The Sons of Champlin – Fat City

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The Sons of Champlin

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Listen – Fat City – MP3″

Greetings all.

I’m back from vacation (though fortunately I have a day left before I have to back to work) and it was a gas. The Funky16Corners family loaded up the microbus and motored on down to Washington for a few days of museums, pho* and movies on the laptop.
We love DC – it was the first trip my wife and ever took together when we were dating – because there’s tons of stuff to do, even when the kids are small. The weather was good, so we got in a trip to the National Zoo, which despite it’s punishing layout (like an ellipse tilted on a drastic slant), is one of the best zoos in the country. I also managed – no surprise here – to make a couple of productive vinyl stops. Not much in the way of 45s, but I scored some very cool LPs (pertinent to both Funky16Corners and Iron Leg) the contents of which will arrive here (and there) in short order.
If you get a chance to make it down that way, make sure you stop by Som Records (on 14th St between S and T) and say hi to Neal. He’s got a great shop going and deserves your patronage. Tell him Funky16Corners sent you.
Today’s selection is a tune I scored on 45 a while back, quickly digimatized and then put on hold while I decided whether or not it was more a Funky16Corners or an Iron Leg kind of tune.
The first time I heard ‘Fat City’ by the Sons of Champlin, it was on the recent Rhino box set ‘Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970’. I’d been lusting after the set for a while, and one day happened upon it for a very steep discount at a local Borders. When I got it home and opened it up I couldn’t believe how cool it was, filled not only with great music – much of which was already familiar, but a lot of it new to me as well – but great info and some stunning pictures. If you get a chance to check it out do so, because it’s almost as much a book as it is a boxed set.
Anyway…among the tracks that were new to my ears, one in particular stood out, that being ‘Fat City’.
I’ve been a San Fran rock fan for most of my record buying years, and I knew the name of the Sons of Champlin, but never knew much about their music. The conventional wisdom, via what I’d read over the years is that they were an early version of the Chicago-style horn band, but I never actually came across any of their albums in the field, nor heard any of their music anywhere else.
So, I pick up the aforementioned box set and ‘Fat City’ starts exploding from my headphones and into my brain and let me tell you brothers and sisters I was all like ‘What the hell?’ and ‘Where has this song been all my life?’ and then (who didn’t see this coming?) ‘How can I get me a copy on vinyl?’’
The last – and most important question – turned out to be a pretty easy one to answer, and I had a minty little 45 in my hands in just about a week, for just about ten bucks, and I’m here to tell you that it would have been a steal at five times that price because this is an amazing record.
When I was a kid, my touchstone for sonic power in a 45 was always ‘All Day and All of the Night’ by the Kinks, wherein the band managed to crowbar at least five records worth of volume and emotion into a single seven-inch single. Some years down the road, I moved on (or up) to ‘I Gotta Go Now (Up On the Floor)’ by Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers, which verily sets the turntable on fire, naturally extinguished forthwith by the flood of perspiration emitting from the forehead of anyone within earshot.
So, the very first time I heard ‘Fat City’ my ears started vibrating and my brain started smoking and my eyes started rolling and it was all I could do not to continue raising the volume beyond the pain threshold. Here, in just over three minutes and ten seconds is a compact atomic burst of blue-eyed (and non blue-eyed) soul, R&B, garage with a penumbra of 1967 San Fran sunshine – don’t forget to wear flowers in the lapel of your continental suit, brother – that must have scared the beejeebus out of any hippie that strayed within a hundred feet of the band, while lo these forty years on down the road puts the lie to the idea that all that was happening by the Golden Gate was flower power.
I mean, you don’t have to scratch the Love-In veneer too deeply before you realize that alongside the Dead and the Airplane towered the mighty Sly and his Family Stone, as well as many, many other soul, funk and R&B bands, and ‘Fat City’ by the Sons of Champlin is evidence thereof.
Just listen to Bill Champlin wail –

There’s a place in Soulville
That beats the nitty gritty
There you’re looking good
And you call the place Fat City
It’s got soul!
Yeah!

- pushing the Hammond to it’s limits, and then that burning guitar comes in riding a tidal wave of horns and there’s no question any longer (at least in my mind) whether or not this record is soulful enough to appear in this space.
The Sons of Champlin formed in 1966 out of the ashes of their leader Bill Champlin’s (singer, organ, guitar) previous band the Opposite Six. During 1966 and 1967 they recorded material for the Trident label which resulted in their first album. Their first single ‘Sing Me a Rainbow’ b/w ‘Fat City’ had enough local success to see a national release on the Verve label. A year later they signed a contract with Capitol and recorded three albums between 1968 and 1970. This material saw the Sons – like just about every other band in the world – get a little bit freakier (and perhaps pretentious) and they never really laid down anything as hot as ‘Fat City’ again. They broke up, and then reformed recording several more LPs during the 70’s for a few different labels.
Champlin went on to join Chicago (yes, that Chicago) in 1981 and has played with them ever since, as well as with a new version of the Sons of Champlin.
I hope you dig the tune, and I’ll see you later in the week.

