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Reviews - One Believer

Billboard � Thom Duffy

Billboard,Vol 103, July 20, 1991 p 35

This Latest blues revival has brought new attention to both deserving veterans of the blues scene and newcomers who proudly flaunt their influences. It has yet to bring forth, however, a new recording artist with both the freshness of a debut act and the emotional authority of a blues survivor � until now. With a debut album, �One Believer,� due next month on Elektra Entertainment, John Campbell arrives as an important new voice in a powerful genre. Campbell was signed by Elektra A&R VP Peter Lubin and his debut was co-produced by Lubin and Dennis Walker, who previously produced Robert Cray. Campbell displays as much radio and retail potential as Cray, thanks to well-done arrangements. Yet his sound, evoking the likes of Lightning Hopkins or John Lee Hooker with its deep vocals and ferocious guitar playing, is distinct, true, mean blues, without apology.

The tale of a bluesman flirting with the devil for his talent may well be just a myth. But Campbell, no youngster, looks and sounds like one who has kept the bad guy at bay � barely. The stalking tempo and ominous organ of �Devil in My Closet� opens the set and the personification of evil � often in the guise of an unfaithful lover � runs throughout the record. �Couldn�t do Nothin�� takes the burn of betrayal and exorcises it with a wild rave-up that earns Campbell comparison with acts from Stevie Ray Vaughn to ZZ Top.

The album�s highlights, however, are two remarkable songs: �Tiny Coffins,� the New York based singer growls with horror and rage at a city where dozens of children have been gunned down in the street, and on �World of Trouble,� he sings compassionately of urban violence and despair in a way that not only draws on the deepest social roots of blues but draws a thematic link with raps from Compton to Strong Island. Against the rising horns of the title track, Campbell closes with a tune of hope and prayer. For good reason. With �One Believer,� John Campbell has made the first great blues album of the �90�s. � Thom Duffy.

Copyright 1991 Billboard

Los Angeles Times � Mike Boehm

Excerpt from:Recordings Dark But Not Deep by Mike Boehm

Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1992

John Campbell, "One Believer" (Elektra)

This debut album plumbs the darker aspects of electric blues while showcasing Campbell's high-impact guitar work. Sometimes trenchant, his voice is ultimately too limited to fully encompass the terror and desperation in his most interesting songs. - Mike Boehm Los Angeles Times

Copyright 1992 Los Angeles Times

Living Blues - Bill Dahl

John Campbell - One Believer by Bill Dahl

Living Blues, May/June 1992, p 61

Glaring out at potential purchasers with sneering contempt plastered all over his face, it's chillingly obvious that John Campbell's music isn't aimed at the faint of heart. His lyrics are laoded with nightmarish images of dead children, cheating lovers, voodoo jive, and even old Beelzebub himself. This is not proper mood music if you are prone to depression.

With his sparse, effective guitar style and a gravelly, converstaional vocal approach, Campbell is pretty convincing as a blues-influenced doomsayer. Much of the overwhelmingly downbeat disc is written by Campbell and co-producer Dennis Walker, best known for his collaborations with Robert Cray, and various Cray bandsmen back Campbell here. But Cray's comparitively carefree output has little in common with Campbell's musical conception.

Even on the stray rocker Couldn't Do Nothin' (which contains some hot picking from Campbell), he has just lost his woman to some mysterious high roller. The lone cover, a revival of Eddie Vinson's Person to Person, boasts tough slide guitar from Campbell, but his vocal is less effective than his own stuff.

John Campbell knows how to get his point across. Just make sure your door is shut and bolted while you listen. - Bill Dahl

Copyright 1992 Living Blues

Capitol Times - Eric Rasmussen

Excerpt from: Some Albums Get the Shaft by Eric Rasmussen

Capitol Times (Wisconsin), August 6, 1992

Most perplexing of all, though, are those artists who fit easily into well-accepted niches, do their jobs better than most, and still miss the popular boat.

Bluesman John Campbell, while not as flashy as Stevie Ray Vaughan, showed himself as heir to Vaughan's white blues throne with his 1991 Elektra release ``One Believer.'' The tunes are gloomy but rocking, his voice echoes no one so much as Howlin' Wolf, and his guitar playing cuts like a razor. But even stations with an affinity for the blues - the late WMAD/FM 92.1, for instance - stayed away from Campbell.

