The Sons Of Champlin were one of the best and most musical of the original San Francisco bands that played the Fillmore and the Avalon from 1966 onwards. Well ahead of their time, they are fondly remembered now, and since the world has finally caught up to them, they continue to perform this very day. This project is an attempt to identify all the performances of The Sons Of Champlin from 1966 to 1969 (thanks to various people who have helped over the years, including Ross and the old Yahoo Sons discussion group, but most particularly Sons road manager Charlie Kelly. Anyone with additional information, insights, corrections or memories (real or imagined) should Comment or email me).
The band formed at the College of Marin in San Rafael in early 1966. The original lineup was
- Terry Haggerty-lead guitar, harmony vocals
- Tim Cain-tenor sax, guitar, organ, harmony vocals
- Bill Champlin-lead vocals, Hammond organ, guitar
- John Prosser-bass
- Jim Myers-drums
According to the web-memoir of Sons road manager Charlie Kelly, typical early gigs were at the Santa Venetia Armory and the Disco Deck (a grounded houseboat). The band did covers like “Midnight Hour,” “Mustang Sally,” “I’ll Cry Instead” and various blues numbers. John Prosser soon left and he was replaced by bassist Al Strong.
May 27, 1966: Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Santa Rosa, CA: The Front Line/Sons of Champlin/Public Nuisance
This show is the earliest date I have been able to pin down, although the band had obviously played a few other shows around Marin. This was a standard “teen” gig. This event was probably packed, and much like a High School dance. The members of the Sons were already veterans of this circuit from their time in The Opposite Six and other groups.
The Front Line were a popular Marin band who had been signed by the Los Angeles-based management of Buffalo Springfield (Charlie Greene and Brian Stone), and even recorded a single in 1965. The Front Line had been based in Drake High in Marin, whereas the Sons were from Tam High. Front Line drummer Bill Bowen would end up replacing Jim Myers as drummer in the Sons. Guitarist Gary Phillips was also in the Front Line (ex-Electric Train, later Copperhead and Earthquake). Public Nuisance was a Sacramento band.
June 23, 1966: Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Them/New Tweedy Brothers/Oxford Circle/Sons of Champlin
The Sons got an “audition” at the Fillmore, meaning they played one set to start the evening. Audition bands were common at the Fillmore, and they did not appear on the poster. At the show, the band was discovered by producer Frank Werber. Werber had owned San Francisco's Hungry i, and had produced the Kingston Trio, The We Five and other groups.
The Sons were probably playing numerous shows during this period, but I have only been able to pin down a few of them.
July 6, 1966: Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: The Turtles/Oxford Circle/Sons Of Champlin
The Sons were not on the poster, but photographs from this event confirm their presence.
July 29-30, 1966: Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Them/Sons of Champlin
The Sons did well enough at their audition show that Graham booked the band to open for Them, and they made it to the poster. Them lead singer Van Morrison had dug the Sons, and Bill Champlin and him hoisted a few drinks after the first night. Bill Graham blames Champlin for Van’s less than ready state on the second night.
In August, 1966, The Sons of Champlin auditioned in the studio for Frank Werber, and he signed them to his Trident Productions company. Drummer Jim Myers volunteered for Vietnam, and he was replaced by Chris Howard. The Sons spent much of the next two months working in the studio, recording for Trident productions.
October 13-14, 1966: The Ark, Sausalito, CA: Moby Grape/Big Brother and The Holding Company/Sons of Champlin
The Ark was a converted houseboat at Pier 6 in Sausalito. Hip local bands played from 9pm-2am, and there was a "breakfast show" as well, from 2-6am. Assuming these dates to be correct--there are always some confusing questions about dates at The Ark--these would have been among the earliest shows for Moby Grape.
The Sons were apparently playing very few live shows during this time, as they were mostly recording for Trident.
