The Chambers Brothers – live on German TV – 1969 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
If the Chambers Brothers did nothing else in the course of their careers than the iconic Time Has Come Today, they would still be regarded as one of the primary figures in the Rock/Blues/Gospel mashup that took place during the later 60s.
Originally from Carthage, Mississippi, the Chambers Brothers first honed their skills as members of the choir in their Baptist church. This set up ended in 1952 when the eldest brother George was drafted into the Army. George relocated to Los Angeles after his discharge, and his brothers soon settled there as well. As a foursome, they began performing gospel and folk throughout the Southern California region in 1954, but they more or less remained unknown until appearing in New York City in 1965.
Consisting of George (September 26, 1931 – October 12, 2019) on washtub bass (later on Danelectro bass guitar), Lester (b. April 13, 1940) on harmonica, and Willie (b. March 3, 1938) and Joe (b. August 22, 1942) on guitar, the group started to venture outside the gospel circuit, playing at coffeehouses that booked folk acts. They played at places like The Ash Grove, a very popular Los Angeles folk club. It became one of their favorite haunts and brought them into contact with Hoyt Axton, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Reverend Gary Davis, and Barbara Dane. Dane became a great supporter, performing and recording with the brothers. With the addition of Brian Keenan (January 28, 1943 – October 5, 1985) on drums, Dane took them on tour with her and introduced them to Pete Seeger, who helped put the Chambers Brothers on the bill of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. One of the songs they performed, “I Got It”, appeared on the Newport Folk Festival 1965 compilation LP, which was issued on the Vanguard label.
The band scored its only major hit in the fall of 1968 with “Time Has Come Today”, an 11-minute magnum opus written by Joe and Willie Chambers and highlighted by echoing vocal effects and Keenan’s drumming which gave the song a psychedelic feel. “Time Has Come Today” was edited for release as a single and spent five consecutive weeks in September/October at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100, just missing the Top Ten.
In 2016, Willie, Joe, and occasionally George, along with their nephew Jerry Warner on bass, Crazy Tomes on guitar, and LA drummer Jon McCracken, reformed as the Chambers Brothers to do shows in the Los Angeles area; including the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, CA.
Sadly George Chambers passed away on October 12, 2019 at age 88.
Here’s a reminder and a tribute.