The Sons of Champlin is an American rock band, formed in the late 1960s and from Marin County in the San Francisco-Bay area. They are fronted by vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Bill Champlin, who was also a member of the rock band Chicago. They brought to the late 60's music scene in the Bay Area a soulful sound built around a horn section, sophisticated arrangements, philosophical themes, Bill Champlin's songwriting and blue-eyed soul singing, and Terry Haggerty's jazz-based guitar. They are one of the 1960s San Francisco bands, along with Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Moby Grape.
Champlin started his musical career in high school (Tamalpais in Mill Valley) as a member of a local band, The Opposite Six. One of his teachers encouraged Champlin to drop out of school and pursue music full-time. In 1965 the draft claimed the drummer and bass player of the Opposite Six, and Champlin joined forces with guitarist Terry Haggerty, sax player Tim Cain, bassist John Prosser and drummer Jim Meyers in the band that became the Sons of Champlin. By late 1967 the lineup had changed to include keyboardist/saxman Geoff Palmer, trumpeter Jim Beem, bassist Al Strong, and drummer Bill Bowen, creating a funky Hammond B3-and-horns sound that was distinctive from the rest of the Bay Area's psychedelic guitar bands.
The Sons recorded their first album, Fat City in 1967 for Trident Records, owned by Kingston Trio manager Frank Werber. They released a single, "Sing Me a Rainbow," (B-side "Fat City") which got airplay in the Bay Area but did not crack the national charts. The plan was to follow this release with another song from the album, a Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil composition called "Shades of Grey", but the Monkees released their version before this could happen. The album was not released and the Sons left Trident Records. In February 1999, this collection was released on a British CD under the title Fat City.
During the late 1960s, The Sons of Champlin performed regularly at the San Francisco venues, the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore West and in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains at the Chateau Liberté. They shared billing with, among many others, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish, and The Youngbloods. They were also the opening act at The Band's first concert at which they used the name "The Band," along with The Ace of Cups.
Band history, 1968-1977
In 1968, the Sons of Champlin signed with Capitol Records, releasing Loosen Up Naturally in January 1969. Two more Capitol albums followed, The Sons and Follow Your Heart. In 1970, the band broke up and Bill Champlin moved to Santa Cruz, where he joined Moby Grape guitarist Jerry Miller in a short-lived project called The Rhythm Dukes.
The Sons reformed in 1971 as a five-piece band with Bill Vitt on drums and David Schallock on bass. Briefly, the group went by the name Yogi Phlegm, as which they played one of the last concerts at Bill Graham's Fillmore West on June 30, 1971. In 1972 James Preston replaced Bill Vitt on drums, and the band once again went by the name Sons of Champlin.
After recording their 1972 Columbia album, Welcome to the Dance, as a five piece, The Sons once again added a horn section, which included Mark Isham, now a film scorer and composer, on trumpet and synthesizer.
In 1975, The Sons recorded The Sons of Champlin in their own studio, and released it on their own label, Goldmine Records. This was purchased and re-released by Ariola America. The next two albums, Circle Filled With Love and Loving is Why, were also released on Ariola.
In 1977, the Sons of Champlin played what many assumed to be their last gig at the Kirkwood Meadows ski resort.
The Sons released seven albums between 1969 and 1977, including Loosen Up Naturally, Welcome to the Dance, and Circle Filled With Love. The albums were generally well-reviewed, but were low sellers. In 1977, Champlin went solo, recording Single (1978) and Runaway (1981), before joining Chicago in 1981.
On November 25, 1985, the Sons reunited for the first time in a surprise appearance at the Fillmore in San Francisco on a bill with Huey Lewis and the News, KBC Band and a reunited Country Joe and the Fish. The reunion comprised Champlin, Terry Haggerty, Geoffrey Palmer, Tim Cain, David Schallock and James Preston with Huey Lewis and the News drummer Bill Gibson sitting in as well as the Freaky Executives Horn Section, who provided the brass.
The 1985 show proved to be a one-off as Champlin returned to his regular gig with Chicago. But in 1997, the Sons got together again for a series of reunion gigs, then recorded and released their first live CD in 1998. In 2002, Champlin said it was, "too good not to continue," and the Sons have since put out several new CDs, Hip L'il Dreams and Secret among them (they have also remastered much of their back catalogue).
To date, Champlin has appeared with original members Palmer, Schallock, and Cain. Guitarist Carmen Grillo has replaced Haggerty, and latterly Tower of Power alumnus Mic Gillette handled trumpet, trombone, and tuba parts. Gillette died on January 17, 2016 of a heart attack, aged 64.