Bill's group The Sons of Champlin set the bar for serious musical innovation in the Bay Area and beyond. While Bill is mainly known by the general music public for his long work with Chicago, his cred goes way beyond that gig, and first came to light during the early Sons years (and, today, Bill just keeps gettin' better and better; his new stuff is just awesome).
BTW- For those of you too lazy to search back through the blog archives for our reports on Bill's prior appearances here in connection with Santa Fe and The Fat City Horns, click below:
So, in September (18th & 19th at South Point), we're gonna be blessed yet again with the awesome presence of Bill Champlin, and the reconstituted Sons of Champlin (their new CD "Hip Li'l Dreams" is fabulous). oh, yeah!
BTW- click here for Bill's MySpace page, and here for the Sons MySpace page.
Now, for some really cool history (bring a Snickers, you're gonna be a while). Yesterday I ran across Charlie Kelly's website, and emailed him to ask permission to reprint some of his wonderfully written stuff (granted). So, here ya go:
THE SONS: CHARLIE KELLY RECALLS
For ten years I roadied for one of the best rock bands that ever played. This led to some interesting experiences
In 1968 I ran away with a circus called The Sons of Champlin, and I didn't return until nine years later. The idea of traveling with a rock band was sufficiently romantic at that time that Frank Zappa had already released a song which contained the lyrics, "I will go to San Francisco. I will join a band and become the road manager. I will sleep on floors and catch the crabs and smoke an awful lot of dope." Zappa captured the San Francisco feeling perfectly, even though he was probably trying to satirize it.
It was a musical era that looks more and more special the farther we get from it. Perhaps it's a case of "the older I get, the better I was," but I don't think so. There was an incredible wave of new music, written and performed by people in their early twenties, breaking all rules and in doing so creating new ones and a new musical order. If the execution was sometimes unpolished, the concepts were wild extrapolations of everything that had gone before, propelled by a new generation of sound-reinforcement equipment that made truly monstrous volumes possible for the first time.
Much of that new order has stagnated, but that doesn't reduce the vitality it had then. In spite of the fact that they never achieved even moderate stardom, the Sons of Champlin were one of the best examples of that vitality. The music they created holds its own against the compositions of any ensemble of any era, and has influenced a generation of other musicians.
Like any creative group, the Sons began as a marriage of convenience. We need a bass player. You're a bass player. Do you have the time to practice with us? Can you play these tunes? Can you make the gig? Do you have a draft problem? And suddenly the guy is in the band. A band is a marriage among more than two persons, and if the music is the "baby," they all have the capability to reshape it at will. The balance of power and artistry is always precarious unless a group is a dictatorship such as those created by James Brown and his Famous Flames. Bill Champlin would not have minded being that dictator, but a band composed of acquaintances drifting together and forming a group cannot be ordered around like a group hired and fired at the leader's will. The dynamics of the relationship between band members is what fuels the performances, but it can also be the seed of the band's breakup.
Of all the members, and over the years there were a lot of them, only two played with the band from start to end, 1965 to 1977. Bill Champlin and guitarist Terry Haggerty went the distance, and Geoff Palmer went almost as long. Between 1965 and 1977 there were six drummers, eight horn players, four bass players and four or five managers. I outlasted three drummers, three bass players, six horn players, six other roadies, two managers, a couple of P.A. systems and a lot of vehicles in nine years.
The Sons of Champlin was formed on the remains of a semi-popular Marin County band called the Opposite Six. The Opposite Six were Bill Champlin, keyboards, Tim Cain, sax, John Leones, sax, Rob Moitoza, bass, Don Irving, guitar, and Dick Rogers, drums. Like every other band of its 1964 era, the Six did Beatles covers and the obligatory Louie, Louie. In 1964 EVERY band played Louie, Louie. It wasn't a question of if, but when, you were going to play it. But the Six had a horn section, and they were fans of James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs and other soul artists, influences not generally shared by the other white suburban bands playing in the Bay Area in the wake of the British invasion.
At that time the most popular Bay Area groups were probably the Beau Brummels, who had a couple of national hits ("Laugh, Laugh," "Just a Little") but would never be mistaken for a soul band, and We Five, a one hit group ("You Were On My Mind") whose founder, Michael Stewart, produced the Sons' unreleased Trident album. The Fillmore hadn't yet opened, and there was little hint of what was coming in a couple of years.
The Sons came together around College of Marin in late 1965, where a few classes held off the draft for another six months and there were a few music courses you could use to keep the grade point average above water. The Beatles had arrived in America the year before and changed everything. Bob Dylan had gone electric, outraging white suburban folk purists and encouraging the growth of "folk-rock." Suddenly there were bands everywhere in Marin, because rockers had the sexiest image since surfers two years earlier, and if your guitar playing is bad, at least you won't drown. If you couldn't get girls, being in a band, no matter how bad, looked like a start.
The College of Marin chorus, the easiest "A" grade in the music department, was full of long-haired local rockers, including Tim Cain and Terry Haggerty. Other local bands that hung around the college were members of Butch Engle and the Styx, the Turtles, who had to change their name when those other Turtles ("Go Away from my Window") arrived, the Morlocks, and the Pullice. Band memberships and allegiances shifted daily, and there were dozens of wannabe rockers wandering around looking for a band to be in. If you were looking for someone to jam with, you didn't have to look far. See that guy with the long hair...?
When two members of the Six, drummer Dick Rogers and bass player Rob Moitoza, had to leave because of military obligations, and horn player John Leones left to get a real job, the band broke up. Bill Champlin and Tim Cain started looking around for some other guys to play with, hopefully some who wouldn't be drafted. Terry Haggerty was a natural choice, because he wears coke-bottle glasses, had bad ankles, and grew up a few blocks from Tim. Tim didn't have a draft problem, since he used crutches as a result of a bout with polio as a child. In 1954 he was a poster boy for the March of Dimes.
