Robbie Chamberlain

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Robbie Chamberlin was the original drummer for Zephyr, a late-'60s psychedelic rock act from Boulder, CO that totally conquered its local scene but flopped nationally. As band history has it, Chamberlin…
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Robbie Chamberlin was the original drummer for Zephyr, a late-'60s psychedelic rock act from Boulder, CO that totally conquered its local scene but flopped nationally. As band history has it, Chamberlin was the only member of the group that wasn't acting like a jerk, so they replaced him. The source of this philosophical wisdom is David Givens, who helped launch Zephyr in 1968, the so-called "Summer of Love", with the help of his wife, singer Candy Givens, guitarist Tommy Bolin, and keyboardist John Faris. These players had all arrived in Boulder around the same time, underscoring the town's new hip mecca status as mostly the concoction of arrivals from out of town. Bolin, who eventually had the most successful career of the bunch as a solo artist and hired gun for the bands Deep Purple and the James Gang, had a combo with Faris called Ethereal Zephyr. The Givens couple had their own group, Brown Sugar, and both of these outfits were playing regularly at local dives, the players barely avoiding bumping into each other.

Finally, these musicians jammed together one night at the notorious Buff Room in the campus business strip known as "The Hill." Faris brought in a drummer known only as Slackjaw, but Chamberlin became the choice once the Givens heard the drummer playing with local country bluesman Otis Taylor at the Denver Folklore Center. The band, now known as Zephyr, was finally together, but Chamberlin was the only member who didn't carry this togetherness to extremes by moving into the group's crash pad on sleazy Canyon Boulevard. Premiering to a standing room only crowd at The Sink, a venue only slightly larger than the kitchen furnishing it was named after, Zephyr soon became the most popular local band of the time with material such as "Cross the River," "Hard Chargin' Woman," and "Sail On." Generally, the group would avoid bar gigs and became synonymous with all-ages alternative events. This included the Ball for Peace series held on the University of Colorado campus in the Glenn Miller ballroom, a large black-and-white photographic blow-up of swing bandleader Miller looking down on all manner of far-out '60s activities.

Local underground radio station KMYR was greatly responsible for expanding Zephyr's potential landing strip by putting the group's first demo tape, produced by local friend Wyndham Hannaway, into heavy rotation. Ironically, the demo wound up sounding much better than any of the group's eventual big-label releases. The tape brought in offers from Atlantic, Columbia, and ABC, with the latter label winning out. Nobody, fan or bandmember alike, was happy with the resulting self-titled album. While it kept its Boulder base in theory, Zephyr was now out on the road almost constantly, sometimes staying for extended periods in cities such as Los Angeles and New York City. Looking back on the documentation from the time, David Givens has said in interviews that Chamberlin is the only player that managed to come across well on the group's debut album, keeping up an energy level despite the producer's misguided recording of dozens of takes. As Givens puts it, Chamberlin ". . .was more mature musically than any of us. As time passed, the rest of us slipped away from our original vision. We started to become rock stars. Robbie didn't, but that left him out and we got frustrated with him." Bolin, an expert at acting like a rock star, had the solution. He brought in one of his friends from South Dakota, Bobby Berge, as a replacement drummer. It is Berge who drums on Going Back to Colorado and all subsequent Zephyr efforts, including a reunion live album cut in 1973, several years after the group had broken up.

With the new drummer, the band became heavier sounding with even more of a focus on Bolin's guitar athletics. This in turn cut into the band's classic tension between the female singer Givens and the previously slightly restrained Bolin soloing. Bolin and Berge, in fact, got the point where they couldn't stand the rest of this Zephyr's musical passengers, starting their own competing band enthusiastically entitled Energy. Givens and Faris rejoined with Chamberlin and started a new band called the B's. Neither group went anywhere, and Chamberlin seems to have been involved mostly with the local music scene after the early '70s. Like the British saxophonist Ronald Chamberlain, the drummer's surname is likely to be listed in credits as either Chamberlin or Chamberlain.