Around November, 1966, Chris Howard was replaced by Bill Bowen. The Sons of Champlin lineup was now
- Terry Haggerty-lead guitar, harmony vocals
- Tim Cain-tenor sax, guitar, organ, harmony vocals
- Bill Champlin-lead vocals, Hammond organ, guitar
- Al Strong-bass
- Bill Bowen-drums
December 16-17, 1966: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Youngbloods/Sparrow/Sons of Champlin
Old friend and future road manager Charlie Kelly, on leave from the Army, saw the Sons of Champlin for the first time (as the Sons of Champlin, rather than just in rehearsal). This was a memorable weekend for him, as he turned 21 during his leave back home, on his way to Vietnam.
The Youngbloods were based in Boston at this time. They would move to San Francisco in the summer of 1967. The Sparrow were from Toronto (via New York and Los Angeles) and lived in Marin County. In the summer of 1967, they moved back to LA and reconfigured themselves as Steppenwolf.
December 20-22, 1966: The Ark, Sausalito, CA: Sons Of Champlin/Freudian Slips
December 23, 1966: Santa Venetia Armory, San Rafael, CA: Moby Grape/Sons of Champlin/Morning Glory/Freeedom Highway/Beat-Ables/Nite Riders/Baltimore Steam Packet/Axoms/Tiny Hearing Aid Company
“Band Bash” Presented by Ralph and Al Pepe
The band was listed as “Sons of Champlain” on the boxing style poster. All of these groups were local Marin County groups (Moby Grape were completely unknown at this time).
The Sons continued to record throughout early 1967. Ultimately, only one single was released by MGM, “Sing Me A Rainbow”/”Fat City,” in April 1967. The cd Fat City (Big Beat[UK] WIKD188-1999] is an excellent document of the music recorded during this period. Meanwhile, The Sons played many gigs at High Schools, sponsored by local station KFRC, but there are few records of these shows. David Biasotti (see below) remembers seeing The Sons at a lunchtime gig at his high school:
An earlier, hornless version of the [Sons] played a radio station-sponsored noon thing in the gym of Woodside High School, my alma mater. I remember vividly that, as they were getting ready to start playing, Terry Haggerty had a guitar strap malfunction & his beautiful fat Gibson Birdland (or whatever it was) just crashed onto the gym floor. Which caused me & my pal to crack up in a snarky way. Once the guy started playing though, our jaws dropped.The Sons began to play regularly around the Bay Area. At this time, their sound was oriented more towards the Beatles than James Brown, emphasizing guitars and harmonies. Tim Cain, later a tenor saxophonist, mostly played rhythm guitar during this period. I have only been able to find evidence of some higher profile shows, but I believe the Sons were performing steadily around the Bay Area, mostly at "Teen" venues rather than overtly psychedelic ones.
January 27, 1967: Rollarena, San Leandro, CA: The Seeds/Sons Of Champlin
January 28, 1967: Longshoreman’s Hall, San Francisco, CA: The Seeds/Sons of Champlin/Misanthropes
Both of these weekend shows were presented by Bill Quarry’s Teens ‘n’ Twenties. Bill Quarry was an East Bay promoter of “Teen” shows, who sometimes put on shows in the city as well. The Seeds, from Hollywood, had a big hit with “Pushin Too Hard.”
March 18, 1967: Longshoreman’s Hall, San Francisco, CA: Baytovens/Sons of ChamplinThese were also Bill Quarry TNT shows (the listing is from the March 17 Chronicle)
Spring 67 Gym, Washington High, Fremont KFRC/Pepsi Battle Of The Bands Sons Of Champlin
The Sons headlined a competition between Washington High bands. At the "Battle," The Wakefield Loop beat out Collective Works and The Reason Why. KFRC and Pepsi sponsored many such events at different high schools, with The Sons or Harbinger Complex as the headliners.
Golden Star Promotions Presents
May 19, 1967: Rollarena, San Leandro, CA: Sons of Champlin/Peter Wheat/Sounds of Silver Darkness
The Rollarena (a roller skating rink converted on Friday night for rock shows) was Bill Quarry’s home base. However, the “teen” era of dances was being replaced by the Fillmore ethos, and the poster for this show indicates budding psychedelica.