The other two members, drummer Jimmy Meyers and bass player John Prosser both eventually went into the military and were replaced by Bill Bowen and Al Strong. Bowen was safe from the draft with asthma, and Strong had a hearing deficiency as a result of a childhood illness.
Bill Champlin was only eighteen, but he was already married and had a child, which deferred him. At his age most guys wanted to play music to get laid, and live at home while taking enough classes to look respectable, but Bill needed to make money, and he wasn't just going to play music for a while and then get a job. Music was going to be the life, because from the age of about 13 on, he had wanted to play the blues.
Bill was the star student in his music class at Tamalpais High School. Two years before Bill, another Grammy-winner had been the star, George Duke. (The two would not play together again until they met on the stage at Dukes's 20th year class reunion.) Not really a disciplined scale-player, Bill had an ear and a feel that let him learn how to play anything. He played keyboards, horns, guitar, bass and drums, and he sang. If it made noise, Bill could make some music with it, and he already had the voice, as the singer for the Opposite Six. In the Opposite Six he was a keyboard player, but he was also a passable blues guitar player and a fan of B.B. King. Champlin had written his first song as a fourteen year old, a blues called "Beggin' You Baby" that has become his own personal blues statement. And there was always, "Louie, Louie."
Saxophones were still in vogue for rockers then as a lead instrument, although teenage groups rarely if ever used a horn section, and Tim Cain was already a good player who could double on keyboard. All the time his friends had spent playing baseball as kids, he spent with his sax, and his melodic sense was already well developed.
Terry Haggerty's father Frank was a long-time guitar player, and as "Hog-Fat Frank Haggerty" had even been on a national radio show briefly in the 1940s. Terry had grown up with major jazz players coming around and jamming at the house, and as a kid, he thought everyone played that way. In fact, he was decades ahead of any other young guitarist in Marin in technique, and could play all the rock tunes that the older guys hated.
The new band was to be called the Masterbeats, a name that didn't sell as well in the early 60s as it would today. The name kept the band from getting gigs, and so, as the band legend goes, when Bill finally got a gig based on his connections left over from the Opposite Six, he didn't dare blow it by using the name "Masterbeats." We're told that he wrote down the first thing that popped into his head, Sons of Champlin, and from then on the band was stuck with the name. This may be the truth, and it certainly is the legend.
I came over to a couple of practices in John Prosser's parents' basement in Corte Madera before the band ever performed, but in February of 1966 the Army took me away. I had a couple of going away parties, one where Butch Engle and the Styx played, and another in a house rented by Al Strong and the original roadies for the Sons, Mark Hazell and Steve Tobin (AKA Steve Tollestrup. This name is important. You will see it later.).
This house, where I first met Bill Champlin, was a couple of blocks from where Terry and Tim were living at home, and became one of the first dens of iniquity that I or they were ever exposed to. The residents called it the "Eichman Pile," a vague reference to the convicted war criminal who had just been executed.
Meyers and Prosser stayed with the band long enough to play a few gigs, but they were gone soon, replaced by Bowen and Strong.
Al Strong had gone to high school with Tim and Terry, and had played with Terry in his first band, the Starlighters. He recalls the day that Bill Bowen auditioned with the band.
"None of the other drummers who auditioned hit as hard as Bill did. I just said, 'I like this guy,' and he was in the band." Like Bill Champlin, Bowen had recently graduated from Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley. I had known him for longer than that, since we had been in the same Boy Scout Troop, Mill Valley Troop 1, along with roadie Steve Tobin.
The Sons of Champlin fell together quickly, playing R&B ("Midnight Hour," "Mustang Sally"), Beatles covers ("I'll Cry Instead") and blues instrumentals ("Yo Mama.") By now Bill played guitar on some numbers, while Tim played the Hammond B-3 organ. They performed at the Santa Venetia Armory and the Disco-Deck, a grounded ferryboat nightclub where such bands as Big Brother, Steppenwolf (then called The Sparrow), and the Sons played for the newly 21-year old crowd. Managed by Tim Cain's brother Bob, they also got onto the San Francisco ballroom circuit, where they met Fred Roth, a 30 year old photographer who worked at the Fillmore Auditorium. After Bob Cain enlisted in the Army in 1966, Fred would become the manager of the band, and change its entire philosophy.
The Fillmore gig with Van Morrison featured a drinking episode of legendary proportions (I missed it, so it's hearsay) that apparently pissed Bill Graham off. Graham could hold quite a grudge, and the Sons couldn't seem to get another Fillmore gig. It didn't matter that much, because there was always the rival Avalon Ballroom on the other side of town. Less than a year after I was drafted, I made it home on leave for my 21st birthday, and went over to the Avalon Ballroom with the band for my first taste of the Scene.
The bill on December 16, 1966 was The Sparrow, The Youngbloods and the Sons of Champlin, and it blew me away. I had never heard the thunder of drums amplified through a pair of A-7 Voice of the Theater speakers, and it was unbelievable and addicting. Too bad though, because I had to go off and do another year of the army while the letters from my friend Mark Hazell, who was then living with Bill and his family, portrayed a world that was the envy of every music fan on the planet, with the possible exception of those living in Liverpool. Even George Harrison made an incognito visit to the Haight.
When I came home on leave a few times in 1967, Mark introduced me to Fred Roth and Geoff Palmer, a Chicago native just out of the Army who had shown up in Marin on Bob Cain's recommendation. Bob and Geoff had been in the same unit, and Bob had told Geoff of his brother's band, suggesting he look these guys up on his way home from Korea.
