the band

Bill Champlin | Geoff Palmer |James Preston | Carmen Grillo
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Bill ChamplinBill Champlin website

“He’s known the world over as the soulful singer/keyboardist of the iconic jazz-pop band Chicago. His featured spots on the hits “Look Away” and “Hard Habit to Break” are among his mainstream highlights. But Bill Champlin’s defining work with the Sons of Champlin and as a songwriter put him on the musical map long before he arrived in Chicago. Bill and the Sons were blowing the doors off venues back in the ’70s — and they returned to doing the same in the late ’90s and into the present.”
-- Greg Rule, Keyboard Magazine

Bill Champlin was born in Oakland, California on May 21, 1947 to a musical family. His grandparents, mother and sisters have all been singers. Bill is married to Tamara Champlin, a singer/songwriter in her own right, and is the father of three children. His youngest, Will Champlin, is building a name for himself as a prolific songwriter with a distinct sound.

Champlin’s musical career began in 1961 when he formed a band called the Opposite Six. A year later he began writing music. After forming the Sons of Champlin in 1967 he focused his songwriting talents on producing material for the Sons. “They were breathing fire. They were the most talented of all the San Francisco bands”, said Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. The Sons’ first album, LOOSEN UP NATURALLY, was released in 1969, followed by six more albums before they broke up in 1977. Many of these have been re-released as CD’s and are currently available for purchase.

After the breakup of the Sons, Bill moved to Los Angeles and worked as a session lead and background vocalist on numerous recordings from 1977-1985. Some of the artists that he has worked with include Patti LaBelle, Lou Rawls, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Donna Summer, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, Jimmy Smith, Amy Grant, Neil Diamond and Kenny Rogers. In 1978 he released SINGLE, his first solo album. In 1979 he won his first Grammy award for co-writing “After the Love is Gone”, which was later recorded by Earth, Wind & Fire. During the recent Chicago/EWF tours in 2004 and 2005, Champlin was asked to perform this song with them, as lead singer.

The National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) awarded Bill the Most Valuable Player peer award for male background vocalists in 1980. In 1981 he won another Grammy for co-writing Turn Your Love Around for George Benson, and released his second solo album that year, RUNAWAY. In 1982 he joined Chicago to record Chicago 16. “Bill’s exactly what we’ve been looking for,” said Chicago’s Robert Lamm . His very distinctive and expressive vocals can be heard on Chicago's hits , "Hard Habit to Break" and "Stay the Night."

In 1988 Bill’s recording of the song, “In the Heat of the Night”, was picked up as a show opener by the television show of the same name. The following year Chicago released the song of the year, “Look Away”, featuring Champlin on lead vocals. In 1990 Bill released the critically acclaimed NO WASTED MOMENTS. That same year he was asked to perform two songs from NO WASTED MOMENTS at the Tokyo Music Festival, and was presented with their songwriter of the year award.

Next came four solo albums, BURN DOWN THE NIGHT (1992), THROUGH IT ALL (1994), HE STARTED TO SING (1995) and MAYDAY (1996). In July, 1997, “Here in my Heart” topped the adult contemporary charts for Chicago, featuring Champlin on lead vocals. 1997 also saw an a capella release of WEST COAST ALL STARS, a project he did with Jason Scheff of Chicago, and Toto’s Bobby Kimball and Joseph Williams.

The Sons of Champlin reunited in 1997, with a loyal group of enthusiastic fans traveling great distances to see them perform. They recorded LIVE AT THE LUTHER BURBANK CENTER in 1998, as well as SECRET (CD and DVD) and HIP LIL'DREAMS in 2002.  Bill is currently recording a new solo album, and plans to release it and tour in 2007.

In the words of drummer, Billy Ward, “I became a Bill Champlin fan in the early seventies when he led, what was to me, a ground-breaking band, The Sons Of Champlin. He's written and sang on probably over 400 hit songs, the later ones with the band Chicago. His organ playing has him ranked on most peoples "A" list and he plays the heck out of the guitar as well! He is one of the finest musicians I've ever gotten the privilege to play with.” Dennis Cook, in Jambase and Relix Magazine adds, “Age has done nothing to diminish his powers, and in fact, brings nuances to the material that a young cat just can't muster.”

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Geoff PalmerGeoff Palmer website

 

 

 

 

 

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Curtis at the Lake
Curtis Ohlson

Curtis Ohlson is widely regarded as a world class musician, producer, and composer.

Curtis' original development was influenced by touring for years as the bass player for music legends Ray Charles and Buddy Rich. Curtis then went on to work with numerous successful Artists including: Branford Marsalis, Sheila E., George Duke, Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Pebo Bryson, Pee Wee Ellis & Fred Wesley (James Brown Horns), Pete Escovedo, and many others.

Ohlson's technical skills and versatility have resulted in Major Motion picture Soundtrack recordings, working with Industry luminaries Alan Sylvestry, Elmer Berstein, and The Skywalker Symphony. With over 50 albums, countless world wide concert tours, and several major movie sound track recordings to his credit, Curtis is now focusing more time and energy on music production and recording. Curtis' latest CD "funk-tional reality" is an inspired collection of new instrumental and vocal tracks which he wrote while touring with The Ray Charles Orchestra.

Ohlson said "because Ray Charles taught me so much, both as a musician and composer, I would like to humbly dedicate "funk*tional reality" to my dear friend and mentor: Brother Ray Charles".



