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1st Annual Bones and Blues Reunion in Baton Rouge, LA

The John Campbell Yahoo Group Gathers to Celibrate the Late Great John Campbell

This is just a quick recap of the First Annual Bones and Blues Reunion. I really want to thank Jerry Sue Sutton Campbell Muniz and Darrell Sage (aka “Captain D.”) for the great idea to have a Yahoo get together to remember the late great John Campbell. I started the group primarily to enable me to spread news about John, the website and my book project. I never dreamed it would take on a life of its own. Since its inception in June the group has grown to about 40 members – with a strong core of 10-12 posters who keep the group alive and continue to make things interesting. This first annual reunion was something that started as an idea on the yahoo group and took off from there. Jerry Sue and Captain D. researched the area, picked out the hotel, planned the events, and coordinated our night with John’s father and stepmother. Without their labor of love – the reunion would probably never have happened. Thank you Darrell and Jerry for making the weekend a terrific success.

I must also say that I was the last one to arrive at the Marriott Hotel. Tim Delaney and I drove up from Corpus Christi that morning. We left at 9:30 AM thinking that we had plenty of time to spare. We took it easy and planned on arriving at around 6:30PM. Unfortunately, the best laid plans are usually the easiest to derail. We hit heavy traffic around Lake Charles and then came to an almost dead stop on I-10 for over an hour about an hour west of Baton Rouge. Tim and I had walkie-talkies and we were able to talk back and forth throughout the trip and they became useful as we sat in traffic – waiting for things to get going. Getting to the hotel wasn’t easy. We got turned around down town when we took a premature exit and couldn’t find a on-ramp back to I-10. But, things eventually sorted themselves out. When we finally got to the hotel – everyone else had already arrived.

Jerry Sue flew into Baton Rouge that afternoon – as did Captain D., Fabio, and Satch. Dan Asher drove from Atlanta and Dan Garner drove down from Shreveport. When I arrived most of the group was in the lobby waiting. Atlanta Dan was at the bar getting a head start. Louisiana Dan was bringing in stuff and goodies for the get together later.

Soon we were off to Swamp Mamas for some authentic blues music and good food (or so we thought.) We took three cars – and with my luck – the group I was in got lost in Baton Rouge trying to find the place. (At this point, I was seriously thinking that I was cursed or something.) As a result, Satch, Louisiana Dan, and I were the last to arrive at Swamp Mamas. A couple of things about Swamp Mamas: 1) When we arrived the place was very crowded. The band had started playing and they were very loud. The only place to sit was right up front – with the amps blasting us. 2) The waitresses and staff were more interested in serving drinks then anything else. I was pretty hungry, but they never offered me a menu or asked me for a drink order. Louisiana Dan flagged one down and I was able to get something to drink….oh well. By the time, food came for Captain D., Dan, Jerry, Fabio and Tim – I realized that it was probably too late to order anything anyway. And besides, the damn music was so loud – I could barely think. There was very little room to move, and I didn’t enjoy it all that much. I was sitting next to Tim and even leaning over and shouting into his ear – we could barely communicate. We toasted John several times and we tried to enjoy ourselves. But, I think the urge to talk and interact was too strong. At one point, we resorted to writing notes on a menu and passing them around to the other members of the table. It was wild.

The band that was playing was not that bad, but to be honest I don’t remember their name. They were solid musicians and when I talked to the bass player outside during a break – he said that he remembered meeting John Campbell in the early or late 1970s. He gets good marks for that. But, I think everyone was a little restless. It just didn’t feel right. At this point, Louisiana Dan suggested that we go to Tabby’s. Tabby’s is pretty much the classic definition of a blues bar. Atlanta Dan was skeptical. I was downright against it – I just wanted to get some rest at this point. But, everyone else was game – so we decided to drop by. Boy, am I glad that we did. Louisiana Dan was on the money. This place was the real deal. Tabby’s is an authentic blues place with real blues music and real down home atmosphere. Nothing against Swamp Mamas, but it was definitely a little too high brow, a little too white, and too damn loud for my taste. I overheard someone saying that Tabby’s was the kind of place that John would hang out. From what I have learned about John I would have to agree.

Like I said, at first I was pretty hesitant to go. I sat off to the side a bit and decided to just soak it in. Dan had offered me a piece of pizza at Swamp Mamas – and I greedily ate it. So I wasn’t starving. Tabby’s had free beer and great jambalaya (or so I am told – I don’t drink anymore and stopped eating anything spicy along time ago.) The music was loud but not oppressively so. You could talk to someone right next to you if you wanted. But, you couldn’t have an in depth conversation. The walls still rattled when the band was playing. Anyway, I think everyone saw it immediately as a step in the right direction. I at least was willing to give the band a chance and try to relax.

