First-hand account of life after Chicago, new solo release, and touring with Todd Rundgren
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
December 2, 2019
Jason Scheff is best known as the longtime bassist for the band Chicago, a position he held for some three decades upon replacing the band’s original bassist, Peter Cetera. The son of studio legend Jerry Scheff (Elvis Presley, The Doors, Bob Dylan), Jason’s latest solo album, Here I Am, was released in November 2019. At the time of our conversation, Jason was on tour with Todd Rundgren, Christopher Cross and other rock notables, performing a Beatles White Album tribute show.
FBPO: So, you’re in the middle of a Beatles White album show?
Jason: Yeah, it’s a blast, man! It’s with Todd Rundgren, Christopher Cross, Mickey Dolenz, and Joey Molland, the guitar player of Badfinger. It’s really a lot of fun!
FBPO: That’s quite a combination of players.
Jason: Sure is. It’s really diverse too.
FBPO: Is it anything like what Will Lee does with his Fab Faux band?
Jason: I’ve never seen that, but I was talking to Will a lot, leading up to this, to just pick his brain about certain things. I don’t know how perfectly those guys replicate the music, note for note, but we have a guy who was the music director – still is, I think – of the Broadway production Rain, so those guys really are meticulous about getting parts and sounds like the records. Between him and the drummer – the drummer’s a real Beatles aficionado also – those guys really brought the essence of the record to the project. Then we put ourselves over top of it, and our personalities are there. It’s really a lot of fun, Jon.
FBPO: Do you do every song on the album? That would be a lot of songs. It’s a double album.
Jason: Almost. It’s a two and-a-half hour show, with a 20-minute intermission.
FBPO: You don’t do “Revolution 9,” do you?
Jason: That’s the song that they play when we’re walking on stage, when it goes dark.
FBPO: (Laughing) That’s funny!
Jason: People are kind of giggling after the lights go down (and) all of the sudden, “Number 9, Number 9, Number 9…” They start laughing.
FBPO: There are some great songs, too. “Rocky Raccoon,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Blackbird…”
Jason: Oh yeah, it’s great.
FBPO: How did the tour come together?
Jason (Sings): Come together, right now, over me! I think Toby, Christopher Cross’ manager, I know he’s done this before, actually, with Christopher and Todd. In the early 2000s, I think, they did, I think, Sgt. Pepper and one other album, with Alan Parsons, and one of the girls from Heart, so it’s really a fun thing that they do. People trip out because they see all these personalities, and we’re really working well together. Todd Rundgren is just something else! This guy’s such a performer. Obviously, he loves the music. It’s such a great gig and everything, but this is a guy… he reminds me of Chaplin, in the way that, when he’s onstage, he doesn’t leave anything in the tank, and it’s so great to be around that.
FBPO: How did Mickey Dolenz get mixed up with that group?
Jason: They just, you know, they had all these names, and then at the very end, I finished a solo record with Jay Demarcus of Rascal Flatts, the guy who produced Chicago XXX, and Jay has been such a great friend and such a big champion of my cause. I’d really categorize him, along with Robert Lamm, two guys that were really pushing (me) because they loved what I do. So Jay has just been, you know, “Man, let’s finish this record and, I don’t know if you really want to get out there and do any dates, but there’s a lot of people out there that would love to see you.” And I (said), “Well, just as long as I don’t have to be gone long.” So he started beating the bushes, and some agents had me out in Nashville, and, “Yeah, absolutely, we’d love to work with him.” One of them said, “I know this one project where they’re looking for a bass player that sings and has a name and a pedigree, and it’s an all-star band performing the Beatles White album. Do you think Jay’s going be into that?” And so when he found out who it was, he said, “Absolutely,” and that’s how I got involved in it.
FBPO: Are you playing keyboards or anything else other than bass?
Jason: I am. I’m playing a piano on “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” ‘cause we do a couple songs of our own, “25 or 6 to 4,” during our set. We play a couple of our own hits, but that’s it. Just piano, on one tune.
FBPO: You put out a solo record not too long ago, didn’t you?
Jason: I have one out that was from the ‘90s, then this new one (came) out in November. The new one is something I started basically on the heels of Chicago XXX because my relationship with Jay Demarcus and Rascal Flatts had really developed. By the time Chicago was ready to go in and do an album, in the mid-2000s, that was the fire starter. The fact that we brought those guys in was the reason that we got the push behind making that album happen. We hadn’t recorded anything new in years. The business had changed so much that records just weren’t selling like they used to, so it kind of looked like it might be the last record. The fans were asking, “Are you going to make a record?” and Jay was the one that pushed. He said, “Let’s get in, let’s keep going.” And so we did and we got about half-way through and I just said, “You know, I’m not really interested in this right now,” so we put it down until a couple years ago, when Jay said, “Let’s get in and finish that record. Let’s listen to what we have so far and decide what to do next.
I’m guessing it sounded pretty good!
