Tom Jans – Champion (1982)

21. March 2016 Updates 7


One of the rarest and most sought-after vinyl records to come out of early 1980s Los Angeles is Tom Jans’ “The Champion”. Up until its recent CD release on Japanese label Pony Canyon, the only way to get to hear this mellow soft rock gem was by way of bootleg CDs – or if you happened to own a copy of the Japanese radio promo vinyl. The album itself was never released commercially on vinyl, as Tom Jans tragically died in the time between the recording and the album’s scheduled release date. This LP was one of mye personal holy grails as a record collector, and I had to pinch myself when I finally got it in the mail from a Japanese eBay seller.

A few years ago, I decided to play the LP on my NAD record player through my Pro Tools rig, do some light remastering, and film the whole session from start to finish with my iPhone. Please go buy the reissued CD if you like the music.

Here’s the article from by Hans Nijs that led to my search – and eventually my nerdy vinyl fetish video:

About 25 years back Tom Jans was as much an artist’s artist as Tom Waits. The larger part of the public knew their names only by reading. Waits’ name was in a kind of hip Apache-style on the sleeve of The Eagles “On the Border” as the writer of OL’55 and Jans’ name was on an Elvis record. He wrote “Loving Arms”, since then covered by just about everyone (I prefer Millie Jackson to the Dixie Chicks here). By the mid-seventies both were solidly anchored on the Westcoast. Remember these are the years TW sang, voluntary or not, alongside Jackson Browne on the Bonnie Raitt-album “Homeplate” and wrote “Tijuana” with Jack “Peaceful Easy Feeling” Tempchin. Waits & Jans must have known each other from this time on. West Hollywood wasn’t bigger than it is now and besides that there was … Bette Midler who seemed to be on friendly terms with both Toms in those days.

Tom Jans started as a more or less conventional folksinger. He made a record together with Mimi Farina (Joan Baez’ sister) and an untitled solo-album for A&M in 1972. At this point Jans got in touch with Lowell George and he started to work with the clan around Little Feat. Two minor masterpieces came from that: “The Eyes of an Only Child” in 1975 and “Dark Blonde” in 1976. What made them special is the original perspective in the songs and their wide scope. Intense love songs are combined with songs that deal with the state of society, the Spanish Franco-regime etc. and it all seems to fit in. What keeps it together is autobiography. In fact the two records seem to be two episodes out of a larger work. This guy was trying to give shape to his life by putting it on records. So when in the Spring of 1977 Jans came to Europe and told his eager interviewers that he rented studio-time to record the next part that summer, a select group of fans couldn’t wait for it’s results. But then it became very silent and after years of waiting the news couldn’t have been worse. In 1984 Jans died, probably in connection with depression & dope although there are also reports he was involved in a car accident shortly before. Bette Midler put up an advertisement to his memory in Billboard in which the lyrics of “My Mother’s Eyes” were printed and that was it. Until “Bone Machine” came out.

The beautiful thing about “Whistle Down The Wind” which is dedicated to Tom Jans is that it fits in Waits’ idiom as much as in that of Jans. Those who know the work of Jans well can actually hear him sing this song. For a long time I thought it must have been written earlier than the rest of Bone Machine (Jans died 8 years before, Kathleen not co-writing, the more conventional style than the rest of the songs) but since I heard Mule Variations I’m not so sure about that anymore.

So much for the history, here’s the mystery:

Once in a while after Jans’ tragic death articles emerged in different magazines with references to a mysterious last record which nobody had actually heard. It’s called “Champion” and it must have been released in the US only in 1982. What is known is who collaborated on the album (the same LA-bunch as on the earlier records, which even opens the possibility that it is in fact a late release of the planned ’77 record) . Well, of course there are (sometimes funny) rumours: Once there was a guy in Tokyo who had a copy but wasn’t in the possession of a recording-machine (we’re talking about Japan here!). There are roadies who had a tape of it but lost it, or they just can’t find it or whatever. The people who actually played on the album don’t react at all or only confirm that they have known Jans and played with him. Why? Well, maybe they think the record is not worth the fuss, a lack of interest in a project that wasn’t too succesful, copyright problems, or simply a story that is too sad to be reminded of. Still, it’s a shame that (the) story is incomplete, so if someone ever comes across …. let it be known….

A few years ago “The Eyes of an Only Child” and “Dark Blonde” were released on CD on Sony Records in Japan. At least in Holland they’re in some cheap import bins.

7 thoughts on “Tom Jans – Champion (1982)”

  • 1
    Morten Hansen on March 21, 2016

    Nå tilgjengelig på CD fra Japan, som du sikkert vet. 😉

  • 2
    Lars-Erik on March 21, 2016

    Absolutt. Jeg vurderte faktisk en liten periode å spore opp rettighetene og gi den ut på CD på mitt eget selskap, men la det fra meg da kontakten min i Japan fortalte at Pony Canyon hadde tenkt å gjøre det i nær framtid.

    Videoen min er fortsatt koselig hvis du vil ha den autentiske vinyl-opplevelsen, da. Snur plata midtveis og allting 🙂

  • 3
    Morten Hansen on March 21, 2016

    Oi, ja, nå ser jeg at du har skrevet en tekst — i går da jeg kommenterte, var det bare videoen som lå ute. Uansett: bra plate, ja. Er svak for “When the Rebel Comes Home”. Og ja, fin vinyl-video! 🙂

    Upåklagelig musikksmak. 😉

  • 4
    Lars-Erik on March 21, 2016

    Hehe, bytta utseende på bloggen og måtte finne ut hvordan video-oppsettet funka før jeg skrev teksten. Moro at du følger med!

  • 5
    Morten Hansen on March 21, 2016

    La meg si det sånn, det er ingen plater på denne siden jeg ikke har. 😉

    Apropos Tom Jans — hvis du liker den stilen, kjenner du kanskje til John Valenti: I Won’t Change også?

  • 6
    Lars-Erik Dahle on March 22, 2016

    Ja, den kjenner jeg godt. Selv om jeg kanskje er mer svak for den deilige Stevie Wonder-vibben i 1976-skiva Anything You Want. I soft rock-stilen har jeg veldig sansen for Harbinger-skiva til Dan Seals.

  • 7
    Morten Hansen on March 23, 2016

    Den er prima, ja! Den to år eldre Stones er heller ikke dum. Og når vi først er inne på Seals-familien: The Longest Road med Seals & Crofts har jeg også veldig sans for. Og i samme slengen: skiva med Leslie, Kelly & John Ford Coley.

    Har en følelse av at vi ikke er rivende uenige her. 😉

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