Passion. Persistence. Perfection. By Scott Schwebke
In just three short years, Leonid & Friends has blown the minds of legions of fans with their uncanny ability to capture the spirit, musicality and fire of American supergroup Chicago.
And what is even more stunning is that Leonid & Friends hasn’t seen Chicago perform live, yet replicates the band’s complex arrangements amazingly note for note.
"Chicago has never been in Russia and none of us have attended their concerts," said Leonid Vorobyev, a multi-instrumentalist who is the band’s leader. "We have only audio records and videos (to help us learn Chicago songs)."
Vorobyev wasn’t always a fan of horn bands, and as a teenager gravitated to the hard driving guitar-based sounds of the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Deep Purple and Grand Funk Railroad.
"In the early 1970s in the USSR, electric guitars, amplifiers and drums were rare to find so at school we were playing self-made instruments," Vorobyev explained. "We were allowed to rehearse in the same room with a horns band. Those musicians almost always were drunk and quite often tried to play with us our rock songs. It was nightmare and I hated them all!"
But that all changed when Vorobyev heard Chicago. He became an instant fan. "I loved so much the brilliant mixture of rock guitars, drums and jazz horns with bright vocal harmonies," he said.
In 2014, Vorobyev decided to indulge his love for the band by gathering a few fellow musicians in a studio to record a video of them playing his favorite Chicago tune, Brand New Love Affair.
No charts or scores of the song existed so Vorobyev transcribed the tune by ear. The result was a YouTube video that quickly went viral. Since then Leonid & Friends has recorded videos of other Chicago hits including Make Me Smile, 25 or 6 to 4, and Saturday In The Park.
The process of getting each tune just right is a painstaking labor of love. In addition to scoring and arranging, Vorobyev oversees mixing and mastering of each song. However, he credits his highly skilled bandmates for making each tune sing. "All of my musician friends are highly professional," he said.
With several successful Moscow concerts under their belt, Leonid & Friends are focused on bringing their heartfelt Chicago tribute to the U.S.
"We have enormous amount of requests from U.S. fans,” he said. “There is also a dream of many Russia musicians to perform for a real American audience. We are excited to meet our many American friends."
Scott Schwebke has been a journalist for more than 30 years and a longtime fan of Chicago dating back to its incarnation as CTA. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, Orange County Register and various publications across the U.S.