Make Me Smile! Meet Cincinnati's Chicago Tribute Band

12 hours ago

If you're a fan of the band Chicago – like me – these guys will make you smile. Cincinnati has a new Chicago tribute band called the Cincinnati Transit Authority.

Rick Auhagen put together a band which plays tunes from Chicago's first nine albums, including their 1969 debut when they were called the Chicago Transit Authority.

Auhagen, bass player Adam Scovanner and guitarist Michael Oakley talk with me about the band on Around Cincinnati at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, to promote their concert 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at Middletown's historic Sorg Opera House.

Lead singer Rick Auhagen.
Credit Courtesy Cincinnati Transit Authority

"I've always been a huge Chicago fan. It was very influential on my musically, politically and socially. If you grew up in the '70s, you know what I'm talking about," says lead vocalist Auhagen, long-time lead vocalist for Aja, Cincinnati's Steeley Dan tribute band.

"In the summer of 2017, I was watching a 1970s YouTube video of Chicago from Tanglewood, Calif., and I just had this idea that I have to do this. The musicianship, the vibe they were putting out – I thought – I've just gotta take a shot, and try to replicate that."

The Oct. 20 concert at the Sorg Opera House, 63 S. Main St., in downtown Middletown, is only the second for the Cincinnati Transit Authority. The first one was in February, eight months ago, at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley.

"We knew this going in," Aughagen says. "Contractually, some guys in the band had obligations through the summer, and I knew this going in. But I didn't want to wait to debut it. In this business, booking four to six months down the road is not out of line."

Guitarist Michael Oakley
Credit Courtesy Cincinnati Transit Authority

The eight-piece band plays Chicago's hits from the first nine albums, before founding guitarist Terry Kath died in 1978.  They play "Colour My World," "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?," "Make Me Smile," "26 or 6 To 4," and a heavy dose from the first CTA album: "Beginnings," "Listen,"  "Poem 58," "Questions 67 & 68" and the iconic "Introduction."

Oakley has the intimidating role of playing the guitar licks created by Kath, of whom Jimi Hendrix once said, "Your guitar player is better than me."

Trumpeter Michael Mavridoglou from Aja put together the horn section: Ben Walkenhaur on sax, and Dominic Marino on trombone, plus himself.

Drummer Adam Wheeler also played in Aja. The rest of the band includes Scovanner on bass guitar and Mark Clifford on keyboards.

Bass player Adam Scovanner
Credit Courtesy Cincinnati Transit Authority

From the experience playing Steely Dan hits, Auhagen knows that "if you want to be a tribute band, you have to have spot on renditions… because there is somebody in the audience that's going to remember that the guitar player in bar 48 just did a small three-count slide, and if you don't do that, you're not paying homage to the band you are doing."

After an eight-month wait, the guys are ready to rock again.

"The music is not that easy to replicate, but the band does such a wonderful job.  I find myself on stage just smiling the whole night, when I hear little nuances from these guys," Auhagen says.

I can't wait to hear the Cincinnati Transit Authority rock the Sorg Opera House. These guys are going to make me smile.

Around Cincinnati airs 7-8 p.m. Sunday on WVXU-FM (91.7) and WMUB-FM (88.5). Tickets for the concert ($20 in advance) are available at the Sorg Opera House website. 

Sunday's Around Cincinnati also includes a rebroadcast of my July interview with Chad Dotson,  co-author of The Big 50: Cincinnati Reds: The Men and Moments that Made the Cincinnati Reds. Dotson will be among more than 160 authors at the Books by the Banks Regional Book Festival 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Duke Energy Convention Center.