The Sons of Champlin started in 1965 in Marin County, California, rising from the wreckage of the Opposite Six, a locally popular R&B band from the pre-Beatle era. “Six” members, Bill Champlin and Tim Cain, added Terry Haggerty and the first of a series of drummers and bass players. The new band was named for the “front” man, Bill Champlin.
For a couple of years the Sons played as a five-piece band, working the college and high school dance circuit and the various clubs and bars in the Bay Area.
The Sons’ first record release, on Verve Records, was a single called “Sing Me A Rainbow”. It got a little local AM radio airplay. In 1967 the Sons of Champlin became a seven-piece band, adding a trumpet and more importantly, Geoff Palmer on keyboards, alto sax, and vibraphone. By this time the San Francisco scene included the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms, and as the Sons joined that rock circuit, they earned a reputation as a group of R&B and jazz musicians far above the caliber of the electrified folk-rockers who formed the core of the scene.
Not only did the Sons boast a horn section, their philosophical themes, R&B and jazz tempos and arrangements were far ahead of any in rock music, and set the Sons apart from the guitar-dominated bands playing the San Francisco ballrooms.
Because nearly every other major San Francisco band signed a big record deal before the Sons did in 1968, they have sometimes been referred to as a “second wave” San Francisco band, although the Sons predate most of the fixtures in that scene. Between 1968 and 1977 the Sons of Champlin released seven albums. Despite developing a fanatic fan base in a number of regions, the national breakthrough never arrived, and in 1977 the members dispersed to other projects.
However, their fans never forgot the Sons of Champlin and continued to spread the word and the music. After a twenty-year hiatus, the Sons reunited for a series of successful reunion gigs in 1997. Two of the earliest shows were in April at the legendary Fillmore Auditorium where it all began. Several more concerts were held in July, followed by more in the fall.
On January 24, 1998, the Sons recorded their first-ever live CD. It was released on July 28, 1998, in cooperation with Grateful Dead Records. The Sons’ earlier studio releases never quite captured the magic of their live shows. Quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart said of those earlier shows: “they were breathing fire… they were the most talented of all the bands.”
More concerts followed whenever schedules permitted over the next few years, including some that were promoted by fans.
In the fall of 2001, original guitarist, Terry Haggerty, left the band to pursue other musical endeavors. He also introduced the band to his replacement, Tal Morris, who is a great guitarist and blended into the Sons’ lineup very well.
Early in 2002, in an extraordinary partnership with the Expression Center for New Media, located in Emeryville, CA, the Sons were back on stage and back in the recording studio. This collaboration resulted in the release of a live CD and DVD titled “Secret”, which captured the magic of the Sons at their best, not just live … but Alive.
The Sons of Champlin continued to tour as their schedules permitted, mostly on the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest. There were more personnel changes, with Tal Morris, as well as the horn section, leaving the band to pursue other musical opportunities.
The Sons’ first studio album in 28 years, “Hip Li’l Dreams”, was released by Dig Music on August 23, 2005, to great reviews. This was a labor of love and includes great guest artists such as Tom Johnston, Bobby Kimball, Will Champlin, Tamara Champlin, Steve Madaio, Billy Ward, Carmen Grillo, and Bruce Gaitsch.
In 2007, Acadia Records released a compilation of three Sons’ Ariola albums: “The Sons of Champlin”, “Circle Filled With Love” and “Loving Is Why”. The title of this two-CD set is “The Ariola Years”. Carmen Grillo, formerly of Tower of Power, took over the guitar/vocal slot left open when Tal left to join up with Creedence Clearwater Revisited.
Between October of 2007 and February of 2010, the Sons were on hiatus, due to scheduling conflicts. However, in March of 2010 they toured the West Coast again, to rave reviews. Bobby Vega replaced David Schallock on bass for a short time, and Bill Champlin’s wife, Tamara, was added as a featured vocalist. In 2012, Tim Cain, the original sax player and the band’s first real arranger, re-joined the Sons after 35 years. He sings some of the tunes he wrote for the band on the first two albums. He pairs up with Jeff Lewis on trumpet, occasionally joined by Doug Rowan on bari and tenor sax. Dick Mithun, a longtime friend of the Sons and the producer of one of the band’s CD’s, is the bass player.
In July 2014 the band’s long time drummer, James Preston, passed away after a long battle with cancer. The band chose to keep going with drummer Alan Hertz. Alan fit right in and made the gig his own. In September 2014, the Sons performed a sold-out concert in Northern CA, with Carmen Grillo, Terry Haggerty and Bill Champlin on guitars.
Recently, many of the Sons’ commercially released records were re-mastered into an amazing two-CD compilation available now at our shop.
A reunion show is planned for April 25th 2020 with A Tear and A Smile at the merced Pavillion in Merced California. Details/Links on the event page.
The Sons of Champlin continue to perform and consist of:
Bill Champlin—Vocals, Keys, Guitars
Carmen Grillo—Vocals, Guitar
Geoff Palmer—Keys, Vibes
Tim Cain—Vocals, Saxes
Jeff Lewis—Trumpet, Percussion