Over the weekend, Lester Chambers, of the famous Chambers Brothers Band that preached love and peace throughout the 1960s and 1970s, was assaulted while on stage at the Russell City Hayward Blues Festival after dedicating the Brothers’ famous “People Get Ready” to Trayvon Martin while the jury continued deliberations in Florida. As the country is struggling to make sense of the greater tensions of race, money and politics that have boiled to the surface as a result of the shooting death of Martin and subsequent trial of his killer, George Zimmerman, Chambers recovers at home, struggling to make sense of the violence that recently overturned his world. Yet true to the message that the seventy-three year old musician has been preaching for decades, violence may be the question, but he continues to believe that that love is the answer.
“Right now I’m just very scared.” Chambers told American Blues Scene Magazine earlier today during a conversation with the influential hit maker and his son, Dylan Chambers. Lester was visibly exhausted, speaking in a raspy voice while nursing bruised ribs, “soreness all over”, and nerve damage. “It took up to eight people to restrain this woman,” his son Dylan said, a sense of adrenaline for his father in his voice while recalling what had happened over the weekend, “and get her off of dad and off of the stage to the police officers.”
Keri Solorio, a photographer for the Silicon Valley Blues Society, was by the stage when the events took place. “This happened about 2 or 3 songs into the set,” she recalled the horror that the crowd, which she estimates was around five hundred, witnessed as an event that often brings harmony and enjoyment suddenly and chaotically turned terrifying. “We heard the sound of a microphone dropping and that got our attention. We turned and looked and all of the sudden, all I see are arms flailing. Then she pushed him into the drumset… with the microphone stand, and that’s what knocked him out. He was out for about 10 minutes. And she was throwing mic stands at him too. Security said she was strong like a man. It took 3 of them to get her down.”
With some amount of disbelief still in her voice, she adds, “who attacks a seventy-three year old man?”
“I could see death metal or punk or mosh pit things… they’re expecting that when you go there,” the younger Chambers laments. “With a blues band singing peace and love (and a family affair)… you’d think she’d just want to hop up there to hug him, but nope. She wants to tackle him and beat him up and go crazy…” Lester adds, “Especially at a blues festival, you know? Nobody can imagine this happening at a blues festival. Blues is so close to gospel…”
The Chambers Brothers were a landmark band in the 1960s. During the time of widespread segregation and social upheaval, a rare mixed-race group made up the Brothers, who fused gospel and the blues into a psychedelic rock act that touched lives and reached #11 on the Billboard charts. “You know, when you think about making it through all the years of Martin Luther King, and the race riots…” Lester began as he spoke about living during the boiling racial tension of the era. The trial of George Zimmerman over the shooting death of an unarmed Trayvon Martin in Florida has brought a number of racial, social, and political tensions to the surface, with many recalling the social upheavals of the past. “You think of all of those shows we did and we never had nothing. Everybody always really protected the Chambers Brothers because we brought good spirit, we brought good words, we brought good meaning to their coming. And everybody left happy. We always made people happy.” He struggles to express words to make sense of the attack. “And like I said… this is… it just bamboozled to me. I don’t know what to do now.”
“Dad is such a sweet, positive role model…” With kindness and reverence, Dylan talks of his father’s life and legacy. “Every song that the chambers brothers did is about peace and happiness: Let’s get together, lets love one another, let’s change the world. Let’s be socially conscious. They were just huge back in the day as breaking the color barrier. They were one of the first interracial rock groups out there… So everybody that knows them, can’t think anything but positive of it. The best reaction could be: don’t hurt nobody anymore man.”
Lester saves his energy as he talks slowly about his feelings of not wanting to perform any more after the attack, and the nightmares he’s always had about things going wrong on stage, though he’s quick to add that this is one nightmare he never expected — but is now haunted by. Just minutes before the attack, Chambers recalls a touching moment that he clearly savors and continues to look towards as a ray of hope. “This gentleman came up to the stage on Saturday and he told me, he says, ‘man I have to hug you and just tell you when I was in the military and I got hurt and was laid up, the only joy I had was the Chambers Brothers, Janis Joplin, and sometimes, a lot of Jimi Hendrix… we were all laid up in the hospital every day and couldn’t wait to hear these songs.'”
“I made it through all the wars and here I am laid up because I’m trying to spread peace and love and joy, you know? I just want everybody… I wish one day we could just have everybody happy together. Everybody that wants to be happy and share love and joy at the same place, at the same time, you know?” It’s a message he’s sang about on stages and records for some fifty years — though one he’s still struggling and fighting to be paid fairly for.
For a man that has never stopped professing the goodness inside of people, Chambers has experienced more than a normal person’s shares of hard times. Describing the pain, the singer is elegant and brief: “It hurts to hurt!” Uninsured, he suffered health problems and for some time, he was homeless and living in a rehearsal studio until Yoko Ono paid for a place for him to live. In 2012, he made waves during the height of the 99% movement with a picture of a gold record and a hand written note discussing how he was never paid the royalties he was due by his record label, and as a result, was struggling to survive. “Considering the fact that I battled through cancer three times in my life, this is really a knockout,” Lester says of his recent assault. “I haven’t had a confrontation of that kind since I was fifteen years old.”
But true to his longstanding message, goodness continued to prevail. Not long after his gold record picture, Chambers and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian launched a Kickstarter campaign to help the singer create his first album in over 40 years. They were trying to raise $39,000. They raised over $60,000 with the support of over 2,000 backers. The new album, which is due out before the end of July, has some lyrics that are more poignant than ever. In a voice reminiscent of a weary Louis Armstrong, Chambers draws strength to sing the opening lyrics to his upcoming CD in a soft spoken way. “On my new album that’s being printed up right now, the first song on there [begins], ‘are you ready people? Are you ready for a brand new move? Are you ready for a brand new groove? Are you ready when you go walking down the street. Are you ready for the people you’ve got to meet? Yes. I’m ready for your love.'”
“Anyway, all I got is love. And I an’t gonna let nobody every deter me from keepin’ on loving. That’s all I can do. That’s all I got.”
Lester is an uninsured musician, and after being rushed to the hospital following his assault, faces mounting medical bills and a challenging recovery. To help contribute to Lester’s medical bills, a tax-deductable donation can easily be given to the Sweet Relief Musician’s Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization, that will directly benefit Chambers.
Donations can easily be made online here: https://www.sweetrelief.org/donate/general-fund/, please add ‘Sweet Relief Lester Chambers Fund’ as the dedication.
Donations can also be mailed to the address below, (checks can be made out to ‘Sweet Relief Lester Chambers Fund’):
SWEET RELIEF LESTER CHAMBERS FUND
2601 E. Chapman Ave., Suite 204