Familiar music, new meaning for CTA

If nothing else - and there is, by the way, plenty else - Danny Seraphine deserves music lovers' thanks just for bringing back one of classic rock's greatest acronymns.


Once, the letters meant "Chicago Transit Authority," the name of the jazz-rock ensemble that eventually became the group Chicago and, also, the name of that band's classic debut album.

Now, CTA stands for "California Transit Authority," the jazz-rock band Seraphine - Chicago's founding member and drummer - has created.

CTA featuring Danny Seraphine comes to Las Vegas this weekend for two performances in the Troesh Studio Theater at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Seraphine said in a recent phone interview that longtime Chicago fans have responded positively to his resurrection of that musically potent string of letters.

"I get it, too," he said with a laugh. "To be honest with you, I selfishly brought it back. I just think that with that bygone era, it's kind of been forgotten."

Also through his latest band's name, Seraphine said, "we're trying to remind people of a great time in pop music."

California Transit Authority plays musically intriguing, updated versions of Chicago hits (check out YouTube for their fresh, jazzy takes on such classics as "Make Me Smile" and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?") as well as its own originals.

But don't mistake CTA for a tribute or cover band. Rather, CTA is "like Chicago on steroids. That's how some people have described it," Seraphine said.

"There's an element of the original 'CTA' thread that's really strong," he added, but "it's really a true jazz-rock band, and we've stayed true to that tradition of jazz-rock."

Seraphine spent about 23 years as a member of Chicago before leaving the band in 1990.

More precisely, Seraphine said: He was fired.

Seraphine discusses that chapter of his life, as well as others, in his autobiography, "Street Player: My Chicago Story." But, long story short, he said, "I got on the wrong side of a power play."

After leaving Chicago, Seraphine didn't perform - and, he said, barely even touched his drums - for about 15 years.

"The way I got fired, I was really hurt and broke-down in spirit for a lot of years," he said. "But I wouldn't be the person I am today if that didn't happen.

"I was so burned out and, really, I was pretty disillusioned by a lot of things. I just didn't want to play anymore. I wanted to do something else."

Seraphine moved to Colorado, started his own music production and management company and produced a movie and two Broadway shows. In 2006, he was asked to play a benefit, put together a band, and discovered that he missed performing.

"As I was walking from the stage to take a bow, the whole place was standing," he recalled. "It just made me realize that that's what I needed to be doing."

So, Serephine joined up with some of his favorite players and created California Transit Authority.

CTA released its first CD, "Full Circle," in 2007 and plans to release its second later this year. Seraphine admitted that he'd like CTA to see commercial success,

"I'm hoping the new CD is going to grab a whole new audience and then grow exponentially," he said.

But, Seraphine added, "I don't have any illusions about being a superstar, nor do I care to, to be honest."

For now, Seraphine is enjoying the opportunity to once again do something he loves.

"I'm having a great time," he said. "Who wouldn't have a great time with a band this good? This band is just world-class."

And, he's now able to appreciate what he accomplished with that other band, too.

The late '60s and early '70s - the era when the other CTA was born - was "a renaissance time in music," Seraphine said. "I know a lot of different great bands, so I'm just grateful to have been a part of that time and grateful to be alive.

"And, I'm grateful, to be honest, to be playing better than I've ever played. I think I'm a better drummer today than I was when I was 21. I really do."

Seraphine laughed.

"I've replaced my fastball with a wicked slider."

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.