Jason: We saw that we had some amazing stuff recorded and said, “Okay, great, let’s finish it up.” (Jay) said, “Let me talk to some agents and see if people maybe want to bring you out and do some limited dates. You don’t have to do more than you want to do. My guests on (the record) are Robby Krieger of the Doors, who plays a great slide part on one of the songs, I’ve got Alex Lifeson, who played some great acoustic guitars on one of the songs, Tommy Thayer of KISS, I had him on a couple tunes. And Jay Demarcus plays bass in Rascal Flatts, and he really wanted to play bass on some of the stuff when we were tracking it. I said, “Absolutely!” so Jay actually is playing bass on a handful of the tracks. And I hired one of my favorite bass players in the world, and I know he’s one of yours ‘cause he’s one of everybody’s, I hired Pino Palladino to come in and play on a couple tracks.
FBPO: Fretless, I assume?
Jason: Actually, one of the tunes is a fretless. The other one was just an old P bass sound, kind of what he does with John Mayer, that kind of thing. But it was just so wonderful having him on it. And he said the sweetest thing to me too, when he came in. He said, “I have to be honest, I’m surprised you hired me, because I know what you do, and I know you play.” I said, “Well, I’m old enough to be smart enough now to say, I want Pino Palladino!” [Laughs] “I want his thing. I don’t have to do everything.” So, that made me feel good, though, that he said that.
FBPO: What’s the title of the record?
Jason: Here I Am.
FBPO: Tell me about your gear.
Jason: You know, what I took out on this tour, that I’m loving, and Jay Demarcus plays them so he set me up with them, (are from) a company out of Nashville, called Bluesman Vintage. They’re great. They feel like old basses. I’ve got a gold, that’s distressed, you know, looking like it’s a relic. It’s light as a feather, just wonderful. And the neck feels like an old Jazz bass, so I’ve got that out with me. And they just rented an amp, the backline. It’s an Aguilar, which is sounding really good. And I’ve still got my Warwicks. I still have a great relationship with them, so depending on what the gig is, I may still be (using those) too, but on this current tour, I’ve got the Bluesman Vintage out with me.
FBPO: What about strings?
Jason: You know what? I have been a Bass Boomers, GHS guy forever. I love those strings and that company.
FBPO: Anything else, as far as gear, effects, or anything like that?
Jason: Not really. I think I’m going to be looking into a TC Helicon (VoiceLive) unit because I’m going to be doing some, literally, solo dates. I’ve got one on Valentine’s Day in Bonita Springs, Florida. I’m literally going to be just a solo. Piano, vocal, and I’m probably going to bring a guitar. And you can put some tracks into this thing, and so I’ll have a bass, and guitar. Christopher Cross has one onstage and, for solo performers, it’s really a great thing. You can do some really awesome improvisational looping stuff with it, and great vocal processing, and instrument processing too. I think that that’s in my future, TC Helicon.
FBPO: How’s your dad doing? What’s he up to these days?
Jason: He’s over in Sweden, and he seems to be doing real well. He looks really great. I saw, he sent me a photo and he looks really good, really healthy. I’m lucky, both my parents are still around.
FBPO: Is he living over there, in Sweden?
Jason: Yeah. He was living in Scotland for many years, and then recently went to Sweden. He likes being over in that part of the world. He’s one of the greats, isn’t he?
FBPO: He is! Somebody sent me his biography several years ago, which I read with great interest. I devoured it. What else is coming up for you?
Jason: Just working with all these people. A lot of bands are winding down, there’s a lot of farewell tours goin’ on out there. Fortunately, Chicago is continuing as strong as ever. They’re awesome. The guy Neil (Donell), who’s singing with them, is fantastic. It’s always been his dream to sing with Chicago, so they’re out there, stronger than ever, touring a lot. For me, I can (now) stay close to my family. We’ve been through an awful lot, with a lot of loss over the last few years, so it’s really important for me to be available to my wife especially. I’m putting a band together, a great band. I’m gonna do a cruise also, in February, called The ‘70s Rock & Romance Cruise. It’s funny, Todd Rundgren’s gonna be on it too, so we’ll have had this experience together on this tour, and then I’ll see him on the boat, along with a lot of other friends of mine. America, Gerry (Beckley) and Dewey (Bunnell) are friends of mine. And Pablo Cruise. A lot of other artists on that. It’s gonna be great. I’ll have my band there, and I’m speaking to several agents that want to start putting me out there in limited dates. So, in 2020, I think you’re probably going to see me performing out there a bit. We’re gonna have a rockin’ band. My 18-year-old son is a great musician, and I believe he’s going to be playing drums with me on the cruise. I want him to be with me as much as he can be, but I think my 21-year-old is gonna snatch him up. My 21-year-old just got signed to a major label. It so funny, he doesn’t even talk about it. He’s like me. People would always ask him, “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to be on TV?” JJ has been signed, and Connor’s might be scooped up by (him). If not, he’ll be out there playing with me, ‘cause he’s great.
See Jon’s blog, with key takeaways from this interview, here.
Jason’s just-released album, Here I Am, is available here: