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Album Review

After being apart for 20 years, the Sons of Champlin re-formed in 1997 on a part-time basis and, in January 1998, cut a live album, appropriately called Live, released by Arista Records. The band then lapsed again, only to reunite in 2001, and this second live album was cut at the Ex'pression Center for Media in Emeryville, CA, on February 2, 2002; a DVD version was released simultaneously. The obvious difference between the 1998 band and this one is that founding member and lead guitarist Terry Haggerty is no longer present and has been replaced by Tal Morris. This is a significant change, of course. It is analogous to a Jefferson Airplane lineup without Jorma Kaukonen or Quicksilver Messenger Service without John Cipollina. (Both configurations have existed, in fact, although Jefferson Airplane had the decency — or the legal necessity — to change their name to Jefferson Starship at the time.) Actually, in their long and twisted history, the Sons of Champlin even performed for a time without their namesake, singer/keyboard player/guitarist Bill Champlin, but they never recorded in that form. As it turns out, Morris sounds like he learned to play guitar by listening to Haggerty; his lines have much of Haggerty's timbre, attack, and complexity. So, the sound is much the same, even if the personnel has changed so that the Sons of Champlin, like so many other veteran groups, have taken one more step toward being a tribute band to themselves. That sound, as heard clearly on this cleanly produced set is, as ever, much further away from the expected style of a 1960s San Francisco acid rock band than casual observers would expect. The Sons came from Marin County, north of San Francisco, and their roots were always more in gritty R&B than the electrified folk that inspired their peers on the Bay Area ballroom circuit. This was, and is, especially true of Champlin himself, whose gruff, expressive vocals have always been in the mode of Ray Charles or James Brown. And then, of course, there's the horn section, which none of the other San Francisco bands had. So, the Sons are more of a progressive/blue-eyed soul unit, with solos that hark more toward jazz than acid rock adventurism. And that is as true of this well-played album as any of their records. Familiar tunes such as "Rooftop" date back as far as their debut album, Loosen Up Naturally, and the CD contains one song, "Poppa Can Play," not included on the DVD, that is making its first appearance since it was used as the Sons' track on the Fillmore: The Last Days box set more than 30 years ago. This is a good place to discover, or rediscover, a band that always managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but, somehow, is still around and all the better for it.


Formed: 1966 in San Francisco, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '90s

The Sons of Champlin did not rank in the first tier of the San Francisco psychedelic rock bands of the '60s with the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, but they did qualify for the second tier along with Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service, playing a more soul- and R&B-influenced style of music than their peers. Despite a somewhat lackadaisical attitude toward the demands of a professional career, they managed to chart a handful of albums in the late '60s and ‘70s. The group was...
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