Jason Scheff: Nothin’s Gonna Stop Him (part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part One

Almost from the start, you were placing some of your compositions on the group’s albums. Were they songs that you already had, or did you write to the strengths of Chicago?

I signed a publishing deal; that’s what got me to the band. I started running with Bobby Caldwell; I wrote a song trying to get his attention. Boz Scaggs ended up cutting it in 1988. “Heart of Mine” was Boz’s comeback single.

So I joined Chicago as the tenor lead vocalist, and sang a huge hit on Chicago 18, “Will You Still Love Me?” All of this stuff was happening in the mid ‘80s, and it was a great time. On the first album with David Foster, I had one song, “Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” And then, from that point on, I was lucky. We worked hard, continually. They were still out there playing a lot of dates. And if you’ve got families and obligations, there wasn’t a lot of time to do anything else. We’d get off the road, and the guys would be taking vacations. But I was constantly writing.

And you bet I was writing pointed towards Chicago! I’m in the band, so it’s the best way to get your songs heard. So, I really became the principal songwriter of the group during my years. I had the most songs on the records, because I had tons to choose from.

Beyond Chicago, your hundreds of session credits as a vocalist are really varied. What’s the most unusual session that you’ve ever done?

Okay, that’s easy: Britney Spears! Rodney Jerkins was producing [remotely] from Miami, so he wasn’t even in the studio; we had him in our headphones. It was a collection of a dozen of the greatest L.A. session singers all in one room. It was a group vocal, and it was for a movie called Crossroads. We were singing “I Love Rock ’N’ Roll.” It was unison, so you could’ve gotten anybody to do this, but I was looking at a who’s who of session singers including Chris Thompson from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, the guy who sang “Blinded by the Light.”

I was looking down the line, and these people were just cocked and loaded, ready to give this performance. It was this incredible sound, but then Rodney said, “That was really great, but what I’m looking for is … you need to sound bad, like you’re drunk.” I was watching these people freaking out: “What?”’

But I was thinking, “You picked the right guy. I’m going to give you what you need.” And I did! The girl standing next to me was recoiling, and I was laughing to myself. I’m a professional. I’m that much of a pro. I can give you what you want.

You left Chicago in 2016, but you’ve stayed very busy with other musical pursuits. You released a solo album, Here I Am, in 2019. And you lead a band called Chicago Nights. What inspired you to put that project together?

I started doing some stuff of my own; I did a cruise and basically played and sang the music that I’d been performing for over 30 years. I didn’t how it would go over, but people just loved it.

I just did my second Symphony date of the year. I really love those, too, because the music is perfect for it. My music director Bo Cooper based his work off of the Jimmie Haskell orchestrations from the ‘70s; they’re amazing. So I do dates as Jason Scheff’s Chicago Nights and then some others as Jason Scheff’s Chicago Nights at the Symphony. It’s just a blast!

You’re playing golf in this year’s American Century Golf Tournament in Tahoe. How did you get involved in that event?

Jay DeMarcus has been doing it for 15 or 16 years, I think. Jonathan Thomas – the CEO of American Century Investments – and I have become close over the last few years, and he invited me. I thought, “Man, everybody wants to play in that thing! So, thank you.” I love to play golf. I just played in the BMW Pro Am Tournament down in Greenville, South Carolina. And then I went on to a second one in Kiawah Island for football player Greg Olsen. I’m “getting some reps in” so that I’m ready for Tahoe.