Copyright 1992 Capitol Times

Billboard - Anonymous

Billboard, October 5, 1991 p 92

White blues artist plays it gruff and tuff on major-label debut. Campbell impresses with his smoky vocals and hard guitar work (much of it picked on electrified acoustics that sound like solid bodies); he gets a big assist from capable, rock-oriented sidemen and producer/writer Walker, who turned the trick for Robert Cray in the past. "Devil In My Closet" and "World of Trouble" will serve as strong album rock intros.

Copyright 1991 Billboard

All Music Guide � Thom Jurek

The Elektra debut by the late bluesman John Campbell is a curious affair in more than one respect-despite it's obvious excellence and original voice.

The first is that he was signed at all. Clearly in 1990 when Campbell signed his deal, record company executives were still interested in finding new and original talent and developing them over a period of time. One Believer was outside of virtually every trend on major labels and in pop at the time. Other than Chris Whitley's Living with the Law, it was the only roots record issued on a major label in 1991.

The other thing is that One Believer is an oddity even for Campbell. It's a deeply atmospheric record full of subtle shimmering organs and warm guitar textures that accent the dreamy spooky side of the blues more than the crunchy stomp and roll that Campbell was known for in the clubs � and displayed on his follow-up Howlin' Mercy. Tracks like "Angel of Sorrow," "World of Trouble," and "Wild Streak" offer shimmering ambient textures from which the blues emanate from the ether, tonally and melodically challenging all acceptable notions of what Texas blues should sound like � but then, Mr. Campbell was living and working in New York and his music was certainly influenced by that late-night environment.

These are beautiful songs, tempered in shadow and restraint while baring their teeth at all the right moments. Other places the roadhouse magic comes out of the closet as on "Couldn't Do Nothin'," "Devil In My Closet," and "Person to Person.

On "Voodoo Edge," the slowhand blues meets a crisscross New Orleans second-line backbeat a la Dr. John and comes up with chunky honky-tonk piano and shakers to give the piece an "I Walk on Gilded Splinters feel, extending Campbell's sound over a deeper, darker shade of roots music. This in underlined by the album's last two tracks � "Take Me Down" and the title track � which are menacing in their conviction and creepy swampy in execution. This is a fine, fine debut that remains in print. � Thom Jurek

Lexington Hearld-Leader - Walter Tunis

Excerpt from: Campbell's Vocal Skills Lag Behind Guitar Work by Walter Tunis

Lexington Herald-Leader, January 31, 1992

John Campbell plays guitar like an absolute demon.

Listen to the 12 songs on his debut album, One Believer, and you'll hear slide solos that twist and wind like the two-lane highways in the Mississippi Delta. The bold, bone-chilling leads often reflect the voodoo mischief that Campbell loves to sing about.

The trouble is that the guitar playing outdistances everything else on One Believer. As a singer, Campbell has an undeniably authentic voice: a substantial, low growl soaked in New Orleans influences. It's a strong, natural voice, so it's an even bigger shame to hear it sound so affected on the album.

Lyrically, the album has its heart in the right place. But it is often blatantly self-imitative of blues greats, especially Robert Johnson. Phrases like "I left the station walking," "on a blue highway" and "the wolf is at my door" tend to make Campbell's music sound cliched. Luckily, the guitar playing is rich, dark and bold throughout the album. This flawed debut album is impressive. Campbell simply needs to let his guard down some and let his lyrics and vocals flow as easily as his guitar work.

Campbell will perform a solo acoustic set before a concert by Johnny Winter at 9 p.m. Monday at Breeding's. -- Walter Tunis

Copyright 1992 Lexington Herald-leader

St. Louis Post-Dispatch � Paul A. Harris

Excerpt from:Blues and Jazz For Mr. Santa, Some Suggestions for Musicial Gifts You Won't Encounter on the Top 40, by Paul A. Harris

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 6, 1991

''One Believer,'' by John Campbell (Elektra): Campbell, who captured a roomful of new fans when he opened for the Subdudes in September at Mississippi Nights, conjures up the spirits of Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf with his voice and his National Steel Guitar. His pared-down, driven sound - well-recorded on this debut recording - traffics in sheer dread.

Copyright 1991 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

New Echoes Of The Devil And The Wolf: John Campbell Makes Use Of Traditional Forms To Tell His Contemporary Stories by Paul A. Harris

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 6, 1991

I got the devil in my closet, The wolf is howlin' at my door . . .

From ''Devil in My Closet,'' by John Campbell

"DEVIL IN MY CLOSET," the song that kicks off blues man John Campbell's soon-to-be-released debut album for Elektra, pretends to be about the age-old problem of co-dependency, the subject of countless blues songs. Beneath the surface, however, Campbell's imagery of the devil and the wolf makes reference to a couple of prominent forces on his music: Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf.

