George “Pops” Chambers, singer and bassist for the Chambers Brothers, best known for the 1968 hit “Time Has Come Today,” died Saturday at 88.
“The best big brother you could ever have,” Willie Chambers wrote on his Facebook page Sunday night. “I am so sad, and at the same time, I’m so glad to have had such a wonderful person in my life. Rest In Peace brother. We had lots of great times.”
Although they entered the greater public consciousness with a counterculture anthem in the late ’60s, the Chambers Brothers had been performing together since the 1950s, when, as a break from their duties as sharecroppers in rural Lee County, Mississippi, they started out as a gospel group.
George Chambers (pictured above, at far left) was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. Upon getting out, he urged the group to move to L.A., where in the early 1960s the secularized combo became part of the local folk scene at clubs like the Ash Grove. They rose to more national prominence in 1965, around the time that Pete Seeger put them on the bill at the Newport Folk Festival.
The Brothers first released their mixture of rock, blues, soul and gospel through the Vault label, with versatility enough to cover both Curtis Mayfield and Gershwin. They then signed with Columbia Records in 1966, and first recorded “Time Has Come Today” as a two-and-a-half-minute single, which flopped. But an 11-minute-plus version recorded for their 1967 album “The Time Has Come,” which featured an extended psychedelic break, quickly became an FM staple. A four-minute single edit of this new version — with a superior arrangement to the original, but minus much of the album track’s psychedelia — crossed them over to AM radio, with a No. 11 peak on the Billboard Hot 100 little indicating just how ubiquitous the song was to become, then and later.
“Time Has Come Today” has been licensed for dozens of films and TV shows, from the Vietnam-themed movies “Coming Home” and “Casualties of War” to recent use in “Cold Case,” “The Simpsons” and “On the Basis of Sex.”
The Chambers family had 13 siblings — eight boys and five girls. Four of the young men played in the Chambers Brothers band: oldest brother George (born in 1931), Willie (born 1938), Lester (born 1940) and Joe (August 22, 1942)… joined by one non-family member, drummer Brian Keenan.
George Chambers was the biggest holdout in recording their biggest hit, his brother Willie said in an interview with Songfacts published last year. “He didn’t want no part of ‘Time Has Come Today.’ He thought it was silly and ridiculous and every time we were to play he said, ‘We’re not going to do that song, are we?’ We’d say, ‘Yeah. We’re going to do that song every chance we get.’ Man, because all the screaming and all of the carrying on, it was unheard of, especially for black people.”
Asked about the whereabouts of the group members now, Willie said in that 2018 interview, “Well, we do stuff occasionally — my brother Joe and myself. George is semi-retired. He only does his church thing now, which we all started out in, as church people. He’s back doing that now, but he doesn’t do any ‘gig’ gigs anymore. Lester’s in Petaluma and George, Joe and I are right here in L.A. We are close, and we communicate, we talk to each other constantly, except for Lester.” (Lester Chambers had an issue about being due further royalties.)
Three of the Chambers Brothers — Willie, Joe and George — reunited in public performance for the last time at the Grammy Museum in March 2016.