Pastor Champion

I Just Want To Be a Good Man (Luaka Bop)

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Luaka Bop shares new single/video, “Storm of Life (Stand By Me),” off of the late Pastor Champion’s debut album, I Just Want To Be a Good Man, out this Friday. The accompanying video was filmed live on location in Oakland in 2018, as the album was being recorded analog —  in fact it’s the same version of the song that appears on the record.


In conjunction with today’s announcement, NTS radio featured an hour-long special on Pastor Champion this past Sunday that included original recordings from the sessions. Most recordings are done in layers these days, but this album was recorded with everyone in one room in the 37th Street Baptist Church. The NTS radio special allowed listeners to hear the process, the false starts, the instructions to the other musicians and the takes that ended up on the record.


Pastor Champion was unlike any other pastor you’ve met. As a traveling preacher, carpenter and father of four, he made a name for himself visiting congregations and people’s homes with his electric guitar from San Jose, CA to Shreveport, LA. He traveled alone and played alone, well into his seventies. Not much is known about Champion, except that beloved soul singer Bettye Swann was his sister and confidante – a secret Champion did not share until later.


Luaka Bop began working with Pastor Champion a few years ago after finding a video of him filmed in 37th Street Baptist Church in Oakland, California, set up by their pastor Bishop Dr. W.C. McClinton. In 2018, they decided to make an album together, and record it live on a two-track, all-analog Nagra reel-to-reel in the style of traditional gospel recordings. In the space of just two evenings (once the day’s work was done), Champion taught his band – musicians who had never played together before – a handful of songs that he performed regularly.


What followed were several years of trying to figure out how to move forward – Luaka Bop didn’t know how to get the album done, with early ideas of bringing Champion to New York needing to be scrapped. On top of that Champion refused to be interviewed for the liner notes, saying that he had had a hard life and didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to talk about growing up in Louisiana, his mother being accosted by the Klan, or his father gambling. He didn’t want to talk about being jailed for 90 days for using a whites-only  bathroom, being in gangs or having a street name. Luaka Bop said that was fine, that he could talk about whatever he wanted. And he said he didn’t really want to talk about anything.


As late as this summer, the project was on the verge of being canceled, until they decided to present a raw, and perhaps more honest, album, allowing some of the imperfections to remain. Something special happened with everyone in that room those days that will never be repeated. It wasn’t perfect, but it was honest. Sadly, the album would be released without Pastor Champion himself seeing the light of day: he died following a short illness in late December 2021. What would have been his very first album unfortunately became his only album.


Champion knew this record wouldn’t appeal to everyone. He didn’t care. The important thing for him was simply to get his message across in the same way he always had: by traveling alone with his electric guitar. “I want to say what I think,” he said, “be practical, precise, to the point and, at the same time, diplomatic.” In other words, he just wanted to be a good man.