Campbell, who will open for the Subdudes next Tuesday at Mississippi Nights, favors Howlin' Wolf's harsh, grunting-and-growling vocal delivery. And he exhibits Robert Johnson's penchant for invoking the supernatural, particularly the devil, in songs like "Angel of Sorrow" and "Voodoo Edge."

Outside of the Elmore James number "Person to Person," all the material on Campbell's upcoming album, "One Believer," is original. Like noted British blues band leader John Mayall, Campbell tends to use the blues as a kind of topical song format - a vehicle for saying things that he feels need saying. For example, "Tiny Coffin" is about the drive-by shooting of a child, and "World of Trouble" deals with homelessness.

"I don't think we need version 557 of 'Sweet Home Chicago' anymore," Campbell said. "That was a great song, but I just feel like I need to breathe some of my own thing into the music.

"When you write a song, it should be something immediate - something that you're feeling. To me, the blues is an ever-growing thing. It's something that addresses life issues - what people are experiencing, good and bad. I don't think that the people who forged this form were limited by any topic."

Campbell, a 39-year-old guitarist from Shreveport, La., left the South for New York City in the early '80s. There, he performed with Jimmie Rogers, Pinetop Perkins and Howlin' Wolf's old lead guitar player, Hubert Sumlin.

Elektra A&R man Dennis Lubin caught Campbell in a gig with Albert King at New York's Lone Star Cafe and signed him to the label. Lubin and Dennis Walker collaborated with Campbell in the production of ''One Believer."

"Working with them was a great experience," Campbell said. "Dennis is just a great lyricist and writer. He produced all the Robert Cray records. He's also a bass player; he played with Lowell Fulson for quite a while. He's a true blues man."

Session players for "One Believer" included Richard Cousins and Jimmy Pugh, from the Robert Cray Band, and Davis McLarty and Jimmy Pettit, the rhythm section for Joe Ely. Also on hand were the Texacali Horns. (McLarty and Pettit will play with Campbell at Mississippi Nights.)

Even though he's been playing since he was a teen-ager, Campbell feels the blues is not a young man's medium. In fact, it was tragedy that brought the spiritual dimensions of the form home to him.

When he was 15, Campbell was involved in an automobile accident. "I hit a telephone pole and the accelerator stuck, so I went in and out of the windshield a few times," he said. "It tore me up really bad. I lost my right eye, and I had to have plastic surgery. I literally had thousands and thousands of stitches in my face."

"There was a period of time when I was recovering that I couldn't really go to school. I couldn't really hang out and have company and stuff like that.

"I had been playing the guitar, but at this point I really began connecting with the instrument in a different way. It became this instrument that allowed me to get in touch with what I felt.

"Everything changed for me after that. I ended up quitting school and playing guitar constantly. I got very serious about the guitar, and I've been that way ever since."

Copyright 1991 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Washington Post - Mike Joyce

Excerpt from:"Blues Cornucopia for Young and Old" by Mike Joyce

Washington Post, November 1, 1991

John Campbell "World of Trouble" (Elektra). Overall, this is a promising but flawed debut album by a Louisiana native who now calls New York home. To his credit, Campbell had the good sense to recruit Dennis Walker (best known for his work with Robert Cray) as a songwriting partner. The two have come up with some interesting narratives that wouldn't appear out of place on a Cray album, no mean feat, and Campbell often heightens the tension with some tasteful, brooding guitar work. As a vocalist, however, he often goes overboard, which is why his big baritone voice often sounds more affected than affecting.

Copyright 1991 Washington Post

Folk Roots - John Tobler

"John Campbell - One Believer" by John Tobler

Folk Roots, March 1992 p 59

The debut album by a white bluesman of nearly 40 with only one eye and a grudge against the world. This is sinister, menacing stuff from a man who looks like a serial killer, but plays mean guitar. Not so sure about his vocals, which sometimes seem perfunctory, but despite editorial reservations, it is not unlikely that Campbell will attain at least cult status, particularly after his U.K. tour opening for Buddy Guy.

The album was produced by Dennis Walker (of Robert Cray fame), and Cray's bass player, Richard Cousins, is involved here on most of the brooding tracks, of which there are more than can be found on most albums. Three others - Couldn't Do Nothing, Take Me Down (an epic story of motorcyclist's premonition of losing a race to a level crossing with a train!) and Person to Person (credited to Elmore James and Marshall Sehorn as writers) feature the hardworking Joe Ely rhythm section of Jimmy Pettit and Davis McLarty.

