I saw John perform at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip years ago with Buddy Guy. He came out smokin' and had this vicious attack when he and the band played. Almost a scary sort of presence about him, but very compelling. That was the first time I had ever heard or seen a guy play an acoustic guitar that had the tone of an electric guitar. That was wild! John was a great artist and I'm glad I got to see him do his thing before his passing. - Greg Serrato
I've only had the pleasure of going to Skippers once, but what a treat. John Campbell opended for Buddy Guy on a beautiful night in Tampa. Thanks Skippers! - Tim Borger
I saw John Campbell at the Beacon theater in NYC at one of the Blues shows with Tinsley Ellis and others. I was very impressed. This was the only time I saw him. He died soon after. I remember that one song... "The Devil in My Closet". Then he was supposed to open for Buddy Guy at Summerstage in Central Park, but he died. His life was cut short. I hopefully believe that this talent will re-incarnate someday.- Capri
John Campbell - unfortunately he died way too young. I saw him at the Beacon Theatere in NYC. I was then going to see him open for Buddy at the Central Park Blues Festival and he died the night before the show. The show was on a Saturday afternoon and he died of a heart attack the night before. What a complete shame and a waste. He could play his ass off! - Slider
I saw John by accident; by that I mean that I was really going to see Buddy Guy. He was playing in Ithaca, NY in 1991 and I and another friend had tickets. I also took along my teenage son who had an interest in blues. When we picked up our tickets at the local guitar shop, the guy said to make sure we catch the opening act-the word around was that he was pretty good...
Let me set the scene for you: the venue was a little joint called The Haunt. There was no seating, probably not room for more than 100 persons. We're standing up against the wall waiting for the show to begin, when this very freaky guy with long braided hair walks right by us. I jokingly said to the guy I was with: "Ted, there goes somone who doesn't know that the Sixties are over yet".
Well, a minute later, the "Sixties guy" gets up on the little stage and starts to play "Devil in my Closet." Ted and I look at each other.... Halfway thru the song we hear this searing solo, but the guy with the Fender Strat is just standing there playing rhythm and we can't see well because of the crowd. Finally I manage to get a clear look and I realize that "sixties guy" is playing this blistering solo on a hollow body Gibson acoustic. If you know guitars, you know that this is not supposed to be possible.
It was at that point that we realized that we were in the prescence of somebody extraordinary. And yes, he was a little frightening. I remember saying to my son: "I'm glad you're here-this is the real thing, just like it was down there somewhere in 1932 or 1937. No MTV, no Dick Clark, this is the real thing."
I'll tell you one thing: nobody cared if Buddy Guy ever came out.
After his set, he came out in the crowd and I talked to him for a minute. I asked him how he played that way on an acoustic without feed back. He said he didn't like solid bodies and just ran the signal thru a flanger. He actually struck me as kind of shy.
The next day, back at work, ted and I were talking around coffee. I said to Ted, "I really would like to see him again, sometime." Ted replied, "yeah, but only in the daytime." I said back: "Ted, they don't let him play, in the daytime.." I wish you would have been there. - Al Zinn
I first heard John's recordings when a friend played a copy of "One Believer". I was impressed, but I figured the guy was a poser. Then, about a month later, I saw him open for Buddy Guy at the Haunt in Ithaca, NY (The Haunt used to be a local mecca for blues acts. Sadly, the new management seems oblivious. End of second aside.). At any rate, no one in the club knew who this Campbell dude was. Standing about four feet from the stage, I watched as this long-haired white guy gave a freakin' lesson in Delta Blues. I was blown away. To this day, it remains the singular best live performance I've ever seen.
There's no way JC's recordings--as good as they are--can ever capture what I saw and heard that evening. I was transported to another place. When he sang the lines:
"She ain’t afraid of no alley,
She’s too cool to be scared,
Streetlight shines off her earrings,
She got a razor hid up in her hair."
...it was nothing short of mesmerizing. I still get chills thinking about it.
