LESTER CHAMBERS
(OF THE GROUND BREAKING CHAMBERS BROTHERS)
AUDIO INTERVIEW/MUSIC

Lester Chambers (of the groundbeaking Chambers Brothers) discusses his musical journey thru 40 years of Rock n' Roll, Blues, Jazz, Gospel, Funk, Reggae, etc. Lester also discusses his relationships with musical legends such as Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, Miles Davis, Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix and more, as he educates us on the past, present and future of the music/culture.


We also get a WORLD PREMIRE of selected cuts from Lester and KK Martin's new CD called 'BLUES FOR SALE'. We hear the songs Ain't Got You, Parchman Farm, People Get Ready, Time Has Come Today.

CHAT TRANSCRIPT on Friday 5/18/2001 at 11pm est:
MR. LESTER CHAMBERS


INTRO: by Debra Walker


Back in the day, sometime around the mid to late 1960's, my sister and I rushed out to get the Chambers Brothers music. We did get an album of theirs, although I no longer have it. At the time, we both dug their sound, and, in the scheme of things, e.g., so-called black music released at the time, these folks were DIFFERENT from all of the other popular acts back then. I thought that they were very ambitious, too, due to the blend of music genres that I heard in their songs, i.e., rock (especially the psychedelic trends of the day), blues, funk and gospel. And, as I recall, the Chambers Brothers, at that time, were probably considered to be interracial, too, in makeup, since there was one white member in the band. LOL...
Anyway, back in 1967 or 1968 (their heyday), this group was probably considered to be trailblazers. Perhaps, they were... As I remember, the brothers were all from down south (in the US), too, i.e., Mississippi, Alabama, etc. But, they weren't singing/performing the "usual" stuff, e.g., strict formulas for R&B/Soul music as heard from black artists at the time. BTW, the first time that I heard any of their songs, they were played on a (again...so-called) local, "white" radio station (WCFL) that was a powerhouse/"superstation" in this area.

photos courtesy of: www.lesterchambers.com


When I listen to those songs now, I remember the vast array of talent that (I think) these folks possessed. And, each one of these songs covered one or more of the music genres that I mentioned earlier in this message, i.e., blues, rock (with psychedelic leanings), soul, funk, and gospel. I especially like the song "I Can't Turn You Loose" :)... Of course, I LOVE Otis Redding's version best of all. But, I think that the Chambers Brothers put their own unique spin on the tune, and did it justice. IMHO, they just turned the tempo up, a notch or two (or three!).

At any rate, and all things considered, I feel that you should be the judge, in the end, WRT the significance of the Chambers Brothers, and whether or not their music has enhanced your collection. Personally, I have appreciated and liked most of the work that they have produced. And, if nothing else, this group, at the time, was on the cutting edge, as far as I was concerned.

--Debra Walker


 



LESTER-CHAMBERS: HAS JOINED THE SOUL-PATROL CHAT ROOM


earthjuice: Welcome to the Soul Patrol Chat Room Lester
D-J--DOLLAR-BILL: Hi Mr.Chambers
April: Hello Mr Chambers. Thanks for sharing your time with us
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Hello friends & Chambers Brothers' fans, Lester here.
earthjuice: Lester, this is a true honor



D-J--DOLLAR-BILL: I'm just popping in quickly to pay my respects to Lester. You and your kin are true originators and pioneers who are far to often only mentioned in 60's compilation liner notes.We love your whole body of work, not just one song. And you are FUNKY, not just psyc
earthjuice: That's quite a mouthful Bill
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Thanks DJ. Did you ever see us in concert?
D-J--DOLLAR-BILL: I must go see LIVE funk music. A rarity in my city. PLEASE post a transcript Bob!
D-J--DOLLAR-BILL: I am much too young! Did you ever tour in Canada?
earthjuice: u bet Bill :)
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Yes in Toronto &; Vancouver with the group, Guess Who
D-J--DOLLAR-BILL goodnight and much respect to all. Guess Who have a new deal and are back on the scene you should tour with them again!

