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Tris Imboden finds peace, quiet in Malibu

(Left to right) Drummer Tris Imboden, of Malibu, Dave Zielski, Rotary past president and John Elman, Rotary secretary gather for a photo during the Middle and High School Singing Competition at Pepperdine last month. Barbara Burke/22nd Century Media
Barbara Burke, Freelance Reporter
10:09 am PST February 10, 2017

Tris Imboden, of the band Chicago, has traveled around the world and back behind a set of drums.

But at home in Malibu, he is able to unwind a bit, and he recently offered his expert opinion to young, aspiring musicians during the Malibu Rotary Club’s annual choral competition at Pepperdine last month. It was here that the Surfside caught up with Imboden. 

“I’m delighted to serve the community of Malibu by judging this competition,” Imboden said. “I’m not able to give back as much as I wish I could because often I am on the road.”

Imboden is a six-year cancer survivor, and that has led him to become a volunteer ambassador for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Imboden launched the society’s One Degree Project, which asks Congress for more cancer research funding. The project gets its name from the reality that everyone is one degree away from cancer, as most people have had a family member or very close friend suffer from cancer. 

An avid surfer, Imboden has lived in Malibu for 20 years and enjoys it more than ever.

“Malibu is a kinder, gentler place, a throwback to older times,” he said. 

Imboden is a rock royal — a legend in the world of music.  

Before joining Chicago, he was a drummer for the Kenny Loggins Band and he played on “This Is It,” “Whenever I Call You Friend,” “I’m Alright” (from “Caddyshack”), and “Footloose.” He also worked with Al Jarreau and recorded with Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder, Richard Marx, David Foster, and many more. 

Imboden was to go on the road with Chicago on Feb. 2, as the band celebrates its 50th anniversary.

In all that time, Chicago has never missed a year of touring. Band founders Robert Lamm (keyboards and vocals), Lee Loughnane (trumpet), James Pankow (trombone), and Walt Parazaider (woodwinds) remain in the original crew.

The band has been highly successful, with over 100 million records sold and various Top 10 pop and contemporary singles over the years.

Chicago’s legacy of rock, horns and hits was recently featured in its award-winning documentary film “Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago.”

Imboden joined the band when the original drummer, Danny Seraphine, left 27 years ago — just in time for the group’s release of “Twenty 1.”

Malibu Surfside News asks a logical question of Imboden: “How do you keep it real when a band has been playing for so long?”

“We’re always trying to inspire each other for each evening’s performance,” he said. “I’m a perfectionist. It’s never perfect. It never will be perfect. That’s part of the allure of playing.

“I’ve been with the band for 27 years, but I am so impressed by the fact that Robert Lamm has been playing tunes like ‘Saturday in the Park,’ ‘Only the Beginning,’ and ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’ for 50 years. He makes it fresh every night and sings them like they were just written.”

Imboden has thoroughly enjoyed being with the band.  

“I’m proud I am a member of the band and that they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, although that event recognized Danny Seraphine as the original drummer,” Imboden said. 

When asked what musical highlight he cherishes most, Imboden spoke of Chicago touring with Earth Wind and Fire.

“The two bands practiced together for a month. Earth Wind and Fire practiced Chicago’s songs, and vice versa,” he said. “It was a fun and powerful experience. We had six horns, two bass, numerous keyboard players and the vocalists swapped singing one another’s tunes. The performances were so tight that no credit card could fit through the cracks.”

Imboden is one of those people who engages a person with an infectious smile the minute you meet him. Therefore, Malibu Surfside News asked him, “What was one of the funniest incident you ever encountered while performing?’ 

Grinning and without missing a beat, he responded, “One of the funniest incidents was when I played for Kenny Loggins. It was sort of a tradition for the road crew to give the band a hard time on the last show of the tour. It was my first year with Kenny, and a drum tech duct taped my drum seat to the stage and taped me to the stool. Then, he started taking away drum by drum while we were still performing. Kenny noticed there was a different sound. The only way I kept any drums was to hold on to some for dear life. At the end of the night, I was there sitting all alone, duct taped. I finally managed to undo myself, but I was still dragging duct tape off of my rear end.”

For 27 years Imboden has been the drummer for the legendary rock ‘n’ roll band with horns. He is proud to call Malibu home and Malibu is proud to have him as one of its own.