The Other Blondie

Blondie Chaplin's musical journeys

Chris Maresh and Blondie Chaplin at rehearsal for tomorrow's show.
Chris Maresh and Blondie Chaplin at rehearsal for tomorrow's show. (by Margaret Moser)

Taking a break outside an unassuming complex near Zilker Park, Blondie Chaplin leans against a parked car and grins at his all-star band. Standing next to him are bassist Chris Maresh and drummer J.J. Johnson; guitarist Derek O’Brien is ducking out for another gig and pianist Stephen Barber is off on a B-double E-double R-U-N. The rehearsal, as they say, was smokin’.

Blondie is no stranger to Austin, though his schedule keeps him from spending a lot of time here. He’s one of the ultimate sidemen, a musician’s musician and singer of uncommon talent whose silky vocals led the first non-white group to hit No. 1 in his native South Africa. After that, he became the first-call vocalist/keyboard player with the Beach Boys, the Band, and the Rolling Stones, with whom he made his most recent jaunt here in 2006. Just before that, he’d made his way to Austin to record with Tosca String Quartet for his last solo recording, Between Us.

That was three years ago, however. The Stones aren’t on tour and Blondie isn't recording. Playing with the Lee Boys and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk is a treat, especially for Ivan’s birthday, but why the Friday gig at Antone’s when there’s no tour?

“Mmm, it’s a one-off thing,” he replied, strolling around the corner of the building and re-seating himself on the corner of an empty raised-bed garden. His denim blue sneakers have no laces in them. “My good friend Jim Slaton from the record company just passed away [Aug. 3], and he had planned this weeks and weeks before. So I had to get my ass over here and play with these guys, some of whom I know and I’m very comfortable with. Don’t come in too blind here. What have you been up to – this is part of the interview.” He pointed at my tape recorder and grinned. “It’s been a while.”

Teenagers, I told him. The best and brightest community of them right here in Austin. The feeling I get from hearing music approached on such a fresh, youthful level is so incredibly gratifying and passionately inspiring. Blondie nodded vigorously.

“I go to Germany, the place where the Pope comes from. I play my friend’s hotel – very small, 150 people each night – and in the day, I go to the schools. Nine, 10 in the morning. I did one class ages 8-14 and another 12-15 and I enjoyed it. Never thought I would. And the kids are like, ‘Oh, you’re with the Stones. How did you do this, and this …’ And of course one smart kid asks, ‘What about drugs?’

“‘Oh,’ I said, ‘you’re the smart guy. Okay, I’ll tell you. It’s all around you. Be careful, and listen to your mum and parents.’ And it’s true. I wouldn’t say anything bull. I enjoy talking about music. It’s an easy gig.

“When I was growing up during Apartheid in South Africa, it was awful. There was one teacher that insisted on using hymns everyday and that was music. ‘All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small…’” he pantomimed, holding a hymnal and looking beatific. “So there was something. And I listened to the radio, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, the Platters. No TV. Just soak it up.

“But when my daughter was about 7 or 8, they cut funding to the schools. 9/11 came, that cut into fund. I agree that we need to be protected but, really, kids love music. Take that away from kids, and it’s no good. It gives them something to go for, otherwise they don’t have crap.”

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No Dagwood
No Dagwood
Blondie Chaplin and more thump Friday night at Antone's

Margaret Moser, Aug. 24, 2009

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