Sunday, December 20, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. Chaps

The lion in winter has roared his last.
After a career in music spanning over four decades, first as the frontman for Family, then as the lead singer of Streetwalkers, then as a solo artist, Roger Chapman - one of the great unsung heroes of rock and roll - called it a career by performing his last concerts ever in his hometown of Leicester, England last night and the night before. With the possible exception of Family's last concert in October 1973 (also in Leicester), no gig has ever been this bittersweet to fans of the man we all call Chappo.
Chapman was - is - one of the most powerful singers in rock. His bleated vibrato vocal style - described by many as the sound of an electronically amplified goat - brought songs to life with a vicious ferocity and a commanding strength. He could make Robert Plant sound like a crooner with his deliveries on Family classics such as "The Weaver's Answer" and "Drowned in Wine," and his later performances on Streetwalkers songs like "Downtown Flyers" and "Run For Cover," as well as solo tunes like "Do I Leave a Stone Unturned?", were no less potent. Chappo's covers of blues and rock songs gave them his own unique, interpretative stamp; it's hard to hear "Drive" as originally done by the Cars after hearing Chappo sing it.
Roger Chapman was a huge star in Germany, and he didn't do too badly singing for the punters in the U.K., but stardom in America eluded him. He didn't get off to a promising start; he threw a microphone stand at Family's debut 1969 U.S. gig at the Fillmore East in New York when the audience proved to be unreceptive, and it almost hit Fillmore East impresario Bill Graham, setting bad vibes for the band. (The entire group was discombobulated that night by circumstances beyond their control. Their gig as Elton John's warmup act on his 1972 U.S. tour went much better.) Both Family and Streetwalkers diligently tried to gain an audience in America, and they did - just not big enough to sustain either band, or get Family or Streetwalkers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Chapman's solo career was of even less consequence here; his records were never released in the United States. His last American gigs, in fact, were with Streetwalkers on their 1976 American tour. Conquering the New World may not have worked out, but Chapman remained active and vital throughout his musical career, never letting the nostalgia of his early work with Family and Streetwalkers (both of which featured his old collaborator Charlie Whitney on guitar) get in the way of moving forward as an artist.
At 67, Chapman has ended his career in triumph. Having achieved just about everything he could possibly do, he went out like an undefeated boxing champion. I obviously couldn't go to either of his last concerts, and the news of Chapman's retirement meant I would never get the opportunity to take in one of his shows. I still have the records, and I still have a wonderful tape of one of his sets on the German TV rock show "Rockpalast." I'm thankful for that, and I'm especially grateful for the marvelous music and illustrious career of the man of the hour - Roger Maxwell Chapman, always and forever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

long live chapoo