He's the singer of choice from the Beach Boys to the Band, the man Ron Wood calls, "[the Rolling Stones'] secret weapon." He's Blondie Chaplin, and when he steps up to the microphone, it's heaven on Earth.
A native of Durban, South Africa, Chaplin's career spiked in 1968 when his band the Flames hit No. 1 at home with "For Your Precious Love," the first nonwhite group to do so. Carl Wilson drafted the band for the Beach Boys' Brother label as well as opened slots on tour. When the Flames disbanded, Chaplin joined the mid-Seventies version of the Beach Boys for three albums.
Chaplin worked with the Byrds in the Eighties, plus Joe Walsh, Paul Butterfield, Dave Mason, Bonnie Raitt, and David Johansen, and had released two solo albums when the Band invited him to fill in for the late Richard Manuel. His gorgeously supple voice and his versatility as an instrumentalist likewise drew the attention of Keith Richards. The Stones brought him aboard the Bridges to Babylon recording and tour in 1997. With semiregular tours since and his beautifully rendered new CD, Between Us, Chaplin seldom gets downtime. The rigors of touring with the Stones ("the greatest experience of all") demands proper decompression nevertheless.
"Bobby [Keys, sax player] just happens to be my neighbor," he explains. "We're staying at a resort, with wide open spaces. We were out in this field, and Bobby's got battery-operated model planes. He's a freak on that stuff. I've been out watching him maneuver his place, not thinking of anything else, looking at the big sky."
That big sky also encompasses the 10 tracks on Between Us: joyous and organic. Chaplin co-produced the effort with longtime associate Keith Lentin from Capetown, but it's the presence of Austin's Stephen Barber and the Tosca Strings that makes this LP relevant to Austin. "I've known Steve for, geez, pushing 20 years. I consider him one of my closest musical friends. We always wanted to work together, so this was perfect. There was no money, so we just dabbled from with what we had.
Working with Barber and Tosca here in Austin last summer, Chaplin also hit the local clubs a good bit, the Continental being a favorite destination. After the Stones' Zilker gig, however, keep an eye peeled for him at Antone's for Hubert Sumlin. "He's my good old buddy, yeah. If there's any way to see him, I will."