For over 30 years Jason Scheff filled the bassist/vocalist role in Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band Chicago. He is now ready for his next chapter. Joined by former Rascal Flatts member Jay DeMarcus, Journey drummer Deen Castronovo, and a cast of steller musicians, Jason is back with Generation Radio. He recently took some time to talk about the upcoming record, out August 12, and the future of this great new band!
Please press the PLAY icon for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Jason Scheff –
On how he and Jay got together – Well, Jay and I met, I think in 2002, and it was this cool moment for me. Chicago was playing the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, Washington, and the lady who runs the venue asked me when I showed up, “Do you know who Rascal Flatts are?” I said, “No”. She said, “Well, they are a country band and they are really starting to heat up”. She gave me the Melt CD with a letter from Jay, and I thought it was gonna be a typical “Dear Chicago, we like you guys”, but it was addressed to me. It was that moment in my career where all of a sudden, I saw a generation that was telling me that I was part of influencing them, my years with Chicago. It was amazing to me because I didn’t know anything about them. Frankly, was not really into country music. But the minute, but their record on, I absolutely can see the influence of not only just pop music and 80s specifically with Chicago. Jay and I became fast friends, and I started hanging out with Rascal Flatts a lot and was right there watching them just go to extreme heights of success. Jay and I were just joined at the hip. By the time Chicago was having the opportunity to go back in the studio for the first time, I think in 16 years, it was the work that Jay and I had been doing at Nashville that was the spark that lit a flame. He produced Chicago XXX , on the heels of that he said, “Let’s keep this guy and do a solo record on you”. So we started a solo project, and he always said that when things calm down for both of our bands and us, let’s do something together. So all of a sudden, when Rascal Flatts announced their farewell tour a couple of years ago, he said, “Let’s do it”. Deen Castronovo was on Jay’s radar due to the Crossroads that Rascal Flatts and Journey did together, so he called Deen and Deen was like, “I can’t believe this man. I’m a huge fan of both you guys”. So we got together and started cutting some songs, and it was just magical. So that’s how it started. :48
On the name Generation Radio – The name of the band, Generation Radio, really says it all. All of us have been a part of a lot of hit singles, and there are different generations, Jay’s the next generation after me. When I look back and just pinch myself when I joined Chicago in 1985. If you think about it, I think most people thought, “This is probably not gonna work”, and, “(Peter) Cetera might come back and work with the band after a solo record or two”. But boy, everything took off, Peter had massive success with his solo record after Chicago, XVII, and we had huge hits on Chicago XVIII. So everything was up and running. So I always felt a little bit like, “Yeah, the real good years were the years before me”, until all of a sudden you wake up one day and half of the 80s hits are the ones that I’m a part of. Then you get bands like Rascal Flatts, specifically, Jay told this story. He’s at that age, she’s 10 years younger than me. So when he was exposed to Chicago, it was right when I joined the band, so I was like, “Oh wow”. So now this is your piece of the legacy, and that’s why the band is really focusing on the generations of this music that’s been on the radio. 3:47
On knowing there is an entire generation that found Chicago through him – It’s just such an incredible family to be a part of and they continue. I talk to people all the time about the fact that I think bands like that, especially in the late 60s, start in this whole attitude and the idea of, “This is the configuration that matters and will never keep going if this isn’t it”. Yet all of a sudden 20, 30, 40, 50 years later, you see, again, generations that come up on that music, and it becomes a body of work, and I’m comfortable saying this that I believe will go down in history, as important as any of the classical works of any composer. 200 years from now, 300 years from now, people will be performing and studying the music of Chicago. I totally believe that. 5:44
On bringing Chris Rodriguez and Tom Yankton into the band – Well, Chris has been friends with Jay forever, Yankton too. Yankton was actually out on the road as a supporting guitar player and multi-instrumentalist, he was playing keyboards too with them. So when Jay said, “Deen, you and myself, let’s round this out with Chris and Yankton”. Really to have the vocals too, and we were looking at it as not as far as the style of music, but the concept of the Eagles, where everybody’s a strong singer, and songwriter, and that’s what we went in with. So I had known Chris over the years, when I think about it, we wrote something probably around 2009, 2010, when I moved to Nashville, and so we all knew each other, but it was so much fun getting in the room together and starting to put a band together. 7:04
