Bill Champlin - lead vocals, organ; Terry Haggerty - guitar, vocals; Geoffrey Palmer - piano, keyboards, sax, vibraphone, vocals; Phil Wood - trumpet, keyboards, percussion, vocals; Mark Isham - sax, trumpet, piano, percussion, vocals; Mike Andreas - sax, flute, percussion, vocals; Dave Schallock - bass, vocals; James Preston - drums
Performing on one of Bill Graham's legendary New Year's Eve bills at Winterland, between Booker T. Jones and Tower Of Power, this Sons Of Champlin set captures what may be the most beloved lineup of the group on a particularly inspired night. The group had re-expanded from the six-man lineup of the previous year to an eight-piece featuring the superbly talented horn section of Phil Wood, Mark Isham, and Mike Andreas. With Wood, the band gained another gifted songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. As a live band, they were reaching new heights and for this New Year's Eve celebration, the Record Plant mobile unit was on hand to capture the Sons performance in superb quality.
The band's fourth album, Welcome To The Dance conveyed a band with a new sense of purpose and everyone involved believed this release would gain them the recognition that had eluded them through the years. Adding elements of soul and funk to their root sound built on a blend of rock, R&B, and jazz, the band had a newfound sense of purpose and was brimming with talent. Possibly because their hometown fan base surrounded them, the Sons seize the opportunity to perform a wide variety of material, both old and new, including no less than three key numbers from their 1968 debut, Loosen Up Naturally. The Sons' overt positive energy and life-affirming lyrics are still in abundance on the new material and this recording is a wonderful example of their enthusiasm and superb musicianship during this time.
Following the introduction, the Sons waste no time getting it on, kicking off their set with the soulful rocker "1984-A," the same number that opened up the Loosen Up Naturally album. They continue with a funky new number, "What'cha Gonna Do," again featuring the soulful vocals and propulsive organ work of bandleader Bill Champlin and an outstanding horn arrangement. This song wouldn't surface on an album for another three years, turning up on their 1977 album Loving Is Why. Things remain funky on "There Goes Your All Night" another catchy new number that remains unreleased. Both of these numbers are geared toward danceable party music, with the former establishing a groove that allows room for the horn players to trade solos. All of this serves as a warm-up exercise for the "Hot Pants" to follow. This is a hot churning groove from beginning to end, featuring a standout flugelhorn solo from Wood and a blazing guitar solo from Haggerty near the end.
The next three numbers were also new at the time and yet to turn up on any albums. "Rainbow's End," a romantic ballad written by Wood, temporarily suffers from a malfunctioning lead vocal microphone for the first minute, but is otherwise impressive. Based on another highly danceable groove, "Goldmine" shows the group thoroughly hitting their stride. This celebratory number borrows heavily from James Brown, with its funky good time vibe and features a guitar shredfest from Haggerty midway. Wood also contributes "Take It Easy Baby" to the band's newer repertoire, showing off highly-developed arranging skills.
This all leads up to the penultimate jam of their set, the Loosen Up Naturally track "Freedom." This classic 1968-era song was originally arranged as a three-part interplay between alto and tenor sax and trumpet, and thanks to the expanded horn section, it receives a remarkable workout here. What unfolds is a tour-de-force that begins with the funky lyrically driven opening section. Palmer's keyboard work is exceptional, and he and bass player Dave Shallock establish the initial groove. Shifting and then gaining momentum through the verses, the song's lyrics balance philosophical yearning with hippie humor. This transitions into a loose jam featuring outstanding baritone sax work and expressive B-3 organ. The band eventually eases into a vamp that lays the foundation for guitarist Terry Haggerty to take off. Haggerty's complex, blistering guitar run raises this material to an astonishing level and exemplifies why so many of his contemporaries (including Jerry Garcia) considered him the most advanced and influential guitar player out of all the San Francisco bands.
It's a killer ending to a high-energy set and the Winterland audience responds in kind by demanding an encore. The band obliges with "Lookout," and uplifting call for unity and understanding, followed by another much beloved Loosen Up Naturally track, "Get High." This receives the improvisational treatment as well, with the band vamping and Bill Champlin rapping away. This funky, highly original rocker defines the original sound of the group and remains compelling decades later. Impressive contributions from everyone here, including Palmer switching to vibraphone, which comes through beautifully in the Record Plant's mix. It's a fine finale to an inspired performance, and sets a very high bar for Tower Of Power to follow.