Monday, April 28, 1997
TWENTY YEARS after they broke up, the Sons of Champlin, Marin's first
homegrown rock band, reunited Saturday and Sunday nights at San Francisco's
Fillmore Auditorium for a pair of concerts that brought back memories
of a golden era in Bay Area music.
The Sons played their
first gig at College of Marin in 1965 and disbanded 12 wild and wooly
years later, leaving behind a legacy as the best San Francisco band that
never made it on the national scene. Along the way, though, they attracted
a devoted Northern California following, especially in Marin, where they
provided the soundtrack for baby boomers who came of age in the 1970s.
Many of them were in the sold-out house at Saturday night's show, singing
along passionately as the Sons played anthems like "Freedom,"
which opened the concert, and "Get High."
"Tonight is like
reliving the era," said Ken Fox, a 40-year-old Larkspur mortgage
banker. "The memories are coming back. This is jogging a lot of brain
cells that have been dormant."
The concerts were
more than a reunion for the Sons. Their fans were staging mini-reunions
all over the venerable rock hall. "They played at my senior prom
at Redwood High School in 1975," said Jim Clark, 40, a Larkspur Fire
Department captain who was at the show with a group of old high school
friends. "They were the house band of our time. We identified with
their music. Tonight, we're going to stand up and yell, "Freedom!"
The roots of the Sons
of Champlin go back to the early 1960s, when singer and multi-instrumentalist
Bill Champlin and guitarist Terry Haggerty played together in a Marin
high school band called the Opposite Six. Champlin and Haggerty went on
to become the yin and yang of the Sons, who were unlike the '60s psychedelic
groups identified with what became known as the San Francisco Sound. Bands
like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane came from folk and blues
back-grounds while the Sons were steeped in soul and funk, pioneering
jazz-rock fusion. They were consummate musicians even then, one of the
first rock bands to employ a horn section.
"They were doing
stuff that nobody was doing. They were doing Chicago before Chicago,"
said John Goddard of Village Music in Mill Valley. "For a while,
they were the best of the San Francisco bands. When they were on, nobody
could touch them."
The Sons released
a slew of critically acclaimed albums, including major label efforts for
Capitol, Columbia and Ariola America. But their hippie ethos conflicted
with the crass commercialism and rock star hype of the music business,
and they never broke out with a hit record.
In 1977, burdened
by tax and financial problems and disappointed by the Sons' stalled career,
a burned-out Champlin left the group and relocated with his family to
Southern California, finding financial security and industry respectability
as a Grammy-winning songwriter and singer with Chicago.
Haggerty, now living
in San Rafael, continued to perform locally on a more modest scale. After
surviving a life-threatening illness, he became active with the Living-Dying
foundation, a group that works with the terminally ill. "I like to
play a part in telling people that music is a social force for change,"
he said before Saturday's show. "The music business has lost sight
of that because of all the money involved." On stage Saturday night
Haggerty was positively radiant, reeling off one incendiary, inspired
guitar solo after another. "There's only one person who plays like
that," Champlin told the crowd, "and you're looking at him."
from a head cold, Champlin, one of the finest blue-eyed soul singers ever,
worked expertly through classic Sons material like "Follow Your Heart"
and "Welcome to the Dance.' He threw a couple of his own songs into
the mix: "First and Last' and "They Don't Make Them Like They
Used To," and showed his stuff on "Heat of the Night,"
the theme song from the TV show. Champlin switched between organ and electric
guitar throughout the long set. He picked up an acoustic guitar, accompanied
by Haggerty on electric, on a couple of soft, tender Sons' songs that
were a highlight of the show: "Time Will Bring You Love," from
their final album, "Loving Is Why"; and "To the Sea,"
from their "Circle Filled with Love" album.
The Fillmore concerts
and a Friday night warm up show in Santa Cruz brought the other original
band members back together again as well - keyboardist-vibist Geoff Palmer
of San Rafael, who over the years has worked as a carpenter, computer
technician and leader of his own jazz group; bassist Dave Schallock, who
works for a computer service company in Ignacio; saxophonist Tim Cain
of Woodacre, who's built a career entertaining kids and making children's
records, and drummer James Preston, who owns a cigar store in Healdsburg.
They were augmented
by two additional horn players, Tom Saviano and Mick Gillette of Tower
of Power. The Sons showed that they can be more than a nostalgia act.
They are all about 50 now, and they can still play, perhaps better than
ever. Champlin brings with him a load of new material for the band to
perform in its signature style.
But future Sons gigs
will have to be worked around Champlin's busy schedule with Chicago and
his solo career. Still, the forecast that the Sons will continue to shine
looks promising. As Champlin told the audience at one point: "It's
too damn good not to do it again."
Write to Paul Liberatore
at Lifestyle, Marin Independent Journal,
P.O. Box 6150, Novato 94948 Phone: 382-7283
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