Pastor Champion was a badass.
A preacher, a pastor, an outsider gospel singer, who was raised in the Jim Crow South. He fled to California where he joined a gang before becoming born again, spending the rest of his days traveling with his electric guitar to congregations and people’s homes from San Jose to Shreveport.
Pastor Champion died just this past month, but in 2018 we got to make an album with him. We recorded it analog, like the gospel records we love, on location, Alan Lomax style, in the 37th Street Baptist Church in Oakland, California.
We’ll tell you the whole long story of how this record came to be, but first we want to tell you how excited we are that today Pastor Champion’s music is ready to share with the world. You can hear the title track from his debut album, I Just Want To Be a Good Man, and pre-order your copy. The LP and CD edition features photos from our recording together in Oakland, and yes, it ships in time.
When we were getting ready to release our compilation The Time For Peace Is Now: Gospel Music About Us, we spent much time looking for spiritual music happening in different places of the country.
We found Pastor Wiley Champion in a collection of videos from the 37th Street Baptist Church in Oakland, California. The pastor there, Bishop Dr. W.C. McClinton, had for years been running an online TV station, sharing videos of everyone who came through the church to perform. There was quite a lot of talent there, and among them was Pastor Champion whom we liked so much that we decided to make a record with him.
At 6 pm, a handful of people show’d up along with a keyboard player and Champion’s son Samuel who sat in on drums. At some point a sax player showed up as well. We recorded a few takes of each song over two evenings with these musicians who had never played together before, getting more familiar with the material and each other over time. At the end of the recording session, we mentioned to Champion that we would have someone interview him to write notes for the album. He didn’t seem too pleased with this idea, saying he’d had a hard life and he didn’t want to talk about it.
We filmed some of it and took pictures of Champion and went back to NYC.
Over the next few months we kept asking Champion to talk to our writer about his life. He told us he didn’t want to talk about growing up in Louisiana, his mother being accosted by the Klan, or about his father’s gambling. He didn’t want to talk about being jailed for 90 days for using a “whites-only” bathroom, being in gangs or having a street name. We said fine talk about what you want to talk about. And he said well I don’t really want to talk about anything.
Unfortunately those conversations ended as Pastor Champion died in the last month of 2021. So we have this album as a remembrance of him. It’s quite a different record for us, almost Alan Lomaxian in feel, that is if Alan Lomax recorded outsider, soul gospel artists who played electric guitar.
You know there are times making a record where it’s made in your mind before you start. And then in the end, the record you thought you were making is not the record you made. We still might not know a whole lot about Pastor Champion, but I Just Want To Be a Good Man speaks for itself.