The Sons of Champlin
“Listen – Fat City – MP3″
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!
– 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.
*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…
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!!