The thing is, as many, many others have pointed out, JC was a gentle soul. He graciously took time to talk to folks after the show, and he clearly loved what he was doing. The man was a national treasure, and it's too bad that he never got the large audience or attention that he truly deserved. - Rich LaVere
I was fortunate to see John open for Buddy Guy at Raoul's Roadside Attraction in Portland, Maine on Halloween night in 1991. He just blew people away with his music. When he finished his set, I wished for more. Buddy Guy was great of course, but John Campbell was the one we talked about on the way home. John handed out sample cassettes of his "One Believer" album before the show. I had already bought the CD, but I took one anyway.
Raoul's was, at the time, owned by an acquaintance of mine. He was highly impressed with John. When John returned from a European tour, he was a hotter commodity and his fee went up considerably, and my friend did not book him. I never got to see John perform again. I often listen to the 3 CD's I have. - Ed Tucker
To cap it all. I got his thumb pick that night. He explained to me that he played so hard it snapped a bit off the end of it - he used that pick for the whole set. I still treasure it. I later got John Hammond's thumb pick. He was reluctant to give it to me until I told him I had John Campbell's. He then give it to me with a huge smile - Greg Hall
I have just discovered your wonderful web site for the late, truly great John Campbell. I was lucky to see John performing as support for Buddy Guy at The Mayfair in Newcastle upon Tyne, England 16 November 1991. That evening made one mighty big impression on me. After the gig everybody was talking about John's performance and incredible delivery and a lot of people, me included, felt that he eclipsed Buddy Guy.
The following day I bought John's album 'One Believer' and then sought out 'A Man and his Blues'. With 2 albums in my collection I waited in vain hope of a return by John to the north east of England. 'Howlin Mercy' came out and I snapped it up hoping he would tour Britain that year. Alas I would never see him perform again. A truly tragic loss of a real blues spirit. - Michael Hurst
I saw John Campbell at the Town and Country Club in London in 1991 when he was opening for Buddy Guy. The four members of my band decided to have an outing to see our hero, Buddy Guy, I was the only one who'd heard of John Campbell. He was mostly playing material from One Believer and although he only really got the crowd's attention on the louder uptempo numbers I was really taken with his moody, committed singing and guitar playing. He was a very charismatic performer and while he earned serious applause for the slide guitar finale his true strength in my opinion was his original take on evocative, melancholy, voodoo blues which obviously came from the heart. He stayed in my mind for months and although I like Buddy Guy a lot, on that night he was lazy and showbizzy and John Campbell did the business. I can only agree that his premature death robbed the blues of a new hero and an original talent in the making. - David Stevenson
I saw him playing support on Buddy Guy's recent UK tour - he was great ... What got me was his guitar-playing, he played a Gibson J-45 or similar, and an open-tuned National (both acoustic guitars) through a fairly cranked up amp - a very rich, fat, tone. He has a very powerful, gritty voice that's very well suited to the blues, and most (all?) of what he played were his own compositions. - Jonathon Tonberg
Absolutely true - this man was a true genius and believer in the power of the blues!!! Saw him open up for Buddy Guy and was totally impressed with his playing and attitude. The audience loved him! He had to come back for 2 encores, and then he watched Buddy's show from first row later! - Michael K.
...[M]y girlfriend and I turned up at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall to see Buddy Guy. Buddy was his usual self but on the way home the two of us spent most of our time talking about the support act, a Mr John Campbell. He remains to this day the only support act I've seen who has had to come back and do an encore, not because he was expecting to but because of the prolonged noise from the crowd. In a remarkable piece of understatement I remember turning to my partner and saying 'He's quite good, isn't he!. ...Had John Campbell not died tragically soon after Howlin' Mercy was released, he'd have gone on to be a huge star and I feel very priviliged to have seen his live show. - Alistair Campbell
I first encountered John at the Boarhunt Blues Club at North Boarhunt near Wickham on Thursday 19th March 1992 (not 12th March as it says in the Gary Revilo Blueprint review.). I have accurate diaries from the period. I know cos I was there! That was the night I bought One Believer, and also a now very well worn Black T-shirt - his guitar with a Death's Head neck and John's name in red lettering. I still wear it today. Wish it was still my size!
