Bill Champlin Discovers Latina Gospel Singer Veronica

"I just hope there's room for someone this talented in this business and I pray for the cream to rise to the top."

By Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: April 30, 2010

Bill Champlin Discovers Latina Gospel Singer Veronica

"A List" rock star Bill Champlin is a man that knows talent. His musical resume and legacy speak for itself and has stood the test of time. He is also a man that can help make heavenly dreams come true. Like a Biblical tale, Bill has been instrumental in "discovering" and introducing to the secular world gospel singer Veronica - of the famed Angelo and Veronica ministerial team.

Through an arcane set of circumstances, Bill had an opportunity to hear Veronica perform. Bill said, " I heard Veronica and her husband, Angelo, singing at a gig and I was knocked out. My wife Tamara, a gifted artist in her own right, turned to me and said, "She may be the best singer I've ever heard!" She was right. I don't know if I'm the guy to take Veronica where she needs to go as an artist, but we're giving it a shot and doing a lot of really good songwriting in the process.

Bringing to the table some very heavy credentials, Bill Champlin is known the world over as the soulful singer/keyboardist of the iconic jazz-pop band Chicago. His featured spots on hits Look Away and Hard Habit to Break are among his mainstream highlights. But Bill Champlin's defining work with the Sons of Champlin and his work as a songwriter put him on the musical map long before he arrived in Chicago. Bill and the Sons, "were blowing the doors off venues back in the '70's - they returned to doing the same in the late '90's and into the present," according to Keyboard Magazine

Bill was born in Oakland, California on May 21, 1947 to a musical family. His grandparents, mother and sisters have all been singers. Bill is married to Tamara Champlin, a singer/songwriter in her own right, and is the father of three children. His youngest, Will Champlin, is building a name for himself as a prolific songwriter with a distinct sound. Bill Champlin's musical career began in 1961 when he formed a band called the Opposite Six. A year later he began writing music.

After forming the Sons of Champlin in 1967 he focused his songwriting talents on producing material for the Sons. "They were breathing fire. They were the most talented of all the San Francisco bands", said Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. The Sons' first album Loosen Up Naturally was released in 1969, followed by six more albums before they broke up in 1977. Many of these have been re-released as CD's and are currently available for purchase.

After the breakup of the Sons, Bill moved to Los Angeles and worked as a session lead and background vocalist on numerous recordings from 1977-1985. Some of the artists that he has worked with include Patti LaBelle, Lou Rawls, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Donna Summer, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, Jimmy Smith, Amy Grant, Neil Diamond and Kenny Rogers. In 1978 he released Single, his first solo album. In 1979 he won his first Grammy award for co-writing After the Love is Gone, which was later recorded by Earth, Wind & Fire.

During the recent Chicago/EWF tours in 2004 and 2005, Champlin was asked to perform this song with them as lead singer.

The National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) awarded Bill the Most Valuable Player Peer Award for male background vocalists in 1980. In 1981 he won another Grammy for co-writing Turn Your Love Around for George Benson and released his second solo album that year, Runaway. In 1982 he joined Chicago to record Chicago 16. "Bill's exactly what we've been looking for," said Chicago's Robert Lamm. His very distinctive and expressive vocals can be heard on Chicago's hit Hard Habit to Break.

Bill's newest release is the solo CD/DVD No Place Left To Fall. It was recorded at the Barber Shop Studios in Hopatcong, New Jersey for the DreamMakers music label. It was first released by JVC Japan on September 24, 2008, as well as being released for digital downloading. It was later released in Europe by Zink Music on December 10, 2008. The U.S. release by DreamMakers was on August 4, 2009.

In the words of drummer Billy Ward: "I became a Bill Champlin fan in the early seventies when he led what was, to me, a ground-breaking band, The Sons Of Champlin. He's written and sung on probably over 400 hit songs; the later ones with the band Chicago. His organ playing has him ranked on most peoples "A" list and he plays the heck out of the guitar as well! He is one of the finest musicians I've ever gotten the privilege to play with." Dennis Cook, in Jambase and Relix Magazine adds: "Age has done nothing to diminish his powers, and in fact, brings nuances to the material that a young cat just can't muster."

www.LatinoLA.com Contributing editor Al Carlos Hernandez had the opportunity to talk to Bill about his legacy and his upcoming plans. AC also had a chance to talk to Veronica about her career/trajectory as well:

AC: Bill, you come from a musical family. When did you decide to make music your life's work?

BC: I stopped taking piano lessons when I was five 'cause I decided to just be a kid. But I kind of always knew it would be music that would get my attention for life.

AC: Who gave you your first professional break? What were the circumstances?

