I commented on another Sons of Champlin album quite some time ago, "The Sons – Follow Your Heart – (Capitol) – 1971". As was my habit then the background was sketchy. I've gone for more padding since then…
The Sons of Champlin are one of those US bands that never had an international presence but were quite popular nationally and very popular regionally. They recorded for majors, had a number of minor hits and managed to last a while in the music industry.
Allmusic has this to say, "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".
They started out in that great melting pot of music that was California in the 1960s.
Wikipedia, "Champlin started his musical career in high school (Tamalpais in Mill Valley) as a member of a popular 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 (one bandsman[who?] referred to the music as "acid jazz") … The Sons recorded their first album in 1967 for Trident Records, owned by Kingston Trio manager Frank Werber".
They spent the rest of the decade and into the early 70s recording their psych come jazz rock, In 1972 they added a full time horn section to the band (as was the rage back then – even The Kinks had a horn section for a while).
Their sound remained the same, they had toyed with horns (sic) before, but now the sound was more fuller and more commercial. The horns punched up the rhythms and gave everyone the chance to groove. The band moved more into the Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears territory.
This was a calculated move on their part as those bands were doing well and the sons of Champlin wanted to increase their audience.
This album was the direct result of that.
"A Circle Filled With Love" was a slight change indirection a cleaner, smoother more danceable sound. It has a slick and "radio-friendly" sound with the horns following the music a lot more. The jazz rock elements are there but buried under AOR sounds and a good dose of 70s era R&B disco, with vocals that are more soulful and sound a lot like Boz Scaggs, who was also big at the time. Think Average White Band, Bee Gees and Pablo Cruise with more virtuosity.
And, you can't fault the playing or Champlin's vocals … they were both on the money.
The album was produced by Keith Olsen, just off producing Fleetwood Mac's big-selling self-titled album.
But, the album only did reasonably well but well enough for a follow up. The album that followed, sunk, and the band broke up in 1977.
Just when you think everything is working …
Bill Champlin went solo and then joined Chicago in 1981.
There was a one of reformation in 1985 and then a series of successful reunion gigs in 1997 followed by a live CD in 1998. Champlin was (and is) still in Chicago but managed to find time for Sons of Champlin releasing a new album, “Hip Li’l Dreams", in 2005 (their first studio album in twenty eight years).
They still tour and are out there playing somewhere.
Tracks (best in italics)
Hold On – (Bill Champlin) – look this is slick
AORbut superior slick AORwith a funky beat and gentle horns.
- Here Is Where Your Love Belongs – (Bill Champlin) – quite dull
- Follow Your Heart – (B.B. Heavy) – A song writing pseudonym credited to the group and a song they had done on their 1971 album of the same name. A nice groove.
- Knickaknack – (James Preston – David Schallock – Jeffrey Palmer – Bill Champlin) – An instrumental, and a slightly jazzy and trippy one. Quite nice though perhaps a little out of place.
- Imagination's Sake – (Rob Moitoza) – Written by sometime member, guitarist Moitoza. Very slick and Chicago like.
Still In Love with You – (Terry Haggerty) – written by the guitarist. More
- Circle Filled with Love – (Bill Champlin – Pat Craig) – More slickness but this is catchy and exudes good times and optimism.
- To the Sea – (Bill Champlin) – a slight country feel creeps in and does this song no harm. It becomes a middle of the day dream with some thoughtful lyrics. Excellent.
- You – (Bill Champlin) – a mid tempo R&B disco number.
For a While – (Bill Champlin) – More Chicago style
- Slippery When It's Wet – (T. McClary) – a 1975 single by Commodores (#1 Soul, #19 Pop) though titled "Slippery When Wet". Let's get funky. Like a white O'Jays at their rockiest. Normally I don't like white bands doing this. They don't cut it but here they give it a good shot.
- Helping Hand – (Bill Champlin) – whoa … slick and very mid 70s. There is a touch of the Eagles in there.
I was expecting a lot worse but half of this is quite good and some of it is better than it's contemporary rivals on the scene … but, it's not my thing. Tape a couple (perfect for a Sunday drive) and get rid of the vinyl.
1976 Hold On The Billboard Hot 100 #47
1976 Hold On R&B Singles #88
1977 Here Is Where Your Love Belongs The Billboard Hot 100 #80
Circle Filled with Love
For a While
Slippery When It's Wet
- Trivia for Brisbanites – my copy of this vinyl is an ex 4ZZZ copy. "Bought at the 4ZZZ no choice radiothon" is stamped onto the sleeve. Radio tastes have changed at 4ZZZ but 4ZZZ, is and was, an alternative FM station which gives you some idea, perhaps of where "Sons of Champlin" sat in 1976 in Australia.