Two years later he co-founded the rock & roll revival band Dr. Bop & the Headliners, capitalizing on the'50s-era nostalgia in vogue thanks in large part to the hit film American Graffiti. Dr. Bop proved so popular that the band toured nationally, culminating in 1973 with a weeklong tenure at the famed Los Angeles club Whisky a Go Go. During his tenure with Dr. Bob, Ken became fascinated with the Pedal Steel and picked up his his first Sho-Bud in 1974.
Shortly after Dr. Bob broke up in '1978, he joined his first country vehicle, The Horsefeathers Cowboy Band. Horsefeathers earned some buzz via some appearances on Ernest Tubb's Nashville radio show, The Midnite Jamboree.
In 1985 Ken relocated to Chicago, joining the house bands at the legendary honkytonk clubs The Country Music Inn and Nashville North.
As live country music underwent its long decline in Chicago during the 90's, Ken branched out into teaching music, playing weddings and session work. He remained a staple of the annual Buck Owens all-star birthday tributes at Chicago's venerable live music venue, Schubas.
His career took a turn in 1996, when experimental artist and producer Jim O'Rourke invited him to play steel guitar on Smog's Red Apple Falls LP -- from there Champion appeared on three of O'Rourke's solo discs.
In 2001 he joined drummer Mike Reed's roots jazz outfit The Treehouse Project. A fixture on Chicago indie rock sessions throughout the decade, in 2004 Champion also teamed with his former music student Eric Chial in Decoy Prayer Meeting.
He is a regular session player for a wide variety of Independent Chicago musicians and regularly sits in with local favorites like The Hoyle Brothers, etc and etc.
“GREAT player and GREAT teacher. Can't say enough good things about the guy.”
- Mark Ardito (Pedal Steel Player for the Ridgeland Ramblers)
Following is from an Interview of Joel Patterson at http://www.mikeneer.com/lapsteelin/2011/07/12/conversation-with-joel-paterson/
“It was just one of things where I had wandered into a music store in Wisconsin and they had one of those cheap Sho-Bud/Fender beginner models from the ‘70s. I didn’t know anything about it—I just bought it for $500 from this guy and it was like, “Cool, I have a pedal steel!” I had no idea how it works and I wasn’t even into Country. I was a professional guitar player at this point, but I was totally lost on this thing.
Luckily, somebody told me about Ken Champion and I took lessons right away and I’m glad I did. I pretty much went right for lessons because I had no idea how to even set the thing up.
M: That was a pretty smart move—you probably could have done yourself more harm than good, which is what happened to someone like me….
J: That’s what I’d recommend for any steel player really. I was lucky that it was Ken Champion, who isn’t a guy who says, “Just play this…” and teaches you a bunch of hot licks that you can’t digest. He’s a very methodical teacher who started from square one and he wrote out great exercises.”
- Joel Patterson (a widely recognized Rockabilly, Jazz, and Blues guitarist withChicago groups like Devil In A Woodpile, Jimmy Sutton’s Four Charms, Kelly Hogan’s Wooden Leg, and his own Modern Sounds trio. He has toured and recorded with artists like Dave ‘Honey Boy’ Edwards, Wanda Jackson, and Carl ‘Sonny’ Leyland)
“Ken has helped me realize my lifelong dream to learn Pedal Steel. There is no way I would’ve stayed with it this long without Ken’s patient teaching to keep me interested and enthusiastic in learning this crazy, difficult instrument...”
- Mike Stelnicki, amateur Pedal Steeler and 10 year student