Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bill Champlin leaves Chicago

Yesterday I learned that one of my favorite musicians, Bill Champlin, left one of my favorite bands-- Chicago. While not an original member of the band, Bill had been in Chicago for over 28 years and was an integral part of their popular renaissance in the eighties. And while it wasn't so much Bill's voice that got me hooked on Chicago's music as an eleven year old boy back in the fall of 1988, it was largely Bill's voice which held my interest in the band's recent back catalog-- before I'd started to discover their earlier works with the late great Terry Kath.

It was through Bill's gritty soulful vocals that I discovered his OTHER band, The Sons of Champlin-- a staple of the San Francisco Bay area music scene of the late sixties and into the seventies. And in discovering the Sons, I also branched out into some of their contemporaries like Tower of Power and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Due to lack of significant output in recent years, my interest in Chicago has waned. However they are my musical compass... Whenever life has been too overwhelming or confusing it's been Chicago's music I've returned to. And it's that music that brought me back to happier times and given me the strength and focus to re-center and re-focus on life before tackling whatever issues had been plaguing me.

Bill's departure, while not entirely unexpected given his level of professionalism and musical adventurousness contrasted with the complacency of his now former band is somewhat bittersweet. Now Bill has the time to devote to making new music, to being himself and stretching out-- to being the consumate professional he's always been at heart. But on the flipside, Chicago has lost one of the few (if not only) bandmember interested in creating new music and driving forward rather than looking back.

During Bill's 28 plus tenure in Chicago, I had the pleasure of seeing them live 9 times. I'll always treasure my memories of those shows... the first two in 1993 and 1994 featured 6 hour (roundtrip) road trips from the Northern tier of NY to the capitol district (Albany/Latham/Saratoga Springs) 3 hours south with my father I'll hold especially dear. Since I've moved over 16 hours away from my parents my time with them is limited these days-- I treasure the special times I had with them when I was growing up and lived closer-- and I hold my memories of the Chicago concerts we attended together especially dear.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bill in 1994 after Chicago's concert @ the Starlite Theatre in Latham and again the following year prior to their concert at the Joyce Center @ Notre Dame. Bill was then and from what I can tell, continues to be, a class act.

I will continue to enjoy the music Bill has already recorded and look forward to the music he's yet to create. I'm excited about what the future has in store for him and at the same time growing more pessimistic about the future creative output (or lack thereof) of his former band in his absence.

Here's Bill performing Turn Your Love Around back in 1994:
Link


For more Bill Champlin related goodness:

More Bill Champlin related reviews
Bill Champlin's Official Website

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bill didn't leave, he was plain fired. My interest for Chicago is now less than none.

Charlie said...

You are a bigger Champlin fan than I am but his leaving removes whatever fire & guts the band still had left in their music.

Perplexio said...

@Anonymous: Until either Chicago or Bill Champlin publicly air the circumstances of his departure publicly I consider that information to be private. I'm not saying I agree or disagree with your assessment, just that I'm respectfully refraining from commenting on the circumstances of Bill's departure for the time being.

@Charlie: I don't think Chicago fully realizes what his departure will mean for the band.

Anonymous said...

Bill was a great addition to Chicago back in the 80's. However, his insistence on overplaying and oversinging had become tiresome to say the least. Instead of using that great bluesy voice he constantly used his falsetto and sounded horrible. I wish him luck, but I just heard Chicago with Lou Pardini and it was a tremendous upgrade live.

Sparkman said...

I'm still missing Dawayne Bailey... but this one ..wow. Bill got me hooked on the band, and with his departure, I will never attend another Chicago concert (we have gone to at least 2 a year since about 1990), nor buy another Greatest Hits (jk, the standard yearly release). Something doesn't smell right. Quote from Whichita Eagle Aug 16, from Lee: "I doubt that anyone will notice that Bill isn't there" Loughnane said. '. Ouch. What an insult.

Sparkman said...

