California Transit Authority
If the name sounds vaguely familiar, it should. California Transit Authority is the new band anchored by Danny Seraphine, who from 1967 through 1990 and a string of platinum albums, drove the band Chicago with his steady-handed drumming.
When it initially arrived on the scene, Chicago was known as Chicago Transit Authority or CTA. As such, California Transit Authority – also known as CTA -- is Seraphine’s trip back to the future, effectively tipping his hat to his past with his feet firmly planted in the here and now.
Aptly titled FULL CIRCLE, CTA’s debut album brings Seraphine back to his roots. Yet the journey wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for a series of unfortunate events that led the drummer to pack away his kit for 17 years as he battled his personal demons until he rediscovered his muse.
On Mother’s Day in 1990, Seraphine was unceremoniously ousted from Chicago, a band he helped found and define for 23 years. The move left him devastated. A protracted legal battle followed and then a divorce. As Seraphine admits, “All the wheels fell off at once and it brought me to me knees.”
Having relocated to Evergreen, Colorado, he lived off of his royalties from Chicago and kept himself busy by skiing and fly-fishing, but something was missing. “I am an artist, I am creative and that’s what I thrive on,” he says. “I really turned my back on that part of myself for 17 years.”
It was longtime friend, keyboardist Peter Fish--a six-time Emmy® winner--that provided the impetus for Seraphine to dust off his drum kit. Fish called his friend and said, “Before I die I’d like to be in a band with Danny Seraphine.” After some soul searching, Seraphine realized he missed playing, so he got his drum set from his garage and woodshed, honing his chops and even taking a few lessons from big band legend Joe Porcaro, the father of late Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro.
Once Seraphine regained his feel, he was invited to a jam session put together by DW Drums founder/president Don Lombardi. In attendance that fateful day was guitar wizard Marc Bonilla. “Marc and I connected,” Seraphine recalls. “It was the kind of connection that I hadn’t had since [late Chicago guitarist] Terry Kath. It really moved me.”
The seeds for CTA had been sown.
Taking it from the top and what were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? Danny Seraphine - "To be honest, those influences stay with you forever. I guess to start at the beginning, I’d have to say Gene Krupa, then of course the late/great Buddy Rich and Max Roach, those were the first jazz drummers to influence me. As far as rock drummers, you can go as far back as Sandy Nelson, the Ventures (I don’t remember the name of their drummer), Cozy Cole, and many of the drummers that played all the early hit songs in the 50s and 60s."
"For example, the Four Seasons records, Billy Stewart’s summertime, and all those amazing early Motown tracks by Juriel Jones, Earl Palmer and the great Hal Blaine and I can’t leave out the amazing Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix’s drummer)and Ringo Starr. As I developed my technique, my style was influenced by the many great bebop drummers for example: I studied brush technique with the late great, Jo Jones and I had the privilege of personally knowing both Grady Tate, Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones. If you listen closely you can definitely hear a strong influence of both Tony Williams and Elvin’s as well as Buddy’s influences in my playing today."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying your new CD, how would you yourself describe your sound? "Jazz/rock with a definite jam band style of the early 70s coupled with reckless abandon to perfection."
Your album title 'Full Circle' is an interesting (possibly very apt) choice so perhaps it does have more of a personal meaning to you?! "I have come full circle, from being completely corrupt by superstardom and all the trappings that come along with it, to recording this record of the music, that I helped define and completely defines me. I’m truly proud of the early CTA/Chicago music that I was a part of, and would love to remind people of that great era in music that I was so privileged to be a part of. This band, is a reflection, a throwback to that time and place, and I couldn’t be more proud of the record we have all created together. That’s why I named the CD full circle, this is an very emotional time for me, to be honest, three years ago I would never have dreamed I would be playing this music let alone recording it with such an amazing band."
"Starting with Marc Bonilla and Peter Fish who I can’t in so few words tell you how talented they are, and that goes for everyone else in the band. Larry Braggs three octave range and soulful interpretations of the CTA/Chicago songs shines so brightly on this record. Ed Roth, who’s amazing versatility and creativity are also evident throughout and Mick Mahan’s extraordinary bass playing, lays down a great foundation for everything and everyone to work off."
And just where does the bands name originate? "I think it’s obvious where the name originated, from my hometown, and in my humble opinion, one of the greatest bands of all time. I also wanted to honor the memory of my dear friend, the late/great Terry Kath who in my opinion belongs next to all of the greatest guitar players of all-time, including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. Also I always preferred the name CTA over Chicago, and that’s why I took the name back."
When CTA occasionally revisit early Chicago classics on this new album, how easy was it to choose those certain undercurrent ones over more known others? "First and foremost I/we wanted to make a record that would speak to the early Chicago fans and later ones for that matter, because I never had a chance to say goodbye and tell them how much I loved and appreciated them for supporting what I was put on this earth to do. So there were some obvious songs, Danny Seraphine trademark songs so to speak: make me smile, I’m a man. I think the one I most proud of is colour my world. We’ve completely reworked it where if you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t recognize it."
"That was a bold move by us and a risky one, but it 58 years old, what do I have got to lose. I could always go back to the mountains of Colorado to hide, if all hell breaks loose, and everyone hates this record. Also Marc Bonilla’s genius shines through on this arrangement and the sensitivity he displays is amazing. Marc in my opinion, is one of the greatest guitar players in the world, bar none."
How easy (or hard) is it to constantly create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderment's/accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "To answer your question honestly, it’s impossible. First of all, the industry has never at least to my recollection been so void of creativity and excitement (and not for the lack of talented people). So when we set out on our this journey we decided to do this record, completely independent of any record company or outside pressures."
"So this record was not made with any expectations of a huge success, at least commercially or was or genre and radio driven. As I said earlier, our main objective was to make a record for true music lovers, especially the early Chicago fans. After all those years with Chicago of having to cater to radio and record company pressures to make a record that conformed to their demands, which was a affront to what the band was all about in the first place. I just wanted to make a record that was truly from the heart and soul of each and every individual in the band and I think we’ve accomplished that."
"The CD was financed with private investor money, solely for the recording and marketing of this project. Ultimately, we had complete artistic freedom and control of all the aspects of this CD. This is the new world order of the music business at the moment, and hopefully the rising from the ashes, of the debacle left behind from all of our greed of the past."
Please tell us more about your own personal favorite two (2) songs from this new album and what they mean to you to play each time? "Strangely enough, Something Different: I think this track encapsulates what the band is all about. Antonio’s Love Jungle, it gave me a chance to pay homage to some of the great influences of my playing: Papa Jo Jones, Joe Porcaro, Bernard Purdie and the late great Jeff Porcaro. I also get to show off my finesse in the solo section, which has always been a trademark of my playing."
"But for the sake of argument, my deep down favorite is a live version of 25 or 6 to 4 which was recorded at the 2006 Modern Drummer Festival. To me that truly ends the CD with a strong statement that says CTA has landed and won’t be leaving for a long while."
Also, is it true that you had a different singer for this album? "Actually Larry sang every song but one “Several Thousand”, which was sung by Wes Quave, who did a magnificent job."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today ... and why?! "Sure “You’re the inspiration” because it’s such a great song, and kinda chessy. (sorry Peter!)"
Lastly, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins ... do you?! "Anyone who doesn’t love penguins and Pugs has a hole in their soul!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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