September 17, 2017 – Laudir de Oliveira was born January 6, 1940 in Rio de Janeiro. de Oliveira started out as a percussionist in Brazil, working with Sergio Mendes and Marcos Valle. He moved to the United States in 1968 and caught the eye of rock musicians and producers. Credited simply as “Laudir”, he also appeared on Joe Cocker’s 1969 debut album, playing on his hit single “Feelin’ Alright”.
In 1973, Chicago invited de Oliveira to play on their album “Chicago VI.” After playing on the albums Chicago VI and Chicago VII as a sideman, de Oliveira officially joined the band in 1975. The blend of jazz-rock and Brazilian rhythm resulting from his presence would end up defining many of the band’s hits, including “Happy Man”, “Call on Me”, “Mongonucleosis” and “If You Leave Me Now”. He subsequently appeared on all the albums from Chicago VIII through Chicago XIV. Apart from playing percussion, de Oliveira also provided vocals to “You Get It Up” from Chicago X (1976) and co-authored “Life is What It is” on Chicago 13 (1979).
In an interview with writer Debbie Kruger, Chicago members Robert Lamm and James Pankow talked about de Oliveira’s contribution to the band.
“Laudir was an incredible percussionist. He was an incredible player. He came out of Sergio Mendes. At first we experimented with using percussion in the studio, and we liked the way the percussion held the tempos together so much that we decided to keep the percussion aspect part of the band. … Terry Kath in particular felt the need for a percussionist to keep the grooves, the tempo steady.” According to Chicago’s drummer Danny Seraphine, “Laudir’s style and mine fit together perfectly, creating a layered and full sound that reinforced the strong Latin influence that had been building in our music”.
Parallel to Chicago, de Oliveira continued to work as a session man. In 1978, he played with The Jacksons on their album Destiny. As Chicago moved into a pop-oriented sound, they asked de Oliveira to leave the band in 1982 to make room for Bill Champlin. He spent the next five years in Los Angeles, doing session work for other musicians like Chick Corea, Gal Costa, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter and Nina Simone, before relocating to his native Brazil in 1987.
De Oliveira lived in Rio de Janeiro, where he was Cultural Director of the Universidade do Grande Rio. In September 2010 he reunited with Chicago on the occasion of the band’s concert at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, performing “Happy Man”. In April 2016 he appeared as a special guest percussionist alongside former Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine and former Chicago guitarist Donnie Dacus in a performance in New York following Chicago’s 2016 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. De Oliveira was not included as a member in the band’s hall induction.
De Oliveira died of a heart attack on 17 September 2017 at the age of 77 while performing onstage in his native Rio de Janeiro. Musician Jovi Joviniano was playing with him on stage and talked about how Laudir died doing what he loved.
“He had just rained on a spectacular solo, at the end of “Fibra”, a composition by Paulo Moura. It was super applauded. It was his last applause, “said Jovi, who is also a percussionist. – It was a very beautiful energy, and soon we began to play “Tenderness”, a samba-choro of the K-ximbinho. he was playing a beautiful ganzá, and I even closed my eyes. Suddenly we saw that his conga was down. I looked up and he was bent over, his face on the skin of the instrument. He made his way there, in a very beautiful way. Touching, doing what he loved, being applauded and alongside his friends. If poetry exists in death, Laudir died in poetry.”