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John Larson, 61, Ides of March trumpet player

John Larson

John Larson

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Updated: November 10, 2011 5:20PM

As lead trumpet player for the iconic Chicago rock band Ides of March, John Larson was the driving force behind the band’s 1970 hit “Vehicle.”

Mr. Larson died Wednesday of complications of cancer at a hospital in Warsaw, Ind. He was 61.

“He was full of personality,” Ides of March founder-songwriter Jim Peterik said Thursday. “When I introduced the band, I’d call him ‘Nick Nolte’s evil twin’ because he kind of looked like Nick. We poked innocent fun at him because his personality was so whimsical. We had a riot.”

The Cicero native joined the Ides in 1968 and remained with the band until his last gig, which was in mid-2010 for the band’s “Still 19” CD release party at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn. Mr. Larson was in his old neighborhood, and despite health struggles he was in the pocket.

He was a pro.

“We were all in high school bands together and practiced in the Morton East band room,” said Peterik, who was a Morton West student, but the two schools rehearsed together.

“There was this blond trumpet player sitting in the first chair [from Morton East]. The Ides had just started getting into soul music. It wasn’t about trying to be the band Chicago. We grew up at the same time as Chicago, but we were trying to emulate the Muscle Shoals-Stax Volt sound. We wanted to do ‘Sweet Soul Music,’ James Brown stuff, ‘I Feel Good.’ So we got one trumpet, Chuck Somar. We tasted the brass and wanted another trumpet.”

Peterik asked Mr. Larson to audition in the basement of Ides vocalist-bassist Larry Millas. The Ides had formed in 1966 after a brief run as Batman and the Boy Wonders. The band’s breakthrough was Peterik’s idea to supplant mid-1960s rock harmonies with horns.

“Those high notes John hit could shatter glass,” Peterik recalled from his home in the southwest suburbs. “And we said ‘You’re in.’ He became a full-fledged member of the band.”

When Peterik later wrote “Vehicle,” Larson’s chops proved crucial. “His piercing tone was the perfect complement to Chuck and [bassist Bob Bergland’s] more mellow sound,” Peterik wrote on his website Thursday.

Mr. Larson is survived by his wife, Patsy, and mother, Evelyn. A memorial service was being planned.

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