Wednesday, March 15, 2017

CHAMPLIN JOINS A DRAB CHICAGO By Joel Selvin. June 7, 1982


San Francisco Chronicle       Mon., June 7, 1982


By Joel Selvin

     Even Bill Champlin can’t save Chicago. The immensely talented triple-threat player/singer/writer was on board when the once massively popular band hit the Circle Star Theater last weekend on the comeback trail.

     Champlin replaces guitarist Terry Kath, killed in a gun accident more than four years ago, both in the performing band and in the studio, on the group's latest album, "Chicago XVI."

     No more talented musician ever left the San Francisco rock scene than Champlin. For 13 years, he led the Marin-based Sons of Champlin, one of area's most distinguished musical organizations, which never was appreciated by a broad following. Once he moved to Hollywood, however, Champlin changed his luck, scoring a big success as a recording session player and songwriter, turning out hits for the likes of Earth, Wind and Fire and George Benson.

     So along comes a renovated Chicago, popsters behind tuneful but superficial ‘70s AM radio hits like “Feeling Stronger Every Day," "Saturday in the Park,” “Wishing You Were Here," among others. Armed with new bigtime management in Irving Azoff, business brain behind the Eagles, Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan and others, a new recording contract and a new record producer, David Foster, whose recent credits include such hip stylists as the Tubes and Hall and Oates. Chicago invited Champlin to play, sing and write for the band.

     At first glance, it seemed a promising combination: Champlin, the peerless white soul singer and resolutely funky master musician, with the kings of white bread brand bogus soul, a personality-less-hand joined by a genuine incendiary performer.

     Even if the rotating stage at the relatively small Circle Star Theater may be something of a bringdown for a group accustomed to performing at cavernous halls like the Cow Palace or, worse yet, massive open-air shows at baseball stadiums, there is no excuse for the lame, drab 90-minute performance Chicago gave at the early show Friday.

     Save for Champlin, the band's lineup had all the original members, including loathsomely ingratiating vocalist Bobby Lamm, whose putrid outfit and blow-dried hair style would have looked square in a second-rate lounge act. The three-piece horn section and seasoned, drummer supplied the evening's musical highlights. Drummer Danny Seraphine surely steered the band through tidy rhythm changes, with the brass supplying grand, glorious flourishes out of the Stax-Volt school of Memphis horns.

     The band mixed bland numbers from the new album with equally bland hits from its auspicious past, bassist Peter Cetera adding a Beach Boys vocal touch in contrast with Lamm's sullen, silky tones and Champlin's gritty, growling approach. Champlin is a strong enough personality to dominate a group with even as rigid a membership as Chicago, but he never got much room to move. It was a little like keeping Reggie Jackson in the lineup as a pinch-hitter. 

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