Boarhunt Blues Club was held at the Boar's Head pub which was like a roadhouse, bar in front, barn-like venue behind (it also hosted the Ponderosa country music club). I say "was" because Mick and Mike who promoted the gigs eventually retired and subsequently the pub was demolished. Before most gigs the booked band might have a drink in the front bar. On 19/3/92 John was talking to one of the locals in the front bar before the gig. The rest of the band were at another table but John took time to have a lengthy chat with an elderly villager and was drinking tea. Great guy. He was supported that night by Busted Fender Blues Band, at that time an exceedingly popular local Portsmouth outfit led by excellent lead guitarist Tim Dunn.
John also played at the Boarhunt Blues Club on Sunday 5th July 1992. I remember this distinctly because we chatted with him for a good hour after the gig. I saw him there twice that summer. Unfortunately never again. John was booked for return a date in summer 1993 but never made it. I can't confirm the date but needless to say there were a lot of very sad people in Hampshire UK. - Jon Sowell
John Campbell was at the Montreal Jazz Festival (last summer)...first out on the street and later inside in the Spectrum. He is from texas and plays the blues....he has a good voice and plays a hollow-body acoustic-electric guitar that has an interesting sound. John Campbell also has a recent release titled _One Believer_. Good, clean, enjoyable sound. BTW, he sings mostly his own stuff which is also a plus!
I said above he's from texas but I wouldn't classify him under the texas-blues category....check him out, he gives a good show. - Deepak Kumar
Muchmusic recently aired their coverage of the Montreal blues festival. they had a fair bit of John Campbell, strictly solo. He played a National Steel guitar (acoustic for those who don't know) and was totally awesome. If you like the blues you must check this guy out. - Gord Holtslander
I had the privelege of seeing John Campbell play an acoustic set on the "front porch" stage at Chicago Blues Fest...I think it was just the summer before he passed away...yep, he was playing that old national steel, and I seem to remember him saying he'd purchased it or been given it by Lightnin' Hopkin's widow. The MAIN thing I recall was it was 90 degrees in the shade but Campbell's performance put goosebumps down my spine and made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end....the man was connected way down deep to a real spiritual source .....just him and his guitar, and it was one of the most electrifying performances I've ever seen in 10 + years of seeing lots of well known and modestly acclaimed performers. - BJ Huchte
I first caught John in 92' at the Riverfront Blues Festival. I remember my bass player nudging me as we stood in front of a stage that only had one single stool on it, "wait 'till you see this guy, he's kinda scary" he says. John blew me away - I've been a fan ever since.
The last time I saw John, was at the Lone Star "Road House" in midtown Manhattan. The Road House was post "Lone Star Cafe", my personal home away from home. That night at the Road House, I could swear John was staring at me. It's almost as if he knew I was a guitar player that was eying his every move. Shortly their after, he was gone - he passed away on my Birthday June 13th. It's hard to believe that this June will be 10 years. When ever I play, a little John Campbell comes out. It's not much, but it's enough for me to notice, and when I do, I always smile. I don't think anyone would ever pick up on it (besides my bass player) but to be honest with, it doesn't much matter. He left an impression on me and that's all that counts. This June I'll turn 35 and if John were still alive he'd be 51. John was awesome. - Craig Klor
Another thought on John Campbell; I keep hearing people say, "You haven't heard ....... (you fill in the blanks) until you've heard him (or her) live." I was very familiar with "One Believer" and quite taken by its spooky ambience. What I was not prepared for was the fact that JC and band really kicked ass live. He also gave his little slide guitar lecture, which I suppose might have been a stock part of his show, but I loved it. I saw him at Philadelphia's River BLues festival, in '92, I think. - Pete Wulforst
Speaking of burnin' electric slide (acoustic as well, actually), if anyone gets a chance to see the John Campbell Band live, DON'T MISS THEM! Campbell plays a smokin' blues guitar, and has a *powerful* wicked voice. He's also got Robert Cray's former bassist, Richard Cousins, playing in the band. I saw 'em down in N'orlins last fall and they knocked me out. JC's got that special presence. - Paul Heroy
