Neil Donell has been called the man of a thousand voices, but for fans of Chicago, it’s just one voice that they’re hearing.
The longtime Toronto resident, who has a vocal range of four octaves, is the newest addition to the group.
Donell was initially contacted by the Rock and Roll Hall of famers after they saw his work online.
“I’ve had a relationship with the band for about two years now,” he said in a recent interview with 900 CHML.
“They kind of found me on some stuff on YouTube, back when they were considering making a change in the line-up. Things didn’t progress beyond my hanging around them for a while and spending some time at a rehearsal space in Ohio. But, I’ve maintained a relationship with them, so everytime they were around and I was nearby, they would invite me up to do a tune.”
That tune was “You’re the Inspiration,” which fans heard when the band played in Toronto and in Hamilton at the First Ontario Centre in 2016.
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When the band was looking for a new singer in January following the departure of Jeff Coffey, they contacted Donell. But it wasn’t as easy as just saying “yes,” he pointed out.
“It was quite complex, as you can imagine,” he said. “An organization of that size, that’s been around that long has a lot of moving parts. And my being from another country, there was a lot of extenuating circumstances.”
Like for most musicians, the trip to the top of the mountain was a long one.
Donell said he’s a “a bit of a curiosity” within his family, which doesn’t have other musicians or anyone in the entertainment business.
“I took it upon myself to join school choirs when I was younger,” he said. “When I was in high school, I got involved in a couple of rock bands, the second one of which was playing Chicago music. Anything with horns in it, we would do. When I was in university I was working with a band there, and did some session work. I’m originally from Montreal, and ended up in Toronto in 1983 and got involved with session work there. I’ve logged more than 10,000 sessions in my career.”
Chicago has been performing for the last three weeks at the Venetian Theatre in Las Vegas. Donell said it’s been quite the musical journey on stage, especially when they start the show by playing all the songs in order from Chicago II.
“This is an incredible body of work, and doing this every night with them, my face hurts from smiling at the end of the first set. It sounds just like the record; it’s that good.”
Fans in Southern Ontario can find out for themselves on Aug. 8. Chicago, along with REO Speedwagon, will perform at the Budweiser Stage in Toronto.