Fred Roth took over the job of manager more or less by default in 1967. At the ripe age of 30, he seemed far more mature than anyone else the guys knew. And besides, he had taken acid.
In 1967 everyone in San Francisco took acid [BobbyG can attest. LOL!]. I didn't, because I was still in the army. In 1967 Mark wrote me a letter that started with a list of "Two great reasons to desert this summer: the Magic Mountain Festival [on Marin's Mount Tamalpais], and the Monterey Pop Festival," which would feature a lot of the current San Francisco rockers as well as Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix. The Sons didn't play at Monterey, but they played in the outdoor amphitheater near the top of Mount Tam, and by all accounts, it was indeed magical. It was so magical that rock 'n' roll was banned from the amphitheater.
I came home on leave in the fall of 1967, and I met Geoff Palmer at Fred Roth's house. Mark introduced him as a guy who was going to play with the band, although Geoff did not acompany them to their first real "road" gig to Denver in September of that year. Geoff later told me how he got the invite. After getting out of the army, he took Bob Cain's advice and checked out Marin and Bob's brother's band. Walking into the practice hall (a garage in Fairfax), he spotted Bill's Hammond B-3. "I sat down and gave them all my Jimmy Smith stuff, and it blew them away." Until then, Bill had split time with Tim on keyboards, playing guitar on a lot of the tunes because one sax wasn't exactly a horn section. Geoff's presence changed that, because he could double on horns also.
A natural musician, Geoff was the son of a pair of nightclub entertainers, and his background in jazz expanded the possibilities of the band. The arrival of another of Geoff's army buddies, trumpet player Jim Beem, gave the Sons a two or three piece horn section. Tim moved permanently to the tenor sax.
I came roaring out of the army in February of 1968, having already missed the Summer of Love. (A poster of the "Human Be-in," a celebrated event of the summer of 1967, had featured a photograph of the girl I had been going with when I left for the army -- with her new boyfriend.) When I got back to Marin, the guys in and around the Sons were nearly all the friends I had left who hadn't gone off to the Army or college or gotten married. Since they were also in the thick of the fabled San Francisco music scene, it seemed like the right gang to hang with.
The roadies at that time were Steve Tobin and Dave Harris. Steve was known in some circles as Steve Tollestrup, but he was "Tooth" to everyone in the band. Tim explains the origin of the name. "We were stoned and we were eating lemon drops. Steve sucked one until it was just a little white object, then he spit it out and said, 'Look, I'm having a tooth!'. We all cracked up, and from then on he was Tooth." "Tooth," Bill Bowen and I went back to Boy Scout days together, and it seemed natural to go where they were going.
Dave Harris was an R 'n' B freak who briefly published a magazine called the Mojo Navigator Rock 'n' Roll News. The paper had been instrumental in destroying the Lovin' Spoonful's reputation in San Francisco, when it broke the story that a couple of the band had been busted for weed, and to escape harsh penalties, had turned in their dealer. The Spoonful, arguably one of the more original bands in the United States, couldn't play San Francisco after that, and if you couldn't play there, you were not happening. They faded from the scene shortly afterward.
I hung on the coattails of the band as hard as I could, even bribing the equipment guys to let me accompany them to a gig in Santa Cruz. I wasn't an official anything, but I was around so much that Geoff finally told me that they couldn't keep taking me to gigs. They had a few other friends, he explained, and there were never enough guest passes to go around.
I never quite went away though. As 1968 moved from spring into summer, I went with the gang to a gig with the Youngbloods and the Doors at the San Jose Fairgrounds. The equipment truck, Bill's white Econoline, was in the way, and Bill tossed me the keys, and asked me to move it. It was the first acknowledgement that I might be useful. The problem was that Dave Harris didn't have a driver's license, and as the band ranged farther and farther afield, it was throwing a major driving burden onto Tooth. Also, able-bodied help without some sort of a draft "problem" was essential, and there wasn't a lot of that around.
Finally, with a trip to Southern California looming, Dave realized he had to do something, either get the license or move on, and he chose to move. I was hanging out at a rehearsal in the band's practice hall, a room rented above the Marin County heliport in Sausalito, when Terry took me outside into the hallway.
"Chuck, Dave's not going to be the equipment guy any more, and we can't think of anyone we would want to do it except you. If you want to do the equipment, we'll give you what everyone else in the band gets" At that time, band "pay" was getting your rent paid plus $10 a week. It was all the invitation I needed, and a couple of days later we left for Los Angeles.
I didn't bring any electronic knowhow to the job, and even after years of doing it I was not the kind of guy who would rewire an amplifier. That doesn't mean I couldn't take care of the routine electronic chores required, such as repairing cables, making cords, setting up P.A. systems and so on, but my main qualifications were in other areas. First, I didn't complain about anything. The worst rock 'n' roll could be was better than the best the Army was, and it all looked good to me. Second, I didn't have a draft problem. Third, I'm a nice guy, I had known some of the guys for a long time, and I had a driver's license. If my part in it was driving the truck, where are the keys?
Driving. Yeah, that's it. That's what roadying came down to. Electronic whizzes come and go, and the guys who stick around can drive and drive and drive. Actually, that was then, this is now. Now the equipment is delivered in a semi by a driver who takes a nap while fifty other guys make a stage. Then, every band was supported by a couple of guys in a van overloaded with everything that could be jammed into it. P.A. systems were a primitive art. Amplifiers were Twin Reverbs or Marshalls. And roadies were really on the road.
The truck was Bill's white Ford Econoline. It was the bare-bones first generation of vans, and he had been forced to get it when he got his prized Hammond B-3. A B-3 and a Leslie speaker is a lot of instrument, and not many bands had the inclination to lug one around. By the time I joined the band, the equipment consisted of two Fender Twin Reverb amps with extension speakers, the Hammond and Leslie, a Dual Showman bass cabinet and top, a set of folding vibes, the drum set, two sax cases, bass and two guitars and a footlocker with strings, cords, and tools.
