Editor’s Note:  The order of the all-time top-viewed individual articles in this blog keeps changing ever so slightly near the top from day to day.  This article has moved up to No. 4 on my list, being read 291 times since it first appeared January 1 to barely sneak past my January 29 article on meeting with and speaking to the homeless.

I remember the day this article came out.  I sat at my friend Baron’s dining table in Northern California that Sunday morning while he was still in bed the morning after his big birthday party, and I kept refreshing my stats page as I saw the number of views on this article shoot up at an amazing rate that I’d never seen until then, and I wanted to go wake Baron up and show him what was happening because I was so excited at the results I was seeing.

Despite the “name” that my friend Chuck Steed gave this group that I used in the title, it’s still not a “religiously affiliated” group as some readers might mistakenly think.  It’s still just a bunch of musician friends wanting to just get together, do what they love to do, have a lot of fun doing it, and dream up ways to make some decent money while doing it.  At the same time, many of these same musicians often times see fit to help their fellow man out in various ways when times get tight.  So there are some parallels to what an actual church movement would be like.

But this bunch is tied to no specific church or church-related movement.  It’s just “The Church of Music.”


It was a title that was discussed by a guitar player and singer named Chuck, one of the first to arrive at Baron Chase’s 52nd birthday jam Saturday night — New Year’s Eve — as he prepared for the evening’s festivities.

“The Church of Music.”

Lester Chambers blows on his harmonica

Chuck mentioned it to Lester Chambers, of The Chambers Brothers fame, as he was tuning up his acoustic guitar and just kind of joking around about how struggling musicians could make more tax-free money.

“Start ‘The Church of Music,'” Chuck said.  “Have buckets sitting just inside the door to the church, and have people give more money that way.  You need to have someone really good as a preacher, though, someone to lead the ‘congregation.’  Someone to just make the people get on their feet and say ‘Amen!’ every now and then.”

On this night, Lester Chambers was the leader of that “congregation.”  Whether he was singing a more casual tune like the soul classic “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay” or a, perhaps, more “appropriate” tune for such a church, like Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” you knew who the leader of this “congregation” was.  Speaking of Dylan, even Lester’s son, Dylan Chambers, made a strong run for the title during his own soaring vocal runs just to make it known that the “Chambers style” will live on well beyond Lester’s years.

There were many independent Bay Area musicians who ended up filling Baron’s living area Saturday night, and some of them may have walked away from — or couldn’t come because of — paying gigs, and whether they were there in his house or not, they WANTED to be there for the occasion.

Baron was expecting just a small, acoustic set with maybe just a few friends showing up to play, minus drums.  He ended up getting maybe at least twice more than what he was expecting — lead singers, guitarists, another bass player to join him while Baron switched to drums or just took a break to gather birthday wishes, another fine harp player to give Lester a run for his money on the harmonica, a keyboard player … and that drummer he wasn’t expecting to show up.  The house soon became packed.

Chairs would soon need to be moved outside to the deck to make room just for those gathered around in the living area who were pitching in on the music.

Good times.

But Lester, Baron’s beloved neighbor friend from just a few houses down, seemed to be “the preacher” of the evening in this “Church of Music,” a person whom many people seemed to come to meet if they didn’t know him already, and if they didn’t know his history they were given a quick lesson (finding out from son Dylan that over 300 movies or shows of some kind through the years have used the late ’60s Chambers Brothers rock classic “Time Has Come Today” was a part of the lesson).

Lester didn’t want to talk about any hard times he’s seen in his past.  He chooses to focus on the positive, in the present — starting his own recording label, doing more music publishing, recording more himself, and just kicking back with friends and sharing some good music, which came by the barrel-full right there in Baron’s living room on his birthday before the clock struck midnight to begin a brand new year.

Lester led the “congregation” simply by closing his eyes, opening his mouth, and singing even an easy, care-free tune like “Dock of the Bay” and making it sound almost like a gospel tune, filled with some pain and hints of better days behind yet still ahead of him.  He had optimism in this “church.”

He sealed the “preacher” title when he closed those eyes and wailed through his part in “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” complete with some gospel soulfulness on the blues harp with his hands obscuring it from sight.

These were good times.  This was a time for “good times,” to feel like there are better days ahead if we just keep that attitude.

Lester set the attitude himself.  No time for hard times.  Just think about the good.  Got to appreciate that.

Neil St. Andrew on keyboards.

Baron’s house was filled with good friends, good times, good music — mostly some blues when it was more acoustic, yet still making room for some soul and rock and roll (hearing the keyboard player switch into a more “countrified” version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” and having it sound like country star Dwight Yoakam was singing it was a particular treat).  A singer named Lyn stood out in a deeply soulful style reminiscent of British sensation Joss Stone on songs like an old Bill Withers tune, “Use Me,” and at one point she got into a wonderful vocal exchange with Dylan Chambers that brought out the best of their abilities.

What started out as something expected to be a smaller acoustic set became an electrified jam.  Baron loved every minute of it.

I chose the wrong time to leave the room when they played a personal favorite of mine, Jaco Pastorius’ “The Chicken,” and just absolutely nailed it (without the big band horns), but I was able to make it back to the room in time to see plenty of jamming left on that tune.

But everyone who played, regardless of instrument, was top-notch.  It was just a very big group of pretty much unknown but highly talented musicians gathering in Baron’s living room and kitchen and entry way for lots of food, lots to drink, plenty of conversation, and tons of musical adventures.

Good times.  Memorable times.  A perfect way to celebrate the birthday of a great guy and, we can only hope, what will be a great 2012.

If the new year is anything like the food, the drink, the friendship, and the music at Baron’s house for his birthday jam, it’ll be a great one.

This was, after all, “The Church of Music.”

Chuck Steed on guitar and Steen Berrig on harmonica.
Lester Chambers and Steen Berrig exchange riffs on their blues harps.
Jim Dietrick plays his guitar while Lester Chambers sings.
Baron Chase on bass and Jim Dietrick on acoustic guitar.
Kenny Susan on drums.
Lyn Carpenter-Engelkes (middle) sings while her friends play.
Baron Chase plays his gorgeous fretless bass.


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