May 19, 1967: Carpenters Hall, Hayward, CA: Sons of Champlin/Peter Wheat/Garden Of Chaste Refreshment
This was double gig for the Sons and Peter Wheat, both apparently promoted by TNT. The band would have raced up and down Highway 17 (Hayward and San Leandro are only a few miles apart) to play both shows.
May 26, 1967: National Guard Armory, San Bruno, CA: Sons of Champlin/The Sparrow
KFRC played the Sons single, and the sketchy chart information available confirms that “Sing Me A Rainbow” spends at least 4 weeks on the KFRC “Big 30”, peaking at #15 on May 31, 1967.
June 10-11, 1967: Mt. Tamalpais Theater, San Rafael Fantasy Fair and Magic Music Festival
Benefit for Hunter’s Point Child Care Center
The festival was originally booked for the weekend of June 3-4, but it was rained out and rescheduled for the next weekend.
>June 3, 1967 P.F. Sloan/Grass Roots/Moby Grape/13th Floor Elevators/Spanky and Our Gang/Roger Collins/Blackburn & Snow/The Sparrow/Every Mother’s Son/Sons of Champlin/Jefferson Airplane/Mojo Men/Merry-Go-Round
This was the original billing for June 3 (the ad is from the May 21 Chronicle). In the end, the Sons played twice on Sunday, June 11
June 11, 1967 (Sunday) Lamp of Childhood/Sons of Champlin/Captain Beefheart/New Salvation Army Banned/Hugh Masakela/PF Sloan/Marvin Gaye/Jefferson Airplane/The Grass Roots/Steve Miller Band/Tim Buckley
The Magic Mountain Festival was a week before Monterey Pop, and sort of an effort to accomplish the same thing. The open air theater was at the top of a mountain, and the crowds completely overwhelmed the venue, causing the city to ban all future rock shows (save for a few already scheduled).
June 11, 1967 (Sunday-Valley) Sons of Champlin/Spyders/Strawberry Window/Harbinger Complex
Access to the festival was only possible by shuttle bus, so fans parked at the foot of the mountain and waited for the overcrowded shuttle. Some Marin County bands entertained fans in the parking lot while they waited, and it was called "The Valley Of Dancing." The Sons played both the parking lot and the main festival.
June 24, 1967: El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA: Palo Alto Be-In
Grateful Dead/Big Brother and The Holding Company/Sons of Champlin/Anonymous Artists of America
David Biasotti, guitarist and future member of the semi-legendary band Maxfield Parrish, remembers seeing the Sons of Champlin at El Camino Park in Palo Alto in Summer, 1967.
In any case, what do I remember...I recall seeing Timothy Leary speak a bit. I remember a black power guy, too, maybe Stokely Carmichael. That I don't remember the Grateful Dead doesn't mean anything. I was either not there when they were playing, or just forgot. Seeing the Dead was not that big a deal for me in those days. I was well-disposed towards them, of course, & loved their album, but I was way way more into the Airplane & Moby Grape than them. I do recall the Sons of Champlin vividly, 'coz that was my first experience of them as a horn band, & they knocked me out.Biasotti’s memory of seeing the Sons with a horn section suggests that the band augmented their lineup on occasion.
June 28, 1967: Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, CA: The Young Rascals/ Country Joe and The Fish/The Sons of Champlin/The Sparrow/Grass Roots
The Grateful Dead were added at the last minute to this TNT presentation. While they are generally thought (according to Deadbase) to have stood in for Country Joe and The Fish, according to handbills it appears more likely they stood in for The Sparrow. The Sparrow had moved to Los Angeles by this time, where they would soon reconfigure themselves as Steppenwolf.
Due to artistic disagreements between the band and Frank Werber, Werber released the Sons from contractual obligations as of June 30, 1967. Werber would largely drop out of the music business, while the Sons pursued a less commercial and more psychedelic course.
