They were sitting on the deck and reminiscing, two founding members of bands with iconic song catalogs and 35-plus years of longevity.
Both Verdine White and Walt Parazaider are part-year residents of the Las Vegas Valley. But July is much cooler on Bainbridge Island in Washington. It is also the region where the joint tour of Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire paused for a day off, so that’s where Parazaider hosted a cookout at his beach cottage.
White is "a sentimental person and just a great guy," Parazaider says the next day, on the phone from the cottage before the tour again hit the road that brings it to The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel on Saturday.
The two talked about their first meeting in 1972, when Chicago already was a blockbuster act for Columbia Records. Hits such as "Make Me Smile" and "Beginnings" cross-exposed the band’s ambitious blend of rock and big-band jazz to Top 40 radio.
Label head Clive Davis introduced Parazaider to Earth, Wind & Fire, the band Davis was about to relaunch to major success after its so-so debut album on another label.
Thinking back, Parazaider says he told White, "Verdine, I’ll never forget how gracious you and Maurice (White, the band’s founder) were when you thanked us for blazing the trail for horn bands."
"Therein started the germ and seed of a great relationship that has blossomed into what’s happening here in the millennium."
Chicago was mainly a rock band with a novel three-piece horn section. Four horns were more standard for the R&B-funk of Earth, Wind & Fire. There, it was the rock element that stood out. Both groups were part of that late-’60s stew of pollination that included Funkadelic, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Sly & The Family Stone.
"I said, ‘It doesn’t matter who’s first, we’re here now together,’ " Parazaider recalls. When the party ended, "We gave each other a hug and said, ‘We’re here now baby — with a vengeance!’ "
Indeed, Chicago may be the only active band unmatched for its "43 straight summers of touring," Parazaider says. Las Vegas is a routine stop for each band separately, but it’s "a city that hasn’t seen this show."
The two bands first teamed up in 2004, playing a couple of each other’s songs and joining forces at the beginning and end.
"It’s almost like one and one makes three," Parazaider says. There are 19 players onstage when the bands are combined. "People should come out just to see if we bounce into each other."
The two bands recorded a three-song EP that’s being sold on tour to benefit local food banks. Parazaider hints that it might pave the way for a full-length album.
Parazaider, 64, remembers that when the original Chicago started to pull together in its namesake city, "We just wanted it to be a rock ‘n’ roll band with horns."
He played sax and flute — the famous flute solo in "Colour My World" is his — and had both classical and jazz training. "I started in nightclubs at 13 because my dad was a trumpet player for 75 years. He put me in a controlled environment, with bandmates’ sons that could pick me up because I couldn’t drive."
The career parallels for Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire included years in the 1980s when their horn sections faded to the background. Earth, Wind & Fire further complicated its identity when its horn section branched out to play on Phil Collins hits.
Chicago became primarily a ballad band during the run of hits crafted by producer David Foster ("Hard Habit To Break," "You’re The Inspiration") Parazaider and fellow horn players James Pankow and Lee Loughnane learned keyboards and guitars, and "wondered if the horns would ever get used again — and really spoke out about it, to be honest," Parazaider says.
But it’s all water under the bridge now. "When you look back at what that did for our career, it was very good music, and Foster is a great musician and a fine producer," he says. "I can’t look back at that and say, ‘That was really lousy because the horns weren’t involved.’ If that hadn’t come along, maybe I wouldn’t be talking to you now. I’m not sure."
The band’s longevity has allowed Parazaider "to live anywhere in the world, but I chose Lake Las Vegas," he says. He and his wife of 43 years go to association meetings and take an interest in the future of the financially challenged Henderson development. "Things are turning around and people aren’t bailing out of there," he asserts.
It helps to have a few homeowners who are attorneys and/or "could loan Warren Buffett money," he adds with a laugh. "I’m proud to call myself a Las Vegan, and more specifically a Lake Las Vegan."
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.Preview
Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire
8 p.m. Saturday
The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel, 4455 Paradise Road