Bill Champlin - lead vocals, organ; Terry Haggerty - guitar, vocals ; Geoffrey Palmer - piano, keyboards, sax, percussion, 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 a bill between southern rockers the Gregg Allman Band and Allman's tour openers, Cowboy, this Sons of Champlin set captures what may be the most beloved lineup of the group on a particularly inspired night. The group had recently 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.
Everyone involved with the band's latest album, Welcome To The Dance, believed it 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. The new songs were some of Bill Champlin's best compositions and the album contained their most accessible material to date. Surprisingly, the group is already moving beyond that album here and possibly because their hometown fan base surrounded them, they use this show as an opportunity to perform a lot of new material, then yet to be recorded. The Sons' overt positive energy and life-affirming lyrics are still in abundance and this recording serves as a prime example of their enthusiasm and musicianship during that time. Additionally, this night was guitarist Terry Haggerty's 28th birthday, which also serves to elevate the celebratory nature of this performance.
Following Bill Graham's introduction, the Sons kick off their set with a new number, "What'cha Gonna Do," 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. In fact, the first five numbers of this set were all new unrecorded songs at the time of this Winterland performance, giving fans a clear picture of where the group was heading in the years to come.
After announcing that it is Terry Haggerty's birthday, the band takes a funkier turn with "There Goes Your All Night" and "Watergate," neither of which received studio releases. Both of these numbers are geared toward danceable party music. The former is the tightest, most concise performance of the set and the latter focuses on a loose funky groove that allows room for all the horn players to trade solos with free abandon.
The next two numbers were also new at the time and both would turn up on the band's next album, Goldmine, the following year. "Queen Of The Rain" tones things down to a breezy soft rock sound featuring the electric piano of Geoffrey Palmer before really starting to cut it loose with the next album's title track. 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 that is out of this world.
This all leads up to the penultimate jam of their set, based on the Loosen Up Naturally tracks "Freedom," and "Get High." These classic 1968 tracks were originally arranged as a three-part interplay between alto and tenor saxes and trumpet, and thanks to the expanded horn section, they receive a full-blown workout here. What unfolds is a tour-de-force 23-minute workout that begins with the funky, lyrically-driven opening section of "Freedom." Palmer's keyboard work is exceptional as he and bass player Dave Shallock establish the initial groove. Shifting into a horn-driven jam, this builds momentum through the verses with lyrics that manage to balance philosophical yearning with 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. This eventually segues directly into a vamp on "Turn On Your Lovelight." This is taken at a rapid tempo, but remains loose with Bill Champlin improvising most of his vocals scat style and utilizing the groove as a foundation to introduce all the band members. Following another brief jam on the "Lovelight" riff, this infectious jam segues directly into "Get High." This receives improvisational treatment as well, with the band vamping and Bill Champlin rapping away. This all adds to the party atmosphere as he engages the audience in a call and response session that launches the song proper. This funky highly original rocker defines the original sound of the group and remains compelling decades later.
This monumental excursion ends the set, but the audience isn't ready to let them go and insists on an encore. The group obliges with the celebratory title track to their most recent album, Welcome To The Dance. This high-energy organ-dominated soul-rocker features soaring instrumentation between the verses and closes the set on a joyous note.