of responsibility that falls on our shoulders and you either buckle or you get stronger.
Q: Your new band, California Transit Authority, has been described as “Chicago on steroids.” Tell me what you like about your band.
DS: We are a band of Alpha dogs and you have all of these guys pissing on the same tree. Quite often we cross streams! We’re a fusion of jazz and rock.The lineup is phenomenal with Mark Bonilla (Keith Emerson) on guitar and vocals; Travis Davis (Alice Cooper) on bass; Ed Roth (Coolio); film and TV composer Peter Fish on keyboards; Wes Quave (Ricky Martin) and Will Champlin sharing lead vocals. And, of course, Bill Champlin, and we played together in Chicago for many years. All those guys love early Chicago and they really revere the music. I’m like a 65-year-old man driving a 12-cylinder Lamborghini with this bunch. They keep me honest. We put a lot of love and care to do this music right.