The nine original songs here are generally straightforward, although Tiny Coffin, a black song about the death of a child from a bullet fired inaccurately from a car, is powerful indeed. Several others, as well as this one, might make interesting noir movies, and the desolate closing title track is a final confirmation that Campbell is angry and (perhaps as a result) lonely - this is not a happy man, and this album is not for those of a nervous disposition who are easily depressed. It suggests that Campbell is aiming at being a White Screaming Jay Hawkins, but without the humour. This dude seems to mean it, and we'd better not miss him, or he might put a spell on us. - John Tobler

Copyright 1992 Folk Roots

Buffalo News - Donn Esmonde

Buffalo News, October 18, 1991 p G29

John Campbell, One Believer (Elektra 9 61086-2). Atmospheric, moody, sometimes downright gloomy -- all those adjectives describe Campbell's singular approach. The Ginger Baker look-alike specializes in the slow and sinuous, with lyrics full of howling hounds and wailing sirens in the night. Point is, a little style goes a long way in these generic times, and Campbell has loads of style. His deep voice isn't flexible (he talks his way through half the tunes), but he's the master of the hypnotic groove and his guitar rides above the mix like a swooping crow. He's smart enough to mix in some up-tempo numbers, notably a cover of Elmore James' "Person to Person." No humor here, and more than a little pretense, but this is more than just theme music for Halloween. - Donn Esmonde

Copyright 1991 Buffalo News

Blueprint - Bob Chapman

"John Campbell - One Believer" by Bob Chapman

Blueprint, January 1992 p 20

When the distinguished editorial staff recently went to see Buddy Guy at London's Town and Country Club, we were told by the be-hatted Dave Peabody that John Campbell was "the next big thing." On the strength of Campbell's performance that night, I am prepared to agree with young Dave and unreservedly recommend this CD to Blueprint readers.

The ten songs (nine co-written with producer Dennis Walker, he of Robert Cray fame) evoke a mood of sustained, dramatic intensity, and tell of a life in which the singer confronts lust, betrayal, suffering, revenge, violence, hatred, loneliness and death, before emerging into the light of optimism. The imagery of the lurics is powerful throughout: titles like 'Devil In My CLoset' (a wonderful opener), 'Voodoo Edge', 'Tiny Coffin' ("It takes a tiny coffin for a six-year old, it takes a small hole in the ground") and 'Angel of Sorrow' ("When the Angel of Sorrow steps up to my bedside, and pulls that ribbon of darkness slowly 'cross my eyes, give me one last breath to tell my baby goodbye") set a mood which deliberately matched by the black and white pictures of Campbell's gaunt, emaciated face which adorn the CD booklet.

Campbell's singing (often more like talking) is in a voice deeper than the American recession (sometimes reminding me of a deeper version of Johnny Winter's "tuanable belch") and he manages to give a distinctive feel to each song (check out the menace of 'Wild Streak', or the uncomprehending, raging anger of 'Tiny Coffin'). Both singing and playing (on amplified acoustic guitars) are crafted around the mood of the songs: as Campbell himself says, he has tried "to play as close to the bone as possible." If you haven't got the blues now, wait til you hear this! A lot of believers will soon be opening their doors to John Campbell. - Bob Chapman

Copyright 1992 Blueprint

Blues Revue Quarterly - Steve Romanoski

John Campbell - One Believer by Steve Romanoski

Blues Revue Quarterly, Spring 1993

The musical scenario that has always drawn me toward the blues was the spiritual, or supernatural, aspect of the sound. And the vibes are particularly effective when the dark side of myths are presented. However, few modern bluesmen are able to capture the intensity, from either a musical or spiritual perspective, quite like the pioners of the music had done on a regular basis. But now we come around to John Campbell whos recording, One Believer, provides an effective link between the demons that haunted the delat and the stark violent reality of contemporary life.

Campbell is a man who looks the part of a troubled bluesmen. But more important is his music. He weaves his razor sharp guitar lines around the dark settings that his band creates. And this makes all of the instruments more driven to expose the depression in the lyrics. Campbell proves himself as a guitarist of quality by avoiding the endless barrage of notes that evolve from bluesmen who look to be showmen rather than observers of society. Campbell's lines are scarce, but unflinching in a grim nature.

Lyrically, this recording revolves around a core of evil imagery. Campbell is more of a growler than a singer and his words paint a picture of gritty desolation and demonic presence. He has a belief in absolute fate through songs like Angel of Sorrow which exclaims:

I ain't here to ask for penance,
I won't change my ways,
I'll take my chances come judgment day ... just
Give me one last breath
To tell my baby goodbye.

