The Sons of Champlin:
Home Grown in Marin
“The music had a lot of YES to it. It's amazing really, but listening to the sounds today automatically brings it right back to what we were discovering at the time. And on Loosen Up, especially with the horn arrangements, we really were ahead of it, before Chicago or any of the others. Hey, before anything but James Brown, you know? (chuckling) We were taking it to another place."
–Tim Cain talking about the artistic and developmental shift behind Loosen Up Naturally
“The best band that never made it", is a common refrain in conversations about the legendary Marin County, California band, The Sons of Champlin. However, from 1965 through 1977, the Sons emphatically staked out a solid place in the rock music landscape around the San Francisco Bay Area and in many other parts of the country, while remaining relevant players in the local music scene still to this day. Although major commercial success generally escaped their grasp, it has always been well understood among people in the know, especially by their musician peers and fiercely loyal contingent of fans, that this band was something truly special.
With their powerful 1969 breakout double LP release, Loosen Up Naturally, The Sons of Champlin were actively pushing the boundaries of contemporary rock music. Now featuring a full-blown horn section, the band's unique and innovative arrangements saw the Sons merge soulful R&B and jazz inflections with rock and roll intensity to produce a sound as distinctive and progressive as the best of what was coming through the pipeline at the time. In addition, by keenly reflecting many of the day's most topical and challenging themes, their provocative and philosophically insightful lyrics served as a guide to multitudes of probing youth searching out their own paths of self-discovery. Color all this with an unmistakable nod to the influence of psychedelics and you have the Sons of Champlin in all of their musical fluency and cerebral glory. In many ways, the entire Loosen Up Naturally album, beginning with its celebratory opening track, “1982-A”, was a loud and clear invitation to join in, if not a flat out call to action:
Can you feel it coming?
It’s gonna set you back on your heels
It’s gonna sound like humming
And you’ll believe in how good it feels
From there, the band continued to remain in step with popular culture, and doing what art reliably does, the Sons moved onward with the flow, while never abandoning their R&B musical roots. They proceeded to produce six more LPs, including their 1972 star prize, Welcome to the Dance, which by all that is right in the world should have put them over the top and squarely in the center of the national rock music conversation. Based on artistic merit, both musically and lyrically, by all accounts this album was the equal of anything in the genre coming from the record industry at the time.
In the end though, it was the the Sons' dynamic live performances that defined the totality of connecting with this band. This is where the Sons of Champlin truly shined, on stage, faithfully excelling at their classic best. So, if you somehow missed it, like surfers will say following an epic outing on the waves the day before: “You should have been here yesterday.” But not to worry, because no matter where you catch the Sons playing these days, you will still get a healthy piece of it, guaranteed.
This oral biographical book project titled, The Sons of Champlin: Home Grown in Marin, chronicles the band’s genesis from the popular early 60s Marin County group, the Opposite Six, to its first formal incarnation as the Sons of Champlin in 1965, through their eventual breakup in 1977. Some attention will also be devoted to the fabulous sounds that came from it’s 1998-2005 reunification as well as to its current configuration that began in 2012.
The samples you find here are from conversations with:
Bill Champlin: Founder and lead songwriter, Hammond B3 organ, guitar, vocals
Tim Cain: Original sax player and arranger, songwriter and vocals
Geoff Palmer: Multi-instrumentalist, including, piano, organ, vibes and bass
Terry Haggerty: Original lead guitarist and songwriter, vocalist
James Preston: Long time drummer, vocalist
So, stay tuned as we move forward from here. The project includes the dedicated participation of virtually all band members throughout the years as well as many others involved in and around the Bay Area music scene at the time. It’s going to be a great ride, so have a look and a listen for a taste of what’s to come.