BC: When I was fourteen, a guy in a band in Marin County (California) needed a piano player and asked a friend/mentor of mine. He said, "Get Bill. He's a little young but he'll do the job plus fill in on guitar."

AC: What happened to the Sons and why did the band stop making music?

BC: The Sons are making music more now than in a long time. My Wife, Tamara, is singing with us and we're planning on putting my son Will into the band also. The Sons are better than ever.

AC: What was it that you liked about the SF music scene when you started out?

BC: I liked the billing in those days. For instance: Jefferson Airplane and the Charles Lloyd Quintet with Jack DeJohnette and Keith Jarrett. Or Sons, Grateful Dead and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. That pretty much stopped. Only occasionally do you hear three or four great bands at the same event.

AC: How did you get the call to work with Chicago?

BC: I just got a call from Dan Seraphine, whom I had been writing with, and they needed a guy like me at the time. They don't anymore.

AC: Good and bad about the Chicago years?

BC: Good: steady and well paid work. Bad: political decisions rather than musical.

AC: Why did you decide to quit one of the biggest acts on the planet?

BC: Just didn't like the way the music was being approached. It was getting to be the last place I should be musically.

AC: What are your hopes for your solo career?

BC: I want to do several things. I'm looking at trying to get the Sons up and I'm looking to do solo/Sons gigs in Europe as well. I have danced around producing and though I think I have a knack for it, I'm not sure if I like a lot of artists. Veronica is a different story; she can sing as good as anybody ever.

AC: How did you meet Veronica? Why did you decide to produce her?

BC: I heard Veronica and her husband, Angelo, singing at a gig and I was knocked out. My wife turned to me and said, "She may be the best singer I've ever heard!" She was right. I don't know if I'm the guy to take Veronica where she needs to go as an artist but we're giving it a shot and doing a lot of really good songwriting in the process.

AC: Are you familiar with gospel music and what Angelo and Veronica have accomplished?

BC: I don't need to know all of Angelo and Veronica's accomplishments 'cause I can hear it in the music. I'm not that knocked out by artists' pasts, I just listen to what they're doing now. I've hung out with people who have many fans of what they've done in the past - but they're bringing nothing to the table TODAY. Veronica owns the table. I'm not big into the gospel scene except to know that gospel music is leading the charge musically right now. And, when you think of it, it always has. For instance: Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Amy Grant and on and on and on.

AC: What is your vision for Veronica?

BC: I kind of relate to Veronica as a musician and singer. As an artist trying to make the crossover to secular, I think Veronica's sounded awesome doing one of Will Champlin's tunes with Will producing the vocal. I'm more into the songs we're writing and Tamara is more into trying to lean Veronica in a secular direction. It seems that when Veronica is writing, her lyrics are uplifting, soulful, spiritual and, well, music that kind of lives in the world she's in now. A BIG heart is beating there. So, the vision I have for Veronica is what she is. As far as SELLING that, I don't know. But I do see a full tilt artist who is writing about very real things. Awesome.

AC: What kinds of tunes are you doing?

BC: This music feels a lot less slick than some of the more orchestral music she's done. Less instruments and more Veronica, complete with home cooked lyrics.

AC: How much of a talent is she?

BC: That woman is one of the best singers on the Earth. She's a natural musician who gets it immediately. You have to understand that a lot of the "female artists" aren't very good musicians these days and it takes forever to get a vocal that feels musical. Not so with Veronica. She's the real deal.

AC: What does your touring schedule look like over the next few months? New music?

BC: I'm going to play in Norway in a few weeks, May 12 through May 15.. And then a little something in Sweden in June and some Sons' dates in the US. Maybe back over the "Pond" in September . . . maybe. Just getting used to doing my music rather than just having a job. Way better for my heart.

AC: Final thoughts on Veronica?

BC: I have to say that Veronica will always be at the top of the heap. She's as good as it gets. I just hope there's room for someone this talented in this business and I pray for the cream to rise to the top.


Angelo and Veronica

The story of Angelo and his wife Veronica is like a scene out of West Side Story. A beautiful Puerto Rican girl from New York City and a handsome Italian man from the city of Boston meet and fall in love. Unlike the movie, Angelo and Veronica's love perseveres against all odds - all the racial and cultural barriers. Married now for sixteen years, and with seven hit albums to their credit, Angelo and Veronica still bring music that is deeply personal and universally relevant.

Their love and dedication for God and each other never ceases to waver and only grows stronger with time.