All this fit in the truck in only one way, which had been figured out before I got there. The organ went in first, physically lifted in the door by a guy inside the truck bent over from the low ceiling, and one outside. This is a bitch, because this thing weighs a couple of hundred pounds and has no handles, and there is no good reason other than youth that one can do this and keep a healthy back. The twins went in under the organ, and the vibes on top, then everything else in the perfect order that filled the truck totally. There is an advantage to this system in that if anything is missing, you know it right away as you come to its spot in the load.
The organ was behind the driver and the vibes were stacked on top of the organ, and unsecured. There was nothing to keep them from killing the driver if he slammed on the brakes. But who would want to slam on the brakes of this grossly overloaded, wallowing, overheating, underpowered piece of shit. You'd probably roll it and kill yourself anyway. You didn't drive it as much as you herded it when it was loaded, and when it was empty it would blow all over the road. Every drive was a test of karma, and mine must be solid gold, because it never came apart under me.
Steve Tobin and I took the truck down to L.A. in the summer of '68, the first of I don't know how many drives I made there for the band. It's a good thing Steve knew something about what he was doing, because I sure didn't. We drove down the coast and finally found the Kaleidoscope Theater in Hollywood.
We unloaded the equipment there, and then drove out to the airport to pick up the band and Fred Roth, the manager. All together there were ten of us: Bill Champlin, Bill Bowen, Terry Haggerty, Geoff Palmer, Tim Cain, Jim Beem, Al Strong, Fred Roth, Tooth and myself. Everyone had the longest possible hair, mid-back in some cases, Mine was the shortest, because I had only been out of the Army for a few months. Five or six of the guys also wore beards. We were as shaggy as we could be, and the world was not yet used to this many guys who all looked like this traveling together.
We picked up the band in the equipment van, which would be our only vehicle. Everyone crowded in, and once again it was overloaded, wallowing, and dangerous as hell. Everyone smoked at that time, and we bought a carton of cigarettes every day to keep everyone supplied. The van would fill up with smoke and we rocketed around town, always traveling together. Stragglers knew they would die if left alone out there, and with only one set of wheels, we were a close knit gang.
One afternoon a bunch of midwestern tourists stopped us outside the Kaleidoscope. Could they take a picture with us. Us? You mean, you've heard of the Sons of Champlin? Huh? It turned out that we were a wonderful crowd of authentic but reasonably safe looking hippies who would be perfect background for a photo to send to Aunt Hazel.
On another occasion we were kicked out of a restaurant for our looks alone. We weren't rowdy, and it was a hippie-veggie restaurant run by devotees of one Swami Yogananda. A photo of the good Swami hung on the counter, and he had hair to his butt and a beard to his knees, and he dressed even funnier. We didn't fail to point out the irony to the holy types running the place, and we went to the Copper Penny down the street. After two years of Army chow, I had no problem with anything served at a coffee shop. It turned out that the guys in general were a little more veggie-organic than the run of the mill coffee shop then catered to, and there was a lot of grumbling. This food focus was a repeated them over the years. Face it, sometimes you gotta eat what America eats, and I could do that. You guys ever eat Army chow?.
Cut to the chase, you're saying, did these guys ever play any music?
The headliner at the Kaleidoscope was Canned Heat, then Sly and the Family Stone, and the Sons of Champlin. The Kaleidoscope had once been the broadcast home of a fifties TV show, "Queen for a Day." In this show women competed to tell about how bummed out their lives were, and the biggest bummer got a bunch of prizes and one day of limo service. Like Oprah, but with prizes for the biggest bummer. Originally designed to show off the prizes ("A complete set of pool accessories..."), the stage was an enormous disc that revolved, and the idea was that each band could set up permanently and then be revolved into place, rather than physically moving equipment.
Each band played two sets, alternating, and the audience stayed through all six sets. The sets were fairly short, about 40 minutes, which was enough for five or six of the Sons' long songs and one Canned Heat song. At only 15 minutes, "Freedom" wasn't the longest song played on that show; the winner was "Refried Boogie" by Canned Heat, which took an entire set.
Because they were recording a live track for an album, Canned Heat played the same song each set, to the same audience that had heard it an hour and a half earlier. Over the three night stand, they played it six times, and no other song. "Refried Boogie" is a one-chord song, which for the purposes of a live performance featured lengthy unaccompanied solos by each member of the band. Ten minutes of monstrously loud guitar jamming on an E chord followed by ten minutes of bass jamming on an E chord followed by ten minutes of harp solo followed by ten minutes of slide guitar solo, and then, THE DRUM SOLO! After that, they play the head, sing the one verse, and quit until the second set. The audience had to hear it only twice a night. I HAD TO HEAR IT SIX TIMES!
Did I say that Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine had what he claimed was the most powerful guitar amplifier on the planet? This thing weighed a couple of hundred pounds, it drove six huge speaker cabinets, and it had to have a big fan behind it to keep it from melting through the stage. Next to all that, the Sons looked positively acoustic.
The Kaleidoscope was going to be the first performance of "Freedom." The song had been put together over a month or so, from two or three tunes that were then grafted together and fattened out with solos for a fifteen minute piece. Before the second set of the first night, the band got together in the dressing room for one more run-through. We didn't have enough amps to keep one in the back room, so they were all reduced to singing their parts while Bowen pounded his sticks on his practice pad and a chair. It sounded great, like a Dixieland Barbershop acid experience, but that was the only time they ever did it.