GROWING UP IN MISSISIPPI



April: Mr Chambers , who or what influenced your music?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: We started singing church songs that we would sing in church while picking cotton in Mississippi
LESTER-CHAMBERS: While living in L.A in the late 50's, we liked Sam Cooke, Ray Charles
earthjuice: What singers were you influenced by, Lester?
earthjuice: Lester, we all know that you and your brothers grew up in Mississippi, what was it like growing up there for you back in the 1940 s and 1950 s?
April: How did you go from picking cotton to a career singing?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: We were dirt poor sharecroppers & my father was an excellent cotton grower so the white landowners would periodically trade us to other owners. Church was our saving grace. We won every church contests as "The Little Chambers Brothers
earthjuice: Sounds like it was a difficult existence?.......younger folks like myself have a hard time relating to that........
LESTER-CHAMBERS: My father moved us to L.A in 1953 and again we sang in our church and eventually going to folk clubs at the beaches.
April: whose idea was it to enter those contests? was it something you really wanted to do?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Church was the only acceptable outings for the blacks in the south. We loved singing in church and getting this positive attention
earthjuice: What changed for you when you moved out of Mississippi?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: L.A in the 50's was quite a culture shock for us. We could go anywhere we wanted and have jobs out of the fields. & school was interracial
April: My family picked cotton in Texas, but a generation before me so I have a slight idea of what life was like
April: were you accepted when you moved there?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: The predominately white folk clubs in L.A seemed to accept our gospel a cappella singing. This is before we all learned how to play our instruments.
earthjuice: What changed for you when you moved out of Mississippi?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Living in L.A was certainly much freer than in Mississippi
April: did you learn to play in school? what motivated you to learn an instrument?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: I started to teach myself to play the harmonica and one night at the famous Ashgrove in Hollywood &; asked Sonny Terry to give me an Harmonica lesson. He said if I could cook him a meal. I cooked a wonderful southern meal & he spent hours with me.
April: lol my family would appreciate it if you gave me cooking lessons
earthjuice: That's an incredible story....
earthjuice: What instruments did you learn how to play?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: My brothers &; I are all self taught musicians, can't read a word of music. My grandfather was also talented like this and my 2 sons play 2 instruments each.
April: do your sons perform with you?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: My sons, Donovan, just turned 18 and Dylan is 16. Dylan performed with the Chambers Brothers at Lincoln Center when he was 4, singing Dock of the bay.

LEARNING THE MUSIC BUSINESS THE HARD WAY
(BY NOT GETTING PAID...)



