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Bill Champlin of Chicago gives Michael Dalton some orders (Follow-up questions I had to ask)
By Michael Dalton
 
Bill Champlin is a Grammy-winning songwriter and has been a member of Chicago for almost 30 years. Champlin has also led a band known as the Sons of Champlin, who were part of the San Francisco scene in the late sixties. Unlike the folk rock popular at the time, the Sons had a more sophisticated sound that incorporated horns, like Chicago. They produced a number of recordings that are worth checking out. 
 
My initial interview (posted last month) with Champlin left me wanting to ask more about Chicago, the Sons and his solo work.
 
Dalton: Were you asked to become part of Chicago to help fill the void created when former lead singer Peter Cetera left the band?
 
Champlin: I joined Chicago three years before Peter Cetera left the band, at the time of Chicago 16 and Chicago 17. I think one of the reasons I got that gig is that Peter and I did a vocal date together on another project and the blend was way cool. I was also able to play some guitar parts, but, more importantly, I could play the David Foster piano stuff. Still, playing those parts, I think they also saw me as the guy who could sound like Terry Kath. These days I don't sing that many of Terry's songs. I just don't do copy stuff that well; I can sound like ME pretty well and that's about it.
 
Dalton: How did Peter Cetera and Michael English come to be on No Place Left to Fall, your new solo recording?
 
Champlin: I just asked Peter to come by and do some background vocals. We talked about making it a duet, but I think it was best to keep it to backgrounds or the whole album would be forgotten except for that song. Michael English is a contemporary Christian singer whom Iíve worked for on a few of his albums, and I just thought he would tear it up. And he did.
 
Dalton: Is this solo recording an extension of your work with Chicago and the Sons? How is it different and how did this project come into being?
 
Champlin: My solo album, No Place Left To Fall, is another in a series of solo albums Iíve done since 1978. Of course, some people think it's an extension of all the other stuff I do. I'm using the same voice but it's way different than Chicago or the Sons. It had been at least 10 or 11 years since my last solo album, but I met with the folks from Dream Makers Record Company, and I liked what they wanted to do with the label. Itís taken a while to get it out in the US but itís been really well-received in Europe and Japan. Itís coming out in August. There will be a ďMaking ofĒ DVD sold with the CD. Itís a good album. Get it. Thatís an order!!
 
Dalton: I wonder how it came about for you to sing background vocals on Lead Me On by Amy Grant. I often wondered if the Bill Champlin listed in the liner notes was the Champlin that I knew from the Sons of Champlin. I just discovered that it was you.
 
Champlin: The Lead Me On record was maybe the second or third album Iíd worked on with Amy. My wife, Tamara, and I did Angels along with Tom Funderburk before the ďLead Me OnĒ project was done. I think Amyís albums were opening a lot of musical doors back then mostly by doing a lot of the tracks and vocals in LA, Ďcause, at the time, LA was a little further down the musical road than Nashville. I think now itís all the same everywhere. There are some major players here in Nashville that are at the top of their game.

Dalton: Will Chicago continue to record new material? How about the Sons, or will you focus more on solo releases in your spare time?
 
Champlin: I donít know what Chicago will do record-wise in the future. The business is so weird right now that even an icon like Chicago has a rough time selling anything. Itís not us; itís the industry in general. I donít see any Sonsí projects in the future, and Iím focusing on the current solo album for a while. Iím writing a lot and saving it for the next album.

Dalton: On the CD release of The Sons (1969) you have a couple of bonus tracks titled ďJesus is ComingĒ Part 1 & 2. Were these songs a reflection of an idea that was taking root in popular culture or was there something more behind it?
 
Champlin: That song was my partner, Tim Cainís thing, and the record company thought of it as an addendum to the first album, Loosen Up Naturally. I think this may have been a little before the ďBorn AgainĒ thing was so big. Capitol Records did a give-away (of the song) and it was a pretty cool thing--­big corporation giving something away. The song was listed in Rolling Stone as a free mail order record. Just write in and we send you the music, no charge. We sent out a ton not realizing that our publicity budget was paying for it. It left us with no promotion budget for the album. Ahhh, playing games with a tried and true process.
 
Dalton: One of the signature songs for the Sons is the light-up anthem ďGet High.Ē I noticed that this song is included on Secret DVD Live (2002). Has the way you relate to the song changed or will it always be the ultimate party song?
 
Champlin: People coming to see the Sons do think of that song as a signature piece. So, we worked it up and connected it to the fast parts of ďFreedomĒ which seemed to work well.

Dalton: I read recently that one artist believes music is best experienced live. Whatís your take on that? Your answer could inspire people to get out of their homes this summer and stimulate the economy.
 
Champlin: Hey, live isnít quite the same, by the seat of the pants, experience that it used to be. But itís still fun catching certain bands out there on the road. The Doobie Brothers and Huey Lewis and the News ALWAYS throw down great music. Seen either of them lately? Do it, thatís an order!!

Dalton: What is the release date for the CD/DVD version of No Place Left to Fall, which I note is getting five star reviews from iTunes customers? Will the CD/DVD version be available through the usual outlets?
 
Champlin: Iím not sure what the usual outlets are anymore, but weíre gonnaí try to get the solo CD into some of them. I heard that August 4th is the new release date but that could change for numerous reasons.

I look at music these days as, on one hand, kind of a dismal industry, but on the other hand, a pretty cool thing since most of the ďexperts,Ē who have been shaping the music are unemployed, and the musicians are making their albums their way. We donít have guys telling us to sound like someone else as much as we used to. The bad news is that listeners have to dig a little harder to find the indie music; the good news is that itís better music. Keep your ears to the ground Ďcause thereís kind of a resurgence of cool stuff out there and my album is part of that new thing. It may be somewhat familiar sounding but itís new and REAL.
 
Thanks,
 
Bill Champlin 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
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