From the first time I opened the cover of the Chicago Transit Authority double-album and saw a large black and white photo of him next to the liner notes looking over what I imagined was a lyric sheet, I was captivated by the talents of the guy who penned many of the songs on that record. Those early compositions included: “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, Questions 67 and 68,” and “Beginnings.”
He went on to write many of the groups other hits such as “25 or 6 to 4” and “Saturday in the Park” just to name two.
I last saw Lamm and company perform live way back in 1974. While I continued to buy their albums, I was reluctant to attend a concert because of various personnel changes over the years. It seemed like the only constants through the half-century of Chicago was the horn section (James Pankow, Lee Loughnane, and Walter Parzaider) and Lamm.
I had recently purchased a box set of Chicago’s music and was becoming a bit nostalgic so when I heard about a show nearby I checked out the concert details on line.
Just out of curiosity I clicked on a link to a VIP package for the upcoming Doobie Brothers-Chicago concert in Charlotte. It was more than $300 for preferred seating and a chance to go backstage and meet the band.
I rejected it out of hand at first, but on later reflection thought about how much experiences are worth and how I had idolized this band growing up as a high school band nerd. How cool would it be to actually meet some of these guys?
I started seriously considering it, but when I mentioned the cost to my better half, she balked at the price tag and brought me back to my frugal senses. For the both of us to go it would cost in the neighborhood of $700, money that could be used for necessities like beer and pizza.
Because of a settlement deal with Ticket Master, however, she was able to get tickets to that show for $20 each. We just had to sit in the lawn area and take our chances with the rain. (It turned out our chances weren’t good and we experienced a few scattered showers.)
After lugging our folding chairs to as close as we could get to center stage, we decided to walk around the Charlotte PNC Music Pavilion, gawking at the merchandize prices: $45 for a white t-shirt and $5 for a koozie.
The bathroom was free so we availed ourselves of that service and as we were getting ready to head back to the lawn we came across a guy at a table who was offering a special deal. That deal included two Chicago CDs (a double-disc live album with the Chicago Symphony orchestra, and a Christmas album), a tour book (which cost a pretty penny at the merchandize tent), an autographed band photo, some banded guitar picks, a Chicago logo plastic bag, and – wait for it – a chance me and a guest to meet the band after the show for a photo op.
The cost: $100.
I told the guy I would think about it, but I had my credit card out before a single brain synapse could fire.
So here was my opportunity at last to come face-to-face with the man who I had admired for so long. For a few seconds I would get to talk to him as I was getting ready for the photo. How could I possibly sum up everything I wanted to tell him about how his music rocked my world and changed my life?
As I entered the room where the entire eight-piece band was lined up by a wall dotted with Chicago logos, I focused my attention on Lamm, walked up to him and while shaking his hand told him what I’m sure he already knew, having been recently inducted into the Songwriter Hall of Fame along with his band mate Pankow.
“Bobby Lamm, you are a great songwriter.”
He smiled and replied, “Thanks for coming.”
When I thought about it I realized how appropriate that response was. The greatest compliment a performer or writer can get is when someone, or a crowd of some ones, comes out to hear your creations.
The Nashville Songwriters Association International has a saying, “Friends don’t let friends play to an empty room.” Most songwriters will write whether anyone is listening or not, but to have fans shows up to hear you means more than a paycheck – it means the world.
Robert Lamm knows that, and now I know that even after 50 years he still appreciates it.