Champlin reflects on storied musical career

Jul. 25, 2014 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition

BY STEFANIE NAKASONE / snakasone@staradvertiser.com

Bill Champlin is not resting on his laurels. Not that you would blame him if he did.

The 67-year-old’s professional highlights include helping pen two Grammy Award-winning songs — Earth, Wind & Fire’s “After the Love Has Gone” and George Benson’s “Turn Your Love Around” — and spending nearly three decades as part of the iconic rock band Chicago.

(Courtesy Bill Champlin)

OUT OF THE BOX CONCERT SERIES

With special guest Bill Champlin

» Where: Doris Duke Theatre, 900 S. Beretania St.
» When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
» Cost: $45
» Info: honolulumuseum.org, 532-8768
» Note: Champlin also performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center

“A lot of people around me will go, ‘Man, you’ve had the greatest career,'” Champlin said via phone from his Los Angeles home. “And I’m going, ‘Well, I don’t even think I’ve hardly started.'”

In 2008 he released his seventh solo album, “No Place Left to Fall,” and shortly thereafter left Chicago after 27 years in the band.

Since then Champlin has focused on his family and his own musical projects, two areas of his life that often overlap — he works on- and offstage with his wife, Tamara. Their son Will is just starting his career, after a third-place finish on Season 5 of NBC’s “The Voice.”

As Champlin prepares for his performance at Doris Duke Theatre on Saturday, he took some time out to consider his career, musical collaborations and love of Bruno Mars:

HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER: So you’re coming down to Hawaii.

BILL CHAMPLIN: Oh poor us, it’s just a horrible thing (laughs). We love Hawaii. We had our honeymoon there, on Maui. … Whenever we get a chance, it’s like “Well, let’s get over there. It’s time to get back in the water.”

SA: Of all the performances you’ve done, which has been the nearest and dearest?

BC: Oh god, man, that’s hard to imagine. One set with B.B. King, hundreds of years ago — well, I think it was the late ’60s. … He was supposed to use my Hammond organ, and the fuse blew on it or something, so I went up and played bass with him for a set, and that was probably one of the biggest moments of my life. I was young, and it was like, ‘Oh god, here I am playing with pretty much the king of the blues!’

And then we did a gig with Chicago once … there were 500,000 people in 14 blocks in Philadelphia. We were playing right by the — you know the stairs that Rocky ran up, wanting to skip up to the top? Yeah, right there. That’s where we were. And it was like, “Oh my goodness, this is an awful lot of people. Don’t look at ’em, you’ll get too scared, you’ll run away.” But that’s maybe the biggest show. It may not have been the best-sounding show, but it was the biggest show.

SA: Memorable performances?

BC: My old band, Sons of Champlin, we did a gig three months ago in Berkeley just at a club — and the second set was one of those just absolute stellar sets that was just so musical. The audience, everybody was just in this space, it was just so awesome. And it doesn’t happen as often as people think — there’s always something just a little bit uncomfortable, there’s something about the sound. But I mean everything about this one was absolutely perfect. And it wasn’t necessarily for how big the audience was or how important the gig was — it was just a gig — but it was one of those ones where the music was just screamin’.

I kinda like doing these things, these little smaller things where it’s just sorta me and a piano. I got a handful of songs that I do with Tamara, my wife, and songs that I do myself. …

Occasionally I’ll get one of those where I just get a good vocal, because I’m not trying to sing over horn sections and drummers and bass players and loud guitars and stuff. It’s just a piano and a singer, and there’s something really cool about it. You really get closer to the song itself.

SA: Is Tamara going to be performing with you while you’re here?

BC: Oh yeah. She’s an awesome singer and songwriter. There’s a few duets that I did, one with Patti LaBelle (“The Last Unbroken Heart”), that we’ve worked up. And I did one with Brenda Russell (“If You’re Not the One for Me”)

that was actually one of Tamara’s songs, so that one’s a natural to do.

SA: What are you up to now?

BC: Right now, just writing songs. We’ve got different artists looking for tunes, so we’re writing for them. I’m actually kind of keeping an eye on my son, to see what he’s doing. … Not that I’m managing him or anything like that, because I don’t want to do that. But it’s nice to see somebody in the family just get up and make a lot of noise. Pretty cool.

SA: Have you and your wife written any music for Will?

BC: There’s been a whole bunch of stuff we’ve written with Will. We actually had a family band there for a little while. … He’s a very well-trained musician — he’s a Berklee (College of Music) grad — and a very, very major league piano player and an awesome singer, so it’s fun watching him go.

SA: As there any contemporary artists who stand out?

BC: Bruno Mars is a kick in the butt. He’s a great musician, a great artist and just throws crazy shows.

The guys who I’m looking at right now are the Dirty Loops out of Sweden. It’s just a trio, and man, it’s ridiculous how great they are. … The singer (and pianist Jonah Nilsson) is just as good as anybody ever. Got a lot of energy going on; he plays as good as anybody. I mean, he plays like Herbie Hancock and sings like Stevie Wonder. The bass player (Henrik Linder) is probably one of the best bass players on earth, and the drummer (Aaron Mellergardh) is just through the roof. … Check them out.

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