I have to admit I came late to Family. It was 1972, and I was working in a record store and everyone started listening to “Bandstand” (my favourite of their albums). I got hooked. Naturally I wanted to go back and get the rest of their catalogue, starting with their first, Music in a Doll’s House (1968).
This heady collection of psychedelic songs, with influences of jazz, blues, soul, Beatles, and early Progressive Rock is a masterpiece. Produced by Dave Mason of Traffic, it is so diverse, and so interesting, that it stands as a unique statement of the Sixties. Family at this time was: Roger Chapman – vocals/sax/harmonica; John (Charlie) Whitney – guitar/steel guitar; Jim King – saxes/harmonica/vocals; Ric Grech – bass/violin/cello/vocals; and Rob Townsend – percussion. Roger Chapman is my favourite vocalist.
Chapman sometimes went into Joe Cocker territory, then early Rod Stewart, but with more power than both. He dominated as the lead vocalist, taking no prisoners. Roger retired a couple of years backafter having a successful solo career since the late 70s. (However, as seems to be the case these days, Family is mounting a reunion tour this fall – more on that later). The song-writing team of Chapman/Whitney was a force too. Through seven unique studio albums (eight if you count Old Songs New Songs, a partial comp) they composed nearly all the material. This same team produced another masterwork, Family Entertainment (1969).
After this, Ric Grech left to play bass with Blind Faith. Jim King then left (or was ousted, depending on what you read) and a new bassist was brought in – John Weider – Bass/violin, from Eric Burdon and the Animals. This lineup then went on to put out three albums: A Song for Me (1970), Anyway (half live, half studio) (1970), and Old Songs New Songs (1971).
Weider then left and was replaced by John Wetton from Mogul Thrash on bass/vocals. Also added was a great keyboardist and vibe player, Poli Palmer. During Wetton’s relatively short stay, they made their two best albums in my opinion, Fearless (71) and Bandstand (72).
John Wetton’s presence and contributions cannot be over emphasized. His higher register backing vocals complemented Roger Chapman’s guttural attack and his bass playing, as always, was heavier in the mix. But as all things seemed to be in the world of Family, more departures occurred. John Wetton left to join King Crimson (and later Asia) for my particular favourite KC period, and Poli Palmer left to join another band with, ironically, Ric Grech. So now, Jim Cregan from Blossom Toes (later to Cockney Rebel) joined them on bass/guitar and Tony Ashton on keys (who later became part of Jon Lord’s solo outings). This lineup cut the final Family album It’s Only a Movie (1973).
Epilogue: After Family broke up, Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney formed Streetwalkers, a more Blues-based hard rocking outfit and released a number of good, solid albums (Red Card is my favourite). The first of those, originally released as Chapman Whitney Streetwalkers, could be called another Family album by virtue of the content and the way it fell in with the style of “It’s Only a Movie”. It is now released for the first time on CD as “First Cut” in a slightly modified form. That band folded and Roger kept going as a solo artist until, as I mentioned before, he “retired”. His solo work has been far more Blues-based than either earlier bands and if you are into the electric Blues, then you would love his work. Charlie Whitney still plays and records Bluesy rock and is very locally owned and operated.
Soon, this fall, a number of Family albums are being re-released with new remastering and bonus tracks – another reason that Family have reformed, sadly without Charlie Whitney – the word on the street is that Charlie and Roger had a falling out. Family was a marginally successful band on this side of the Atlantic but now would be a good time to explore their powerful catalogue.