P.S.
When I mentioned insult, I not only referred to Bill, but I feel insulted as a fan to hear Lee say that about me and others. Talk about irony, who would notice if Lee was gone? Stick a different trumpet player up there and tell me, really, how many people are going to notice?

Funkifized said...

Not to mention that Loughnane was never much of a trumpet player. If he hadn't hooked onto Pankow's star early on, he never would have made it as a musician. Listen to the live album from the '70's. I've never heard more cracked notes from a horn player.

However, being a hu-u-uge fan of early Chicago, I was quite surprised how bad Champlin sounded on the video of EWF/Chicago. Champlin's getting up there, and his voice is showing the ravages of beating the crap out of it for so many years. He's certainly talented, but I think his vocal prowess is over.

Funkifized said...

Considering how the original band was quite a close-knit unit and were committed to each other as band members, this band fell apart quite disastrously, starting with Cetera's self-involvement, then the Benedict Arnold treatment of Danny Seraphine. Firing Champlin is hardly surprising, and now the band rarely plays with all the members intact on stage. This band ended when Terry died. There were some good moments afterward, but it was a radically different band. The spiral accelerated like a Toyota after Cetera left, and went right over the cliff with the Seraphine move. These guys are worse than Henley and Frey for nasty music business.

Arlene J. said...

I definitely miss Dawayne Bailey. He is simply a fantastic guitarist! My husband wasn't crazy over Chicago and all their horns, but being a guitarist, he loved to go to watch Dawayne play the guitar. When I asked one of the roadies where DB was at a Latham, NY concert, they simply told me to "get lost". I haven't been to one of their concerts since.

I definitely believe Bill Champlin over sings most of the time, but it didn't really bother me all that much because I was a huge Chicago fan since the beginning.

Does everyone who isn't an original member get fired from this band?

Funkifized said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Funkifized said...

Well, Danny Seraphine was an original member, and he got fired. Put him in a bad position, too.

However, Pete Cetera left of his own accord, citing that he was never really into the music, anyway. The guy gives up playing bass, decides to be a pop singer, and is never heard from again. Now he's playing a free show for the local oldies station this summer singing what? You guessed it: Chicago tunes.

I'm a huge fan of the band at the beginning of their career, but there's more dysfunction in this band than in the Middle East.

beaug said...

Chicago had one good album in the 1980's and it wasnt Chicago 17. It was Chicago 16 the first album to feature then new member Bill Champlin. Chicago 16 actually rocked yeah it was released in 1982
and had that David Foster sound. Bill Champlin & Peter Cetera blended their voices perfectly on Chicago 16 and the album wasnt laced with ballads it actually only contained two ballads not to mention the album had a bit of a punch to it. Anyway this totally sucks that Bill had left Chicago reguardless of wether he was fired or he quit makes no difference. The plain fact is he is gone and there will be a void for sure his voice has definitely lost some power over the last few years. Man i wish Bill, Peter Cetera and Danny Serephine were still there it was a huge blow when Terry died they lost a great friend a great singer and great guitarist. I am a huge Bill Champlin fan and by that i mean his solo work as well i love his solo stuff just as much as his Chicago stuff i suggest anyone who hasnt heard Bill's solo work to get a hold of it. We'll miss you Bill but look forward to some new solo work in the future right on

Sparkman said...

Yeah, first time I saw a concert with Dawayne, I was in a trance, I couldnt keep my eyes off him, my husband and I were in total awe. Then Big Band cd came out with no credit or photo of DB. Next concert I saw Tris with a roadie off to the side before a soundcheck. I asked them what happened to Dawayne and Tris said "he forgot to take his medication" and they both laughed and walked away. I still mourn DB playing and his harmonies honestly havent been matched since. But Champlin being gone I will save my money and wait for the annual "new" greatest hits pkg. Same setlist last 10 years anyway...

Arlene J. said...

DB and Bill gave life to a band that was losing it's life in the world of music. You never knew what surprises DB had planned at a concert and Bill, well, he just plain sung his heart out. I will miss all those wonderful Chicago concerts. Change always comes, for me, it's time to move on...

