The Sons Of Champlin: psychedelic danceband par eminence, much-loved San Francisco ballroom regulars of the late 1960s, doyens of twenty minute jazz-rock extrapolations and the epic acid sprawl of 1968's Loosen Up Naturally. But wind the clock back a year or two to their mid-1960s beginnings and you'll find a different animal: a vital young rock'n'roll combo more akin to Paul Revere & The Raiders, the Beau Brummels and the Animals, fronted by a teenage white Lou Rawls soundalike. Rather than the folk and beatnik derivations of most hippie bands, the Sons drew on the grand tradition of grass roots rock'n'roll. "The Beach Boys with balls" is how Trident supremo Frank Werber remembers them.
FAT CITY is the first of several volumes of the Nuggets From The Golden State series drawn from the exciting vaults of Werber's San Francisco-based Trident Productions. As the manager of the Kingston Trio, the astute and hip entrepeneur re-invested the earnings from the Trio's unprecedented success into a small empire of properties and music-related corporations in the San Francisco Bay Area. Foremost amongst these was Trident, a management and recording combine that hit immediate paydirt with folk-rockers We Five in 1965, and subsequently began to assemble a stunning roster of local talent. The Sons Of Champlin were Werber's great white hope and he accurately recognised the group as a diamond in the rough when he signed them the following year.
Evolving out of the cornerstone Marin County white R&B outfit the Opposite Six in late 1965, the Sons were still technically a garage band but tough, streamlined and super-hip with soul to spare. Therefore the youthful exuberance of FAT CITY will be a total surprise to fans of the Sons' later recordings for Capitol and CBS. Werber sent the band into Trident's own Columbus Recorders with staff producer Randy Steirling in late 1966 to provisionally work on a full album via a lease deal with MGM-Verve. Due to a variety of circumstances, as much the band's own doing as anything else, it never happened and the Sons split Trident with some acrimony in June 1967.
Consequently, only two songs on FAT CITY are previously released: the superb, shoulda-been-a-monster 1967 single Sing Me A Rainbow/Fat City, the rocking flipside of which the Sons continue to perform in concert to this day. Here you get both tunes in extended form, and in crystal-clear stereo to boot. The remaining eighteen tracks include covers as unexpected as the Beau Brummels' Don't Talk To Strangers and the Monkees' Shades Of Grey alongside startlingly accomplished originals by group members Bill Champlin, Terry Haggerty and Tim Cain. Through the supercharged blue-eyed soul of She Said and smoky niteclub R&B of To Me to the Byrdsian folk-rock of It's The End, via the fuzz-tinged powerpop of Green Monday, it's an incredibly diverse selection. Throughout these early recordings, the Sons Of Champlin are a force to be reckoned with.
Despite the marked difference in their music once they left Werber (ie apres LSD), the Sons remain proud of their achievement at Trident and are excited that the work of the period is finally seeing the light of day. All five original members contributed to the in-depth sleeve notes that fully spill the beans on this mysterious chapter in the Sons' career.
Additionally packed with many unseen photos from the archives, FAT CITY will appeal to both diehard devotees of the Sons Of Champlin, and to anyone who digs the sound of 1966-67 teenaged American rock'n'roll, played with passion and panache.
By Alec Palao