Wrote "Just You 'N' Me," "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long" and "Old Days" among many others
Pankow started playing the trombone at age 10
Trombone player James Pankow is a founding member of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Chicago. He also wrote many of the band's hits including the signature songs "Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World"--both part of his 13-minute, seven-song song cycle/suite "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon," which took up three-quarters of the second side of the group's 1970 album Chicago (also known as Chicago II), and was the its first long-format multi-part work. Other Chicago songs penned by Pankow include "Just You 'N' Me," "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long," "Old Days," "Alive Again," and (co-written with Peter Cetera) "Feelin' Stronger Every Day."
Born in St. Louis in 1947, Pankow started paying the trombone at age 10, when he went to sign up for his grammar school band and there was a long line for the instruments he really wanted to learn. He earned a full college music scholarship to Quincy College in Quincy, Ill., but didn't take it seriously and was in danger of failing unless he wrote a long essay about Renaissance music or composed an original piece of music. Choosing the latter, he wrote a three-movement sonata for brass quintet, and the experience was pivotal: Not only did he get a great grade, but the composition was performed as part of the commencement ceremony.
In 1966, Pankow transferred to DePaul University in Chicago, where saxophonist/flautist Walter Parazaider and trumpeter Lee Loughnane were already attending. Meanwhile, keyboardist Robert Lamm was a student at Roosevelt University in Chicago, while guitarist Terry Kath was in a band called the Missing Links with Parazaider and drummer Daniel Seraphine. But Parazaider wanted to form a rock 'n' roll band with a horn section, and in 1967, the original six members of a Chicago verbally committed to devoting all their free time to making it happen. They later enlisted bassist Peter Cetera from the Chicago band the Exceptions, and he provided a tenor voice to balance Kath's and Lamm's bass and baritone lead voices.
Calling themselves the Big Thing, the band moved to Los Angeles in 1968, and then changed the name to Chicago Transit Authority. After receiving a cease-and-desist order from the real Chicago Transit Authority, the name was shortened to Chicago shortly after release of the band's debut album in 1969.
As for Pankow's most asked-about "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon," it was inspired by his love of long classical music song cycles—and the love of his life, who was attending West Virginia Wesleyan in Buckhannon, W.Va. It was written when he was 22 and listening to Bach, whose voicing, counterpoint and melody influenced his effort. And he wrote it while the band was on the road touring, and according to Pankow—it has remained unique and challenging for the touring band ever since.