Most great musicians are lucky if they get the opportunity to play in one spectacular band in a lifetime. And that’s what legendary drummer and founding member of Chicago Danny Seraphine thought when his tenure with that group came to a sudden end in 1990. After those wonderful 23 years, he put aside his drums figuring he would never find that magic again.
But a benefit show brought him out of his seclusion in 2006 and awakened in him his passion for playing music again. Shortly thereafter CTA – California Transit Authority – was born when Seraphine teamed up with guitarist Marc Bonilla who has produced, recorded and performed with such artists as Ronnie Montrose, Eddie Jobson, David Coverdale, Edgar Winter, Sammy Hagar, and Keith Emerson and composed and performed for such TV shows and films as “The Bourne Legacy,” “Iron Man 2,” “Spider-Man 2,” “ER” and “Justified.” Bonilla began to help Seraphine craft the perfect band.
“Chicago was such an inspiration to me in my formative years as a musician that I felt this was an opportunity to give back a little for all the music they gave me throughout the years,” Bonilla says.
The idea was to recruit world-class musicians, stellar vocalists, strong writers and arrangers to craft new and inspirational versions of Chicago tunes and compose originals in a unit recognized as a force to be reckoned with.
Bonilla brought keyboardist extraordinaire Ed Roth into the band. With Roth’s background, having played or recorded with diverse luminaries such as Annie Lennox, the Brothers Johnson, Keith Emerson, Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford and Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughe’s, CTA is right up his ally. He also enjoys his own solo career with two instrumental contemporary jazz releases and a third one on the way.
“CTA has elements of the types of music that I feel the most -- jazz, R&B and Blues -- with plenty of room to stretch out and improvise,” Roth says. “And it's great playing with musicians who play music the way it should be performed – playing each show like it could be the last time they play music.”
Taking center stage with lead vocals in CTA is actor/writer/producer and Grammy-nominated musician Tony Grant. He was recently seen in Tyler Perry’s comedy series “Love Thy Neighbor” and went on to star in several of Perry’s productions. He began his stage career in 1991 and soon after landed his first record deal going on to perform with such artists as Brian McKnight, Dr. Dre, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, James Brown, Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder and Harry Connick Jr. Grant’s good looks and soulful 1st tenor voice make him the perfect interpreter for Peter Cetera’s vocals which Grant describes as going in and out of singing from his diaphragm and using his head tones.
“I sing from my diaphragm, head tones as well as upper chest tones,” Grant explains. “Peter is amazing and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of staying true to his brilliance as a vocalist. Especially with me being an African American Male.”
Travis Davis, the bassist for the group, also sings lead. His music can be heard on such network shows as “Las Vegas,” Monarch Cove” and “VH-1.” He has performed with such notables as Eric Martin, Alice Cooper, Tesla, Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater, Richard Page, Sammy Hagar, Robby Kreiger, Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer, Slash, Fee Waybill, Steve Lukather, Lee Sklar, Kevin Cronin, Thomas Lang and Keith Emerson.
As the innovator of fusing rock and jazz at the foundation of Chicago’s music, Seraphine was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. The same legendary drumming is at the core of CTA’s funk, jazz, and rock material supporting the searing guitars, blazing horns and impassioned vocals.
He started this CTA with new arrangements from the arsenal of Chicago material because it was in his DNA, he has said.
“I’m playing with world-class musicians who grew up with Chicago’s music so we play it with the respect, integrity, Intensity and fire reminiscent of the original CTA,” Seraphine asserts. “All this while still maintaining our own identity.”
Thus far, CTA has recorded two albums – Full Circle and Sacred Ground -- and Seraphine says he’s hoping to release another CD of original material soon. He’s also planning more international touring.
“We killed it in Japan recently and I am looking forward to getting more meaningful gigs,” Seraphine says. “Like the original CTA we have no weaknesses. This band has it all.”
With CTA Seraphine knows he’s one of the fortunate few to experience musical magic twice.