In 2016 when Jeff Coffey became only the third bassist/vocalist for the band Chicago in their nearly 50-year career, he knew he had some big shoes to fill.
Though he was technically replacing Jason Scheff—who had held the spot since 1985—most of the general public on tour would be comparing him to original member Peter Cetera. After all, it was Cetera’s ingrained and saturated high tenor FM radio lead vocals that Coffey would have to pull off on tunes like “If You Leave Me Now,” “Just You ‘N Me,” “25 or 6 to 4,” and “Hard to Say I'm Sorry.”
And, as our review of last summer’s concert described, he nailed it. Coffey added a lot of oomph to a show and a band that had, frankly, grown complacent in recent years. So it was a bit of a surprise when it was announced this past February that Coffey and Chicago parted ways after less than two years.
Coffey has gone on record as saying the band’s heavy concert schedule (which got heavier after the band entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in and had a CNN documentary) was the main factor in his departure, as he wanted to spend more time with his family. He estimates that in 2017 he spend 270 days on the road playing around 123 shows.
“Chicago has a very intense tour schedule. Those guys pretty much live on the road and they like to tour. And they do just as much as they did back in the heyday. But there’s more to that story that just the touring, the reason for me leaving,” Coffey offers – though he does not elaborate.
“It was a hard decision, and it’s strange that the thing I love to do the most and that I’m the best at takes me away from the people that I love the most,” he continues. “That’s the job description, and it sucks in that. But I think there’s a balance you can get to, and it’s different for everyone. I’m still looking for it, but I think you can have it.”
Still, he says the biggest thing that he learned from his time with the group was the value of fans, particularly Chicago’s hardcore dedicated followers.
And he feels that their catalog is one of the greatest ever. “It was a blast to play that music every night, and was never boring. And getting to sing those [iconic] songs,” he sums up. “I loved just watching how the audience enjoyed it. It was a magical time.”
Coffey’s current band gig is with former Eagle Don Felder, who he calls a “genuinely nice guy.” But the singer/bassist/guitarist's upcoming show in Houston will be a completely solo show that will mix songs from his previous solo CDs (2003’s Jeff Coffey and 2007’s Long Way Home), new material that will appear on an upcoming solo record, Chicago songs, and some surprise covers.
As a teaser to the record that he hopes to have out by later this year, Coffey released the bouyant digital single “Got to Get Away.” Though the timing of its release led some to believe it had a hidden meaning.
“Being that it came out right after I left Chicago, a lot of people thought it was about that. But actually, it was written well before I even joined the band,” he says. “It’s just all about that feeling of how life can be crazy and stressful and you just feel that need to get out of town and put your feet in a different place. In another city, another country, or with sand between your toes under a palm tree where you can unplug.”
A sampling of his new material shows that Coffey bounces around between rock, pop, ballads, and even ‘80s sounding material. This genre jumping though, is nothing new for him. “Having the freedom to just do whatever comes to you is great. And I’ll pick the songs for the record that go best together cohesively,” he says. “I do like to take a left turn here and there in terms of style of the song, because I think that makes things interesting for the listener.”
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As for his Houston show, Coffey says he’s looking forward to the unique venue where he’ll be making his first post-Chicago appearance in the area.
“I had a lot of fans tell me I needed to check out this place called the Dosey Doe. So I did, and they’ve had a lot of big acts there!” he says. “And I’m going to video it and use some of that footage. I’m really looking forward to focusing on my solo career now.”
Jeff Coffey plays at 8:30 p.m., October 6, at the Dosey Doe Big Barn, 25911 I-45 North. Call 281-367-3774 or visit DoseyDoe.com. $24 & $30.
For more on Jeff Coffey, visit JeffCoffey.com