On replacing Deen Castronovo with Steve Ferrone – I’ve known him forever. So when Dean, when Journey needed a little bit of help for Lollapalooza, I knew that they’d hear two notes from him and say, “We gotta keep them around”. Deen was happy, obviously, that’s a real home for Deen to be. But he loved being a part of this project and what we were all doing together. So there was a certain amount of sadness that he wasn’t gonna be able to continue with us. But I have a very good friend named Steve Ferrone, and I said, “Guys, don’t you worry, you may not sing like Deen, but boy, wait till you feel what this feels like”. Steve loves being in the band, that’s the thing I love. He’s played with everybody, and the potential for somebody like that, he doesn’t need to prove anything, he’s only gonna do the things he wants to do at this point in his life. He has said, “I love being a part of this band”. He actually played the first single “Why Are You Calling Me Now” on his SiriusXM radio show, he’s got something called The New Guy, I think, or something that, on the Tom Petty channel, and he played a single. 8:16
On the diversity of sounds on the record – Yeah, the most common feedback is that people are really happy to hear something that sounds familiar. Derek Mason, I have to say, our engineer has made every Carrie Underwood, every Luke Bryan record had been involved in most of Rascal Flatts records. He’s another guy who’s the next generation under me like you and Jay. He grew up on all that stuff, he’s become one of Nashville’s top engineers and mix engineers, obviously, like I said, with those country artists, but this is his passion. We were cutting tracks and Derek was just going nuts. “Why Are You Calling Me Now” going right back to like say, “This is era appropriate”, with all of this is mix stuff. We didn’t sit around tweaking everything up and fixing every tiny little thing. It’s got a real good 80s, AOR feel to it. All though, you nailed it, that there’s a real variety on this record, and for me at this point in my life, I love being involved in things that are…let’s put it this way, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is my Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band experience. Being a record that was so diverse you never got stuck on one sound. That’s what I love being a part of. 10:06
On creating songs that sound familiar but aren’t copies of their bands – The songs that we started with for the project, I like to call Racal Flatts Foul Tips. When I joined Chicago and we were gonna make a record, every songwriter known to man was trying to get on our record, so you can imagine the great songs that were submitted, but there were only 10 slots, maybe 12, I can’t remember. So all the stuff that was left over was incredible. Well, this was what we were the beneficiaries of, that Jay had written with all the greatest songwriters in Nashville throughout his career, and so this handful of tunes that were sitting around were incredible. So we started with those and then looked at whatever anybody else had in the band. To be honest, I was really looking at being an overseer of the project with Jay and making sure that Tom Yankton and Chris, their material made the record to bring that identity into it also. Funny enough, towards the end of the record, in fact, when we first started cutting it, when we were choosing songs, I almost didn’t have any songs on the record, which was fine with me because like I said, we were really trying to represent some cross-section of this band. Yankton and I wrote the song called, “Why Are You Calling Me Now”, at the end of the song selection we said, “Well, we should probably have that one”, it almost didn’t make the record and sure enough, it was our first single. So it was pretty funny. That happened so much with making records, the afterthought. “What Kind of Man Would I Be” was the last thing to make Chicago 19, “Hard To Say I’m Sorry”, I heard came in at the end, “If You Leave Me Now,
so all these big hits coming at the end of the project. So if you were to record those tunes that we started with as Rascal Flatts, they would have sounded exactly like that. You put us in the studio. That’s how that came out like you’re talking about that it can only end up sounding like the people that are in the room, so you’re exactly right, we’re bringing Journey, Chicago, Rascal Flatts into the sound of this to cut tracks. I love what you said, confirms that we achieve the goal to get the flavors of all the bands into it, and that’s not really trying to do it is just roll tape or hard drive and start playing and you can’t help it come out as who you are. 12:22
