Since 2004 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who’ve been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place.
When classic-rock fans refer to “the Chicago sound” they’re usually talking about bands with horns. The city’s rich history of jazz and soul, with horn sections often at the forefront, influenced its 1960s boom of “horn rock,” exemplified by groups such as Chicago and the Ides of March and innovated by an earlier but less celebrated act called the Mob. As it continued to evolve, this rock-meets-jazz sound would be christened “fusion.”
One Chicago horn-rock band that gets short shrift these days is Chase—no doubt in part because their career was cut short by tragedy. The group’s founder, Bill Chase, was born William Edward Chiaiese in Boston on October 20, 1934 (his Italian American family changed its surname to make it easier for others to pronounce). There were a lot of musicians in the Chase family—Bill’s father was a trumpeter, and a great-uncle on his mother’s side had played for the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera’s orchestra.
Bill started on violin, switched to drums, and then settled on trumpet in 11th grade. After seeing Maynard Ferguson play with Stan Kenton’s orchestra, Chase began taking his own playing more seriously—and shifted his focus from classical to jazz. After graduating high school, he enrolled in the New England Conservatory and then the Berklee College of Music (then called Schillinger House). By 1958, he’d landed a gig with Ferguson’s group, and in the 1960s he recorded and performed extensively with Woody Herman’s legendary band the Herd.
Chase soon became an in-demand soloist, and made several appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. In the late 60s, while freelancing in Las Vegas, he developed an itch to start his own ensemble, and in 1969 he began to assemble players. By 1970 he’d formed a nine-piece band named after himself, “Chase,” recruiting three other trumpeters—Ted Piercefield, Alan Ware, and Jerry Van Blair. All were likewise veteran jazz players and skilled arrangers, and Chase backed them up with a rock-style rhythm section: keyboardist Phil Porter, guitarist Angel South, bassist Dennis Keith Johnson, and drummer Jay Burrid. Though Bill Chase had conceived of his group as instrumental, he soon added Terry Richards as lead vocalist.
Chase moved to Chicago in order to take advantage of booking and recording contacts here, and the band played regularly on Rush Street. After signing to Epic Records, they released their self-titled debut LP in 1971, which tapped into the horn-rock zeitgeist—it would turn out to be their commercial peak, and the driving, funky single “Get It On” became their biggest hit.
That year Chase was nominated for a Grammy in the Best New Artist category, losing to Carly Simon. Chase was named the top pop group (and number two jazz group) in the 1971 DownBeat magazine poll, and WBBM even gave them their own local half-hour TV special. The band had a reputation for blowing headliners off the stage, and they toured as far as Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Chase released a second LP, Ennea, in 1972, but during its production they had to replace two crucial members, Burrid and Richards. The album didn’t get the same love as the debut, though the single “So Many People” earned some airplay. Bill Chase soon declared personal bankruptcy, dissolving the band, and when he started rebuilding a few months later, he tried several sounds and lineups, hoping to find a combination that would click with audiences again.
When Chase recorded their third LP, 1974’s Pure Music, Bill Chase himself was the only member remaining from Ennea. The band’s material also changed direction radically, relying less on vocals and more on heady, instrumental jazz fusion. Unfortunately Pure Music wasn’t terribly commercially successful either, despite featuring songwriting and lead vocals from Jim Peterik of the Ides of March. But at least the band were back on the road.
On August 9, 1974 (the day Nixon resigned), Chase were flying to a gig at the Jackson County Fair in Minnesota when bad weather caused their small plane to crash, killing everyone aboard: Bill Chase, keyboardist Wally Yohn, guitarist John Emma, drummer Walter Clark, and the pilot and copilot.
A tribute album titled Watch Closely Now, featuring alumni and associates of the band and released under the name Chase, came out in 1977. Beginning in 2007, surviving members of Chase presented memorial concerts in various cities. In 2014 they finally returned to Chicago for two “Chase Revisited” gigs at Reggies’, which featured original bassist Dennis Johnson—a certified badass who had become a founding member of Peterik’s band Survivor in 1978. v