Richard Segovia walks around the music studio basement of his house wearing a grey ball cap with the words “Mayor of the Mission” stitched in red. Every inch of the outside of his house, Casa Bandido, located at the corner of York and 25th streets, is covered in ornate, colorful murals of music stars, including Dr. Tequila, The Prophets and Lester Chambers, whose 79th birthday happens to be today.
Chambers, lead singer of The Chambers Brothers, well-known for its 1968 hit “Time Has Come Today,” is here at Segovia’s house to party, play music and be among friends who want to celebrate his life.
Dozens of people showed up Saturday to pay tribute to the living legend, who would play with a full band later in the afternoon.
Segovia is standing in his backyard, explaining just how big Chambers was in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. “They ended up on The Ed Sullivan Show; they ended up on Johnny Carson,” he says.
“They were a part of the big movement as far as the Haight-Ashbury, the Vietnam War, and Bill Graham, Winterland [Ballroom] — the whole movement of that and all the great things that opened up to start this whole revolution of people of color and funky, Latin beats,” he added.
But life hasn’t been easy for Chambers. He has gone through health issues and periods of housing insecurity, and he has had to face off with big record companies who weren’t paying him fairly for his music. He now lives with his son Dylan and Dylan’s partner in Petaluma in an 800-square-foot apartment.
The fires in Sonoma County have made rent unaffordable, Dylan said, so he’s leveraging this birthday event to raise awareness and money to find a bigger place where his dad can thrive musically. Dylan put a “sparkly, painted” water jug at the dessert table to collect donations. He also shared this page from the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund’s website, where people can donate to an eponymously-named fund benefitting Chambers.
Downstairs in Segovia’s music studio, a recording of Puro Bandido’s “Mission District Blues” played in the background.
“He’s 79 years old and survived all this, and the guy needs some recognition for all the great things he’s done,” Segovia said. “And he’s also on the front of the house because I’ve known Lester Chambers since I was 12 years old.”
At the party, people hovered around Chambers as he sat for pictures with friends and supporters. He rehearsed with his band for six weeks just for today’s performance.
Conversing with fans, many of his age, Chambers is soft-spoken, always smiling. He seems both content and engaged, wearing a black leather vest and a colorful shirt and scarf.
“I’m happy to be 79,” Chambers said. What would he play today? “We got a theme: boogie, boogie, boogie.”