Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Sons of Champlin

The Sons of Champlin started in 1969 with Loosen Up Naturally, a double-LP set of horn-heavy rock with Bill Champlin's soulful singing preaching peace, love and pot. Despite the hippie vibe of the lyrics, which have aged with mixed results, the record is a huge gas. It's like a Chicago album except better (way better). Champlin sounds a lot like Lou Rawls, the horn charts are great, and Terry Haggerty is a lightning hot rock guitarist with a jazz heart. Geoff Palmer's vibes add a nice element, one that remains with the group throughout it's career. 1982-A, The Thing To Do, Misery Isn't Free, Get High, and Freedom are all standouts on this first LP. Also in 1969, The Sons was released. A dour looking photo on the cover and the name change foretell trouble for the group, but the record is pretty good. Love of a Woman is a great arraignment, and It's Time and Boomp Boomp Chop are strong. While it's not the first record, it has it's moments.

In 1971, Champlin brought in a new rhythm section, laid off the horns, and recorded Follow Your Heart as a five-piece. It confused the fans of their horn-based sound, but it remains a high point in their work. The title track has my personal favorite guitar solo of all time, with Terry Haggerty ripping one of the best jazz-rock guitar breaks ever recorded. Before You Right Now, Hey Children, Headway and A Sound Love are all strong tracks, and the band cooks soulful even without horns. It's hard to think of another record that sounds quite like Follow Your Heart.

In 1993, Capitol Records put out a Best Of The Sons Of Champlin CD that covers these first three records, and it's pretty good except for the omission of Follow Your Heart, probably because of the "smoke lots of weed" message of the song.

In 1973 they showed up on Columbia with Welcome To The Dance, a record which has become, in retrospect, a career peak. It's a great record, funky rock and soul, intricate, hook-filled arrangements, super tight playing, and the horns are back. Think of a cross between Chicago, Earth Wind and Fire, and Sly and the Family Stone. One weak track- hey, everybody gets to have one- otherwise a stone classic.

Columbia said goodbye after Welcome To The Dance didn't sell, and the band released The Sons Of Champlin on their own Gold Mine label in 1975. This one is a mixed-up bag in terms of style, but another strong record. Lookout, Like To Get To Know You, All And Everything, Without Love, Queen Of The Rain, and Gold Mine are all strong songs. Mark Isham joins the band on trumpet and keyboards. There are a few songs that don't work, but the good ones lead the way. The only way I know to buy this on CD is in the 2 CD The Ariola Years set, which also includes the next two. Ariola picked up this one after they signed the band to record A Circle Filled With Love in 1976. Circle Filled With Love was produced by Keith Olsen, who has turned many a hit in his day, and the record seems stunted by too much production. There's some excellent cuts, but the sound seems just too slick for the band. Funky this one is not.

The next Ariola LP was 1977's Loving Is Why. A surprisingly good record when heard today, alas there was no hit single or significant airplay. Saved By The Grace Of Your Love is Bill Champlin at his soulful best. Loving Is Why and Love Can Take Me Now show the big balladry that Champlin will continue when he joins Chicago in the eighties. A fine Big Boss Man, that shouldn't really work for this band, gets a bluesy workout and cooks.

After that Bill Champlin went solo for a while before he was invited to join Chicago in the 1982. He recorded and toured with Chicago and released four solo records in the nineties.

The band reunited in 1997 and released Live in 1998. It's a hot set that mostly comes from the first three records. Another live set, Secrets came in 2002, and a new studio album, Hip Lil' Dreams, sadly without Terry Haggerty, was released in 2005.

Seek out the early records, especially Loosen Up Naturally, Follow Your Heart, and Welcome To The Dance, or the Capital Best Of.

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