Some years back, at a club in Fort Worth, Texas, I went to see Chris Whitley, who was opening for this guy I'd never heard of. I figured he must be good if Caravan of Dreams has Whitley opening for him! I had seen Whitley previously and knew what a show-stopper he was. So chris opens with a big set, and the crowd is waiting, drinking, talking.......my wife says "Oh my God, look at this guy!" and we all look and I get this feeling, eerie, like this man could kill with a look. He straps on that big hollow-body, plugs in, and totally possesses the crowd. Evverybody rapt, no chit-chat or laughter, just total focus on this gravelly voice calling up spooky earthy images of a world most of us only read about. At one point the partner of my friend, who is really freaked out by the sounds and lyrics John is putting down, nearly runs out of the club - "he's looking right at ME, make him stop, Oh my God".... we calm her down, no way i'm leaving the club to chase some fraidy-cat and ease her fears, I've got my own to deal with! In short, it was in the top 5 shows i've ever seen anywhere anytime, and i've seen Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, the list goes on. I had never heard anybody play so boldly, so on-the-edge, yet be in complete control of his axe and his voice. His backup band was top-notch also, which maybe needed not be mentioned. Part of the mark of a performer, to me, is how he interacts with his backup, and Campbell was flawless. I heard not one note or word out of place that night! We surely lost a big chunk of that Louisiana-delta-urban blues culture with his passing. There is a void where he was for his time in the light. Life does go on but I feel fortunate to be one person who saw him live once, and to have his 2 cd's in my pile of treasure! - - Pat Kenyon
Feb. 19, 1993. Martinis Blues Bar. Grand Rapids MI. It was a Friday night and I heard on the radio a interview with some blues guy. Said something about a free show at Martinis. The radio played two songs; first was "When the levee breaks" and man, I tell ya, that was way better then the Zeppelin version. Next up was "Howlin' Mercy", and that did it for me, I'm going to Martinis tonght!
So I rounded up two buddies and we headed out. Across the street was a club called the "Intersection" and Izzy Stradlin and the JuJu Hounds were playing that night. We all thought "Izzy Stradlin, Guns&Roses, yeah lets go there". We finally found a spot to park and sitting in the warm car (snowing like crazy that night) we were getting primed to go see Izzy. The radio was on and wouldn't you know it but out pumps "Howlin' Mercy". After that it was no question what show we would see.
We walk into Martinis and grab a table. Oh, look at that, Busch beer for .99 a can! Free show, cheap beer. Good deal there. The place started to fill. Now, Martinis only holds about 200? people so it didn't take long for a standing room only crowd. John steps out with his band. Wow this guy looks different. I don't remember what they started with but it didn't take long before the pool players put down their cues and check what all this was about. About half way through the show, John plays the opening chords to "Saddle up my pony". We're up close to the stage, which is only a step above the dance floor, and the music starts to get really ominous. It was like it took over the whole atmosphere of the bar. People start to approach the front so we make sure to hold our ground. Man, that whole song was an experience I'll never forget. As a matter of fact it is the only song I remember from beginning to end. Remember, the beers were only .99. At the end of the tune, John gave me a "high five". I was the only one to get it. Writing this now is giving me chills.
After the show, me and my buddies went out to Johns' bus. We just wanted to shake his hand and meet him. Sadly, the man who came to the door said John was to sick to meet anyone. I remember us thinking that was too bad. We didn't think he was an ego driven dude who is to be busy for his fans. We just hoped he would get well soon and we would see him the next time he came through town. Yep, that never happened. I read in Rolling Stone mag that John Campbell died on June 10th 1993. That really was a dark day for me and my friends. - Derek
I have been a devoted bluesfan since the mid-80's and there have been some tremendous gigs in my hometown Trondheim (third biggest town in Norway). My local bluesclub used to have a small venue/blues shack called "Skansen". Stevie Ray Vaughn played there in 1983. There have also been other big acts. I'm pretty sure John Campbell played in Trondheim in 1993. The date was - as you can see at the enclosure - Saturday March 6. The weekend before the gig in Trondheim he showed up on our nation-wide televison NRK. I think it was at a show called "Wise". Campbell played one or two tunes.
