Career in a summary
The Chambers Brothers are a racially-integrated American band founded during their formative years in the early 1950s up to the mid-1960s. They are now famous for their 1968 single “Time Has Come Today”. The nucleus of the band were comprised of four brothers – Lester Chambers, Joe Chambers, Willie Chambers and George Chambers. They started singing together in a choir of a Baptist church; and as they grew older the brothers (after George was discharged from the US Army in the 1950s) moved to Los Angeles and then to New York, where would play their own brand of folk and gospel. In the mid-1960s drummer Brian Keenan joined the Chambers Brothers. The band’s electrifying performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 blew audiences away, it was like that they’d never heard that before.
This signaled the group’s other direction, recording for their first album People Get Ready in 1966. But their shining moment came in 1967 when they released the song “The Time Has Come”, and 11-minute psychedelic track. They would score other Top 40 hits such as “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and “Funky”. But unscrupulous and dishonest managers abused the group’s finances that led to the Keenan’s departure in 1971 and the group’s disbandment in 1972, although they would reform a few years later to record Unbonded and Right Move. Since the Chambers Brothers’ reformation (sans Keenan, who later passed away of heart failure in 1985) they have performed on an irregular basis. The Chambers Brothers’ music has been sometimes used for film soundtracks.
From Mississippi to California
The Chambers siblings — Lester (harp), George (bass guitar), Joe (guitar) and Willie (guitar) — originated from their home state of Mississippi. All four brothers sang, a talent which they first honed when they were in a choir of their local Baptist church. This formation went on until in 1952 George left the group as he was drafted into the army.
After he was discharged, George moved to Los Angeles, California; his brothers soon followed suit. They continued performing folk and gospel material there. They played at venues like The Ash Grove, and snagged a spot at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. However, like many acts on the folk circuit, the brothers also wanted to inject some electric elements into their music, thanks to Bob Dylan who “electrified” folk music, so to speak. They were virtually unknown until they made their first appearance in New York City. A white drummer named Brian Keenan later joined the Chambers Brothers — he would be instrumental in the group’s signature hit song “Time Has Come Today.”
The time has come for the Chambers Brothers
The Chambers Brothers went to a recording session just right after their Newport appearance. Result was their debut album People Get Ready which was released on Vault label in 1966.
After another album on Vault Now (1966) and Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers (released on Folkways Records in 1966), the group then was signed to a major label Columbia Records. The Chambers Brothers recorded and released their first album on that label, The Time Has Come. The LP featured the leadoff single “Time Has Come Today,” which was written by Joe and Willie Chambers.
Kennan’s eerie percussion work on “Time Has Come Today” was one of the most distinctive features of the song, contributing to its success on the charts. “Time Has Come Today” was just a position shy of making it to the Top 10 pop chart in 1968. However, the song catapulted The Chambers Brothers into one of the premiere psychedelic soul acts during that era.
After releasing two little-known albums, The Chambers Brothers came out with another LP A New Time — A New Day in 1968. It yielded another Top 40 hit, their cover of Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” A non-album single followed with the group’s cover of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout.”
In 1970 they released New Generation which featured the Top 40 R&B single “Funky.”
However, subsequent efforts were less successful. To make matters worse, unscrupulous managers and promoters held the group down. After recording the Oh, My God! album (which remains unreleased up to this day), the Chambers Brothers split in 1972.
Two years later though, they reunited for a new album Unbonded (1974); a year later another album Right Move (1975) was also issued. Since reuniting, the band has toured intermittently. George Chambers reverted to singing gospel music, as well as would later serve as a deacon. Willie and Joe found employment as session musicians. Keenan retired from the music business and became a carpenter. He passed away in 1985, due to heart failure. Lester moved to New York and formed a band of his own.