The Chambers Brothers – Live at The Fillmore – May 29, 1968 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
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The Chambers Brothers in concert tonight. One of the bands that typified the 60s in a way few others could. Their magnum opus, Time Has Come Today, an 11 minute mind-bending excursion that was no doubt responsible for launching innumerable psychedelic forays, was in fact their only hit – the single was edited down to play conveniently on the radio. But those who ran out and bought the album, were only too aware of the longer, much trippier version – and it was the mainstay of many stereos in many homes, apartments and crash-pads throughout the late 1960s.
This concert, from The Fillmore and recorded on May 29, 1968 features a 20+ minute sonic assault to a promptly “elevated” audience. The only thing missing, of course, is the strobe-light, which highlighted many a performance during this period.
What’s interesting about The Chambers Brothers was how they got started and where the ended up. 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 the legendary L.A. 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.
They were becoming more accepted in the folk community, but, like many on the folk circuit, were looking to electrify their music and develop a more rock and roll sound. Joe Chambers recalled in a May 1994 Goldmine article that people at the Newport Folk Festival were breaking down fences and rushing to the stage. “Newport had never seen or heard anything like that.” After the group finished and the crowd finally settled down, the MC came up and said “Whether you know it or not, that was rock ‘n’ roll.” That night they played at a post-concert party for festival performers and went to a recording session of the newly electrified Bob Dylan. Shortly after appearing at Newport, the group released its debut album, People Get Ready.
The band scored its only major hit in the fall of 1968 with “Time Has Come Today”, an 11-minute 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.
Quite a road and quite a pile of genres. For their Psychedelic incarnation, crank this one up.