Chinnock of the North

The re-release of Dime Store Heroes , and a look back
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  April 21, 2010

30 YEARS AGO Bill Chinnock, in 1980.

How did I not know that Bill Chinnock was Dick Curless’s son in law? With all I’ve heard about him, all the research I did when I reviewed his final release, Livin’ in the Promised Land, back in 2004, somehow that nugget slipped right by me.

It’s only fitting, though. While he wound up with a pretty low profile for a guy trying to be famous, Chinnock doesn’t seem to have been able to do anything half-way. Listening for the first time to his 1980 Atlantic Records release Dime Store Heroes, re-released this week to help the family he left behind when he died in 2007 at 59, it’s pretty hard not to be blown away. This record is HUGE. Full of punishing R&B-fueled rock, with Funkadelic references and the kind of gospel flavor that can make a song a religious experience, it’s an album that tears at your guts with incredible authenticity.

When this guy sings about drinking Muscatel or mixing Robitussin and Thunderbird wine, it’s clearly from experience. You can’t fake soul like this. His voice has so much body, his delivery is so big, it’s no wonder the guy had a reputation for owning every room he ever played.

If you get a chance, make sure you grab one of the limited number of discs that come with a retrospective DVD. While it’s not the best piece of filmmaking you’ll ever come across, the people interviewed — like E-Streeters Garry Tallent and Vini Lopez — have so much admiration for Chinnock that the relatively mundane stories they tell have you hanging on their every word. Who cares, really, why Bruce Springsteen became the Boss and Chinnock never got beyond best-kept-secret status? Shit happens. But these aren’t nobodies saying things like, “When he was on stage there was nobody better. Ever.”

That’s from keyboardist Harry King. Back-up singer Janice Pendarvis put it this way: “When I got the call [that Chinnock had killed himself], I was devastated. There just isn’t anything else. There isn’t any other experience musically that’s like the experience you had when you worked with Bill. He was one of a kind.”

How can recorded music convey sentiment like that? It can’t, obviously. But this remastered version of Heroes, 30 years and one Adam Ayan polish later, puts Chinnock’s vocals front and center — and it’s definitely a voice you can live inside. He’s warm like Joe Cocker, but with half the rasp and twice the body. He’s a bandleader like Ike Turner, in total command. You do wonder, though, whether this was all a little out of place in 1980. This record sounds as classic as anything Blind Faith or Traffic or the Boss put out, but maybe seven to 15 years prior. Here are other records from 1980: Pink Floyd’s The Wall; Joy Division’s Closer; the Pretenders’ debut album; the Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta; the Clash’s London Calling; AC/DC’s Back in Black.

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