Media Life: Singer Bill Champlin takes turn from Chicago into Newcastle

Also: Mayor Mike Holmes wins a role in classic radio play; “It’s A Wonderful Life” to bring some holiday joy to State Theater; Locals hitch ride on San Francisco 49ers private jet
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
Bill Champlin made a bold move this summer for his music. He left the comfort of a steady gig and a solid paycheck with classic rock band Chicago to do it his way and make his own kind of music. “Music is the carrot that keeps pulling me,” Champlin said in a phone interview. “When you’re not evolving, it’s time to walk away. I wasn’t being moved by the music anymore.” The time-worn gag that Champlin leaves behind is that “after 28 years with Chicago, he was still the new guy” in one of rock’s oldest surviving groups. The new guy no longer, he’s headlining a show at Newcastle’s Constable Jack’s on Sunday that highlights his own solo strengths – Grammy-award winning songwriting, high-end vocals, gutsy Hammond B-3 organ grooves and adept guitar playing – as well as the musical chops of his backing band. Champlin’s a Northern California kid, who grew up in Mill Valley and tasted early fame in the 1960s with Sons of Champlin. In the late 1970s, he reinvented himself as a session singer and songwriter – spinning gold on hits for both Earth Wind and Fire (1979’s “After the Love is Gone”} and George Benson (“Turn Your Love Around” from 1981). Both songs won Grammy Awards for R&B Song of the Year. “LOOK AWAY” PLEASES From 1981 to this past August, Champlin was a key member of Chicago. In fact, it was 25 years ago today that “Hard Habit to Break” was cresting near the top of the rock music charts. He traded vocals with Peter Cetera on that one but was front and center four years later on lead vocals for the No. 1 hit “Look Away.” The new tour started last week and Champlin said he’s been having fun bringing songs from his new CD as well as some of his older material on the road with him. His band includes members of the Santa Fe group out of Las Vegas – musicians Champlin toured with on a solo jaunt in the mid-1990s to Scandinavia and Japan. Singing backup is his wife of 27 years, Tamara. Champlin said that spark of recognition with “Look Away” probably makes it the song that audiences have responded most appreciatively to since the tour started Nov. 6. But, away from the corporate-rock mentality of Chicago, this time around it’s Champlin’s version of his hit that takes center stage. The Constable Jack’s performance is at 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $45. IT’S A WONDERFUL CAST Auburn’s old-time radio-style production of “It’s A Wonderful Life” has started rehearsals with an all-star cast. All-star for Auburn that is. The radio-play version of the beloved movie – replete with manually created sound-effects – will be performed Dec. 18, 19 and 20 at the State Theater. Perhaps the biggest name on the marquee is Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes – or is that “acting mayor.” Playing against type, Holmes will be reading the role of Uncle Billy, the addle-brained relative of George Bailey, whose mistake leaves the local savings and loan in precarious financial straits. Holmes has some experience to back up his thespian turn, listing roles as Charlie in “Annie Get Your Gun” and a slave in “Antony and Cleopatra.” GONZALES AT THE HELM Director Glenda Gonzales said the magic of sound effects will be no mystery to the State Theater audiences, with insurance agent Frank Lewis and fellow sound effects technician Marcia Meredith appearing at the front of the stage with an array of ingenious noisemakers. Auburn resident and multiple Elly winner Fred Burks has been picked for the plum Mr. Potter role. The Elly Award is the Sacramento-area version of the Tony. Brad Rinn, a Roseville high school teacher with some impressive acting credentials, will serve as the announcer. Back in 1982, he had a featured role in the low-budget New York movie that also starred punk icon Richard Hell. Wayne Manning, a life coach with a background in country music, has signed on as superintendent of angels. Duane Causie, another veteran of the floorboards with the Placer Community Theater, is cast as Clarence, the angel trying to earn his wings. Key characters George and Mary Bailey (the Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed roles) are played by Edward Johnson – now an insurance agent but once a four-year stalwart in Place High productions – and Pam Harrold, owner of Pamelot dance studio. With a great story and an enthusiastic cast of local luminaries in a theater that’s gaining its feet as a popular venue, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has all the trappings of an annual Christmas tradition in the making. WEEKEND FOR THE AGES If there’s a 49er heaven, Auburn’s Vic Jordana and Debi Lawrence were in it a couple of weekends back. Jordana won a sales promotion with employer Nor-Cal Beverage and the two flew to Indianapolis for the Colts game on the team’s jet. Lawrence, who’s a Journal ad rep, said there were rules, including no conversation with players and coaches as Mike Singletary et al psyched themselves up for the game. The weekend trip also meant a meal at a table with 49ers greats Eric Wright and Keena Turner. Jordana and Lawrence had a chance to be onfield with the team before the game started, were given great seats and met 49ers President Jed York. All in all, a great weekend to be 49er football fans. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at or 530-852-0232.