earthjuice: Who did you sign your first record deal with?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: After doing the 1st season of Shindig,ABC Paramount signed us to a 3 record deal but sold our contract(without our knowledge ) to Vault. Who never paid us a dime for 5 albums, overseas sales, etc for the next 30 years.
April: have you been able to receive anything from Vault?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Not as penny from Vault and now Rhino owns the catalog and is doing the same thing.
earthjuice: That sounds like a story of a large corporation taking advantage of some young men from the south....how old were you at the time?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: I was 23 &; knew nothing about the business only that we could sing and loved it onstage.
April: Rhino doesn't pay you anything for your music? I had assumed that Rhino was a godsend for earlier Artists
earthjuice: What can you tell us about this case....
earthjuice: PLAINTIFFS: LESTER CHAMBERS d/b/a The Chambers Brothers, : CARL GARDNER d/b/a The Coasters, BILL PINKNEY d/b/a The Original Drifters, TONY SILVESTER d/b/a The Main Ingredient- AGAINST DEFENDANTS: TIME WARNER, INC. SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT, INC COLUMBIARECORDS and BMG ENTERTAINMENT, INC. UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP, INC. MP3.COM, INC
LESTER-CHAMBERS: The big guys(record labels) are still screwing us. We didn't get paid when our albums were out & now on CD's and now the internet.
earthjuice: Is that lawsuit still pending?
April: I can see how you can get jerked with the internet but with CDs and LPs there must be a paper trail of what you are owed
LESTER-CHAMBERS: This case was for pension embezzlement & it has been over 8 years of suing both AFTRA &; all the labels. It took until last year for the judge to allow us discovery in the royalty files.
April: unless you were bamboozled into signing away your rights
earthjuice: I see that MP3.com is one of the defendants?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: I also sued MP3.com this year and didn't even get a chance in front of the judge & after MP3 paid Sony 20 billion the judge threw my case out.
earthjuice: "discovery" (that sounds like it's a LONG way off from putting some DOLLARS in your pocket?)
April: corporations are good at delaying things, hoping the plaintiffs will get tired and go away
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Columbia kept us so broke we couldn't fight back.
LESTER-CHAMBERS: We went 22 years without receiving a dime from Columbia even though "Time Has Come Today" was used in 30 films & TV; overseas sales, etc.
earthjuice: Somehow I have a feeling that NOT ONE CENT of the 20 Million dollars found it's way into your hands?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: The record companies feel they are the only ones to profit from the internet.
earthjuice: Seems like there should be laws protecting artists such as yourself, (but then again, we ALL know who's REALLY controlling things)
earthjuice: It must be pretty tough to try to fight these big companies in court, they must have an unlimited war chest
Billy: earthjuice: ...who really is controlling things?
earthjuice: Big Business runs things (in my opinion)
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Yeah, the RIAA have tried to keep the artists all down. That's why singer should have their own union. If you are a singer on an album, AFTRA is your union, but if you are also a musician, then in steps the Musicians Union. Sometimes, they conflict.
April: what are you doing or what can you do to get what you deserve?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Only one lawyer , Larry Feldman has been behind me. With no $ it has been hard.
earthjuice: Thank goodness you have some ammo

WHAT'S RACE GOT TO DO WITH IT?




earthjuice: Based on your conversations with other artists, is your case typical?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: I never thought my career would be where it's at right now, especially with how popular the blues is right now.
earthjuice: Can you explain, Lester?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Most black artists from the 50's &; 60's, yeah.
earthjuice: Are you saying that it doesn't happen also to white artists from the 50's &; 60's?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Most black artist had no rights, had to give up their publishing & no royalties to be able to sign. Don't you remember Little Richard telling how he lost all of his publishing.
earthjuice: We have some white artists on Soul Patrol, such as Joey Dee, Jon Bowman, John Sebastian, & John Mellencamp who can also describe rip-offs that have happened to them
LESTER-CHAMBERS: White artists usually had a white manager behind them
earthjuice: How does having a white manager make a difference?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Remember this was 1965 in the middle of the black uprising and the record companies was all white and not use to even dealing with anyone powerful that was black.
earthjuice: Did the Chambers Brothers have Black management back in 1965?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Our first manager was black.
earthjuice: Ok.......it all makes perfect sense to me now
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Our style of music scared al l the executives at Columbia because we were crazy hippies playing an unusual style of funk, blues, rock, & gospel all combined. We were told by the president of Columbia records that we weren't going to even think about recording "Time Has Come Today" &; that we must sell it to a white group on Columbia.
earthjuice: I guess they had a difficult time trying to "market" the Chambers Brothers?
April: how did you manage to keep the song and record it
LESTER-CHAMBERS: "Time' was such a hit with our audiences & we refused to stop singing it so the producer took us to Hollywood out of Clive Davis's control and we recorded it on one track.
LESTER-CHAMBERS: We played a lot of dates with Santana. Its wonderful about his recent success.
earthjuice: You had problems with Clive Davis???...... the media portrays him as being such a friend to the Black artist?
April: It's great that you didn't just do what Columbia wanted
earthjuice: They constantly show him hugging and kissing all over people like Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Clive Davis is such a phony. Don't get me started with him. Believe me he only likes us cuz we make him big $$. Did you ever read a good book on the record industry called "Hit Men". The first 125 pages deals with his embezzling of the artists funds on Columbia and how the feds brought him up on 6 counts of embezzlement.
earthjuice: The author of that book is Fredrick Damien (I believe)
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Read this book. It also tells how all the labels screwed us and had "roasts" boasting about never paying their artists a penny of royalties. This book sure answered a lot of questions about what happened to us 3 months before his fall.
earthjuice: I have a copy of the book, I read it several years ago and it's fascinating
April: I have never read it but I will as soon as I can get a copy
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Imagine our predicament, we were not doing the "acceptable" black act like the Impressions, Temptations, etc. so we were a problem and refused to put our instruments down and we also had the courage to buy a home in Stamford, Conn, that had no blacks.
April: must have been viewed as militant troublemakers
earthjuice: Breaking down stereotypes.......that is something that our people have forgotten how to do
LESTER-CHAMBERS: our career really suffered from our refusal to do what the white man said we could do.