Tabby usually plays. But, Louisiana Dan mentioned that Tabby was ill so they had a guest guitar player and singer for the night. His name was John Lisi – and he was damn good. John Lisi played great Chicago blues – ala Muddy, then pulled out his National and did some rocking slide. He did it all. After a few free beers our little group was getting into the music, and I was starting to enjoy it myself. John Lisi has this easy going rapport with the audience that is infectious. Fabio and Atlanta Dan were yelling song requests and getting vocal, Tim and Satch were admiring his guitar work, and Jerry, Captain D, Louisiana Dan and I were just grooving with the great music. We all were having a great time. What was incredible about it all – is that the place was relatively empty! There may have been a total of 10 other patrons in the bar. Maybe they bagged off when they heard that Tabby was a no-show. Maybe it is always that intimate. I don’t know. The only thing I can say is that they missed a helluva show, because John Lisi can flat out play the guitar. I asked for a Stevie Ray tune and he played “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I asked for some Lightnin Hopkins and he played “Baby Please Don’t Go.” He played for what must have been an hour and a half after we got there – and would still be playing if the owner didn’t call the curtain. John Lisi was cool, too and he said he had a few John Campbell CDs. That is good enough in my book. The only thing is that he never played “Boogie Chillen” by John Lee Hooker. That would have been awesome.

After the show, our entire group went up to the stage and talked with John. He pulled out his CD box and several of us bought both of his CDs. He was also nice enough to stand in for a group picture. John Lisi was the perfect ending to a great night. My ears were ringing and I still had a headache, but damn I got to hear some really good blues – at a real blues bar – played by a guy who seemed to be very schooled in the same kind of music that John Campbell played. I am not going to compare them. No one can touch John Campbell in my book, but John Lisi is cut from the same cloth. He’s on my radar now, and I will be very interested to see what happens with his career. Talent doesn’t always guarantee success – I think you need some luck mixed in too. I hope John Lisi gets his fair share.

Bones and Blues at Tabby's with John Lisi

Pictured (left to right): Back Row: Tim Delaney, King Solomon, Larry Garner's bass player, "Louisiana Dan" Garner, Tom Geiger, and John Lisi. Front Row: Tabby's Son, Wiseblood Fabio, "Atlanta Dan" Asher, Jack "Satch" Haupt, Darrell "Captain D." Sage, and Jerry Sue Sutton Campbell Muniz.

The real fun started as we were walking out of Tabby’s. We broke up into our groups of two or three and started walking for our cars. The streets of Baton Rouge seemed to be pretty much deserted. Louisiana Dan, Satch and I headed one direction and Fabio, Captain D and the others went in the other. Louisiana Dan befriended a guy who was a photographer and we got delayed abit heading to the car as they talked. It’s a good thing, because the next thing I knew – Fabio was yelling, “Where’s Tim?” In the hubbub after the show, we had filed out of Tabby’s and never did a head count. Tim was talking to the owner and they were making him some special jambalaya to go. He never saw us leave. When he emerged from Tabby’s – I am sure he must have been thinking WTF? Where did everybody go? Satch and Fabio took off on foot and Louisiana Dan and I got in LD’s minivan and started driving around the area. A few minutes later we hooked up with Fabio and news that Tim had been discovered outside Tabby’s was greatly appreciated by all. It had been a long night. When we got back to the hotel, I headed straight for bed. I am not sure if the rest of the yahoos continued the party, but I was beat.

The next morning – I beat it down to the hotel restaurant to get some breakfast. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Captain D and Jerry were already seated – so I asked if I could join them. The Marriott has a great buffet and I loaded up my plate several times. We were still excited about Tabby’s and telling the story of losing Tim after the show. Soon, more yahoos started to arrive. First, Satch joined us then Fabio and Tim and then finally Louisiana Dan. We sat there for a couple of hours talking about John and I related to them the places I had visited on my way to Baton Rouge. I told Jerry and Captain D that Bill has a copy of “Street Suite” – John’s 8-track solo release on Sync Records in 1975. Tim mentioned that he had planned on getting his 8-track tape of Junction converted to CD – but had run into problems. I am not sure what condition Bill’s 8-track tape is in. But, at least, we know that one still exists! Hopefully, we can convince Bill to let a professional convert it!

Soon it was lunch time! As each yahoo had arrived we made room and scooted our chairs aside for them. At the beginning it was a table for four. Now seven yahoos were sitting around the table enjoying good conversation, good stories, and renewing old friendships. Louisiana Dan suggested that we go downtown to a place called Chimes for lunch – so we loaded up the cars and headed that direction. Interestingly, Atlanta Dan was a no-show. He bypassed the hotel restaurant when he decided to eat breakfast and missed us entirely. We caught up with him after Chimes.

