Chicago is an American rock band formed in 1967 in Chicago, Illinois. To date, they have sold over 40 million units in the U.S., with 23 gold, 18 platinum, and eight multi-platinum albums. They have had five consecutive number-one albums on the Billboard 200 and 20 top-ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100.
Chicago rocked Hyannis, Massachusetts that hot July night and the fans will never forget it, as they all appreciated the fact that Chicago was one of the longest running and best selling music groups of all time.
Can you believe that and I got to play in their show back in 1991? It doesn’t get much better than that.
At the Melody Tent, the stage rotates so there isn’t a bad seat. Chicago fans were already in a great mood when the show was about to begin.
So, I’m backstage getting my time and set info from Chicago’s road manager and I noticed hanging from a chain around his neck was this beautiful embossed backstage pass that says “Chicago All Access.”
Now, I was in the habit of collecting backstage passes as souvenirs. Most of the time they are stick ons that you wear on your shirt so you can get backstage.
I usually put them on my guitar case and on my music stand at home to remind me how fortunate I was to be working with the top of the line in the industry.
Since Chicago’s road manager and I seemed to hit it off so well, I asked him about my chances of getting one of those embossed backstage passes as a souvenir after the show. He said, “No, we don’t give those away.”
I said “What if I get a standing ovation tonight? Would that change anything?” He smiled and said, “I’ll tell you what… you get a standing ovation tonight and I’ll take this pass off my neck and give it to you. But NOBODY gets a standing ovation in front of Chicago!”
The gauntlet had been thrown! I had received standing ovations before when I opened for national acts, and I already knew that Chicago fans are loyal and musically sophisticated, so it was unlikely that they would get excited enough to get on their feet for a support act. I had to do something to make sure the whole tent was on their feet at the end of my 25 minute set.
Most opening acts hit the stage and try to get the audiences’ attention right away with excited banter and statements like, “How is everybody?” “Everybody having a good time?” “Let me hear you say, YEAH!” And all that stuff.
But audiences are used to that kind a trick. What they’re not used to seeing is an opening act walk out on stage and not say a word.
So I walked out and just looked around and smiled and inside 15 seconds, someone in the audience yelled, “Hey, you gonna say something?”
I turned toward him and said in a very friendly voice, ”What’s your name?”
He didn’t answer me right away, so I said, “If you have trouble with your name, think of the words to the song ‘Happy Birthday To You’ in your mind and usually when it comes to the part where it says: ‘Happy Birthday dear…..’ your own name just pops right in. Don’t feel bad… I use to forget who I was all the time back in the 70’s!”
He yelled “Joey!” I immediately said in a soft voice, “Joey don’t talk to me anymore tonight.” The audience laughed approvingly and Joey laughed too.
So, the best way to connect with an audience is to wait for them to connect with you and then tell them not to do it! It makes for a much more solid connection.
Well, we continued to have a great time interacting with music and laughter for the next 5 minutes or so and then I started the first chords to “Twist and Shout.”
CC…FF…GGGG, CC FF…GGGG – but, I quickly switched the rhythm and played CC, FF and stopped short on G…
This deliberately tricks the audience into singing two songs simultaneously.… some started singing “Twist and Shout,” and some started singing “La Bamba.”
I looked confused myself and said, “We seem to have a difference of opinion.”
So, I did my old stock stuff, “How many people think it was Twist and Shout? How many people think it was La Bamba? How many don’t give a damn?” (Audience laughs)
We decided it is going to be Twist and Shout. I start singing it, they began to sing with me, then I stopped and said, “Usually by now somebody with charisma, personality and passion is so excited by the song that they can’t keep themselves from running up on stage to sing it with me.”
I looked over at my new friend Joey, who everyone in the audience knows by name because of our previous interaction.
I say, “How about it Joey?! Come on up!” He’s reluctant, so I say to the crowd, “Come on… give him some encouragement!”
Now 1,700 people are applauding Joey BEFORE he does ANYTHING.
Anyone see where this is going yet? (remember what I want to accomplish tonight…)
Joey bounces up on stage and I say, “OK Joey, I’m gonna let YOU sing the lead. And if you do it well enough, this audience will give you a “standing O”, and I say to the audience “standing O’s look like this!”
I raised both arms over my head, touched my fingers together above my head to form a circle, standing with an “O” over my head.
I invented this practice in Cape Cod bars when people would jump up on stage and sing with me. After their performances, I would always get the crowd to give participants a “standing O.”
Joey loved being the star of the show for a few minutes and we gave them hell! Body movement, eye contact, jumping around dancing, throwing the microphone from one hand to the other. I stopped the song on a high note and yelled, ”Somebody give him a “standing O!”
I put my hands over my head and made that big O again and they were on their feet! The whole tent stood up and put the hands over their head and gave Joey a standing ovation! He had them in the palm of his hand.
Everyone in that crowd wished they had the hutzpah to do what he did and they loved him for it!
I said, “ Well, I don’t know how to follow that act, there’s going to be a different guy around home tomorrow.” Then I impersonated Joey…
”Hey, my name is Joey, do you know who I am!!? I don’t take out the rubbish anymore since I got a standing ovation at the Melody Tent last night, so leave me alone!” The crowd at the Melody Tent went wild.
I have always had fun at the Melody Tent, as we always sang songs together, laughed together and remembered together.
One of my favorite ways to close was to do a funny little spoof on Elvis, where I abruptly stopped in the middle of the peak of audience laughter and yelled “Thank You, That’s it for me!“
When you say it’s over in the middle of a laugh, you catch them off guard and suddenly they are laughing and applauding at the same time.
I bowed deep and stayed down until the applause peaked, then I ran off the stage and the whole theater was on their feet making “O”s over their heads!
I got my standing ovation from the Chicago audience. As a matter of fact, they gave Chicago a standing “O” as well.
I’m sure some of the band members wondered why people were making “O’s over their heads.
As a matter of fact, for about 10 years from around 1985 to 1995, my signature “standing O” was used among audiences in all the venues I had played from The Mohegan Sun Casino and The Meadowlands to Berklee Performance Center whether I was there or not!
So many audience members used ‘standing O’s” enough to make touring national acts feel as though it was “a New England Thing”, as one of the
stars put it.
On my way backstage after the show, Chicago’s road manager walked over and handed me the backstage pass he was wearing and said, “a deal’s a deal.”
What he didn’t know is that an audience will more easily give a standing ovation for an audience member than they will for an opening act. But if you make them do it once, they will damn sure do it again.
I call it greasing the chute…