May 23rd, 2012
The time has yet to come for the Chambers Brothers
The Chambers Brothers, popular recording artists in the 1960s, are today fighting for all the royalties that were never paid to them.
By Ed McCarthy & Reneé Ruwe
Everyone has heard the legendary, cowbell driven song “The Time Has Come Today.” The psychedelic rock & roll anthem by the Chambers Brothers has been in more than 100 movies, TV shows and commercials. The group is also credited with creating a genre fusing rock and soul called psychedelic soul. Many readers may also remember the classic slogan “Sock it to me!” from the TV series “Laugh In.” Well, the Chambers Brothers coined that term. One would imagine the Chambers Brothers must be very wealthy, but unfortunately that is not so.
Our story starts in the early 1940s in Lee County, Mississippi. The Chambers family consisted of seven brothers and five sisters. The family was “dirt poor share croppers” according to Lester Chambers, former lead singer of the Chambers Brothers. The four brothers, Lester, Willie, Joe and George, started out singing gospel in the local baptist church choir. The young men with great harmonies were very well received. This encouraged the young brothers to further pursue a career in music.
The family moved to Los Angeles in 1950. Their father, George, Sr., a local Deacon, helped found the Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church in a storefront building. In 1954, The brothers started performing in L.A. clubs, first doing a combination of gospel and folk music. As their career and love of music intensified, they learned to play their own instruments. Guitar, bass and harmonica were added to the act.
The Chambers Brothers eventually came to New York, performing in such popular venues as New York City’s Cheetah Club, the Electric Circus and Steve Paul Scene. In early 1965 they were introduced to Beacon native and legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, who booked them into the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. A hit at the festival, Bob Dylan had the Chambers Brothers come and record a couple of songs with him.
Around late 1965 to early 1966 they were discovered by and signed to Columbia records by Clive Davis and assigned to producer David Rubinson. Davis was very against them recording “The Time Has Come Today.” However, the producer took a chance and recorded a primitive version of the song in 1966. In 1967, he again took a chance on the song that had became the show stopper of their live act. The classic “The Time Has come Today” was recorded in one take. It was number 11 on the Billboard charts for 11 weeks, so it did not technically crack the top ten. However, as they say, the rest is history.
Unfortunately, there has not been a happy ending to the Chambers Brothers’ story thus far. The following is a reprint of an open letter written by Lester Chambers:
“I am the former lead singer of a 60s band. I performed before thousands at Atlanta Pop 2, Miami Pop, Newport Pop, Atlantic Pop. I did not squander my money on drugs or a fancy home. I went from 1967-1994 before I saw my first royalty check. The music giants I recorded with only paid me for seven of my albums. I have never seen a penny in royalties from my other 10 albums I recorded. Our hit song was licensed to over 100 films, TV [shows] and commercials without our permission. One major TV network used our song for a national TV commercial and my payment was $625. I am now 72, trying to live on $1,200 a month. Sweet Relief, a music charity, is taking donations for me. Only the 1% of artists can afford to sue. I am the 99%.”
For more information on the plight of the Chambers Brothers, please check out LesterChambers.com, Soul-Patrol.com, or visit Lester on Facebook.