This TV-show showed us once again how important PR is! I'm damned sure that people in Trondheim didn't know about John Campbell until our newspaper used a couple of pages on his early life such as all the scars in face... Well, the night for the gig came up and I had luckily enough bought a ticket in advance as I always do to be sure. Some friends showed up when the doors opened at 9 O'clock. What happened - SOLD OUT! I guess it must have been between 500 or 600 in this small venue. You could just forget to buy a beer! John Campbell might have started to be sick at that time because he sat down through the whole concert. Anyway A FANTASTIC EVENING! I could almost "see" the Devil when he started playing "Devil In My Closet". He did also play "Down In The Hole" and "When The Levee Breaks". Can't remember the other tunes! After he finished his gig my friend and I had the pleasure to come backstage where we met a nice guy who took a minute to sign the covers we had brought! - Frode Alte Bye
I saw John Campbell playing at La Cigale in France in '93, and believe me or not : I still remember it as if it was yesterday. What a haunting voice and music he had. He played a remarkable set, with lot of rhythm changes. - Phil
John Campbell, New Orleans Jazz Festival 1993 - This was just a month or so before he passed away. Campbell was just plain unbelievable, unleashing an elemental force that you just can't get from his records. What a loss. After his performance we wandered over to hear the Allmans, but after one song we said "This sounds just like the Allman Brothers. Let's go home." I like the Bros., but they were an anticlimax.- Cary Wolfson
John Campbell will reach out and GRAB your yingyang and make you stand up, jump and shake, then deposit you gasping in your seat. He is *good*. I'd guesstimate that at least 80% of the folks in attendance had never heard of JC, much less heard his music, and he had the crowd going nuts. I set next to a couple of guys who were a few years younger (college age), and told them between sets what a treat Campbell would be. They looked slightly skeptical when I said that they would be blown away, and that JC would do a version of "When the Levee Breaks" that would take the song back to its blues roots and leave Led Zep in the dust. Halfway through his set, I just grinned when they gasped "Is he always this good?! Are his albums this good?!".
Switching between his electrified acoustic guitar and a National steel guitar (also apparently electrified), Campbell displayed complete command of the acoustic blues guitar styles, variously picking, slapping, plucking, and using a slide. He laid down guitar that boogied and burned, like a cross between John Lee Hooker and Elmore James, while his deep, commanding voice growled out his lyrics from the darker side of life. "Devil's in my closet... can't trust my woman no more", he growls; "Ain't afraid of midnight... I've danced in that graveyard before... the reaper better be packin' heat when he comes for me", he roars in "Ain't Afraid of Midnight".
Later in the set he paused for a mini blues guitar sermon, giving demonstrations of 'piano', 'banjo' and 'Mississi- ppi delta' style, then combining them all in a howling, burning display of guitar virtuousity. He's *evil* and has stage presence to go with it; his long hair tied behind his head, gaunt frame, leather jacket, black jeans and boots; his scarred face and missing right eye; his obvious appreciation and mastery of past blues masters combine with a dynamic sound that is accessible to rock 'n roll fans; all are factors that add up to The Real Thing. Robert Cray takes blues into the modern age in one way, but Campbell does it too, in his own style from a less urban blues heritage than Cray. The crowd was going bonkers and eating it up. Campbell is NOT to be missed if he comes to your area! Oh - his bandmates were damn good too, especially the drummer, a guy from Portland, Oregon whose name I didn't catch. Still buzzing... - Paul Heroy
I was lucky enough to see John Campbell perform live on April 29, 1993 at the Tower Theater in Houston, Texas. He was the opening act for Buddy Guy. I didn't know much about John Campbell, to be honest, I went to see Buddy Guy. I went with friends and the place was packed. We ended up sitting at a table with a couple of guys we did not know just to get a seat. In conversation I said that we had come to see Buddy Guy. Those two guys said they had come to see John Campbell. I asked who John Campbell was. They said they had seen John in 1992 at a blues festival at the Summit in Houston. They described him as "sort of a Michael Bolton from Hell".
We were close to the stage, and after dimming the lights, John Campbell took the stage. He played beautifully. I still remember him playing with cigarette smoke rising in a cloud around him. I was very impressed. After seeing John Campbell, Buddy Guy seemed rather ordinary and uninspired that night. I went out and bought John Campbell's CD's. A few months later, I read an obituary for John in Playboy magazine and I was shocked. Truly a great loss. He was much better live than on the CD. The recordings just don't capture his essence and commanding stage presence. - Steven Roussel
Well, first off, I was introduced to John Campbell through Playboy magazine. I had read about him in the music section and the review was very positive. I went out that day and picked up "Howlin Mercy". A day or two later I located "One Believer" and proceeded to memorize that album as well.