June 30, 1967: Longshoreman’s Hall, San Francisco, CA: Country Joe and The Fish/Sons of Champlin/Mystery Trend
July 4, 1967: Carousel Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Canned Heat/Sons of Champlin/Canned Heat/The Robbs
July 5, 1967: Carousel Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Sons of Champlin/Canned Heat/Kaleidoscope
July 6, 1967: Carousel Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Sons of Champlin/Count Five/Kaleidoscope
At this time, Canned Heat and The Kaleidoscope were little know bands from Southern California.
July 21-22, 1967: Continental Ballroom, Santa Clara, CA: Grateful Dead/Sons of Champlin/Phoenix/Congress of Wonders
July 28, 1967: Litchfield’s Bermuda Palms, San Rafael, CA: Sons of Champlin/Baltimore Steam Packet/Thurston’s Island/Migville Square/The IV Keys
Bermuda Palms was the venue later known as The Euphoria and then Pepperland (on 737 E. Francisco), although strictly speaking it was more like a bar in the same building.
July 29, 1967: Muir Beach, CA: Sons of Champlin/Morning Glory/Charlatans/Transatlantic Railroad
A flyer exists. There was a sort of "party scene" at this distant outpost of Western Marin.
August 8-10, 1967: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Sons of Champlin/Buffum Tool Company
Buffum Tool Company were a five-piece Folk-Rock group from Champaign, IL. Due to a management connection with Steve Miller, they were playing The Matrix for three weeks while living in Miller’s attic.
August 18-20, 1967: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Sons of Champlin/Buffum Tool Company
The Sons may have replaced Howlin Wolf on the Matrix bill.
September 2 or 3, 1967: Cabrillo College Stadium, Cabrillo Junior College, Aptos, CA
Benefit for SCA at Santa Cruz
Grateful Dead/Canned Heat/The Leaves/Andrew Staples/Sons of Champlin/New Delhi River Band/Second Coming/New Breed/BFD Blues Band/Gross Exaggeration/Yajahla Tingle Guild/People/Jaguars/Art Collection/Morning Glory/Ben Frank’s Electric Band/New Frontier/Chocolate Watch Band/The Other Side/E-Types/Mourning Reign/Imperial Mange Remedy/Omens/Ragged Staff/Talon Wedge & Others.
This was a two-day event on the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend. The poster indicated that there was music from 3 to 12pm each day.
September 5-7, 1967: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: West Coast Natural Gas/Sons of Champlin
September 29-30, 1967: Straight Theater, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Sons of Champlin
By this time, the Sons had established themselves as one of the hip San Francisco underground bands. Of course, like all the other bands, they weren't making a dime, but they became a familiar name on the coolest posters.
October 6-7, 1967: Western Front, San Francisco, CA: Sons of Champlin/Frumious Bandersnatch/Morning Glory/Initial Shock
The Western Front was a new venue at Polk & O’Farrell, run by the original Family Dog proprietors (the poster is up top).
October 27-29, 1967: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Sons Of Champlin/Taj Mahal & The Blue Flames
Around this time, Geoff Palmer joined the band on keyboards, vibes and other instruments.Palmer was the son of professional musicians, and could play numerous instruments with style.
November 10-11, 1967: Family Dog, Denver, CO The Other Half/Sons of Champlin
Chet Helms had opened a branch of the Family Dog in Denver, which turned out to be an ill fated venture. The Sons made their first true road trip to play the venue. According to Kelly, Geoff Palmer apparently did not make the trip to Denver, as he was not yet fully integrated into the band.
There may have been a free outdoor concert at the University of Denver around this time.
November 17-18, 1967: Family Dog, Denver, CO Chuck Berry/Sons of Champlin/New World Blues Dictionary
There must be considerably more 1966 and '67 shows for the Sons Of Champlin, but this is all I have been able to uncover at this time. The January-May 1968 list is here.