The Chambers Brothers’ Time Has Come Today: The History and Meaning of a Classic

It’s the civil rights-based psychedelic soul anthem that rang cowbells and put four African-American brothers on the popular music map. But the Chambers Brothers’ signature 11-minute song almost failed to make it onto the plastic, let alone become mainstream listening.

Born and raised in Mississippi in the 1940s and 1950s, brothers George, Joe, Lester and Willie Chambers worked on their father’s cotton farm and, having been taught to harmonize by their mother, sang all day in the fields and in their local Baptist church. week ends.

After George returned from two years of military service during the Korean War, the siblings moved to Los Angeles to escape racial tensions. Under the name Chambers Brothers (“we couldn’t agree on anything else,” Willie said), they brought their soul and gospel blend – complete with bass, harmonica and guitar – to the coffeehouse circuit of town. “We were the first band to do gospel music in clubs,” Willie told interviewer Kevin Grace. “We got really good.”

But the staging of a gig at a folk cafe took an odd turn when conservative complaints were leveled about a gospel band playing at establishments such as The Ash Grove that not only sold coffee, but also alcohol. “We were asked [by promoters], ‘Can you mix? Play blues and rock’n’roll so you don’t book a gospel band? says Willie. So their genre palette expanded, using electric guitars on folk and gospel songs, as pioneering Sister Rosetta Tharpe had done, before Bob Dylan’s historic moment.

Social activist, singer, guitarist and producer Barbara Dane spotted the Brothers at The Ash Grove. “As soon as I heard them, I knew they would be perfect for making those freedom songs that people wanted to hear and sing so badly in the ’60s,” Dane said. Dane defended the quartet, taking them on tour and telling them, “Do your thing.”

Dane also pestered folk scholar Pete Seeger to give the brothers a break. They caused waves at Seeger’s Newport Folk Festival in 1965 with a set list that included fast-paced Jimmy Reed songs. The audience “broke the fences, ran and rushed to the stage,” Joe Chambers told Richie Unterberger. After their show, the MC said, “Whether you knew it or not, it was rock ‘n’ roll. Bob Dylan also appeared, going electric for the first time.

New Yorker Brian Keenan was recruited on drums that year and the band recorded a cover of the Isley Brothers. Shout! for Vault Records, and supported Bob Dylan on a version of Tombstone Blues. Signed to Columbia in 1966 by Dylan’s influential A&R John Hammond – who had heard them play on Tomb stone… – they rushed to a revolutionary rallying cry for hippies, a single titled The time has come today that guitarist Joe Chambers wrote after taking LSD during a Timothy Leary lecture at UCLA.

The song featured a repeated call-to-action cry of “Time!”, which seemed to inspire the listener to take action to stop the social and political justices of the time, such as segregation and the Vietnam War. The now familiar “ticking” percussion pattern was added by Lester Chambers, to “keep the drummer straight”.

“I did it first [played that] on a car bumper of a 1949 Buick,” says Lester. He and his tour manager cousin Julius Chambers then found a music store that sold cowbells and Lester went through everything until he found the most “tuned” one. Time… became a highlight of shows played in front of rock audiences as the band was booked alongside acts such as Johnny Rivers, The Doors and The Nazz.

In 1967, the group was ready to record its first album with house producer David Rubinson (Moby Grape, Taj Mahal, Santana). But Columbia President Clive Davis stonewalled. In an official “Welcome to the Label” meeting, he told the band not to re-record Time…. He said Columbia didn’t want to work with “that shit.” In fact, he was thinking of giving it to a white group.

Rubinson had other ideas. A few days after the meeting, he called them to say, “I could lose my job, but [when we record the album] come an hour early and we’ll make it.

“We [couldn’t] re-record, overdub or listen,” Willie Chambers reminded Kevin Grace, explaining that Davis would give the band very little studio time. “[Rubinson] said: ‘We have to stop the machines as if we were never there.’

The day of the session arrived, and the band arrived early and recorded Time… in one take. Rubinson added effects as the band performed. The song evolved from a tight but groovy garage rock number to an 11-minute beast with a wild, experimental jam, worthy of the lyrics.”my soul has been psychedelic”.

The next time the band heard the song, it had been on their album, The time has come. DJs across the United States clamored to play the full track, not the radio edit, and sales of the LP soared. The song reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968, where it remained for five weeks.

The group was now somewhat in favor of Davis. When they were to receive a gold disc on the national television show Smothers Brothers, he showed up in the green room. “He smiled and said, ‘Well, you guys have one,’ says Willie Chambers. ‘And we just stared at him and said, ‘Yeah…and you are one.’

The time has come today inspired cover versions by artists such as Joan Jett, Steve Earle and Sheryl Crow, and Me’Shell Ndegeocello. It’s featured in over 100 movies and countless TV shows and commercials, delivering a shrill and uplifting flavor. Lester Chambers now performs the track with his son Dylan in the cosmic collective Moonalice.

The Chambers Brothers pioneered socially conscious Black American soul, rock and funk, alongside Sly And The Family Stone, Rotary Connection, The Temptations, Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield, The Isley Brothers, Betty Davis and many more. ‘others. Their songs built future rock and soul music, and future generations of activists. Time… makes all our souls a little psychedelic when we hear it.

“We never tried to have a number one record,” Willie says. “We wanted to make music that had meaning and substance, and that could help someone.”

Comments are closed.