The first arrangement of "Freedom" had a section the band referred to as the "free part" just before Terry's guitar solo. In this, all rhythm dropped away, and they drifted until a cue riff brought everyone back onto a beat. It didn't work very well with the L.A. audience, so it was given a little more definite beat, which is the way it was recorded. Bill's scat singing was a new experience for some of the audience also. In this original version of the song, he built his scat around a phrase and a riff by Rob Moitoza, "Show me the way to get to soulville, show me the way to get home." This was left off the record because Bill didn't want to use a close friend's lick if the guy wasn't going to get royalties. And he wasn't.
Sly Stone had a great act, with horns and a pounding rhythm section, Hammond organ, screaming vocals, a girl trumpet player, a guitar and bass duo who could deliver great licks while doing outrageous steps. Even if they played in a repetitive groove, they kicked ass in it.
After the show, we had to find a place to stay. What, no hotel? They cost money, and there wasn't enough to put us all up, so we always winged it when it came to that. The Sons would complain about food, but they would sleep anywhere. While we were at the Kaleidoscope, we stayed at the Hog Farm, a commune in the mountains high above Van Nuys. It had been famous, but was now practically deserted except for Steve Rhodes, who acted as our host, and was ever afterward referred to in the band as "Hog" Steve. We found places to crash in the funky farm buildings; the only hassle was the 45 minute drive with all of us in the equipment van capped off by a stretch of really bad dirt road on top of some major mountain. No one wanted the job of driving up there, and if it fell to me I don't remember.
The Kaleidoscope gig was three days, so we stayed up at the Hog Farm those nights. After that, there was a 24-hour a day film festival at the Kaleidoscope, so we crashed in there with arty Japanese movies going on every time we woke up. One afternoon we walked down the street to see "2001 -- A Space Odyssey" at the Cinerama. We kept our equipment stashed at the Kaleidoscope because if we loaded our van, there was no way for us to all get around. Every time the van rolled, it had ten guys and luggage in it.
We couldn't help feel like a close-knit gang. Even though the band played convincing blues, it was really a bunch of suburban white boys, and this first visit to Hollywood was for some of us our first exposure to the really seedy world we were going to live in for a while. We met for the first time a culture where everyone took downers or uppers all the time and thought nothing of it. This was a whole new category of drug use from the psychedelic San Francisco scene.
It wasn't a conscious thing, but when we were on the road, the world was divided into "us" and "them," and them was everybody but us ten. As Custer probably said, "There sure are a lot of THEM out there."
After the Kaleidoscope gig we went to San Diego for a couple of nights at a place called the Hippodrome, the band's first visit there also. Tooth and I drove the equipment, and the rest of the guys took the bus. We had dropped off the equipment and went to get they guys at the bus station. We parked the van and went in to get the guys, and when we all ten of us stepped out on the sidewalk, police cars pulled up from several directions and cops piled out. In a town where half the population is military, ten bearded longhairs looked like an invasion, and they wanted to know what the hell we had in mind.
We had to produce identification, which was not always easy. Terry especially had a hard time hanging onto wallets, so we all had to vouch for him. We just told them the truth, which was we were a rock band that traveled on the bus, and they finally let us off the hook, but with a warning to avoid any appearance of mopery with intent to loiter.
I don't remember much about the San Diego gig, but I understand that in the uptight town it was one of the first real acid rock, long haired, real loud concerts ever to take place. You wouldn't see long hair anywhere on the street in San Diego, but the hippies materialized for the show, and it was one of the first events there where isolated members of the hip community found the other members. People who attended it became the core of the band's fans in San Diego for the rest of the band's existence, and San Diego welcomed the Sons a lot of times over the years.
The total trip was about ten days, of incredible group closeness. Us against them, and there are a lot more of them. And in San Diego at least, we had an outpost.
LOOSEN UP NATURALLY
"Loosen Up Naturally" is my favorite Sons album, because it managed to be the purest music they really performed in the studio. They had recorded an album in 1967 for Trident Records. It was never released, and it is mostly mushily produced. One record, the single "Sing Me a Rainbow" B/W "Fat City" was released, but had only the most modest success, probably climbing as high as eighth on the Mill Valley record charts. The next projected single was a tune called "Shades of Gray," written by professional songwriters. Shortly before the Sons album was to be released, the Monkees released their version of "Shades of Gray."
The first opportunity the Sons had in an eight track studio was at Leo De Gar Kulka's Golden State Recorders in San Francisco. Leo had handled the recording for Quicksilver Messenger Service's first album, and they had reportedly done as many as 140 takes for one song, spending huge amounts of studio time on one tune, "The Fool."
Before the Capitol contract was even signed, the band wanted a concession from Capitol. How about letting us make a free record, that we would send to whoever asked? Oh, yeah, the tune is called "Jesus is Coming."
Despite the almost fundamentalist tone of the song, no one who saw the band would mistake them for Bible belt churchgoers. "Jesus is Coming" was written by Tim Cain, who added a very spiritual philosophy to the band. It sings like a gospel hymn, with a touch of baroque organ.
One of the amazing things about the Sons was that the band's approach was so honest, open, and almost "gee-whiz," that during the first incarnation of the band, we could and would ask anyone for anything, and sometimes even get it. No one could doubt that these guys existed only for the music they played. They spent as much time practicing as they could, because it was also the most fun they could have, working out their tunes. Manager Fred Roth was not much of a businessman, although he gave it the best he had. What he did was look people directly in the eye and tell it the way he saw it. His style of management was actually a perfect complement to the Sons' music, because his personal philosophy was then driving the band.
We could almost count the money. It was finally going to happen. Steve Miller had just signed with Capitol, and they gave him a $150,000 bonus just for the ink. Quicksilver was on Capitol and they were hot. Jim Beem had even done a horn part on their album on the song "Pride of Man." The Sons knew they were as good as any of those guys. Money. Soon. Studio. Yes. Money.
