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I
nterview with Bill Champlin of Chicago and The Sons of Champlin
By Michael Dalton

Long before becoming one of the voices of the group Chicago, Bill Champlin was “breathing fire” with his own band, The Sons of Champlin (The Sons). Like Chicago, The Sons had horns, and their music and arrangements were more sophisticated than the electric folk rock that was popular in the San Francisco scene. They never enjoyed the national breakthrough that many of their contemporaries did, but this author still marvels at the beauty and artistry of their early albums. Rumor has it that when the stars align and all is just right, The Sons still perform. I welcomed the opportunity to question one of my early
music heroes.

Dalton: This summer Chicago tours once again with Earth, Wind & Fire. Your last tour together in 2004-2005 was captured on DVD. Will there be any changes in the set list or any other surprises?

Champlin: I would guess so. We haven’t rehearsed yet for the tour, and I’m sure some surprises will come up … or surprises will be cut. Either way it’ll probably be a pretty cool show. That’s my hope.

Dalton: How does your work with Chicago differ from your work with The Sons? What do you see as the differences between the two bands?

Champlin: Chicago has more radio hits in their catalog so audiences “remember when.” The Sons and our audience have favorites, but we’re not as tied to the old stuff as the other band.

Dalton: Will The Sons continue to record and/or perform on occasion? Does your involvement with Chicago make it hard to keep The Sons going?

Champlin: 2nd part first. Yes, there has been very little spare time in the last few years, and I don’t feel comfortable sending in a “sub.” I could lose my job. I’m looking for the next round of “non-Chicago music” to be a band performing the music from my new solo album No Place Left To Fall. The album has gotten great reviews in Europe and Japan and will be released in the States in July 2009. It’s now available on iTunes, Rhapsody, etc., but without the DVD that comes as an extra with the CD. You know, “the making of” kinda’ thing that makes the music more interesting.

Dalton: These are challenging times, and music can be a means of coping. What kind of an impact do you hope for when you create and perform music? Do you see music as serving a purpose beyond entertainment and providing a living?

Champlin: How can anyone who grew up in the 60’s NOT believe in music as a cultural force. Wow, Dylan, Beatles, etc. Hey, the Sons. Even at
this point when most of the music we hear is completely controlled and processed, gospel music is leading the charge with unbelievable, passionate music. Wow, that’s never happened before? Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls … Nah!!!!

Dalton: You have recorded songs that have spiritual references or have a gospel-feel. Do you have a religious background?

Champlin: I grew up in Marin County in the 60’s. LSD was part of the world we lived in. I did a lot of studying and reading about different religions. Seems like they were all saying the same thing with different words. Kinda’ like good music, same thing … different words.

Dalton: What music has been on your iPod or your favorite listening device?

Champlin: I’m pretty traditional. Stevie Wonder is, for me, still a major force in creative music. James Taylor, Bruce Hornsby. These guys are all great musicians who could be working the top gigs even if they never wrote a song, but we’re all better for their input. Please, we’re talkin’ Stevie, here.

Dalton: Have you read any memorable books or seen any enjoyable films lately?

Champlin: My favorite movie this year is Gran Torino by Clint Eastwood. That guy is a great storyteller. Great movie.

Dalton: What’s the question you wish people like me asked? Don’t keep us in suspense. Be sure to answer it.

Champlin: OK, Bill, with all the bullshit you have to go through to stay in the music business, is it still worth it? Answer: So far, yes.

 

 
 
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