Peace
Larry

*If you’ve never experienced the Vietnamese delicacy known as pho, do so post haste. It’s basically little more than a large bowl of beef noodle soup, but the broth therein is beyond sublime, emitting a flavorful wonderfullness that is positively life giving. Fortunately Washington, DC and the surrounding area is positively filthy with pho joints. I may have to move…

PS Check out Iron Leg for a very early cover of a 13th Floor Elevators tune.

PSS This Friday it’s the return of the Asbury Park 45 Sessions. This time out the resident selectors will be joined by Dan of the Budos Band. It’s gonna be hot!!

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11 Responses to “The Sons of Champlin – Fat City”

  1. fleamarketfunk Says:

    welcome back! sounds like you scored some good stuff. we have a change of line up for friday. dan and the daptone family have some stuff they can’t get out of unfortunately, however, we will have the one and only Dave Withers (record expert with deep crates). we’re gonna work on an all daptone and extended family 45 sessions in the near future. give me a shout this week, jack the ripper and i will be on WLFR promoting the night on thursday evening!

  2. Steve M. Says:

    Pho 75 in Arlington, at the serendipitously named Seven Corners. Mmmmmmmm.

  3. Grocery Grimm Says:

    Hi Larry. Man was I both thrilled and miffed at this posting. I’d seen Sons of Champlin LP’s frequently out here on the West Coast for years, and received encouraging nods and words from friends at their mention. Then, I was at this great little record store in ‘downtown’ Auburn, CA (about an hour and a half north of SF) called Cherry Records while visiting a friend. He had a bunch of Champlin LP’s. Based on what I’d already heard and what the proprietor of Cherry said about them, I just went ahead and purchased their debut, whose title, “Loosen Up Naturally,” struck me well. I was excited about it, and that much more deeply disappointed later that week when I realized I didn’t like it. At all. I played it through a few times, thinking I might feel differently the third time around, but no. I think I was a little pissed off cause I had had high hopes, I liked the cover art and a sense prior to hearing it that this was going to be a keeper. I ended up selling it a few weeks later in frustrated disdain. Maybe the timing was just not right.
    Now I hear this track and am bowled over. I should have explored further, but I was just so mad that my first stab at the group didn’t work out. Goes to show persistence pays. Thanks for this, now maybe I’ll go back through and give them another shot. Funny, I just saw some of their records at an estate sale the other week and grimaced. I thought for a brief moment about trying another, but couldn’t pull the trigger on account of the still-lingering bitterness from the inital disappointment.
    By the way, out here in Seattle, there’s a Pho joint on nearly every block. Such a rejuvenating, delightful treat. Perfect for hangovers too, but more importantly just generally delicious!
    Thanks for the track!

  4. funky16corners Says:

    GG
    I don’t know how much of the Sons Trident material is as good as ‘Fat City’, but I’ll surely be on the lookout for the LP (it’s been reissued on CD as well).
    L

  5. slystonebio Says:

    Thanks for mentioning Sly and the Family Stone among the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane – two bands he crossed paths with before any of them made it big when they were all working with Tom Donahue at Autumn Records. I write about this and more in my book about Sly. Check it out at http://www.lulu.com/content/1412956

  6. Walknthabass Says:

    Wow! I mean WOW!

    This is so different from the Capitol releases (and I love those)!

    Thanks! Now I gotta go find the Trident stuff.

  7. Planet Mondo Says:

    Woah !!! – that’s unrelenting all the fuzz and hammond – tip top reminds me a bit of ‘Nobody But Me’- The Human Beinz

  8. Vincent the Soul Chef Says:

    I’m sold too… and after the rather stressful day I had today, a bit of full on aural assault will help immensely!

  9. Jimbo Says:

    Boy was I messed up. With all the San Fran references I was thinking “Fat Angel” by Donovan; the song that name checks, and was of course later covered by, Jefferson Airplane. “Hmm…” I say to myself, “why isn’t he putting this on Iron Leg?” Now I know. My Bad! Love the tune anyway.
    Thanks!

  10. W Says:

    Wow! Another great tune. Thanks!

  11. Eugene Evon Says:

    Thanks for posting that hot Sons track! They had some incendiary moments, and like many SF bands of the era, their magic was often the energy of the live show over the studio work. I’m based in the SF Bay Area, and can tell you that Sons of Champlin guitarist Terry Haggerty is still crankin’ out tasty guitar work, and often plays with his brother and son. I did some work with him in Fact or Fiction about 6 years ago, a short-lived band he put together with SF sax legend Martin Fierro (Sir Douglas Quintet+, Mother Earth, Shades of Joy, Legion of Mary, Grateful Dead, Zero, James Cotton Blues Band, Steve Kimock & Friends, who just passed away 3/13 from lung cancer — http://www.martinfierromusic.com). Fact or Fiction was deep into the funky — their Hammond-meister, Arlan Schierbaum (http://arlan.us/index.html) was gigging with the Pointer Sisters. Yes We Can Can is one of my favorite grooves to crack mainstream. But I digress . . .

    Terry’s website: http://www.terryhaggerty.com/
    Great guy and quite the character, as you might imagine.

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