BLACK ROCK (an "oxymoron"?)




earthjuice: Switching gears for a moment, .........did you ever have any association with other Black rockers like, Arthur Lee or Jimi Hendrix?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Great! I thought I was going to have to give you a history lesson on who ran the record industry in the early days.
April: were you considered more acceptable because of your style of music?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: We knew Arthur Lee from our early Whisky -a -Go -Go days. We then Met Jimi in New York right before he left for Europe. We bonded instantly and my brother Willie was good friends and hung out all the time. There is a CD from Jimi jamming at a Club called the Scene in New York that I am on as the harmonica player with Jim Morrison.
Billy Goodnight everyone. God bless you Lester. Hope you get paid.
earthjuice: Miles Davis, Santana?
LESTER-CHAMBERS: I have some great stories about my Aries friend, Miles. He & I were close friends in New York. He called me Wally.
earthjuice: Miles is da Man, his 75th birthday is coming up soon
earthjuice: What's on the horizon for you now Lester?
April: Mr Chambers I have thoroughly enjoyed this chat. Thank you for your time. Goodnight everyone
earthjuice: Lester, you get all the props in the world from me...
earthjuice: I remember "sneaking down the dial" to the white radio stations to listen to your music
earthjuice: and wondering why it wasn't being played down at the other end of the dial
earthjuice: This session has been most enlightening and when it gets posted on the web I think that many folks will be quite surprised by some of the things that you had to say here tonight
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Well folks. I played a club last night in Hollywood, so I am kinda burned out, but it was nice chatting with you all. Let's do it again
earthjuice: I have heard some of your recent material, it's VERY FUNKY stuff, people need to check you out when you do club dates and festivals :)
earthjuice: Many people think of the Chambers Bros and think ... "Uncle Tom".....just like Hendrix
earthjuice: (they ain't gonna think that no more)
earthjuice: Yall laid down the REAL DEAL and when people read this transcript, many folks will have a far different impression of you than they had before
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Thanks for the experience.
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Good! I was hoping some old hippie fans would have joined us but most of our fans were white.
LESTER-CHAMBERS: I don't even think any of our songs were played on soul stations that is why were are not listed in any books on soul singers.
earthjuice: here is something I have learned... People who take risks, break down stereotypes, etc are the real heroes of our society
earthjuice: those who dare to be different, those who have the courage to do what is right, and those who go along with the crowd are the actual Uncle Toms
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Our career sure suffered from our defiance of the power.
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Everyone credits "Sly for what doors we opened for black artists.
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Check out www.bluepower.com. A writer reviewed our show last night in Hollywood.
LESTER-CHAMBERS: It was glowing. Michele Phillips(Mamas & Papas) was there. We talked about the 60's.
earthjuice: nice review
LESTER-CHAMBERS: Well, goodnight. We will talk tomorrow. I remember a festival (Devonshire Downs here in L.A) where he rode to the festival in a limo with Jimi & Tah Mahal. 3 black men in a limo when they pulled in the fairgrounds they witnessed the police openly hitting white fans who were trying to knock the fencing down.
LESTER-CHAMBERS: I was the only one really scared because it reminded me of how blacks in the south were treated by the police. Jimi was raised in Seatle and Tah in New York.


earthjuice: We shall Lester.....thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us
go to: www.lesterchambers.com

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