“He’s known the world over as the soulful singer/keyboardist of the iconic jazz-pop band Chicago. His featured spots on the hits “Look Away” and “Hard Habit to Break” are among his mainstream highlights. But Bill Champlin’s defining work with the Sons of Champlin and as a songwriter put him on the musical map long before he arrived in Chicago. Bill and the Sons were blowing the doors off venues back in the ‘70s - and they returned to doing the same in the late ‘90s and into the present.”
Bill Champlin was born in Oakland, California, on May 21, 1947 to a musical family. His grandparents, mother and sisters have all been singers. Bill is married to Tamara Champlin, a singer/songwriter in her own right, and is the father of three children. His youngest, Will Champlin, is building a name for himself as a prolific songwriter with a distinct sound.
Champlin’s musical career began in 1961 when he formed a band called the Opposite Six. A year later he began writing music. After forming the Sons of Champlin in 1967 he focused his songwriting talents on producing material for the Sons. “They were breathing fire. They were the most talented of all the San Francisco bands”, said Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. The Sons’ first album, Loosen Up Naturally, was released in 1969, followed by six more albums before they broke up in 1977. Many of these have been re-released as CDs and are currently available for purchase.
After the breakup of the Sons, Bill moved to Los Angeles and worked as a session lead and background vocalist on numerous recordings from 1977-1985. Some of the artists that he has worked with include Patti LaBelle, Lou Rawls, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Donna Summer, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, Jimmy Smith, Amy Grant, Neil Diamond and Kenny Rogers. In 1978 he released Single, his first solo album. In 1979 he won his first Grammy award for co-writing “After the Love is Gone”, which was later recorded by Earth, Wind & Fire. During the recent Chicago/EWF tours in 2004 and 2005, Champlin was asked to perform this song with them, as lead singer.
The National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) awarded Bill the Most Valuable Player peer award for male background vocalists in 1980. In 1981 he won another Grammy for co-writing “Turn Your Love Around” for George Benson, and released his second solo album that year, Runaway. In 1982 he joined Chicago to record Chicago 16. “Bill’s exactly what we’ve been looking for,” said Chicago’s Robert Lamm. His very distinctive and expressive vocals can be heard on Chicago’s hits, “Hard Habit to Break” and “Stay the Night”.
In 1988 Bill’s recording of the song, “In the Heat of the Night”, was picked up as a show opener by the television show of the same name. The following year Chicago released the song of the year, “Look Away”, featuring Champlin on lead vocals. In 1990 Bill released the critically acclaimed No Wasted Moments. That same year he was asked to perform two songs from No Wasted Moments at the Tokyo Music Festival, and was presented with their songwriter of the year award.
Next came four solo albums, Burn Down the Night (1992), Through It All (1994), He Started to Sing (1995) and Mayday (1996). In July, 1997, “Here in my Heart” topped the adult contemporary charts for Chicago, featuring Champlin on lead vocals. In 1997 the West Coast All Stars released an a capella project, featuring Champlin and Jason Scheff of Chicago, along with Toto’s bobby Kimball and Joseph Williams.
The Sons of Champlin reunited in 1997, with a loyal group of enthusiastic fans traveling great distances to see them perform. They recorded Live at the Luther Burbank Center in 1998, as well as Secret (CD and DVD) and Hip Li'l Dreams in 2002. Bill’s current release, No Place Left to Fall (2008), is a consummate album of songs by an exceptional musician, lyricist, and singer. Bill Champlin may not be a household name but you get the sense that he doesn’t care about that stuff one way or another. You can tell that it’s the Music that drives him. And it is through his music that he is known . . . even if you don’t know it.
In the words of drummer, Billy Ward, “I became a Bill Champlin fan in the early seventies when he led, what was to me, a ground-breaking band, The Sons of Champlin. He’s written and sang on probably over 400 hit songs, the later ones with the band Chicago. His organ playing has him ranked on most peoples “A” list and he plays the heck out of the guitar as well! He is one of the finest musicians I’ve ever gotten the privilege to play with.” Dennis Cook, in Jambase and Relix Magazine adds, “Age has done nothing to diminish his powers, and in fact, brings nuances to the material that a young cat just can’t muster.”