Exclusive Premiere: Lester Chambers and Moonalice Make Beautiful Harmony on New Song, “Let’s Get Funky”

Growing up in Mississippi, the son of sharecroppers, Lester Chambers used to love to hear his voice in harmony. What’s more, he loved hearing that harmony echo. Today, the 81-year-old frontman for the Bay Area-based band Moonalice looks back on those early years fondly. It was the time when his dream began—a dream that’s continued through today, into his ninth decade. In this way, Chambers’ voice has been echoing in real-time as long as anybody’s in music history. And that career continues with Moonalice’s latest single, “Let’s Get Funky,” a song Chambers first began to write some 50 years ago and one that American Songwriter is premiering today in its latest form.

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“When I wrote that song,” Chambers tells American Songwriter, “it was about memories of sitting in the living room and watching my mom and dad cook. The beginning of ‘Let’s Get Funky’ came right there.” Chambers begins to sing the song’s first line, Mama’s in her kitchen stirring pot. Daddy’s sittin’ there waiting, he wants to see what she’s got.

As a kid, Chambers says he discovered music around six years old. He remembers listening to the Grand Ole Opry as a young person while in Mississippi. It was then that he made up his mind that he, too, would be a singer.

“I was always impressed with great harmonies,” he says. “They just always pulled me right in.”

In the fields of Mississippi, Chambers would “just holler sometimes.” Doing so, he says, you could sometimes hear the sound come back to you, three or four times. He would sing, harmonizing with his sisters and brothers. Together they got so good that people in the neighborhood would find them and ask if they’d sing some songs at evening get-togethers. This was before telephones and the neighbors would “holler” up to Chambers and his siblings.

“We’d say ‘okay!’” Chambers says. “And then you’d hear it go back ‘Okay-kay-kay-kay-kay.”

It was then he knew exactly what he was going to do with his life, Chambers says. But his practice of songwriting—like so many before and after him—came when he laid eyes on a “pretty girl.” Upon seeing the beauty, he went to his father who told him he had to write her a poem. So, that’s what Chambers did. He was around 12 years old at the time, and he’s been writing ever since. His work has taken him all over the country, from Mississippi to Los Angeles to Connecticut and back to L.A. Now, he lives in the Bay Area and performs with Moonalice, a band that formed in 2007 and has embraced both Chambers and his son Dylan.

“Moonalice, to me,” says Chambers of the big 10-piece band, “is a blessing that I’ve been looking for forever. My son Dylan and I are so fortunate and blessed that [Moonalice founder] Roger [McNamee] heard our voices and liked us.”

Decades ago, Chambers was part of the band The Chambers Brothers. That group had a few hit songs, including the track “Time Has Come Today.” It was in The Chambers Brothers that Chambers had begun to write the song “Let’s Get Funky.” In that band, too, he also experienced a number of difficult times. Chambers’ brother George played washtub bass and he played harmonica. Willie Chambers played guitar. But despite the band’s success, Chambers has said they never got proper royalty payments for some 25-30 years. Later in life, in 2003, Chambers’ home was robbed and his record collection stolen. He became homeless until Yoko Ono paid to rent a home for him and Dylan. In 2013, Chambers was assaulted while on stage after dedicating a performance of the song “People Get Ready” to the fallen Trayvon Martin. More recently, The Chambers Brothers were featured in The Roots’ drummer Questlove’s hit documentary, Summer of Soul.

“Time has come,” Chambers says now, “for a new beginning and new everything. And Moonalice is providing everything that one could look for in a new life.”

Before joining the band, Chambers says he was “sorta sitting around waiting on something to do” when he got a phone call one day. It was McNamee on the other end, asking if he’d like to sing in the band, which had already earned some fame for its hit, “It’s 4:20 Somewhere.” When he got the offer, Chambers says, he replied with an “Oh, God, yes!” But there was one caveat: his son had to be part of the group, too. He needed his son by his side, given his age. To which McNamee responded with a resounding yes. Now, Chambers gets to sing in cities all over.

“It feels greater than anything you could imagine,” he says. “And my voice has not changed. I’m so fortunate and blessed to still have the same voice, to still be able to sing the same notes and still be able to sing the same songs in the keys with Moonalice that I did with The Chambers Brothers.”

Looking to the future, now that the band’s latest single is out in the world, the group is poised to release its forthcoming EP, Full Moonalice Vol. 1, on April 20, with a tour likely set to follow. And all of that is just fine with Chambers. Just as his voice would come back to him as a boy in Mississippi, his career has come back-ack-ack-ack again.

“The only thing in my mind and my world and my life is Moonalice,” he says. “That whole organization that I work with now is just incredible. It’s the most amazing and blessed thing that could ever have happened to someone my age.”

Thank goodness for music, he says. That and his positive, indelible attitude.

“I love the fact,” Chambers says, “that it’s joyful. It’s expressive and you get happy. I love playing with my son more than anything. Walking on the stage, which I do now every time with my son, I have to thank God. How could you have blessed me so well as you did?”

Photo courtesy Shore Fire Media

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