So Capitol said they would do it, and we went in the studio in the fall of 1968 to do the tracks. It was the first time most of us had seen an eight track, and after their experience in the four track Trident studio, the band was drooling over the possibilities.
The song was done in a couple of studio days, one for basic tracks and one for overdubbed vocals and solos, with Tim singing the lead. At about eight minutes it was too long for one side of the 7-inch 33 rpm disc Capitol pressed it on, and when it was released, it was split in the middle and put on both sides. This was an artistic disaster, since the song faded on one side just before it started to build to a climax. The listener had to flip it over and kind of imagine that the song hadn't stopped while that was being done. The offer of the free record resulted in about 8000 copies being mailed out at Capitol's expense.
The big recording session was in a few weeks, and Jim Beem went around the bend. At a gig he went catatonic, just standing and staring, and he pissed in his pants. Most accounts of this call it some kind of acid burnout, and while that's possible, I think there was more to it than that. Jim had certainly taken acid, and this was a culture that often considered LSD the best cure for whatever ails you.
Jim was very depressed, and tried to keep it together, but he was losing ground. He showed up at my little two-room flat in Larkspur at about six one morning. This was a long way from his house in Fairfax, and he wanted to talk. Actually, he wanted to walk and talk. And he wanted to hold my hand while we walked a couple of miles through town and up Madrone Canyon. I let him do it, because he was a brother, and he was troubled, but I don't know if I helped him. It was uncomfortable to be strolling the streets of my town holding hands with another man.
After a couple of embarrassing gigs, it was obvious that Jim couldn't play on the recording session. This was a problem because all the horn arrangements assumed that a trumpet was included. Bill learned to fill some of the trumpet parts on the organ, and that would have to do.
The contract was signed after "Jesus is Coming" and that winter the band went in the studio. It took a day or so to arrange the band, work out balances, and get comfortable with the entirely different feel of studio recording from practicing or performing. Bill Bowen didn't like the fact that the bass speaker wasn't two feet behind him, and he didn't like the isolation of playing in the baffled "drum cage." A headset is hardly a replacement for a Fender Dual Showman.
Finally things were as good as they were going to get, and it was time to do some basic tracks. The first song was so new that it didn't have a title. They had just worked it out in the practice hall, and they hadn't yet performed it. When they were about to begin, Leo asked over the talkback what the name of the song was. No one had an answer, so in order to give him something to call it, Leo noted the index number of the tape box. Over the talkback he slated the song, "1982-A, take one." He had named the first song on the album.
The recording session took place in several segments, overseen by Bruce Walford and Dave Schallock as well as Bill and Tim. First was a week or so of laying down basic tracks, then a few days of overdubs, then mixing.
Once everything was set up, basics went down quickly. One song, "Don't Fight It, Do It," was the first take. The band pulled it off perfectly on the first try, and came in to listen to a playback. Dave and Bruce loved it right away. After the playback, Leo asked the band if they were ready to lay down another one. Some of the guys looked hurt. "What was wrong with that one?" they asked.
Leo didn't know a good take from a bad one of a song he had never heard, but he assumed that no one used the first take . They went out and put down a couple more, then called it off and moved to another song. Fifteen minutes, one take, what's next?
The absence of the trumpet is most obvious in the openings of "Freedom," and "Get High," both of which were originally arranged as a three-part interplay between alto and tenor saxes, and the trumpet. Bill played the trumpet part on the B-3, which lost the balance of the section.
Basic tracks went down for the first week, and then it was time for overdubs. Once the rhythm section equipment was put away and the studio set up for dubs, some of the problems with basic tracks showed up. There is a tempo change in "Everywhere," and Terry's rhythm guitar part drags in the first part of "Freedom." By this time though, you have to live with what you have.
For the guitar overdubs a Twin Reverb with a high frequency horn as an extension speaker was turned up to ten and put in the small sound-insulated room usually used for vocal overdubs. Nothing in that room with warm blood would live after that amp cut loose, so the guitar cord was strung under the mostly soundproofed door and the player did his thing out in the main studio. With the guitar isolated from the amp, there was no feedback, and the player could listen to it as loud or as little as he wanted over the monitors or headphones as he soloed along with the basic track. Customarily it's done while listening on headphones, but Terry liked the ambience of loud music, so he sat between a pair of big studio monitors listening to the playback REAL LOUD while he did his dubs.
Terry's solo on "Things are Getting Better" is one of the best he ever recorded, although the song is somewhat forgotten, last on the third side.
Bill's guitar solo on "Don't fight It, Do It" is a great one, but it almost didn't happen. He did a good one, and came in for a listen. "Pretty good," everyone agreed. "No, one more." "Okay." With only eight tracks to work with, you didn't have the option of saving one to see if the next one would be better, you had to record over the previous take.
Then Bill went out and did the one that was used on the record, and it was obvious that this was the take, and it couldn't get much better.
Bill added baritone sax to "Everywhere," and "Freedom." Tim doubled his sax solo on "Rooftop" and did his "Freedom" and "Get High" solos. Geoffrey added a keyboard solo to "Black and Blue Rainbow," and played two tracks of vibes and tabla on "Get High." (Years later I heard a keyboard player in a bar band at Squaw Valley do Geoff's solo note for note.) Bill did his keyboard solos.
