Anyone who is a fan of the legendary 'rock band with horns' known as Chicago is probably well aware that there are little to no books available that tell the story of the bands long history in the music business, now totaling 50 years. Original drummer Danny Seraphine released his tell all tale a few years back, but that's been it basically until the arrival of Gimme a Show! 50 Years on the Rock & Rollercoaster: An Unauthorized Biography of James Pankow by New York trombonist Bill Fleck. Written as a bio of the flashy Chicago trombone ace, Fleck's book is just as serviceable as an in-depth look at the history of the band, which is something many fans have been waiting decades to read. Including interview snippets from many sources going back to the 1960's and up to the present, the author has blended his already deep knowledge of Chicago lore & music with actual statements from the many members of the band over the years, and reviews of Chicago's huge discography from a variety of well known sources...yours truly included! Fans of the early part of the bands career will find lots to sink their teeth into here, as Fleck looks at Pankow's introduction to music and eventual partnership with Peter Cetera, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane , Walter Parazaider, Danny Seraphine, and of course the late, iconic guitar hero Terry Kath. While famed producer James William Guercio helped take the band to superstardom, that association eventually didn't end well, and Bill sheds plenty of light on the fracture with Guercio, as well as internal in-fighting on the musical direction of the band, problems with drugs, and the eventual tragic death of Kath. That chapter dealing with the guitarists passing is a chilling read, and while it's anyone's guess whether Kath would have left the band had he not died (he was apparently very unhappy with their music at the time), his loss left a huge void that was never really filled.
Skip ahead to the mega-platinum success of the early/mid '80s, and the author once again paints an inside picture into how producer David Foster and Cetera helped take the band to new heights but once again the fissures appeared, eventually seeing Chicago drift into personnel changes and mediocre album sales. The outspoken Pankow is always the central character to this story, and what might be unknown to some is just how important his role has always been to the songwriting aspect of the band in addition to being the de-facto leader of the horn section. The squabbles with Cetera, Seraphin, and Bill Champlin are all detailed, so for those who love the 'rock & roll dirt', Fleck gives plenty of that and then some, including all the drama leading up to their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction appearance.
Ultimately though, a good rock bio is supposed to make you want to go and revisit the music of the band or artist you are reading about, and Gimme a Show! 50 Years on the Rock & Rollercoaster: An Unauthorized Biography of James Pankow does just that. You'll be prompted to pop on your CD or LP copy of Chicago Transit Authority, 16, 17, or any of those early classics, in addition to seeking out some of the newer material you perhaps haven't already discovered, or Seraphin's California Transit Authority as well as Champlin's Sons of Champlin. The fact that Fleck also plays trombone in a few New York groups adds a musicians insight you don't often get, making him a good choice to compile this historical look at one of the more notable trombone stars of the rock 'n' roll era. The book can be purchased at the link below, so give it a shot if you are at all a fan of Chicago...you'll be glad you did.