 

 

James PrestonJames Preston

James has been a member of The Sons of Champlin since March 3, 1972. Born in Oakland and raised in the humble township of Ross, Marin County, California, James has been a drummer since age 7, having performed professionally for over 44 years. A lifetime student of the Chuck Brown Method, James has been a versatile player throughout his career, enabling him to work with a variety of artists. From R&B, to Jazz, to Cajun Zydeco, James continues to explore all flavors of his trade. James musical influences include John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and James Brown. Among the drummers that have inspired him are Max Roach, Mitch Mitchell, Terry Bozzio, Elvin Jones and Tony Williams.

When he was nineteen James joined a local Marin band, Beefy Red, which included trumpeter Mark Isham. It was during this period of time when Jim met and befriended future bandmate Bill Champlin, already off and running with his group, The Sons of Champlin. When James was 22 years old, he was asked to join the Sons of Champlin. The Sons took him all over the country performing for many avid fans. James continued to perform with the Sons until they disbanded in 1977.

Without dropping a beat, James was asked to join Moby Grape in 1978, when the "Live Grape" album was released. James toured with Moby Grape through 1980. In the '80's & '90's James kept himself busy working with such notables as Dr. John, Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, Steve Miller, Maria Muldaur, Norton Buffalo, and most recently again with Moby Grape. James was also involved in a musical project with Bobby McFerrin in the early 1980's and can be heard on his CD album “Bobby McFerrin”, released in 1982.

James has recorded seven albums with The Sons, including the recent project "Hip Lil’ Dreams" CD, recorded at the Expressions School of New Media, Emeryville, in February 2002 and nationally released January 2005.  The two other most current projects include the ‘Sons of Champlin – Live’ CD recorded in concert January 1998 and released in August; and the live recording of the DVD & CD ‘Secret’ from the Expressions performance studio in February 2002.

James annually donates his time to The Carousel Fund in Petaluma, California. Each year, for the last sixteen years, James has been a member of the Peter Welker All-Star band, which has featured such notables as Huey Lewis, Mickey Thomas, The Shirelle's and most recently with backing Chubby Checkers. He also appears regularly with Jon Hammond and The Late Rent Session Men.

Currently residing with his lovely family in Little River, on the Mendocino Coast, James is busy performing and recording with The Sons, as well as creating music locally with his friend David Hayes, band leader for Van Morrison for many years. Lately James has recorded with Sheryl Crow for a Hallmark Christmas CD, which features Booker T.Jones on Hammond B3, as well as guitarist Roger Fritz, luthier and owner of Fritz Brothers Guitars of Albion, California, producer Bill Bottrell, Mic Gillette and John Bamont horns, and David Hayes bass.

Being the solid backbeat of the Sons sound, James is enjoying making great music with his friends, The Sons of Champlin once again.

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Carmen GrilloCarmen Grillo website

Born in Buffalo, New York, and raised in Santa Cruz, California, guitarist Carmen Grillo started his musical journey by playing saxophone and drums at the early age of 5.  When his father took a young Carmen to a Ventures concert, he decided then and there he wanted to be a guitar player.  Carmen credits The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, George Benson, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin among his early influences.

In his teenage years, Carmen fronted several local Santa Cruz bands, including Feel Machine and White Eyes, and regularly played all the local venues.  In pursuit of more creative endeavors, Carmen left Santa Cruz in the late 1970s and moved to Los Angeles.  He soon became an in-demand session guitarist and vocalist.  His credits in the studio include Bill Champlin (Chicago, The Sons of Champlin), Rita Coolidge, Donna Summer, Tom Scott and Tim Weisberg to name a few. 

From 1980 through 1985, Carmen toured the world and recorded with Rita Coolidge (Higher and Higher, We’re All Alone), whom he credits with inspiring him to perform at a consistent and professional level night after night, regardless of conditions.  In 1985, Carmen co-wrote One More Day with James Pankow of Chicago, which appeared on Chicago XVIII

Carmen then joined the legendary horn-based soul band Tower of Power in 1988, where he became a driving force within the group.  His writing, singing and guitar playing made him easily recognized by music fans around the world.  He performed and recorded with TOP for the better part of a decade before leaving in 1997 to pursue other musical interests.   

Those interests included opening the doors to his recording studio, Big Surprise Music, where he is a music producer and the chief engineer.  One of his first recording projects was his solo debut, Both Sides of the Coin, which showcased all of his talents, from the sensitivity of his lyrics to the fire in his guitar playing.  His many recording projects include producing long-time Tower of Power bass player Rocco Prestia’s solo debut, Everybody on the Bus, in 1999, which reunited the original Tower of Power rhythm section.  Carmen he has also recorded TOP’s original trumpeter and horn arranger Greg Adams’ most recent CDs Firefly and Cool to the Touch.

Carmen is currently a member of the Bay Area band The Sons of Champlin, who were an early influence in the San Francisco music scene of the 1960s and 70s.  The Sons continue to have a strong and loyal following to this day, and maintain a high level of musicality.

Among his most rewarding experiences now are mentoring others and sharing his vast knowledge, experience, humor and wisdom with future generations of aspiring guitar players and recording engineers, as well as being the Musical Director of Arise Christian Center in Westchester, California.  In addition, Carmen is a voting member of the National Association of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), which presents the recording industry’s most prestigious award, the GRAMMY.  
 
Carmen lives in Southern California with his wife, Denise, and their dog, Rocco.

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