Lester Chambers' Blues Revue
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Lester Chambers' Blues Revue

San Francisco, California, United States

San Francisco, California, United States
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Chambers on his feet, back on stage
By Rich Freedman / Times-Herald
Posted: 01/14/2011 01:09:12 AM PST

Lester Chambers was down and out and now he's back on stage as the man who gained notoriety as a member of the Chambers Brothers. He plays George's Nightclub on Saturday in San Rafael. Few have more credentials to sing the blues more than Lester Chambers.
Despite a hit song in 1968 with the Chambers Brothers -- "Time Has Come Today" -- bad management, sibling squabbling and devastating health problems sent the Mississippi-born crooner to not only financial ruin, but kept him knockin' on heaven's door. Recognizing the man for his accomplishments and his need for assistance, the nonprofit Sweet Relief Musicians Fund and supporters such as Yoko Ono helped Chambers back on his feet. And, with cancer in remission and other ailments at bay, the 70-year-old Petaluma man is back on stage.
Chambers and his band, which includes his 25-year-old son, Dylan, perform Saturday with a 9 p.m. concert at George's Nightclub in San Rafael.
"I'm feeling a lot better, thank God for all the concerned people who lent me a hand," said Chambers by phone earlier this week. "It's a wonderful thing to be able to go back to work." Though Chambers has done a tune or two at various gigs, it's been "quite a while" since he's done a two-hour concert. "I'm able to stand up on stage and just wail," said a jubilant Chambers. Sure, there's the arthritis from the winter chill. But that's nothing after cancer, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and sight problems. Hopefully, those days of fretting about ending his career are over. Only someone who has done thousands of shows can understand what it's like to contemplate life without performing, Chambers said. "That is something you can never explain," he said. "That's my heart. I love to perform and I was seeing myself get progressively worse where I was just not able to get things done." A key to improved health was lowering his stress, Chambers said. "At this point, I'm able to relax," he said. "I think about the great things that are coming."
It's taken "some wonderful people" to get the man going again, he said, including his doctor plus Ono "who helped a lot. She's an angel. And Sweet Relief has been a masterpiece making sure I get everything I needed." Life's roller-coaster continues for Chambers, who debuted with brothers Joe, Willie and George in 1954. "You couldn't have asked for anything more," Lester said. "You wake up and you're with all your brothers. It was great for years." Then it turned sour. "We allowed the record company to put us on the road for 3 1/2 years," Chambers said. "I think we had three, maybe four days off. We got bitter. Things became hard to do." When the brothers got on stage, however, the problems were shelved. And the music combining gospel, R&B and rock brought them a legion of fans. Yet, it could have been better. Much, much better, Chambers said. Racism was so rampant in the early 1960s, the record company put "four white guys" on the Chambers Brothers' first album cover.
"We were told we would never be supported as a black group because we had an all-white audience," Chambers said. The Chambers Brothers moved to Boston, gaining a huge fan base of college students. Yet, nobody could find their records in the stores. "Columbia Records never spent one penny on promoting the Chambers Brothers," Lester said. Though the brothers got a job performing on the TV show "Shindig," they were eventually relegated behind a curtain "because they kept getting hate mail saying they should keep the black faces off the screen," Chambers said. "We got all kinds of bad news. But they couldn't keep us down," Chambers said.
The group was soon signed by ABC Records and life improved. "It went great. We were busy and there was money coming in," Chambers said. "But we never had time to stop and enjoy anything. We worked and worked." Despite "Time" -- which held its ground as the nation's No. 11 song for five weeks -- "one bad manager after another" directed money everywhere but to the Chambers Brothers, said Lester. Unfortunately, though "Time Has Come Today" landed in several movie soundtracks, commercials, and recently, a video game, Lester said he's left empty-handed since brothers Joe and Willie lay claim to publishing rights.
Still, he said, "I love my brothers. I'm blessed and happy and pray for continued success for my brothers. One day, maybe they'll wake up and smell the coffee."
Chambers said he's grateful for the chance to perform with his son. "That's my step into heaven," Chambers said. "I get to be able to be on stage and look over at my son. I see myself. I hear myself. I'm able to give him good advice. Hopefully, he listens to me. He does a lot of things for me."

- Vallejo Times Herald


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

Lester Chambers was born and raised with his seven brothers and five sisters in pre-WWII rural Lee County Mississippi. His god-fearing southern Baptist parents encouraged all thirteen of their children to sing in the choir of a little country church where his father was a Deacon. This early passion for music continued when the family moved to South Central Los Angeles in the early 1950s' where the elder Chambers' helped established the Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church in a storefront building. The popularity of that new church had a lot to do with the rocking gospel Lester and his brothers served up every Sunday.

Around the time the Beatles left England for America, Lester and his brothers ventured into L.A.'s fabled Ash Grove coffee house and began singing their special blend of gospel and folk music. An old acoustic guitar, stand up bass and those heavenly voices led by Lester on harmonica and cow bell soon had folks lined up down Melrose in West Hollywood. One night in 1967 Ash Grove owner Ed Pearl paid them with a 1956 Cadillac and the Time had come for the Chambers Brothers to hit the road that eventually led to New York City. Along the way Lester recalls seeing hundreds of colorfully dressed, long haired kids hitchhiking away from their homes in the Midwest. This hippie exodus inspired his brother Joe to pen the words to Time Has Come Today:

Time has come today
Young hearts can go their way
Can't put it off another day
I don't care what others say
They say we don't listen anyway
Time has come today

New York was quick to embrace this unique psychedelic, rock 'n' roll, gospel group and Columbia Records scored a huge pop hit with a first ever 11-minute single. Time Has Come Today, the title track, became an anthem of the era. By now the Chambers Brothers had added a drummer (Brian Keenan) and like their good friends, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone, were filling arenas with both white and black kids for the first time.

In 1970 The Chambers Brothers were a major campus attraction, playing to thousands of students nearly every night in auditoriums and on athletic fields. On May 4th, 1970 the Kent State Massacre forced colleges and universities across the country to cancel campus concerts and gatherings. The Chambers Brothers suffered a financial setback that they never recovered from. They played on until the late 80’s and subsequently disbanded.

Today, Lester and his son Dylan and their five piece Blues/Roots/Gospel/ Band are still turning clubs and halls into church with his Lester Chambers’ Blues Revue of soul-healing up-lifting blues, roots and gospel classics. . .