Anonymous said...

We see Chicago in concert every year, and deal with the changes. I was wondering at what point Bill would abandon ship. He has looked unhappy for the past few years. Truly, in concert, I don't remember him cracking a smile. I don't know that he was fired, and I hope that he wasn't. I will miss hearing him croon "Look Away." That being said, until they let Jimmy or Robert Lamm go, I will be a fan. Yes, I like Jason (but Peter was replaced) and think that Keith and Tris are THE most adorable, but only losing Jimmy and Lamm would keep me from forking out my concert fees!

Program Director said...

We see Chicago in concert every year, and deal with the changes. I was wondering at what point Bill would abandon ship. He has looked unhappy for the past few years. Truly, in concert, I don't remember him cracking a smile. I don't know that he was fired, and I hope that he wasn't. I will miss hearing him croon "Look Away." That being said, until they let Jimmy or Robert Lamm go, I will be a fan. Yes, I like Jason (but Peter was replaced) and think that Keith and Tris are THE most adorable, but only losing Jimmy and Lamm would keep me from forking out my concert fees!

Doug Serb said...

To all of you Bill Champlin lovers out there...he is not Chicago, he didn't have the voice to fit Chicago, and isn't it ironic that since Bil Champlin joined the band, Chicago never received any recognition or airplay. I don't know how old you people are, but apparently you're too young to remember the days of Terry Kath, Laudir De Oliveira and Peter Cetera. Bill Champlin never fit the voice or style of Chicago. Further, he along w/ J Scheff had Danny Seraphin, considered one of the best drummers EVER, fired from Chicago. Chicago's demise was greatly influenced by Bill Champlin. When Chicago lost Terry Kath, they lost the fire and guts of Chicago. Please don't tell me you're a Chicago fan when you really don't know the history of the band. I saw Chicago last night and it was the best they sounded since BEFORE Bill Champlin. They rocked, they had energy, and they were like OLD Chicago. You people must be tone deaf, because Bill Champlin's voice NEVER, EVER matched with any of the former lead singers or the songs. If you're following of Chicago began in the 80's, well you never really saw Chicago. Good luck Bill and thank you for no longer being a part of Chicago!

Perplexio said...

Doug: They received plenty of airplay with Bill in the band. Chicago 17 remains their best selling album, he sang lead on their 3rd #1 hit, Look Away and he was far more talented than the band ever allowed him to show.

I will concede that in hindsight he was a bad fit as his solo material and work with the Sons of Champlin blows away his material with Chicago.

As for the history of the band, I know it and know it well. I've grown up with this band. I know about their past. My favorite albums are CTA, XI, and 16... 2 from the TK era in there!

funkifized said...

I can't agree that Chicago didn't get airplay after Bill joined. They actually became far more pop-oriented radio-friendly and fairly boring. Some of the tunes were okay, but never along the lines of the original focus of the band. They were socially conscious, jazz-influenced, modern classical-influenced, and a great mixture of different styles. I wouldn't say that it was necessarily Bill's influence that made the band into the pop schmaltz that it became. I believe that was more of the David Foster influence, which gave the band radio material, but made them stick with that direction. The pop-friendly tunes never sounded like Chicago, most weren't even written by the band. If I never hear "Look Away" again, it'll be far too soon. I actually agree that Bill was never a fit with Chicago, he was only a fit with the pop schmaltz. I don't see any necessity for another keyboard player in the band, nor for another guitar. They never really made use of Bill's R&B leanings.

They've added some good players to the mix, but it's turned into a pop outfit. They added players to cover the tunes, not to bring in any creativity to the band. That part of the band's history is over.

ArleneJ said...

From what I have heard and from a reliable source, I must add... Walter is the problem! And yes, I know Chicago from the 60's!

funkifized said...

Why would Walt be the problem? I'm curious. I think he was one of the better musicians in the group right from the beginning, particularly in the jazz soloing area. Is he the one voting in all the pop stuff?

Anonymous said...