Chimes was very crowded and there was a long wait, but we didn’t mind. We stood outside the restaurant for about an hour before being seated. The time standing gave us more opportunity to talk and the time flew by. Nobody seemed bothered at all about waiting. From my perspective, the food at Chimes was excellent – but then again I stayed with a traditional hamburger – no hot stuff for me. I think everybody else was getting gumbo or other regional dishes. IT just so happened that LSU was having their National Championship Parade that day, so there were lots of purple and yellow T-shirts, signs, etc. For the most part, the entire community seemed to be happy. The only annoying thing about the LSU deal is that they covered all the street signs with “Tiger Way.” The night before when we found ourselves lost downtown at the corner of Tiger Way and Tiger Way – we were no so amused. But, that ordeal was long forgotten by now.

When we returned to the Marriott – we hooked back up with Atlanta Dan. Jerry Sue had rented one of the Corporate rooms on the 20th floor (so exclusive that it required a room key to select the floor in the elevator.) So, we went up there to check it out. The first time I went up there – I went up to the 17th floor, then climbed the steps to the 18th floor hoping to trick the elevator. It didn’t work – so I took the steps all the way to the 20th floor. Louisiana Dan just pressed the button and got an elevator ride. (It seems that one of the elevators was not so discriminating.) Fabio and Louisiana Dan were going to play guitars so I followed them down to LD’s room where Dan had two beautiful Seagull guitars. Dan played a few of his songs for us in an open C tuning that was really quite cool. He let me play around with it some, too. [Just an aside here, but Louisiana Dan is one hell of a songwriter. I hope you record a few of those songs.]

Soon it was time to go to the church where John’s ashes are kept. Jerry Sue had arranged with John Sr. and Ellen Campbell to allow us to visit John’s resting place after the Saturday Church service. We got there a little late, but John Sr. and Ellen were waiting on us. They really looked happy to see us. John Sr. gave Jerry a great big hug and seeing that – I really felt welcomed. When we filed into the church – the service had already started. We sat in the back with John and Ellen. I guess it was nice. It was your standard Episcopal service. [There was, of course, lots of stand up, sit down, kneel, and call and response. But, I don’t think anybody minded.] I thought that I might be uncomfortable. But, I wasn’t. I had been baptized a Catholic after birth, converted and re-baptized in a Baptist church in my teens, and then later in my twenties I had become a member of a charismatic church. Today – I am not anything. I guess John Campbell’s music is the closest thing I have to a religion. So as I entered the church I imagined that the walls might start shaking and that the holy water might start boiling as the minute I walked in. In the end, all was well.

When the service was over, John Sr. lead us to the front of the church where the boxes are kept that contain the ashes of friends and relatives. John Sr. showed us John’s box. It was pretty solemn. I took a picture. Then in the parking lot, Dan handed Fabio his guitar and Fabio played “One Believer” – while Dan filmed it. It was a touching moment.

At that point, we were invited to visit John Sr. and Ellen at their home. This was perhaps the most pleasant part of my entire week of traveling (with the possible exception of meeting John’s brother Bill a couple of days earlier – that was special, too.) John Sr. and Ellen really went to great lengths to make us feel welcome. They pulled out old photos of John, played his music for us, and showed us a video of John that Elektra had put together after his death. I think I almost went insane there for a moment. I went into John Campbell overload. They had set aside a box with posters, written letters and testimonials from John’s friends and fans, photos, etc. You name it – it was there. My heart started beating rapidly, I started sweating and I lost all connection to the room and anybody in it. I sat down on the couch with this absolute treasure and clearly lost my mind. I don’t know how long I sat there enthralled with the contents of the box – it really was an amazing collection of John Campbell material, but I snapped out of it and realized that there were 7 equally interested people waiting to look through the box. I had to force myself to get up. And as soon as I did – others took their turn looking through the box. I apologize to anyone who might have interacted with me during this period. I was totally lost and oblivious. Who knows what I said. I felt like a heroin addict who had just found a secret stash – the mother lode of all secret stashes – and I think I was having a little difficulty sharing.

Ellen really prepared an awesome meal. The fried chicken pieces were extraordinary. I couldn’t get enough. The salmon dip was incredible. I think for a while I got lost in the kitchen – because I zoned out again – and it seemed like half the chicken disappeared between blinks. I hope I didn’t make too much of a pig of myself. Then Ellen brought out a huge baked ham. The ham was better than the chicken. I know there were side dishes and they were good, too. But, all I wanted was the ham. I was like a damn junkie again. John Sr. and Ellen were both very gracious and loving to us. I talked with them both as they mingled amongst the rest of the yahoos and I kept saying to myself – “This is perfect.” It was a weird feeling. I can’t remember feeling that happy or content in a really long time. There was something so satisfying about that moment.