Then on to the vocals. The most entertaining was "Don't Fight It, Do It." Jim Beem had helped write the song, and had originally sung it with Tim, but for the record the duet was Bill and Tim. Things didn't go quite right, and the vocal went to several takes. Finally, Tim's voice cracked, and he could only hit his notes with a screechy squawk. The tape was still rolling, so when the second verse came around, he switched to a lower octave. This took Bill by surprise, and he started laughing, with a live mike. Now they started hamming it up, because they figured the take was blown, and they'd be rolling back for another take in just a few seconds. At the end of the vocals, Tim squawked into the mike, and even though it wasn't a very loud sound, it was close to the mike, and it could be mixed as loud as necessary to sound like a loud scream. In the final mix it was as necessary and panned from side to side, a luxury of eight-track recording. Laughing, Bill said, "Oooh, terrible." Leo kept the tape rolling, because Bill sang the last part of the song alone, and he might as well do it now as some other time. The two vocal sections were separated by a long guitar solo, and it would be easy to "drop in" to do the first part again. Bill finished the song, and the singers came in for a playback.
"We're going to have to do that again."
"Let's listen to what we have."
On the playback, it was still funny, and the segue, even with the "Terrible," into the guitar solo was perfect. Tim wasn't going to do any better that night, so they kept it.
For the scat section of "Freedom," Bill used a live mike during the recording of the basic track, so he could interplay with the sax, and cue the rest of the band when to come in at the end of the scat. The section had started life with words, but they weren't Bill's, they were Rob Moitoza's chant:
"Show me the way to get to Soulville,Bill didn't want to steal Rob's lyric for the record, so he dropped all the words and switched to a straight scat solo based on the same phrasing. This section turned out to be a problem because he didn't like the track he did live and he wanted to do it again in an overdub.
Show me the way to get home.
Show me the way to get to Soulville,
Because that's where we belong."
The drum track and the sax tracks had to continue through that section, and there was enough leakage into those mikes that the original scat couldn't be erased completely. Behind the overdubbed scat a tinny, tiny voice mimics it, but not exactly right, like a little bee. In the live version, Bill could "call and answer" with Tim on sax, Tim playing the scat phrase after Bill made it up. With no reference points, Bill didn't know when he should do the call, and as a result, he echoed the lick after Tim's lick on the basic track, a sort of reverse answer and call. The other thing was, he gave the vocal cue when the scat was over, and he couldn't listen to the original track to hear himself give the cue for the rest of the band to jump in. It almost took him by surprise at the end of his scat solo.
There is a tape splice at the end of the scat, and it was a little tight. Splices are usually done on the beat, because by rocking the tape over the playback head the engineer can precisely identify where the cut is made by the drumbeat. In this case the time is close enough, but one drum beat got shortchanged and has no pop. It just happens to be the "one" in the measure between the vocal and the entrance of the band, which became strangely limp compared to the live version.
The vocal for "Get High" was the last one recorded that evening. It was 2:00 a.m., and Bill was whipped. His singing is a little flat through the song, but it was a case of there not being enough gas left in the tank for another go at such a long song. For the choral bit at the end of the vibes solo, everyone who was in the studio, except Leo, came out of the control room to sing. Bill, Tim, Terry, Geoff, Dave Schallock and Bruce Walford and me. Someone passed a joint around the microphone, and Dave took a hit close enough to get it on the record.
Bill sang the first line alone, and as the rest of the choir chipped in, I tried to find an appropriate part and not embarrass myself. I had some bells hung on my beltloop for no other reason than it was 1968 and people did things like that. Someone jingled them, and they're on the record. The singing got louder and louder and it was harder not to do it right with everyone shouting around the mike and Geoff shaking a tambourine and then the crescendo was over, and Bill sang the rest of the song and we were out of there for the night.
There were more problems with Loosen Up Naturally after it was recorded than there were during the session. Mixing was an adventure: Bill, Tim, Bruce Walford and Dave Schallock were the hands on people, with Leo attempting to retain control of the board. "Just tell me what you want adjusted, okay?" Everyone else who was there offered encouragement and advice constantly. In other words, it was just like any other band activity.
The amount of music on the album turned out to be a problem. It had been so easy to lay down all these long tunes, because they had practiced most of them for a long time. All the music came from the two sets they had been in the habit of playing at the Avalon, or any other two-set venue. It was the best stuff they had, and it music crafted for performance, not recording. The object was to get people on their feet early, and keep them there as long as possible. The first set opened with "Thing To Do," and closed with "Get High." The second set opened with a tune like "Everywhere." and ended with "Freedom." No prisoners, and no ballads. Mostly four/four. The album, like the sets the Sons played then, grabbed you by the neck and shook you until they were done.
Every song was too long, the shortest at well over three minutes and the longest, at fifteen minutes, a whole side of an album. How many of these tunes could you pack on an album? They wanted them all. Eventually Capitol made the unusual concession of releasing a double album as the band's debut. In the trades the ad read, "So much to say, it took a double album to say it!"
And then there were a few other problems like cover art, songwriting credit, and so on.
Capitol was not prepared for a band that said, oh yeah, we'll do the cover ourselves. What are art departments for? By this time, after the "Jesus is Coming" episode, they must have realized that they were not dealing with anything they had seen before.
Many of the people around the Sons were artists of various types. Many more thought they were. The cover art was the result of giving anyone who wanted to work on it the opportunity of helping with the album cover. At Fred's house there were large square sheets of paper and art supplies at hand, and on any afternoon there might be two or three people sitting on opposite sides of a sheet, covering it with imagination. As sheets were filled, they joined a stack of similar sheets waiting to be sorted through for the cover picture.
At the house in Forest Knolls which Geoff Palmer and Bob Cain shared with two girls, a similar work was taking place on the windowshade. One day, I am told, Bob and Geoff met the Baker sisters Wendy and Patty. Smitten with the beautiful ladies, they brought them home, which incurred some displeasure on the part of one of the resident ladies. She left, and on her way out the door she added one word to the work in progress. She wrote it so small that it went unnoticed for some time.
