Shreveport Times, January 13, 1992
By John Andrew Prime
Former Shrevporter: Just returned from a nine-country tour of Europe.
Singer John Campbell hasn't made it to the cover of Rolling Stone, but he's on his way.
Look just a few pages inside the Jan. 23 issue, in the "New Faces" listing. The former Shreveporter is there, looking years wiser than he did when he left this city five years ago to find fame and fortune in the Big Apple.
"I've come face to face with a lot of skeletons in a lot of closets," says the 40-year old player, scheduled to make his first local concert in several years Jan. 16 at the Centenary Oyster House, 1309 Centenary Blvd. The cover will be $4.
One of the skeletons he met in Shreveport, and bested was near death in a car wreck that influenced the course of his life.
"It really messed me up for a while," he says with understatement. "It was the Halloween of '67. I was a reckless kid, hot rodding, and I paid the price." That night, Campbell received "I don't know how many stitches in the first of many operations that kept him out of school a year. He lost one eye, gained a new face that now shows only hairline scars - and lost his innocence.
"I never readjusted to school," he says. "During the period I was on my back, I listened to Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf records and decided that blues guitar was where it was at. I moved Texas, dropped out of school, and started riding the buses and playing the blues."
Oh, how times have changed. Campbell has just returned from a nine-country tour of Europe, promoting his debut release on the prestigious Elektra label, One Believer. The disc, available at local record stores for $15, contains 10 hard, gritty, bruising blues tunes, all but one written by Campbell or in collaboration with Robert Cray's songwriter, Dennis Walker, and fellow guitarist Alexander "Zonder" Kennedy.
Campell was working as opener for Albert King at New York's famed Lone Star Cafe when he was discovered by Elektra Records executive Peter Lubin.
"He just walked up to me, said 'Hello,' and said he wanted me to be on his label," Campbell says.
He couldn't believe his luck. After reaching his late 30s, he'd resigned himself to a career of performing at clubs, with perhaps the chance for production work, such as he'd accomplished in several years with Benson & Hedges' national blues concert tours.
Campbell met up with the Benson & Hedges people through work done at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas. He wound up there in the early 80s following a forced retirement from performance after suffering a lung collapse.
"I had a lot of problems with my health overall," Campbell says. "I couldn't perform, so I did independent study work on blues history at SFA."
One week after performing as an opening act for local rockabilly pioneer Dale Hawkins at his comeback concert at Cowboy's Club and Restaurant, Campbell moved north.
He stays in touch with friends in Shreveport, including Tom Ayres, who booked him at Cowboys years ago and arranged his show at the Oyster House.
"I like to work with Tom," he says. "He's an old pro and he's always dignified musicians in a way few promoters do. He's one of a kind."
Both before and after his Shreveport show, Campbell will tour with bluesman Buddy Guy. Friday, they will be in New Orleans. Touring Europe involved in 110 performances over 121 days, and this will hardly be less grueling. After New Orleans, the tour leads to Dallas, Houston and Austin, then back into Louisiana for a stop at Enoch's, a Cafe in Monroe. After that: Arkansas.
"Then I'll hook up with Johnny Winter and do a couple of weeks through Georgia and North Carolina, then up into New Jersey and back to Europe," he says.
It's been a long, hard road. The scars on Campbell's face aren't only from the terrible agony of a teen-ager's brush with death on a Lousiana highway.
"The way I look at it, hindsight is 20-20," he says. "If it wasn't for the bad times, we wouldn't appreciate the good times. I can't advise anyone to follow me, but it was the path I chose. I've had fun since the first day I played guitar. These ol' guitars have brought me a long way." - John Andrew Prime
Copyright 1992 Shreveport Times