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John Campbell by Jacques Dulac


Son of construction worker, John Campbell was born on January 20th 1953 in Shreveport, Louisiana. He lived part of his childhood with his grand mother who introduced him to lap steel guitar at the age of 3.

Years later, his parents moved to Baton Rouge and finally to East Texas, where he met some musicians. At the age of 13, he already played on the same stages as some of the greatest names of blues: Clarence ��Gatemouth� Brown, Son Seals and Albert Collins.

Car racing and motorcycles became as important in his life as the blues. Still a teenager, he took part in drag racing professionally until a serious accident in which he nearly died. For a moment, he�ll be declared clinically dead. Badly hurt, he�ll survive with severe broken ribs, a lung collapse and the loss of his right eye. His face will be severely hurt, 5000 stitches will be needed to reconstruct it. It will take him almost a year to recuperate from the accident.

During this time, he spends it all alone to re-learn how to play guitar. He develops his own guitar style by learning all the tricks of his three principal influences: Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.

For him, the guitar is the best way to reach his inner feeling, his spirituality and to communicate with his dreams and nightmares.

With the agreement of his parents, he leaves home at the age of 16 to tempt his chance to go to New-Orleans which is for him the �Mecca� of music. He will live there as an itinerant musician playing on the corner of the streets and near of gas stations.

In 1985, he moves to New York City where he�ll get the opportunity to open for some of the greatest names of blues. One night, he plays with John Littlejohn and gets the attention of Ronnie Earl who is impressed by his voice and abilities on guitar. Right after, they start to tour together. Later Ronnie Earl produces his first album �A Man and His Blues� which comes out in spring of 1988 on a small independent record company label, Blue Rock-It Records.

We can hear some well-known bluesmen on the album: Jerry Portnoy who played in the past for Muddy Waters and more recently on Eric Clapton�s album �From the cradle��; on drums Per Hanson (Ronnie Earl and David Maxwell); Darell Nulish on vocals for the song �Judgement day� and finally Ronnie Earl on a few songs. The album won�t be a commercial success but is nominated in 1989 for a W.C. Handy award.

That same year, we can hear him at the Mississippi Delta Blues Festival where he�s revealed to a large audience and later he will be invited to take part to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

While he played in a New York restaurant, Dr. John�s manager sees him and is very impressed by his material and presence on scene. Soon after the meeting, his manager will negotiate (with �A Man and His Blues� copy in hand) a record contract with Elektra.

In 1991, he records his second album, One Believer on Elektra and it�s Dennis Walker who�s well known for his work with Robert Cray who produces the album. The backing band for the album is the Robert Cray Band. The sound of the album is heavier than the first one but we can still recognize the style and phrasings that became his trade mark. We still feel the influence of Lightnin� Hopkins, one of his masters.

The album will be successful but John Campbell won�t change his lifestyle. He keeps on playing in small bars and even in the streets! That same year, he gets married and asks the president of Hell�s Angels local chapter to be his best man. It is blues singer and pianist, Dr. John, who presides at the wedding.

In 1993, he recorded his third album; Howlin� Mercy. It is even heavier sounding and darker than One Believer. With this album, we can hear John Campbell is at his best. �Ain�t Afraid of midnight�; an excellent version of Tom Wait�s �Down in the hole�; Memphis Minnie McCoy�s �When the levee breaks� (popularized by Led Zeppelin in 1971 on the album IV); �A wolf Among the Lambs� and �Saddle Up My Pony� in which he references Robert Johnson�s �Me & the Devil Blues� are the key songs of this solid album.

Critics will acclaim his last effort. That same year, John Campbell starts a new tour in Europe with Buddy Guy.

Due to the accident he had years ago and also to some drug and alcohol abuse, John suffered from poor health. Since that accident, he was afraid of one thing: it was to die in his sleep and that�s the reason why he slept very rarely.

Back from his European tour, he went back in studio to record songs with bass player Tommy Shannon (Stevie Ray Vaughan�s Double Trouble, Arc Angels and Johnny Winter in the early 70�s). The tracks we�re recorded in late 1993 but will be released only years later.

John Campbell died in his sleep in the night of June 13th 1993. He was 41. He left behind his wife Dolly and Paris, their 5 month old daughter. His body was cremated with personal objects and talismans. The funeral service was presided by Dr. John. The urn was transported to his home on a motorcycle followed by a Hell�s Angels procession.

John Campbell exclusively used acoustic guitars like a Gibson Southern Jumbo 1952 on which he add an electric guitar pick-up. Also, he used a 1934�s National Steel, a 40�s Resophonic National and a Fender Super Reverb as amplification.

After years of work, John Campbell was only begining to taste success. He was about to repeat the achievement that Stevie Ray Vaughan did years ago by reviving the blues scene and refreshing the style. John Campbell, it�s a sound, an attitude, a way of life� well �A MAN AND HIS BLUES� that rock and blues fans must discover. - Jacques Dulac



This article was originally published at: http://www.geocities.com/illusionsauditives/johncampbell.html

Copyright � 2003, Thomas Geiger
Revised: December 1, 2003