We recently interviewed a versatile and talented artist Sally Champlin. We are sharing our conversation here with you.
Twist Online : First of all tell us about the start of your professional career?
Sally Champlin : As a teenager, I sang along with my mother’s favorite records and discovered I had a huge voice. Opera first (Maria Callas, Pavarotti, Kirsten Flagstad), then artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Della Reese, Carmen McRae and the Divine Sarah, and then R&B and rock icons like Michael Jackson, Al Green, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Maria Muldaur, Odetta, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson and of course Prince. My strongest influence now is my writing partner, Bob Henley III.
After four high school music scholarships and four years of college, I dove into theater in a big way in New York. I’ve been a singer and working performer in theater, TV and film ever since, including appearing in great shows such as Cabaret (1st National Tour), Roza and Beautiful Lady (Mark Taper). I’m super-honored to have written songs with legendary jazz artists David Baker, Mike Longo, Dizzy Gillespie and Ron Carter.
My whole family is musical; my brother Bill is a twice Grammy-winner. He was also a long-time member of the band Chicago. My nephew Will was a Grammy winning finalist on NBC’s ‘The Voice’ and my late nephew, Brad, was also a working musician. I guess it was in the cards for me to fall in love with performing and be lucky enough to have a unique musical journey of my own.
Twist Online : Who or what inspired you as an artist growing up?
Sally Champlin : Laughter. The very first time I walked onstage in a silly musical, I got a huge laugh from 1,200 people. I hadn’t even said my first line. I wore a screaming bright blue dress, had carrot orange hair, wore cat-eye glasses and 5-inch heels while playing with a pencil and a clipboard. Yes, laughter.
I’ve always loved singing. Comedy prevailing, however, if you listen to our song, “Going To A Soiree,” you will hear one of my favorite songs to sing live because it’s a visual song; a song with built-in entrances and exits and like Madonna’s “Vogue,” there’s a passel of funny hand-choreography. I’ve been asked to sing it twice in an evening because of its lyrics too. “Soiree” is my ‘take’ on my beloved Hollywood.
Twist Online : Tell us about your recent release “It’s Rainin’ In L.A.?”
Sally Champlin : Meeting my partner Bob Henley III and working with him began my journey with R&B. We met about 10 years ago when Bob was the Minister of Music and choir director for Rev. Della Reese-Lett at the church she founded. Fascinated with gospel, I quickly joined his choir. We’ve been songwriting and recording partners ever since. We worked together most recently on each others’ albums — mine, “It’s Rainin’ In L.A.,” and his, “Love’s Having A Party!” Both are available online.
Twist Online : In this Album you collaborated with Bob Henley III. How was the working experience ?
Sally Champlin : Throughout this collaboration, our writing skills were sharpened beyond my wildest dreams! It was the recording, mixing, and mastering processes that took more time.
I’ll share with you a little story about the title song, “It’s Rainin’ in L.A.” One Sunday afternoon not too long ago, I was happily at home in Hollywood. It was one of those rare misty grey mornings here. I was doing dishes while sipping hot chocolate and listening to Etta James singing “Sunday Kind of Love.” A musician friend had sent it to me earlier that day. In the middle of the song, it began pouring rain. Buckets of it. I said to myself, “It’s Rainin’ in L.A.” I turned off Etta, sat down and wrote all the lyrics in one sitting. I brought in Bob and he made it magical. The song “It’s Rainin’ In L.A.” is one of my favorite songs because it also turned out to be the start of our fruitful musical partnership. I’m the words, and sometimes I come up with a bit of cool melody, and Bob is mostly the music and sometimes he comes up with amazing words! Each song requires us to think differently, yet together, it comes alive with both of us ‘in the room.’ One of my favorite songs on my album is called “My Lucky Star.” Its melody soars. It’s always felt like a classic to me.
Regarding the writing process, usually Bob riffs on keyboards, looking for a groove and chord progression he likes, while I write furiously with pen and paper and throw the rejects all over the floor. I don’t write according to rhythms and obvious phrases; I write whatever words come out of me as I listen to his polyrhythmic “noodling.” I don’t try to fit any of his phrasing — I just write ideas. We discover single extended phrases for words and music and go from there; when Bob starts working words and melody together, I do furious rewrites as he sings through it again and again — then we do rewrites that ‘shine the diamond.’ We record as we write until the first complete scratch is finished. This routine is down now; we can conceive and finish one entire song in one session, harmonies included. We refine later, of course, but the core of the song is done in one session and the floor looks like it snowed!
Twist Online : What is your favorite music genre?
Sally Champlin : R&B, hands down!
Twist Online : You have performed on stage and appeared in a number of popular TV shows. What’s been your best performance so far?
Sally Champlin : Onscreen, the work I did on “Frasier” and in the horror film, “Ed Gein.” There are a lot of other shows, but these two stand out in my memory as my nicest work. In theater, I’d have to say the role of Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and my own nightclub show, which is a kind of theater free-form with R&B and ballads being its musical core.
Twist Online : What are your future goals as a music artist?
Sally Champlin : Survival. I want to live long enough to see our music change some people’s ideas of the world and, yes, to help change our global ways.
We also need to find a specialized booker for our two shows. We’re collaborators forever, no doubt about that, but our two shows are very different and so are our venues. I come from years of theater, TV and film, which turns my show into a “retro-fresh” smooth jazz theater experience while Bob’s shows lift his audience into dancing, waving lighters, and singing hooks with him. It’s a new and old kind of musical contagion that we call “retro-fresh”!
Twist Online : Are you working on any other new project? When will it be released?
Sally Champlin : We’re starting to put together our live shows. Sheet music is on the brink of being finished for both shows and then we’re off and running.
Twist Online : How much active are you on social media ? What’s the best way to follow you?
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ChamplinHQ/?fref=ts
ReverbNation – https://www.reverbnation.com/sallychamplin
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/user/sallychamplin
Twitter – @sallychamplin
IMDb – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0150744/
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/sally-champlin/id307034807
Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Its-Rainin-L-Sally-Champlin/dp/B01FYJD0MG/ref=sr_1_1?s=dmusic&ie=UTF8&qid=1474312256&sr=1-1-mp3-albums-bar-strip-0&keywords=Sally+Champlin
CD Baby – http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/SallyChamplin