Bill Champlin is a renowned pop artist, songwriter & musician. Known for being a member of the band Chicago for 28 years, he’s also won two Grammy Awards as a songwriter, for co-writing the classic hits “After the Love Has Gone” for Earth, Wind & Fire and “Turn Your Love Around” for George Benson. Both of these songs won for Best R&B Song.
In addition to his work with Chicago and as a songwriter, Champlin is a successful artist who has released several solo albums. Currently, he’s set to release Livin’ For Love, his first solo album in almost 10 years. This album is being released on Imagen Records, and it features the new single, “Reason to Believe.” Livin’ For Love contains 14 new songs co-written by Champlin, and the songs reflect the musical styles he’s known for performing: pop, rock, R&B, jazz and blues.
Champlin started his career in the San Francisco-Bay Area, and when he was 18 (in 1965) he launched his own band called Sons of Champlin. In 1968, the band signed with Capitol Records and released several albums.
In 1977, Champlin moved to Los Angeles, where he became known for his studio session work as a singer, and his songwriting. He sang on many sessions during this period, which led to NARAS (now known as The Recording Academy) awarding him the Most Valuable Player peer award for male background vocalists.
It was also in the late ‘70s that Champlin began collaborating with young hit writer/producers David Foster and Jay Graydon, and the trio wrote the ballad, “After the Love Has Gone.” Soon after, Maurice White (leader of Earth, Wind & Fire) heard and loved the song, and he decided to cut it with the group. “After the Love Has Gone” was released in 1979 and became one of Earth, Wind & Fire’s biggest hits, and won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song.
Then in 1981, Champlin, Graydon and Steve Lukather (who’s a longtime member of the band, Toto) wrote the hooky, uptempo song “Turn Your Love Around” for pop/R&B/jazz artist, George Benson. This song became a hit and won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song.
Here’s the audio of Bill Champlin’s new song, “Reason to Believe.”
It was also during this period that Champlin accepted an invitation to join the hit band, Chicago. Notably, he was a member of the group for 28 years, from 1981 to 2009. He wrote many songs for the band, and he was the lead singer on two of their hits. He sang lead vocals on their 1988 #1 hit “Look Away,” and he shared lead vocals (with Peter Cetera) on the hit ballad, “Hard Habit to Break.”
Over the years, Champlin also wrote & recorded several solo albums. Besides his new album Livin’ For Love, Champlin has released the albums Runaway (1981), No Wasted Moments (1990), Burn Down The Night (1992), Through It All (1994), He Started To Sing (1995) and No Place Left To Fall (2008).
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Bill Champlin. He discusses his new album Livin’ For Love, and he tells how he co-wrote the hits “After the Love Has Gone” and “Turn Your Love Around.”
DK: You’re about to release your new album, Livin’ For Love. Can you talk about the making of this album?
Bill Champlin: To start with, it’s going to be digitally released by Imagen Records, which is Bob Winegard’s company. I will also be making CDs available on my website.
It’s been 10 years since I’ve done a solo album, and during that time I was involved with other projects and bands. That was all fine and dandy, but I went through a bunch of stuff about four years ago. You know, I’ve dealt with cancer. My older son, Brad, passed away from cancer the day after I was diagnosed. So [with my own battle with cancer], I had to deal with a year of fighting…trying to keep myself on this side of the grass. And I did it…I think everything’s fine now. But it gets you in a place where the list of things that you care about grows shorter, and the list that you don’t care about grows longer. So I had a different attitude going into writing for this album. In the past when I’ve done albums, sometimes I’ve written songs more as a craftsman than as an artist, [because over the years I wrote and crafted songs for other artists]. But on my new album, some of it is pretty real…pretty deep.
DK: Did you write most of the songs on your own, or with co-writers?
Here’s a video of Earth, Wind & Fire performing their hit “After the
Love Has Gone,” which was co-written by Bill Champlin.
Champlin: I do a lot of writing with my wife, Tamara. She’s as good a songwriter as there is, and she was really helpful through the record. We wrote the first song on the album, “Reason to Believe,” with Bruce Gaitsch, who lives in Nashville. Bruce had sent me a mp3 of a track, and when Tamara and I heard it, we said, “Where’s the legal pad? Where’s the pencil? Let’s go and write this song.”