John Sr. put on the Elektra tape and everybody gathered around the TV to watch John. It was incredible. There were three concerts on the tape and they showed the development and changes in John as an artist and the development and changes in his persona, too. The first part was really short – two songs I think. Straight country blues – filmed at a blues bar in New York called Under Acme. John was grinning and enjoying himself. He was really into the music – which was very reminiscent of his work on A Man And His Blues. The next segment was five songs from John at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. I remember the look on Satch’s face. He said, “John played at the Montreaux Jazz Festival?” He was amazed. He said only the best get a chance to play there. Only the elite of the elite – and he was right. The last section – was the raw footage from the Milano TV special. This tape showed the uncut live performances! I have seen parts of both the Montreaux show and the Milan show on Bootlegs – but they were nothing like this. The quality was excellent and they looked relatively complete. ON the Milano tape John was at his peek and he played songs from Howlin Mercy. Those songs still get me. I know that John was one helluva country blues picker and traditional guitarist, but his work on Howlin Mercy is just incredible. His talent seems fully developed and the passion and energy that he was channeling – seems almost otherworldly.

Throughout the night, Fabio had been in the back on Ellen’s computer scanning photos and trying to preserve as much of the box of photos as he had time for. During the Howlin Mercy tape – Fabio would emerge from the room to watch John – he couldn’t resist. Like me, he was just stunned by John’s playing. Atlanta Dan was in rare form. One time – he yelled at Fabio, “hey, you get back to work.” We all had a good laugh. For me, the highlight of the night was getting a chance to talk with John Sr. while the tape played. He and Ellen are so proud of John. It was neat to see Ellen almost dancing as John’s music played and she talked about looking with John for the perfect guitar on Airline Blvd. John Sr. would be talking with me – and he would stop – he would get real quiet and he would say, “Did you see that Tom? Did you hear that? Wasn’t my boy something?” All that I could do was smile. I did hear it. John was something else and I wish that I had met him or seen him play live.

At some point, Fabio called me over to the computer to help upload the photos to the yahoo site. We discovered quickly that it would take forever to upload them one at a time over a regular modem connection. So we decided to try something else. In hindsight, things would have worked out better if we had done that. Instead, we decided to try and burn them to a CD using the installed CD-Writer on Ellen’s computer. That is where things went horribly wrong. In the middle of trying to copy them to the burner Ellen’s computer locked up. We tried to reboot the computer to recover. Unfortunately, the computer would not boot and warned that the BOOT.INI file was corrupted. We were able to launch the OS in safe mode, but we could not get around the problem. We were toast. Everybody seemed worried about Fabio’s pictures. I figured they would still be there, but I felt awful about Ellen’s computer. It was brand new. This should not have happened. We ran system recovery and crossed our fingers. An hour later – the computer was back up. Ellen was very gracious. Fabio, Jerry,and Captain D were all returning the following day and Fabio said that he would work with Ellen to set things straight.

Leaving that night was sad. I had mixed emotions. I tried not to let the computer get me down but it did. I also knew that the reunion was almost over, too. But, on the other hand I really felt like smiling. It was a strange mix of feelings. John Sr. invited us back anytime and they both seemed so happy to have welcomed us to their home. It really did feel like a family gathering and it was the perfect ending to the reunion. When we got back to the hotel, we decided to go up to the corporate room and just relax. I had a long drive ahead of me the following morning and so did Atlanta Dan. Neither of us were looking forward to it. Fabio, Atlanta Dan, Jerry Sue, Captain D and I sat around the coffee table in the corporate room and just talked. I know that they must have been feeling the same kinds of emotions that I was feeling. We talked about John and Ellen for a long time. We talked about the next Bones and Blues get together. We talked about John. It was a great conversation. I know that I only intended to stay an hour or so, but things happen – and in this case – I am glad I hung around. Around midnight, Louisiana Dan and Tim joined the group. They had stopped over at Hooters and partied with a few of the wedding guests who happened to be staying at the Marriott. Both were in fine spirits. Dan pulled out a Louisiana King Cake – and told us about the tradition – of finding the baby. The gist is that the person who discovers the baby in their piece of cake has to bring the cake for the next get together. When he first put it down on the table – I tried to grab a piece. After his explanation – I tried to grab a piece. Finally, Dan explained that he had to hide the plastic baby in the cake. The cake was great, too. It was a cool way to close the weekend. The cake, like any ritual, provided a little bit of closure to the gathering. The feelings of sadness that I was experiencing – knowing that it was almost over – were being replaced with hopeful thoughts of the next get together. It was symbolic in a really neat way. Thanks Louisiana Dan for starting the tradition. I did not get the baby – I have to add. And I think I ate three pieces, too.

Copyright © 2004, Thomas Geiger
Revised: February 1, 2004