Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 7:39 am | Fair 36º


Jeff Moehlis: Bill Champlin Loosens Up about The Sons of Champlin and His Son, Will

(pr1147 video)

Bill Champlin first made his mark in The Sons of Champlin, a Bay Area band that created a heady, horn-driven mix of R&B and psychedelia, and whose 1969 album, Loosen Up Naturally, is considered by many to be a lost classic.

The band continued into the 1970s, reunited in the late 1990s as a live band, and has released a couple of albums of in the 2000s. If you haven’t heard The Sons of Champlin before or just need a refresher, the first song “1982-A” from their classic 1969 album, Loosen Up Naturally, is a good place to start. (See the video above.)

The Sons of Champlin will be performing at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre on Saturday, along with Bill’s son, Will, who has carried on the family tradition with a notable music career of his own, including a recent exciting run on The Voice. (See related videos below.)

The elder Champlin, who has also done session work with an impressive range of artists, co-wrote “After the Love Has Gone” — a hit for Earth Wind & Fire — and “Turn Your Love Around” — a hit for George Benson, and was a longtime member of the band Chicago, talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming show. Click here for the full interview with Bill Champlin.

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Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at Saturday’s show?

Bill Champlin: The Sons is a really, really great band. It always has been. We don’t do it all that often — we do maybe four or five gigs a year — but we rehearse like crazy for them.

We bring this whole kind of vibe to the shows. Anybody who’s there who knows who we are is going to end up running into people they know.

It usually turns into a really great hang for everybody, especially the audience. We all end up running into people we haven’t seen in a long time — it’s really cool.

And the music ... ask any musician. “Those guys are ridiculous,” you know. It’s a cool band in a lot of ways.

We actually used to play in Santa Barbara an awful lot, but we haven’t in a long time.

JM: Does the current incarnation of the band include any other guys from back in the day?

Bill Champlin is bringing his 1960s R&B/psych band, The Sons of Champlin, to Santa Barbara on Saturday. (The Sons of Champlin photo)
Bill Champlin is bringing his 1960s R&B/psych band, The Sons of Champlin, to Santa Barbara on Saturday. (The Sons of Champlin photo)

BC: Yeah, mostly me and Geoff Palmer. Geoff Palmer’s the other keyboard player, and plays vibes. It’s like, “Hey, it’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your vibraphonist is?” (laughs) He’s a great musician. In the old days he played sax, bass, drums — you name it, he plays it. He was really kind of almost a teacher for us when he first came to town, back in ’67. He’s in the band.

The regular drummer just passed away earlier this year. We’ve replaced him with a guy named Alan Hertz, who’s a monster. He’s an absolute monster, who’s also going to be playing with my son, who is co-billing the show with us, Will Champlin.

If you don’t know him ... Let’s put it this way, the tip of the iceberg is that he was one of the finalists on one of the seasons of the TV show, The Voice, this last year. He tore the place apart.

But he’s so much more of a musician than just a singer on television. He’s a great player, and an unbelievably great songwriter. He’s done a lot of really cool things — he’s got great stuff going on.

So he’s going to be playing also, and I think that’s going to tear up everybody. I mean, really, come out and see him — he’s worth checking out. He’s the next generation of bad boys.

JM: I checked out a clip of him; yeah, he’s incredible.

Will Champlin, a literal son of Champlin, will co-perform Saturday with his dad and his band. ( photo)
Will Champlin, a literal son of Champlin, will co-perform Saturday with his dad and his band. ( photo)

BC: Not only is he a great singer, but he’s also a monstrous piano player. I think on The Voice they try to play down everything but singing. That’s the title of the show, you know — it’s all about singing. And, yes, he’s an awesome singer, but, man, he’s one of the best piano players I know, and he plays great guitar. And he does some things where he’s almost going from a jazz ball kind of thing for a second, and then he goes into almost like a country thing — he’s playing banjo and mandolin and stuff. He’s really, really wide in terms of what he brings to the ballgame.

He’s just a great musician, and I’m not just talking about it because he’s my kid. If he wasn’t that good, I wouldn’t be talking about him that much. He’s scary good.

Whenever I need anything, I’ll usually call him and he’ll have it done in a second. Will played bass and Alan played drums on some stuff I was producing for somebody else about a month ago, and the tracks were ridiculous. He’s just an all-around monster musician.

He’s really worth it.  Even if you don’t know who The Sons are, just come check out Will — he’ll tear the place apart.

But The Sons are just a great thing. You get two songs into it, and you’re like, “This is cool!”

JM: Well, it certainly seems appropriate that the son of one of The Sons is sharing the bill. So when you listen to the old Sons of Champlin music, at least on the first album, the horns are such a big part of the sound. Will you guys brings horns along to the concert?

BC: Oh, yeah. In fact, the sax player on the very first Sons album is back in the band, Tim Cain. He’s been back in the band for the last two or three years, and he’s a monster. He’s got that tenor sound — it’s kind of like Clarence Clemons except way, way in tune.

He’s a monstrous player and a great arranger. He arranged all those parts that really got a lot of critical acclaim back in the day. Here’s an arranger who’s not arranging the normal stock, three-part regular fanfare kind of horn parts. He’s just a really, really good arranger. I do a lot of arranging myself, and sometimes when I get stuck in a corner I kind of go, “Well, what would Tim do here?” That usually ends up getting me out of trouble. (laughs) He’s really, really a cool guy.

And then Jeff Lewis is playing trumpet, and he’s just a great musician also. So we have two horn players.

And, boy, when you hear Geoff Palmer on vibes and piano, he’ll scare you to death. He’s always been one of the best musicians I’ve ever known. One of the most hip natural soloists ever. He takes you on a trip. He’s just as good as it gets.

And don’t let anyone get the wrong idea. Just because we’re talking about really good music doesn’t mean that this is a jazz band. It really isn’t on any level. Because sometimes people talk about this stuff and then you go and hear them, and you’re hearing like smooth jazz.

This is anything but smooth jazz. This is really original stuff, and it’s just pounding, it’s just slammin’. It’s a groove.

The Sons of Champlin will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido in Santa Barbara. Click here to purchase tickets.

Click here for the full interview with Bill Champlin.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, The opinions expressed are his own.

(The Voice video)

(The Voice video)

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