Angelo started his professional career at thirteen years old and traveled with numerous bands across the country. He was also known as the top jingle singer in the city of Boston for many years. He attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.Veronica has trained vocally since the age of thirteen and began her professional career as a vocalist at age fourteen (with the brother of the original Menudo) in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Veronica also attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston to further her training as a vocalist and songwriter. In 1991 Angelo and Veronica signed their first recording contract as the duo Angelo and Veronica with a major gospel label, Benson Records, where they recorded four records: Higher Place, A&V, Give Your Life, and Da Tu Vida (Spanish).

In 1999 Angelo and Veronica signed with New York label Harmony Records (a division of Sony, Inc.) where they recorded one CD entitled Change. The producers on this CD include Jay Moss of Pajam and Michael J. Powell, producer for Anita Baker and Aretha Franklin.

Angelo and Veronica have sung background vocals on many other recordings with Michael Bolton, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Kirk Whalem, Carmen, Anointed, Take 6, Tommy Simms (producer for Michael Bolton and Bruce Springsteen and songwriter of Change The World). They recently sang on Bill Champlain's new record. Angelo and Veronica are not only known for their abilities as singers. They have collaborated with some great songwriters such as Fred Hammond.

For the past fifteen years Angelo and Veronica have been traveling the world on many tours with major artists such as Kirk Franklin, Iyanla Vanzant (seen on Oprah Winfrey), Fred Hammond, Commissioned, CeCe Winans, Karen Clark and the Clark Sisters, Vicki Winans, Jennifer Holiday, Daryl Coley, Donny McClurklin, Sandy Patti, 4Him, Michael English and many others. They have made numerous television appearances on BET's Bobby Jones Gospel and TBN.

Angelo and Veronica are recipients of three Dove awards including Contemporary Black Gospel Song of the Year and Urban Album of the Year. They also received a GMWA Excellence Award nomination and a Dove award nomination for best new artist.
Veronica has topped Billboard Magazine at number one on the gospel adult contemporary chart with Clint Brown's CD entitled One Nation under Praise.

Veronica released her very first solo CD in Spanish entitled Atrevete a So??ar in 2009. Recording in her hometown in Puerto Rico she worked with acclaimed producers Angelo Petrucci, Isaac Sakko, Carlos Cintron and Richard Marcel. Veronica has also created a network to help women with their self-esteem, self-worth and body image called A Voice for Women. She has also created a collection of songs for this cause entitled, of course, A Voice for Women. She is working on her very first video for the song Atrevete a So??ar. Angelo and Veronica released the long awaited new CD in 2009 entitled Still in Love on itunes. It is a collection of songs celebrating marriage and family.

Al Carlos Hernandez had a chance to catch up with Veronica here in LA and talk to her about this new musical direction:

AC: Veronica, congratulations on your upcoming musical affiliation, Just talked to Bill Champlin and got his side of the story. How did you meet Bill?

V: The way I met Bill was when we first moved back here to Nashville in 2006. We lived in Nashville once before when we first got married in 1992. Well, money was tight. Very tight. So Angelo had gotten a job at Guitar Center (his first and only job not as a musician) and I was able to get a job for us singing at a Mexican restaurant in Franklin, TN. Sort of the low point in our musical careers!

AC: What type of music?

V: We did a mixture of jazz, pop, R&B and Latin music - from salsa to Selena. But we were happy with our little home, our kids were happy at their new school and we were glad to be back in our own habitat (Music City). One night a gentleman, who was with his wife and son, walks up to my husband and hands him a $200 tip and says how he is blown away by our singing. Well, that gentleman was Bill Champlin! We did not see Bill after that but his son, Will, came back in to give us a demo of his music. We were blown away! We started to develop both a friendship and musical relationship with his son. He co-wrote and co-produced a song with Angelo on the new A&V CD Still in Love. He is also working with me on my solo gospel debut A Voice for Women.

AC: How did the relationship with Bill develop?

V: We saw Bill maybe a few times after that - he was so busy touring with Chicago. Three years later, this past Christmas, I sent out a Christmas eblast with a video of us singing Away in a Manger to everyone on my email list. Bill, who I didn't even realize was on my list, wrote back to me.

AC: How did he react to you?

V: He said, and I quote, "You guys are the best singers in Nashville and maybe even California . . . ok, the US!" Anyway, in the next email he approached me about doing a pop thing and about shopping a deal. I was like, "Whoa!" So blown away. I think Bill, Tamara, and Will are the best songwriters in all of Nashville. What an honor to work with them. It was Christmas Eve. That was a great Christmas present. Anyway, in the new year Bill, Tamara, Angelo and I have collaborated on writing and working on this demo. It's been an great experience. I am excited and curious to see what will come of it.


About Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor:
Edited by Susan Aceves
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