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Article: Campbell�s Kingdom by Roger St. Pierre

Blues & Soul, November 12-25, 1991 p 36
By Roger St. Pierre

Bluesman John Campbell is now getting due recognition but it hasn�t always been bright party lights. Roger St. Pierre listens attentively.

Campbell�s Kingdom

Having paid one�s dues is often said to be the most important qualification for blues� authenticity and it�s something that 38-year old John Campbell has certainly done. Most white bluesmen can claim to having roughed it a bit, traveling miles in beaten-up old vans to play badly paid gigs, scuffling around record companies trying to get a deal and so on, but John, in the immortal words of Monty Python�s notorious four Yorkshireman, can truly claim to �have had it really tough.�

He�s spent years as a drifter, thumbing lifts, crashing-out on the floor in other people�s apartments, playing in the streets, at gas stations, pool halls, blues� dives, and wherever for, pennies � �The first number I ever did on a bandstand was John Lee Hooker�s �Hobo Blues� � I guess that song was prophetic.�

�Until now I�ve never owned a piece of furniture or had my own apartment,� he recalls � but now, suddenly, he�s got a major deal with Elektra and things are looking up, with his potent debut album, �One Believer,� already winning a lot of friends.

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1952, John was involved in a serious car accident when he was just 15, losing he right eye and needing major surgery to hold his face together: �I spent a lot of time at home own my own while I was recovering, and that�s when I met the blues.�

v�Black radio introduced me to artists like Howlin� Wolf, Muddy Waters, Lightnin� Hopkins and Leadbelly. I�d been messing around on guitar since my grandmother taught me to play on her Hawaiian lap-steel when I was three and I had playing for money since the age of 13. I liked the sound of the blues, though I didn�t really understand the lyrics at the time, and I decided that was music I wanted to play.�

�During that period, I sort of withdrew into myself and the guitar was the way in which I would try to get in touch with my feelings.�

�I started getting real restless, so I quit school, caught a bus, and started playing on the streets, working my way along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana into Texas.�

Five years ago, a friend convinced John that there was a worthwhile blues scene up in New York, so he made his way north, picking up club slots as an opener for Jimmie Rodgers, Pinetop Perkins and other luminaries, and ending up with a two year stint at Crossroads, a club in the city�s Soho district: �I�d pass the hat around, just like a used to when I played on the streets in Louisiana. We never even advertised, there wasn�t even a stage, but the crowds just grew and grew � and soon they were having to turn people away,� he remembers.

Bigger venues followed and eventually he came to the attention of Elektra. John had never sent any demo tapes anywhere, nor was there any hype � it was all a word-of-mouth recommendation thing.

Though he has spent most of his time playing solo, Elektra put a band together; however, he still plays acoustic on the album. The co-writer and producer was Robert Cray�s producer Dennis Walker. Cray�s pianist, Jimmy Pugh makes an appearance, as does the Joe Ely band�s rhythm section.

While music has dominated his life � he reckons to play for 10 to 12 hours a day � John has had to dabble at other things, just to survive: �I laid pipes one summer to pay for a new guitar. The day I paid it off, I walked off the job. I�ve even sold blood. That gave me 15 dollars. I spent 5 dollars on guitar strings, eight on a bus ticket � and all to earn just five dollars for playing in a beer hall!�

Now, though, he�s at last making real money out of his life�s love, and a UK tour is on prospect with a series of dates announced for the period from 17th through to 24th November, kicking off at London�s esteemed Town and Country Club.

�I actually made it to tour Europe two years ago and played dates in Germany and Belgium, though we didn�t get to the UK. I loved it. I was amazed at how knowledgeable Europeans are about the blues. They know all the songs, the words, who recorded what � and when. I�m sure looking forward to getting back.�

Welcome to stardom J.C. � Roger St. Pierre

Copyright 1991 Blues and Soul

Copyright � 2003, Thomas Geiger
Revised: May 10, 2003