As I was typing out the lyrics, I realized that the song was about gratitude. A lot of the record is about truth, gratitude, love. And when I was writing (the title song) “Livin’ For Love,” Tamara listened to the verse and chorus I had, and said, ”Finish that, you’re going somewhere. You should do a solo album now.”
DK: What are your favorite songs on the album?
Champlin: Well, in terms of depth, “Another Lie” is a song that’s about my relationship with my older son who passed away. “Another Lie” is pretty deep…it took me years to write that one. Sometimes when you write about someone who’s passed, you turn them into an angel, and I tried to get around doing that. I tried to be honest at some level, and I think the song came off really well. I also like “My Time,” plus three songs I wrote with (writer/keyboardist) Greg Mathieson: “Especially Me,” “Losing Ground” and “The Truth Has Begun.”
DK: Early in your career, you co-wrote two classic hits: “After The Love Has Gone” (for Earth, Wind & Fire) and “Turn Your Love Around” (for George Benson). First, how did you write “After The Love Has Gone” with David Foster and Jay Graydon?
Champlin: I was doing a solo album, and David (Foster) was a producer on it. We’d written some songs for the record. Most of what we cut was stuff that started as piano and vocals, and we built it from there. Then one day he came in and said, “Man, I think I’ve got a better song.” And he played it for me…he had the title hook for “After the Love Has Gone.” Then I said, “Hey, put it on a cassette so I can write to it.” And he said, “No, no…I’ve gotta teach it to you.” It took me longer to learn the piano part than it did to write all the lyrics and melody (laughs). David is such a great piano player.
Here’s a video of George Benson performing his hit “Turn Your
Love Around,” which was co-written by Bill Champlin.
“After the Love Has Gone” turned out to be a great thing. At the time, David was working as a piano player, as a session guy for Maurice White and Earth, Wind & Fire. And while they were rolling the tape back, he happened to be playing the song and Maurice went, “Whoa, what’s that? I gotta hear it.” So I think he had a cassette of my version, and he said, “If Bill will agree to not release it on his record, we’ll cut it (with Earth, Wind & Fire) and release it.” And I went, “Okay, let’s do that. Let’s make that happen.” As it turned out, Maurice wanted to cut two or three other songs off my album, but I said, “Nah. Let’s just leave it with the one song.” And I’ve been kickin’ myself for years (laughs).
DK: You also co-wrote another big hit, “Turn Your Love Around” for George Benson. What’s the story behind that song?
Champlin: I think Luke (Steve Lukather) came up with the piano part. He and Jay (Graydon) are both great piano players. Luke and Jay had the melody for everything but the bridge. They said, “We’re doing this for George, so keep George’s vocal style in mind.” Then I took a cassette of it home and spent a couple days listening closely to it. And we ended up with “Turn Your Love Around,” and it became a pretty big hit (laughs).
Two years earlier, I had won my first Grammy for “After the Love Has Gone.” And then I won a second one for “Turn Your Love Around.” So I thought, “Well, I’ll be getting a Grammy every two years.” I was wrong (laughs).
DK: Around the time that “Turn Your Love Around” was a hit, you became a member of Chicago. How did you join the band?
Champlin: When I met the guys in Chicago, I was finishing up my Runaway album with David (Foster). I’d met Danny (Seraphine of Chicago), and me and Peter (Cetera) had done background vocals on a song that Danny produced. On one session, everyone in the vocal booth just went, “Whoa, what’s that?” The vocal blend with Peter and me was undeniable. So at some point, Danny and I wrote a song together. Then Danny asked me, “Do you think David Foster would be a good producer for Chicago?” And I said, “I think he’d be a great producer for Chicago, but he’s going to want to get in on the writing a bit,” which he did on Chicago 16. And on the next album Chicago 17, he and Peter hit a stride (with a string of hits) that wouldn’t quit.
DK: Thank you Bill for doing this interview. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about yet, that you’d like to mention for this article?
Champlin: Well, I want to emphasize that my new album is more of an “artist album” than a lot of my more craft-driven stuff over the years. So with this record, you get a lot more feel for who I am. I think it’s one of my best albums, especially with the songs that were written for it.