Champlin's Crossroads: The Spiritual Side of Veteran Singer for the Group Chicago

By Andy_Argyrakis
Posted: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 16:30

album promo image for Champlin's Crossroads: The Spiritual Side of Veteran Singer for the Group Chicago

By Andy Argyrakis, senior music editor,

Depending on one's taste in music, the name Bill Champlin may mean different things, though there's hardly a style in which he hasn't achieved prominence. While the rock n' roll ranks know him as a 28-year member of the 120-million-album-selling act Chicago (where he sang monster hits "Look Away," "I Don't Wanna Live Without Your Love," "Hard Habit to Break" and "You're Not Alone" to name a few), the singer, songwriter, keyboard player, guitarist, producer and arranger also co-wrote Earth, Wind & Fire's smash soul single "After the Love Is Gone" and George Benson's jazz staple "Turn Your Love Around."

In Christian contexts, he's collaborated with Amy Grant on many occasions (including her iconic Lead Me On album), while even cracking the country scene working with Jay DeMarcus (formerly of Christian act East to West and currently with secular superstars Rascal Flatts) on Chicago's recent 30 album. All the while the multiple GRAMMY Award-winner has maintained a steady solo career, simultaneously fronting the rock jam band Sons of Champlin.

Solo variety with some famous friends
"When I first talked with my record label, DreamMakers Music, they said 'make us an iTunes playlist of everything you've got – old, new, whatever,'" the Nashville-based Champlin says of his brand-new solo album No Place Left to Fall. "At first, I wanted to do a swampy rock sort of thing, leaning towards blues on some songs, but then they said 'you've also got great pop, jazz and a cappella, so why not do a record with everything?' which is literally unheard of with record labels who usually say 'I like this song. Now write me 12 of those whether they be slow or fast.'"

The resulting record is not only one of Champlin's most diverse to date, but it's also loaded with appearances byrock superstars of all eras, adding some collaborative spark to the project. A quick scan of the guest list includes everyone from legendary Chicago frontman-turned-solo-star Peter Cetera, to Toto's Steve Lukather (who also played guitar on the immortal Michael Jackson tracks "Beat It" and "Human Nature"), plus powerhouse Christian popper, Michael English.

"When he gets in the wheelhouse, he really peels the paint off the walls with his power," Champlin compliments of the "In Christ Alone" singer. "I met him awhile back after singing on a record he did with Brown Bannister [Grant, Petra, Steven Curtis Chapman, CeCe Winans] and we ran into each other at Home Depot not that long ago, so he came over and sang on my record."

Spiritual favorites and a funny flashback
Though Champlin remains a staple of the mainstream scene, he's a lifelong gospel fan who's been inspired by many of the genre's old time greats. He's quick to throw out names like Andraé Crouch, Aretha Franklin, Edwin Hawkins and Walter Hawkins as personal favorites, but later found the likes of Grant and Take 6 as major innovators who made the most impact on contemporary trends and amassed tremendous crossover appeal in the process.

~(continued from page 1)

"In the '80s, all of a sudden I heard Take 6, who were Belmont students that had the most amazing chops, and they blew the whole thing wide open," he observes. "...Sure, there's the [obvious connection between R&Bto Gospel] and even [mainstream] country and bluegrass linked by the Gaither connection, but jazz to Christian was a big leap. And then Amy really broke the mold with songs like 'Angels' and 'Lead Me On,' taking CCM music way past the old-fashioned and really making inroads."

In discussing his gospel interests, Champlin also recalls a humorous tidbit about one of the Sons' old songs, "Jesus Is Coming," that appeared on its self-titled 1969 album. "That actually became the Oral Roberts TV show theme," he offers with a chuckle."Since the Sons started, there was always a lot of our spiritual sides coming out and those early songs gave a light or two to the [San Francisco] Bay area [during the psychedelic era]."

Societal and musical politics
As for the themes on No Place Left to Fall, they range from love, to navigating through this country's current events, and even an updated acoustic version of Chicago's "Look Away." However, songs like the duet with English, "Never Been Afraid," and retro blues rocker "The Truth" are among the most thought-provoking.

"'The Truth' isn't pointed at any particular administration," Champlin explains,"but just the fact that many politicians don't fulfill any of their promises. Jesus said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's...though these days there's so much money being thrown around irresponsibly and 24-hour news coverage of who's right and who's wrong. This is one of those songs to really get you thinking about it all."

Given Champlin's vast creative perspective over the years, a conversation can't be complete without asking his opinions of the current music industry, which has certainly shifted from the days of Sons of Champlin on Capitol and Chicago's parade of hits on Warner Brothers.

"You'll notice that a lot of these 'suits' [record label executives], trying to put commercial parameters on artists making their records, don't have their jobs any more," he ventures. "But what I love about DreamMakers is the fact that they look at my record as new music where fans may have to search a little to find it, but thanks to MySpace, Facebook, downloads or mail order, they will, and they'll find a guy doing what he wants to do with a lot of variety."


About the Writer

Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois Entertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, and He's also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel's very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).

News You May Also Like