What some have called a huge loss for the rock band Chicago is a big gain for fans of an off-and-on-again soul band with its roots in the psychedelic ’60s called the Sons of Champlin. At present, the Sons are back on. Founder Bill Champlin has left Chicago, his employer of the past 28 years, to make his old group once again a priority. With Chicago, Champlin toured in pop-superstar luxury. Now he’s back on the road with a new version of the Sons and doing it indie-rocker style, meaning driving the club circuit in a van full of guys and instruments.
“I’m toast,” he says by phone somewhere on the road in L.A. “The music makes it worth it. A management approach would be to go for the money. I have. I bought that for a long time. But at some point in the game it’s, like, man, this is breaking my heart. I couldn’t stand the vibe. It’s all so ‘Play it like the record. Be somebody else. And be somebody else from 30 years ago.’ Fuck it. I’d rather be me today, and if that means I gotta drive myself there, I’ll drive myself there.”
Back then and today, the Sons are a looser, hipper, harder, and more soulful band than Chicago will ever be. But the Sons never attained Chicago’s selling power, and in the end, they went on hiatus. They became a side project, albeit one that has aged well. Chicago, on the other hand, walked away from their talent and kicked their old fans to the curb in exchange for a lucrative pop wasteland of their own creation. They sold out, and even Champlin’s earthy presence on vocals and keyboards could not make Chicago a hip band again. I’m glad he’s come back from the dark side.
SONS OF CHAMPLIN: Anthology, Saturday, March 27, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. $7 to $39. 619-595-0300.