Musicians rally to help ailing rocker Lester Chambers

June 24, 2010 1:25:24 PM PDT
Fans often think once a musician has a hit, he is financially set for life. However, a local rocker that is trying to get back on solid ground is a reminder that is not necessarily true.

You may not recognize him, but if you're a baby boomer, you know his hit song "Time Has Come Today." Lester Chambers is famous for hitting the cowbell that gives that song its distinctive sound.

He and his three brothers left a life as sharecroppers on a Mississippi farm for the bright lights of Los Angeles. They were appropriately known as The Chambers Brothers and their songs became anthems of the anti-war and Civil Rights movements of the '60s.

"Kids were leaving home, just literally in droves. It was the most amazing thing to see," said Chambers. "That's how time was discovered... time has come today, to young hearts, to go their way."

Chambers is now 70 years old, lives in Petaluma and has a number of financial and health problems. On the money front, he says royalties from their songs are only paid to two of the four brothers, and he doesn't want to fight family over money.

"I have two brothers that are very successful at collecting royalties, and I'd rather love them than to fight over, you know... I love my brothers," said Chambers.

As for his health, he's battled cancer, a neck injury from years of playing that cowbell, and tumors on his eyes that have severely impaired his vision. Despite the adversities, he seems to have little bitterness and is now grateful for the kindness of other musicians.

He and his son Dylan were homeless until a group called Sweet Relief, a non-profit that helps musicians, heard about him. Through that charity, old friends, including Yoko Ono, have stepped forward. Ono has given him money for the house he now rents in Petaluma, and Sweet Relief is helping with medical care.

"Music comes and goes like anything else, and a lot of the musicians get hit by hard times," said musician Steve Cropper, formerly of Booker T. & The MGs, who shared the stage with The Chambers Brothers. He is now among the musicans trying to help.

Chambers is also trying to help himself. Friday night he and his son Dylan, his long-time guitarist friend K.K. Martin, and Rhyne Erde will play at the Dance Palace at Point Reyes station. The group goes by the name Chambers, Martin and Midnight Transit. It should be a flashback for boomers.


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