Sons of Champlin

TrackAlbum
I Wouldn'’t Put It Past YouFat City
RooftopLoosen Up Naturally
Why Do People Run From The RainThe Sons
Who'’s Afraid Of Virginia WoolfMinus Seeds & Stems
Miles Around YouMinus Seeds & Stems
The Child ContinuedFollow Your Heart
Right OnWelcome To The Dance
Welcome To The DanceWelcome To The Dance
Rainbow'’s EndThe Sons Of Champlin
YouA Circle Filled With Love

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

The Sons of Champlin were formed in the Bay area of San Francisco in 1965 by singer, songwriter and keyboard player Bill Champlin who was later a member of the band Chicago for a full 28 years. Sons of Champlin reformed after he left Chicago and they still tour and record. This toppermost will focus on the first period of the band and the albums recorded between 1967 and 1977.

I discovered Sons of Champlin via a now defunct music blog site (Rare MP3) and was taken by their combination of pop, rock and funk. The band had a following around San Francisco but they couldn’t attract a national following in the USA and then Europe that would have brought them the commercial success that other San Francisco bands enjoyed.

The first album was recorded in 1967 although it was not released until 1999 under the name Fat City, a collection that additionally contains some demos and a series of station idents for the Utah radio station KCPX. The album is notable for a version of the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song Shades Of Grey that was lined up to be the second and, prospectively, breakthrough single until The Monkees released their version first. Overall, the album is variable and disappointing in places which could explain the reluctance to release it, but the good tracks are good. I thought of opening this set with the pace and pop/funk of the title track, very much of its day as is the whole album, but I Wouldn’t Put It Past You and To Me are both fine and deserve a mention and a listen.

By the time of the follow-up, the band had signed for Capitol Records. Loosen Up Naturally was a much better album, more consistent. The sleeve is very 1969 psychedelia in that you cannot look at it for very long without vertigo setting in. Readers of my posts will know that I like a feel-good song and Rooftop fits the bill perfectly thank you, just a great combination of guitar, keyboards and brass and a little bit wayward and discordant in the middle. The album concludes with Freedom, a 15 minute live romp. The songs are credited to “Steven Tollestrup” a pseudonym created to refer to the band for contractual reasons, although primarily the songs were written by Bill Champlin. Another pseudonym was “B B Heavy”.

Also released in 1969 was The Sons with a more sedate sleeve and an equally good set of songs which continued the development of the band. The album’s first track is Love Of A Woman which has a gentle opening that breaks out into a funky guitar/brass ending. As a contrast, I’ve taken the strangely titled Why Do People Run From The Rain with its simple piano and trumpet arrangement.

The next album, Minus Seeds & Stems, was independently released. It opens with a magnificent instrumental Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with driving drums, keyboard and brass, and on Miles Around You the band apply their arrangement to a blues that demanded inclusion with the Sons of Champlin sounding like Blood Sweat & Tears at their very best. The rest of the album has a curious mixture of short excerpts and full tracks except for Beggin’ You Baby which closes the album with another blues that you can hear lending itself to extended improvisation in a live set.

Following a short hiatus in 1970/71, the band were back with a new album, Follow Your Heart, which has three tracks on the theme of children; Children Know, Hey Children and The Child Continued which is a celebration of the transition from childhood into early adulthood when everything is possible.

Welcome To The Dance (1973) is widely acclaimed as the Sons of Champlin’s best album, full of upbeat blue-eyed funk, but it is difficult to find. The whole album is available to listen to on YouTube. Two tracks cry out for inclusion: Right On is the fourth track on the album and completes the ‘mini-set’ titled Daytime and lyrically puns between ‘write on’ and ‘right on’. There follows two tracks from the next ‘mini-set’ called Nighttime, and Welcome To The Dance is a four part continuous track – Silence; Sound/ Turn Around; Healthy Woman; Welcome To The Dance – and that closing brass and keyboard interplay just leaves you wanting more.

The sixth, eponymous album was released in 1975. The band had signed a new record deal with Ariola and there is a renewed energy underlying the album and a certain amount of experimentation. In all of that, Rainbow’s End is the sort of love song that I am a sucker for, all good wishes from afar and wanting to be close to the one you love. Yet another song for inclusion on the incurable romantic’s playlist. This leads nicely to A Circle Filled With Love, an upbeat album that does exactly what it says on the sleeve. From the opener, Hold On, that takes your hand and whirls you round the room, to the smooch of Helping Hand, here are twelve songs that say only one thing: I love you! You sums up the album and has the addition of sweeping strings which make it the perfect closer for the set.

Loving Is Why (1977) was the final album released by Ariola before the band split and Bill Champlin joined Chicago. It has some fine tracks but which of the ten to exclude was always going to be a question. I’ll leave you to explore this one for yourselves.

Sons of Champlin official website

Sons of Champlin discography

Sons of Champlin biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #273

1 Comment

  1. Rob Millis
    May 14, 2014

    First class, Ian. Hat well and truly off and tipped in your direction. Arguably the most professional and fluid Frisco band, with a precision all the others lacked. Loosen Up… is a favourite of mine, as is Welcome To The Dance. But for sheer live thrills, “Poppa Can Play” off the Last Days of the Fillmore collection for me. Great Hammond and guitar. I believe they were actually trimmed down without the horns and going out billed as Yogi Phlegm at the time, which might be when the full band was having the 1970/71 sabbatical you spoke of.

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