On how they decided who played what instrument and took the vocal – Well, Jay, I, and Yankton, we’re all multi-instrumentalists. So my role in Chicago really is mainly based as a bass player, Jay’s in Rascal Flatts is a bass player, but Jay is such a strong keyboard player, and the fact that we were starting with his songs, it made sense that he would really take the keyboard role. We had talked the whole record about, “Yeah, let’s switch up”, but we were just having so much fun and just rolling through it that I kinda stayed that way. Although on Jay’s tunes, his vocals on the record, I told him, “Just play bass on these”. I know what it feels like to play bass on something that I’ve sung. T give you an idea of it, I just did a song for a Triumph tribute record that Mike Clink is producing. He said, “We’d love for you to sing”. I said, “Is there any way I can play bass on it too, because it just changes the way all the things (work)?” (He said,) “Absolutely”. So I understand playing bass on something you’re singing. Jay ended up doing that on the record. 15:22
On playing live – We just had a great meeting with an agent that realizes that we probably should be focusing on fairs, festivals, and corporate because once the record’s out, that’s when people start to get to know about the band. But until that happens, it’s hard to really book Generation Radio if people don’t really know about it. So yeah, we’re hoping that the record coming out will bring the awareness of what this is, but I think we’re gonna be really hitting fairs and festivals. One thing that happened, we do a lot of corporate gigs too, people are like,” Oh, oh, okay, alright, I know who these guys are”, but when we show up and play live, more people want us to come and play their cities and events. So I think a combination of what we’re doing live and this record, maybe by next year, have us putting actual tour legs together. 17:30
On not being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Chicago – When I think about it, as I told you, the day I joined that band, there was a part of me that’s like, “This is probably not gonna work out”. But it did, and like I said, being a part of really 25% of the incredible history of the hits that Chicago was made and my contribution to that. Any of the other stuff, because I heard the original guys over the years struggling with the fact that the Hall of Fame was ignoring the band and quite frankly, it’s funny. It’s an honor, obviously, but on the other hand, it’s kind of what they ended up doing as far as who they’ve inducted and who they haven’t inducted has kind of hammered the credibility of it. I worked a lot with Todd Rundgren over the last three years, and Todd being inducted, and I was with him when it looked like he was going to be, well, actually, nominated for the first time and I watched his attitude and energy toward it. He didn’t even show up, to each their own. But to go out and perform at the induction and my name, not being a part of it, they went with the original seven guys, and Danny Sarafin actually said to me when we finished, he goes, “You should be inducted”. I said, “You know what, I’m so happy the way this is all worked out”. Like you said, there is a demographic of people that came up during the years that the band first started, during the years that I joined the group, and there I am standing center stage, singing “25 or 6 to 4” with Cheap Trick in front of me. My friends in Deep Purple, David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes jumping up and giving me high fives. As far as my name being a part of it, it doesn’t matter to me. This has just been such an incredible ride, and for all intents and purposes, if people go and look on YouTube for the induction of Chicago in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, there I am. It’s kind of hit and miss as far as what the board of the Hall determines. Some bands have had 50,000 members that were there for like a year or two years, it doesn’t matter, man, we’re all in. As the manager of the band said, “This is all of our awards”, so I’m completely comfortable and happy with it. 19:16Now streaming on nugs.net – Bruce Springsteen LIVE – 40 years of concerts on-demand. Stream exclusive official recordings from The Roxy ’75 to stadiums in the 2000s.
On why he left Chicago – Well, it’s pretty well known that my in-laws were ill, specifically my mother-in-law, her breast cancer had come back and they basically said, the treatment isn’t working, so this is like the final march. I was able to go to management and the guys at the beginning of 2016 and tell them. I’ve watched this with so many artists, that moment in time comes when life is hitting and you have to make decisions, and I’ll never be able to thank these guys enough, first of all, for bringing me into their family, but when I needed to go home and take care of mine, that they were so supportive and understanding, and it’s just a beautiful ride. In fact, the Hall of Fame was about three or four shows before the last one that I did, which was a sold-out Madison Square Garden with Earth, Wind, and Fire. This is incredible . 22:13