Growing up the son of legendary bass guitarist Jerry Scheff, who played for such acts as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and The Doors, Jason was born into music.
He began playing piano around six or seven years old. Then guitar and drums around age 10 and then finally he picked up the bass guitar.
“Around age 14 I got my first bass guitar and it was just super natural. I realized I didn’t have to work as hard with that instrument,” he said.
Growing up, his parents divorced and his dad moved away, so he didn’t see him often between the distance and his dad touring. Around age 14, he joined his Mom’s band and started earning some money for his talents. This only cemented his desire for a music career.
When Scheff was 16, he decided to quit school and joined a band called “People Movers.” He was failing classes from playing so much music and already knew music was what he wanted to do.
In 1984, Peter Cetera decided to step down as tenor/lead vocalist for the band “Chicago” following their best selling album “Chicago 17.” The band and their producer at the time, David Foster, began searching for a replacement.
Scheff just happened to be a fan of “Chicago” and Peter Cetera.
“I love to tell this story because there was just no way this was going to happen but it did! It’s incredible how it worked out! I always felt the real era [for “Chicago”] was the 1970’s and up to ‘Chicago 17’,” he said.
Scheff had written a few songs and had the opportunity to pitch one of those first songs for possible consideration from Peter Cetera for his upcoming solo album. The song was titled “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Scheff was singing on the demo and sent the song in.
“My publisher got a request for songs for Peter Cetera’s new record or for someone to write with him. So they said they had this new kid and I had like three songs in my catalog. ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ was one of them and ‘Heart of Mine’ was another and it was recorded by Boz Scaggs, so they heard my demo and said I sounded like the guy they may need for the band. I had actually known Bill [Champlin] before that as a bass player but he had no idea I sang because I wasn’t going to open my mouth in front of him; you know what I mean? So it was a big surprise for everybody. Bill Champlin and Robert Lamm, the voices of that band, these guys were amazing. I walked in and David Foster [Producer] said the tenor would be singing all the singles off the next record [‘Chicago 18’]. These guys were so gracious because I know that must have been tough because these guys had both sang on big records and this unproven kid comes in and particularly Robert Lamm, he really took me under his wing and was so supportive and encouraging so it was as good of an opportunity as you could hope for,” he explained.
This began a career that would make Scheff the “voice of Chicago” for the next three decades. Interestingly enough, Scheff feels that had the band not gone into the studio first to cut the album “Chicago 18” before touring, things may not have worked out as well.
“If I had gone out on the road first, I don’t know if it would have lasted to tell you the truth because in a lot of ways, I wasn’t ready. I thank these guys so deeply for bringing me into that family of theirs. Obviously they knew something and felt something and they were right because it worked but they could have anybody but they went with me and let me know they really wanted me there and wanted it to work out, but I know if we had gone on the road first, my confidence would have really been challenged.Going into the studio, that’s always been my ‘wheelhouse’ and still is. That’s where I feel the most comfortable and going into recording that record from note one it just worked!” he said.
After stepping down from “Chicago” in 2016 due to family reasons, Scheff focused on a solo career. He had previously released the album “Chauncy” in 1997. In 2019, he recorded the album “Here I Am” with his longtime friend Jay DeMarcus, from the band “Rascal Flatts”, co-producing the album.
“In 2003, I got a letter from Jay [DeMarcus] at the Washington State Fair. I showed up at the gig and this lady who runs things asked me if I knew who Rascal Flatts was and I told her no. She said they were a country group and had been there the night before. They had sold the place out and had really started getting popular. So she explained they were big fans of ‘Chicago’ and they mentioned it on stage that we would be playing two nights after them and she said Jay wanted her to give this to me and she gave me a letter and it started out ‘dear Jason’ and it explained they were big ‘Chicago’ fans and we were the reason they played music and it said he had particularly watched my era of ‘Chicago.’ He said he would love to get with me to write some music and left me his number. So this relationship started and over the next several years we wrote a lot of songs and I wrote with a lot of the great Nashville writers as I started getting back to Nashville. That ended up becoming the catalyst to get ‘Chicago’ back in the studio for ‘Chicago 30’ which Jay [DeMarcus] produced,” he said.
The foundation for that friendship was laid and it produced not only a lot of new songs, but has now created the current band for both artists called “The Rise Above.”
“We had started coming out of this lockdown, in particular the United States. We had gotten to a place here where people were at each other’s throats and Facebook had turned into a cesspool of friends getting into arguments and it seemed like everyone was continually being dragged down and Jay came up with the idea saying we [as a nation] just need to rise above all this stuff and be a light rather than all this darkness so ‘The Rise Above’ is really all about that. About rising above this global division and I’m not blaming anybody or any side for this, nor taking any particular stance or position, but we have to find some common ground here so that’s what it’s about,” he explained.
“Our set list is just mind blowing. You go down the list and just go from hit to hit. It’s all from different bands so you never get tired of the same sound.”
DeMarcus and Scheff had known for a long time that eventually they wanted to be in a band together.
“Jay and I always said there would come a day when our time would open up and we would do something together. When Rascal Flatts decided to take a break, Jay said it’s time. Jay had always wanted to work with Deen Castronovo from Journey. So Jay, Deen and I became the focal point for this new band. We took the best songs from ‘Journey’, ‘Rascal Flatts’ and ‘Chicago’. Everybody we have played for has just lit up. Our set list is just mind blowing. You go down the list and just go from hit to hit. It’s all from different bands so you never get tired of the same sound,” he said.
“The Rise Above” has been putting the finishing touches on their debut album of 15 songs. The album should be out later this year. From watching his Dad playing bass guitar on TV for Elvis Presley, to becoming the voice of a generation for “Chicago”, Jason Scheff has met his challenges and continually risen above. Now we get to hear him and his bandmates inspire us to do the same.