You know Chevy Chase as the comedy icon whose act largely involved falling or having things fall on him. And if you’re old enough to remember his short-lived late night show, you also know how unbearable it is to spend an hour with him.
Believe it or not though, he’s actually borderline tolerable across 31 minutes and 13 seconds, which is how long it takes to listen to the one and only album by his psychedelic rock band, Chamaeleon Church. And yes, the band opted to spell ‘chameleon’ like a bunch of college kids on mind-altering substances.
Sparky, Don’t Lose That Number
Long before he found fame as Clark Griswold, Chevy Chase was a drummer. In fact, he originally manned the kit for Leather Canary, a band that included future Steely Dan cranks Walter Becker and Donald Fagan.
An article by Dave Tomisich describes the trio’s performance during a gloomy Halloween Party at Bard College in late ’67, noting that the Leather Canary was “situated on a small stage in the corner, [ripping] through some Rolling Stones and Willie Dixon covers.”
Blues covers aside, Chase would go on to describe the trio as a “bad jazz band.”
The assembly was short-lived. Chase would join the Chamaelon Church on drums and keys that very same year.
California Dreamin’ in Boston
Chamaeleon Church was actually part of a larger commercial endeavor– a notoriously unsuccessful marketing scheme called the Bosstown Sound. The Bosstown Sound was a cynical attempt by MGM executives to recreate San Francisco’s psychedelic scene in the City on the Charles.
Alan Lorber’s Lite-FM Trip
The Church was lumped together with other Boston-area bands of varying talent and credibility, including such poorly-remembered acts as Orpheus and Eden’s Children.
Chamaeleon Church’s self-titled 1968 debut was produced by Alan Lorber. Alan Lorber was a leading architect of lite-psych–a syrupy, family-friendly approximation of psychedelic music.
Lorber was also the brains behind the Bosstown sound.
Chase v. Lorber
Naturally, Boston was far less groovy than the Bay Area. The bands and audiences responded by also being less groovy. That said, the Chamaelon Church is actually slightly better than many of Bosstown’s also-rans.
You can even hear Chevy—allegedly the owner of perfect pitch—singing on this one.
However, according to Wikipedia, Lorber’s stylistic approach included a more muted bass drum sound throughout the record. This production decision infuriated Chase. In fact, the band was collectively displeased by the final product, which they felt was not representative of the harder edge they brought to live performances.
The Bosstown Massacre
The band called it quits after the disappointment of their first record. They were not alone. Boston’s brief moment in the psychedelic spotlight faded faster than a hit of salvia.
By 1969, listeners and critics had widely rejected Bosstown as inauthentic and musically inferior to the profoundly groundbreaking sounds coming from the West Coast.
More than that, the city of Boston lacked any real organic scene. The early part of the decade had seen the emergence of excellent garage and party bands like Barry and the Remains, the Barbarians, and the Hallucinations, the last of whom gradually folded into the J. Geils Band. Still, a shortage of small, local venues stifled the development of any real vibe.
National Lampoon’s Psychedelic Vacation
Though the Bosstown marketing campaign was itself a pretty big failure, this didn’t stop Chase’s former bandmates Tony Sheuren and Ted Myers from subsequently joining one of Bosstown’s more ridiculous outfits, Ultimate Spinach. It’s also noteworthy that the Spinach roster included future Steely Dan man and subsequent Doobie Brother Jeff Baxter.
Not too long after, Sheuren would actually join the staff of the National Lampoon. By 1973, Chase followed suit, helping his old bandmate co-write the National Lampoon spin-off stage show and musical–Lemmings. Here, Sheuren collaborated with Chase and others on an array of rock and roll spoofs sending up the Grateful Dead, Cat Stevens and, as heard below, Bob Dylan.
It was also here that Chase met Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, John Belushi and the rest of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. By 1975, these players became the original cast of NBC Saturday Night (later, Saturday Night Live). Chase was the show’s first breakout star.
The Bosstown Sound
Here’s a sampling from the scene that never was…