As luck would have it, I read in the local independent newspaper (Creative Loafing) that John was coming in concert to Blind Willie's. I got to the show and quickly found out it was packed. I managed to get the best standing spot in the bar. There were tables right in front of the stage, tables along the wall to the far left (facing the stage) and stools at the bar. I managed to hook up with a couple that were right behind the tables in front of the stage. Being six feet tall, I was well positioned.
I cannot recall the order of all the songs, I can only remember he did "When the Levee Breaks" at the very end of his show and it brought the house DOWN. He thoroughly rocked his ass off the entire night. I was covered with sweat and completely exhausted at the end of the show. If he had played all night, I would have had to call in to work the next day.
After the show, I milled around a little bit in the bar with my new friends before leaving. Being the big groupie that I am, I took my copy of "Howling Mercy" with me. The gods were with me. No sooner did I leave the club than I walked right up to John standing outside his bus. He was a tall man, taller than me for sure. He had this big smile on his face, as did I. I said to him "That was an excellent show!! You completely rocked!!!" He smiled and said "Thanks". I shook his hand and asked him for an autograph. I made the wry comment "I don't know if you saw me in there or not, but I just loved the show." He replied "Yes, I saw you. What's your name?" I told him and he signed my CD "To Dan - all the best. John Campbell" along the neck of the guitar in the liner notes.
What really blew my mind was the fact that nearly no one else came up to him to meet him. He was just standing there, he was wearing a vest of some sort and that indian necklace that looks like it is made of wooden pieces that form a "V". - Dan Asher
I was not a fan in the least but my wife insisted we stop to see him in Memphis (right before or after the above perfromance). I had my mind made up, that john Campbell was just going to get on my nerves. WOW, what a shock. I've said this before and it's hard for me to believe, but NO LIVE performance has ever affected me like John Campbell that particular day. I have never seen the blues tent at the Beale Street fest so upset. The crowd was out of control. I'll never forget his performance in Memphis, since then I've become a fan. He's a very nice guy, nothing like his "image"... - Leonard Watkins
I was not a fan of John Campbell's until he nailed me in Memphis. My wife and I spent some time with him afterwards. Lemme just say that, JC was a warm & friendly person. No ego, no sneer (when he's offstage) he was a great guy. Off stage he was nowhere close to being scary, I do not believe that was an image thing, though. He was a very underated player, if you doubt that check out his first recording produced by Ronnie Earl and RE plays on it also, There is not a scary tune on it (except his playing). I think it's on Crosscut and called "A Man And His Blues"...I think Darrel Nulsich(sp..bad) in on it also.
He was a heckuva guitar player and affected me like no other live act I've seen Trust me, he'a very sweet person off stage. A related story. Someone (no name) in Memphis had a mojo bag and John Campbell told him that he would give him some "bone dust" off of one of JC's bones he had in his bag, for this fellows bag. Well John died and the guy naturally forgot all about it. A day or so b4 the Beale Street Fest someone appeared at this guys establishment and said he something to give him. It was bone scrapings from John Campbell, that he never got around to giving the guy. John's widow is Dolly Fox and her father is THE Fox for Fox Broadcasting company and John's ma-in-law had written some tunes for John Campbells recording that never came out...He was just as nice and friendly as anyone. - Leonard Watkins
Anyway, since my main instrument is piano, I really liked the first two acts, and learned a lot from them, so no complaints. Then came John Campbell. We knew we were in for something different when a tour bus showed up, and he had two roadies and a sound man. Campbell and the band attacked the audience with their sound. I saw three little high school girls in front of me get up and it looked like they were running for their lives.
Campbell played a lot of stuff from his new album, plus one song in the middle where he said "I bought my first guitar on Fannin Street" and showed the Leadbelly piano style of slide, the banjo style, and the Mississippi style, then put them all together on his 1934 National. On his next-to-last song he gave his band a lot of room on their solos (this was pretty much of a standard thing with the acts, introducing the sidemen and giving them solo spots, as was the "Sound Check Blues" that everybody played first, often with the main artist sitting out).
Anyway, Campbell was the high point of the whole festival for me. He brought the audience to their feet a couple of times and after he did "When the Levee Breaks" as his encore, we were wondering just who the heck could follow that! - Bob Crispen