And, yes, Springsteen put out The River in 1980. But that was a double-album, mid-career move that never would have been possible without Born to Run in 1975. Is it possible popular culture had passed Bill Chinnock by before he could put out the album that would have popular culture embrace him? He released Badlands in 1978, but that came with controversy that he’d stolen the title from Springsteen. Nothing ever quite added up for Chinnock. Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum, called him the unluckiest musician he ever knew.
But how many hard-luck Chinnocks are there out there? Dozens? Thousands? Probably closer to the former. I’ve listened to well over 500 local records and I can assure you that you don’t hear talent like Chinnock’s just kicking around the scene, never seeming to get a break. His kind of charisma and drive truly are rare. A song like “Ironbound,” where Chinnock brings a powerful soul sound, full of Rhodes and big horns, these things don’t just happen every day. While I’d much rather a big all-stop finish instead of the weak-kneed fade-out, pulling off that sort of gritty Steely Dan, singing about “the bloody streets,” is damn near impossible without huge, and real, talent.
It’s great, too, that the re-release includes a selection of tracks from a 2003 show at Asbury Park’s Stone Pony. Chinnock still had the chops. While I think he’d mellowed, and started writing songs like a born-again instead of a badass, he never lost his touch for connecting with the listener, turning every performance into the most important show he’d ever played.
This weekend, some folks who loved Bill will get together at the Empire and try to bang out something worthy — including some of those Asbury Park types who knew him way back when. If they get close to doing him justice, it’s going to be a hell of a show.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at email@example.com.
DIME STORE HEROES | Re-released by Bill Chinnock | with Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez + the Bill Chinnock Touring Band + Marion Grace + This Way + the Lucid + Sly Chi + the WBLM Band | at the Empire, in Portland | www.billchinnock.com