When Jason Scheff Stepped Into Chicago

Chicago's "Will You Still Love Me?"
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Rhino Records

Chicago seemed to be at a crossroads in 1985 when Peter Cetera left the band to focus on his solo career. As a vocalist/bassist for the group since their inception in 1967 - sharing lead singer responsibilities with keyboardists Robert Lamm (also a founding member) and Bill Champlin (a member of the group since 1981) - his voice powered most of Chicago's big radio hits of the decade as they reinvented themselves from jazz-rock to a more cutting-edge, contemporary sound.

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So who'd fill Cetera's shoes? Enter Jason Scheff.

Though the twentysomething musician was a newcomer on the scene - he'd backed a duo of brothers named Keane in L.A. for a few years before getting the call from Chicago - he practically came from rock royalty. His father Jerry was a charter member of Elvis Presley's TCB Band, playing bass for The King in the last decade of his life, and also joined The Doors on L.A. Woman, their final album with frontman Jim Morrison. Eager to follow his father's path in music - and with a voice that sounded more than a little like Cetera's distinctive pipes - he was picked by the group as they reunited with producer David Foster on the group's 18th album, titled - you guessed it - Chicago 18.

Chicago's first attempt to establish their new vocalist was, perhaps, a deeply misguided one: Chicago 18's first single was a new recording of their breakthrough hit "25 or 6 to 4," which stiffed on the charts. Undeterred, the next single was a Foster co-written ballad called "Will You Still Love Me?" Sung alongside the mighty Champlin, the track successfully continued the band's hot streak as soft-rockers extraordinaire, climbing all the way up to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1986.

Scheff and Champlin held up Chicago's radio dominance for the rest of the decade - but their last big hit featured Scheff alone in the lead. "What Kind of Man Would I Be?" - co-written with blue-eyed soul man Bobby Caldwell - was a surprise hit when it was released to promote a Chicago greatest hits album, reaching No. 5 on the Hot 100. Though they'd never score as high a hit again, Scheff dutifully carried on as a member of the group until his amicable departure in 2016.

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This week on Totally 80's: The Podcast, accomplished songwriter Sam Hollander (writer/producer for Fitz & The Tantrums, Weezer, Panic! At The Disco) returns to the show to talk about being hardcore Durannies with host Lyndsey Parker and John Hughes.
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