The Sons of Champlin started in 1965 in Marin County, California rising from the wreckage of the Opposite Six, a locally popular R&B band from the pre-Beatle era. "Six" members, Bill Champlin and Tim Cain, added Terry Haggerty and the first of a series of drummers and bass players, and the new band was named for the "front" man, Bill Champlin.
For a couple of years the Sons played as a five-piece band, working the college and high school dance circuit and the various clubs and bars in the Bay Area. Their playlist was mostly covers, some R&B such as "Midnight Hour," some commercial pop such as "Shades of Gray."
The Sons' first record release, on Trident Records, was a single called "Sing Me A Rainbow," and it got a little local AM radio airplay. In 1967 the Sons of Champlin became a seven piece band, adding a trumpet, and more importantly, Geoff Palmer on keyboards, alto sax, and vibraphone. By this time the San Francisco scene included the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms and as the Sons joined that rock circuit, they earned a reputation as a group of R&B and jazz musicians far above the caliber of the electrified folk-rockers who formed the core of the scene.
Not only did the Sons boast a horn section, their arrangements were far ahead of any in rock music, and set the Sons apart from the guitar-dominated bands playing the San Francisco ballrooms.
Bill Champlin started as a "pop singer" who discovered rhythm and blues in high school. By the age of fourteen he had written a blues tune, which remained a staple of Sons' performances, "Beggin' You Baby." After winning all the music awards at Tamalpais High School, he took up music as a profession with the Opposite Six. As he began writing tunes for the Sons in 1967 his writing began to show signs of growing into something unusual and deeper than most R&B themes of love and loss. Bill's blues-influenced guitar playing and Hammond organ kept the backgrounds close to the R&B roots, while the lyrics explored new territory. Bill has earned two songwriting Grammies, in 1979 and 1981.
As the son of a jazz guitarist, Terry Haggerty brought second-generation skills to the job, at a time when most rockers had just moved beyond folk music. Terry's technical skills allowed him to define musical "Terry-tory" that other San Francisco guitarists could only envy, and he is still mentioned by these other guitarists as the most advanced and influential player of that era.
Geoff Palmer is another second-generation musician, raised in Chicago and the son of entertainers. A natural left-hander and utility infielder, he covers a lot of ground on the keyboards with bass lines and chords, plays horn parts on alto and baritone saxes, as well as vibes and even bass, depending on what the arrangement called for. More than a technician, Palmer is an innovative soloist on whatever instrument he happens to be holding.
David Schallock, the bass player, did not join the Sons until 1972, but he was one of the old gang who played in some of the "other" bands in Marin County in the '60s. Dave and Bruce Walford, a fellow member of his old band the Pullice, sat in the producer's chairs for the Sons' first album, "Loosen Up Naturally."
James Preston joined the Sons in 1972, fresh from a local Marin band, "Beefy Red." In addition to his years as the backbone of the Sons, James has played sideman gigs with tough R&B acts such as Dr. John, Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, and Bobby McFerrin.
Philosophical themes, horns, and R&B and jazz tempos set the Sons apart from the rest the bands of the sixties. Because nearly every other major San Francisco band signed a big record deal before the Sons did in 1968, they have sometimes been referred to as a "second wave" San Francisco band, although the Sons predate most of the fixtures in that scene. Between 1968 and 1977 the Sons of Champlin released seven albums. Despite developing a fanatic fan base in a number of regions, the national breakthrough never arrived, and in 1977 the members dispersed to other projects.
However, their fans never forgot the Sons of Champlin and continued to spread the word and the music. This became apparent to certain people with the popularity of the Internet growing in the mid ‘90’s. Word has it that Rita Gentry, a longtime Bill Graham employee and former Sons assistant, and Wally Haas, a former Oakland A's owner who once managed the band, decided that the time was right for the Sons to get back together.
Capitol Gold released a compilation CD featuring songs from the Sons 3 earliest albums in 1993 titled “The Best of The Sons of Champlin”. One Way Records re-released the first Sons album, “Loosen Up Naturally” on CD in 1995. No one seems to know if these releases may have been one of the influences that got the ball rolling, or how much convincing it took for the band to get back together.
However, after a twenty year hiatus, the Sons reunited for a series of successful reunion gigs in 1997, with two of the earliest being in April at the legendary Fillmore Auditorium where it all began. Several more concerts were held in July, followed by more in the fall.
Then on January 24, 1998, the Sons recorded their first ever "live" CD. It was released on July 28, 1998, in cooperation with Grateful Dead Records. The Sons earlier studio releases never quite captured the magic of their live shows. Quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart said of those earlier shows, "they were breathing fire... they were the most talented of all the bands."
In 1999, the UK record company, Big Beat Records, released “Fat City”, which was recorded for Trident Productions in 1966 and 1967. Two singles, “Sing Me A Rainbow” and “Fat City” were released in 1967, but the album had never been previously released.
More concerts followed whenever schedules permitted over the next few years, including some that were promoted by fans, some that were sold out, and all that were great, according to those in attendance.
In the summer of 2001, Acadia, a UK subsidiary of Evangeline Records, re-released “Welcome To The Dance”, the Sons classic 1973 release.
In the fall of 2001, original guitarist, Terry Haggarty, left the band to pursue other musical endeavors. He also introduced the band to his replacement, Tal Morris, who is a great guitarist and blended into the Sons’ line up very well.
Early in 2002, in an extraordinary partnership with the Expression Center for New Media, located in Emeryville, CA., the Sons were back on stage and back in the recording studio. This collaboration resulted in the release of a live CD and DVD, titled "Secret", which captured the magic of the Sons at their best, not just live ... but Alive. Dave Duncan, the Sons manager, had this to say, "This is not a nostalgia act. This is the real deal."
In 2002, Acadia Records re-released two additional albums, “The Sons”, affectionately known as the Blue Album, and “Follow Your Heart”, which were originally released in 1969 and 1971.
The Sons of Champlin have continued to tour as their schedules have permitted, mostly on the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest. And there have been more personnel changes, with Tal Morris, as well as the horn section, leaving the band to pursue other musical opportunities. Carmen Grillo, formerly of Tower of Power, and a close friend of Bill Champlin, became the newest member of the Sons in 2005.
The Sons first studio album in 28 years, “Hip Li’l Dreams” was released by Dig Music on August 23, 2005 to great reviews. This was a labor of love and includes great guest artists Tom Johnston, Bobby Kimball, Will Champlin, Tamara Champlin, Steve Madaio, Billy Ward, Carmen Grillo, and Bruce Gaitsch.
In 2007, Acadia Records released a compilation of three Sons' Ariola albums, “The Sons of Champlin”, “Circle Filled With Love” and “Loving Is Why”. The title of this two-CD set is “The Ariola Years”.
Between October of 2007 and February of 2010 the Sons were on hiatus, due to scheduling conflicts. However, in March of 2010 they toured the West Coast again, to rave reviews. Bobby Vega has replaced David Schallock on bass and Bill Champlin's wife, Tamara, has been added as a featured vocalist. Bill & Tamara's son, Will, has also joined the band. Johnnie Bamont (sax) and Jeff Lewis (trumpet) make up the horn section.
New concerts have been scheduled for this summer, with more dates to be added. Please visit our schedule page and keep checking back for more information.
Charles Kelly – Press Release - March 12, 1997
Dave Duncan – The Official Sons of Champlin web site
Sharon Cox – Fair To Partly Cloudy Music web site
Album dates from All Media Guide when not available elsewhere.