First heard them on radio and thot they were a black group when "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is" cam out back in '70 as a teen; was first record I ever bought and then came the album(s).

That said, never enjoyed the music aft their 3rd/4th albums came out. My favorites were always Kath and Seraphine; when the first departed the engine was removed, & then the latter left & the wheels came off, my opine.

At any rate, I believe it was the unique combination the originals made them special, CTA ~ Chicago, and no one that came (or would've come) after could return them to the peerless entity once were, to each their own.

To recall hearing Cetera comments aft he left was a disappointment, not unlike one party in a marriage tells other aft X number of years that 'well, I wasn't really ever that into it', or something along those lines. Call me senteimental, youthful hero worship dies hard.

For those who liked/discovered Chicago long aft they'd morphed into something unrecognizeable, you'll get over yet another now former's exit.

Whatever era music theirs was/is your favorite, the music itself will never die...

beaug said...

I hafto adress something that i have seen people make mention of. I have read people bad mouthing Bill for butchering Terry's songs. Yes Bill's voice is not what it used to be he is 63 years old and he sung his heart out for 40 of them. Robert Lamm could have been singing Make Me Smile all these years but he didnt how come???. His voice has held up better than Bill's only because Robert doesent have the range that Bill did. Jason Scheff has an annoying tone to his voice. Its a tough situation obviously Chicago loves what they do but the magic is gone. Three of the original members are gone Terry to an accidental shooting, Peter left for whatever reason his solo material is terrible sappy pop and Danny Serephine was fired. If Bill was fired or he left on his own who cares im sure he was bored singing the same songs over and over again. Chicago would be wise to change their setlist they have so many great songs from the 1970's that lots of fans would love to hear. Bill will do just fine without chicago he performs with the Sons Of Champlin plus he will write solo material as well. Bill Champlin was a great addition to the band their best album of the 1980's was Chicago-16 and he is one of the reasons that the album is so good. He and Peter Cetera blended their voices so well on that album. After than it was all downhill for the band. For all those people who bad mouth Bill dont seem to realize how much great material that man has done. Not to mention he was one of the most in demand singers in the late 70's and 80's guest starring on so many artists albums. He has an incredible resume more so than any memeber of Chicago ever will. Lets face it the band is stagnent and they need a big chance an adding another vocalist isnt the answer.

Anonymous said...

To compare Bill to Terry is just plain silly. Bill brought a fantastic new level to the band, and Bill sang like Bill... no comparison should be made.

Oversinging? Jason ruined this band with his oversinging. In the beginning, he was fantastic, but as time went on and he got more comfortable, he destroyed everything he sang live.

No one knows why Bill left, and the silence from both parties can only leave us speculating that it wasn't amicable, but Bill carries on, and does so incredibly well.

Perplexio said...

I posted this way back in August 2009, shortly after Bill left/was fired from the band. I believe most, if not all, of us have long since moved on. The band certainly has and so has Bill.

I find it amusing that even now, nearly 2 years later this post is still getting commented on.

Bruce Bennett said...

Post mortem:..having seen Chicago live recently I can say with confidence they sound and look better than they have for years. They still miss Peters voice, and Terry is irreplaceable but they put on fine show.

Funkifized said...

Well, thrive replaced a sizable amount of the groundbreaking band with new players who were probably listening to Chicago music as children and during their development years. It's a Chicago cover bad with a few of the original members featured. There have been gigs in which Robert was the only original member onstage, with all subs. Pete's brother Kenny Cetera is putting on a better show than the official band these days. Radio success long got the better of them.

Perplexio said...

Bruce: I'm glad you still enjoy "Chicago" and the show they put on. To each his own. I became a fan in the 80s, largely because of Bill's contributions. While Chicago existed before Bill and now continues to exist after his departure I have very little interest in the post-Bill Chicago. Lou is a decent enough singer. But I checked out one of his solo albums after I'd heard he had replaced Bill and honestly I understand why Ambien & Lunesta are keeping the lid on it. It's a far more effective sleep aid than either of those drugs.