This of course was the main album cover, and if the censors caught the offending word, at least they missed the abstract gynecologist's eye view in the upper right quadrant. There are a number of small messages buried in the drawing. On the left knee of the gynecologist's patient is a Band-Aid and the message, "We try with a little help from HAL." The arrow points to a computer generated drawing, and HAL is the name of the computer in Stanley Kubrick's "2001 -- A Space Odyssey." On our first trip to Hollywood, we had all seen the film at the Cinerama Theater a few blocks from the Kaleidoscope Ballroom.
There is a recognizable Fred Roth next to the phrase "Desi in the sky with polio." This seems to be a vague reference to Tim, and even now people refer to him as "Desi" as though it was some secret band nickname. It wasn't.
A few phrases are almost trite: "Brothers and Sisters," "Music is Fun," "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," "Love = Music = Love," "S.O.C. Marin," "Once Upon A Time." There is a unicorn and an amoeba and a number of eyes looking at various things. The words "Sons of Champlin" are cropped nearly off the right edge. There is a play on the peace symbol, rendered as an ad for Mercedes Benz. Then of course, there is the Sagittarius and the pointers: "Big Gunner," Big Sign," "Big (fucking) Deal," "Levels," "Ha Ha." The addition to Big Deal is in another hand from the original, added later.
The inside cover features Dave Schallock's touch. There is a phrase that can't really be deciphered. It's a quote from Albert King, one of Dave's favorite sayings at the time, "I play the blues myself." Dave's nickname is written in small letters on it, "Schalloroma," and his daughter Nina's name is written above it.
There are more phrases, "Take a toke off the sky," "Tune In, Turn On, Space Out," "Cliff Hanger," "Feel Good and You Will Be," "Om is Where the Heart Is," "I've been duped," "Blowworm," "Yes, no, go, go, go," "Wonder Chicken," "Buy It All," "Jesus Came Too!!!" There is a map with Turkey, Salinas, Reba, Ireland and the Port of Rheem. A hitchhiker carries a misspelled sign on his suitcase, "Highway Crusier." The lone word, "Occasinallie" floats by itself. As usual, there are a number of eyes staring out of different areas.
The central figure is identified in tiny letters around the brim of the sombrero. It is a child's doodle, a top view of a "Mexican riding a bicycle."
The other inside cover drawing is a Buddha, drawn by Rikki (***), who met the band in 1967 Denver when she was sixteen and they were on the road for the first time. She sent the art in a letter, and it fit the need, so it was used. I doubt if she was ever compensated for it, although seeing it was probably enough for her.
The poem on the inner liner was apparently interpreted by some as a reference to methedrine, since the word "crystal" appears in it. This was unfortunate, and may have been the reason a Rolling Stone reviewer of the first Santana album linked that group with "another notorious speed band, the Sons of Champlin."
Glass swan at the window sillThe poem was written by Steve Tobin, my roadie partner. He is also the Steve Tollestrup who gets credit for writing all the songs. This credit is contradicted by the statement on the original disc label, "All selections composed by B.B. Heavy." This appears only on the old-style Capitol label with the rainbow around the edge. On later releases with the green label, Steven Tollestrup is given credit there also. Dave Schallock has his name spelled wrong in the producer credits "Shelleck."
Stretch your wings and fly
Cool is morning
Eternal are the cascades of creation
Clear are the tears of purity
So bring to me the fragrance of wet earth
Dripping from your crystal beak
So fine an odor for my temple
A color reproduction of a drawing came inside the album. At the bottom are the words, "Give Away." It's unlikely that many were given away. The drawing is a still life created over a long period of time by a friend of Fred Roth, Albert Saijo. It shows the top of his desk with, among other things, a capsule of LSD in a carved wooden bowl, and a roach in a seashell.
The reason for the subterfuge on the writing credits was that members of the band were unsure of the current status of their songwriting contract. There was some speculation that they had signed over some rights with their previous (Trident) contract. The obvious solution, engaging a lawyer to find out, was not the way the Sons of Champlin operated.
There was another question. Song royalties can be a big part of the payoff on a successful album. Bill had written all but two of the songs on the record; the exceptions were "Don't Fight It, Do It," (Tim and Jim) and "Hello Sunlight" (Tim). By normal standards, he would get the bulk of the money if the album did well. The rest of the band felt, with some justification, that the songs were a group effort. Certainly Tim's arranging was a big part of the sound, and the longer pieces were fleshed out with lengthy solos. Would "Get High" be the same song without Geoffrey's vibes solo? Giving Bill all the money would have drawn a line between him and the rest of the group, and they weren't ready for that.
Bill agreed that he would share the royalties equally with the rest of the band, and in later years he would point to this as showing how much of himself he had given the group. The name Steven Tollestrup was chosen because Steve Tobin owned it but wasn't using it. He agreed to its use, and could be counted on never to contest the issue of royalties. Like Yogi Phlegm several years later, the "B.B. Heavy" who gets credit on the original label was a symbolic character. Sometimes he represented the whole band, sometimes just Bill.
The album was released, and we waited for it to hit the charts and then we would all get new cars and new amps and new guitars. and then we found out about the bad word on the cover, a time bomb waiting to happen. Apparently some kid with a magnifying glass was inspecting the cover, and found the offending word. Our stock with Capitol dropped like a cold-air balloon. The situation had no precedent for a band or for a record company. Someone at Capitol made the decision to call them all back and pay a couple of bored temps to scratch it off with a sharp point. Capitol did not see itself as responsible, and the cost of the operation came out of the band's share of the record profits, which hadn't yet materialized.
That ate up ten or fifteen thousand dollars, or a new truck and new amps. It's not as if we never saw any money from the project, but it never seemed like much.
Copyright 2007 Charlie Kelly. Reprinted by permission.__________
To me, anyway, that is just great stuff. Charlie's website is full of funny and illuminating writing. Check it out, all of it.