The CD is stocked with music of the night and sees the world as it is to one who cuts through the veiled truths that folks gotta live with in urban America. Campbell's work can bring you down, if you get involved. And that's what makes this recording an absolute success in my eyes. - Steve Romanoski

Copyright 1993 Blues Revue Quarterly

Virginia Pilot - Jim Morrison


Virginia Pilot, November 1, 1991

JOHN CAMPBELL One Believer (Elektra) John Campbell knows the blues, having lost an eye and taken more stitches than he can remember after a car accident as a teenager. And he plays like it, flirting with the darker side in the tradition of the best bluesmen.

Comparisons to Lightning Hopkins are inevitable, thanks to Campbell's rich, spooky vocals, unapologetic lyrics and compelling guitar. Those comparisons are also appropriate. But Campbell is no strict traditionalist: He brings the blues into the present in a confronting, hardly comforting way.

Dennis Walker, who worked with Robert Cray, produced this disc and helped write some of the songs. So the first single, "Wild Streak," has that midtempo slow burn common to Cray's tunes.

But on other efforts, Campbell stalks darker territory. The lead track, "Devil in My Closet," opens with an ominous organ riff. "Angel of Sorrow" is understated and foreboding, centered on Campell's arresting vocals and a little bit of slide playing. "Couldn't Do Nothing" is the album's most raucous title, sure to please fans of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. And "World of Trouble" takes the blues into a modern urban setting.

The centerpiece, though, is the despairing "Tiny Coffin," about the murders of children in New York City. "It takes a tiny coffin for a 6-year-old," Campbell sings over a chugging, unrelenting riff. "It takes a small hole in the ground." He manages to convey both anger and anguish, and the effect is enraging and chilling.

Campbell played his first gig at 13; now, approaching 40, he has released his first album - easily the best blues album I've heard this year, and one of the best of any kind. He has the potential to take his place among the best. Jim Morrison, VP/LS

Copyright 1991 Virginia Pilot

Q Magazine - by Phil McNeil

John Campbell: One Believer

John Campbell is a white, 38-year-old, Louisiana singer and guitarist who defies the naturalistic blues tradition by adopting a persona in the manner of a Tom Waits or a Stan Ridgway. Campbell, who gave himself 5,000 stitches and a glass eye in a teenage drag racing accident, plays the role of haunted Deep South bluesman to the hilt. His songs, full of voodoo, coffins, gunshots and devils, are delivered in a voice that seeps from his boots like swamp mud. Campbell's muse would like to live in that seedy, neon-lit hotel room where Matt Johnson met his demons in Infected, and indeed Angel Of Sorrow could be the companion to The The's Angels Of Deception. On his own, one suspects, Campbell might be too clumsy to carry it off, but this debut is produced and co-written by Robert Cray's gangling bassist Dennis Walker, who brings a stark clarity to Campbell's vision.

Q Magazine

Copyright Q Magazine

HI-FI Magazine � by Andrew Hobbs

John Campbell � One Believer
Elektra 7559610862

There were few more imposing sights in blues than John Campbell. When only 16 years old he was horrendously injured in a drag racing accident and spent 6 months recovering in hospital where he had over 2000 stitches in his face. It was while he was recovering he picked up the acoustic guitar and taught himself to play. Twenty or so years later he recorded 'One Believer', one of the darkest, meanest and moodiest blues albums you're ever likely to experience. Campbell didn't so much sing, he growled. 'Devil In My Closet' tells of the heartache and despair of his woman cheating on him. 'World Of Trouble' perfectly documents the dangers that lurk around every corner for all of us. The moving 'Tiny Coffin' tells of the senseless driveby Shooting of a 6 year old boy, Campbell's voice dripping with anger and despair and his guitar playing at its darkest. The lyrics hit home hard ("It takes a tiny coffin for a six year old, it takes a small hole in the ground. You could fill it up with my tears and rage, as they lowered Billy down"). Throughout 'One Believer', Campbell gets blood out of his guitar arid attacks the music with breathtaking ferocity. Sadly, he died in his sleep from heart failure at the age of 41. 'One Believer' will remain as a lasting and moving testament to a wonderful talent. � Andrew Hobbs

Hi Fi Plus - Andrew Hobbs

Copyright Hi-Fi Plus

Rolling Stone - by Joe Dizney

John Campbell: Modern Bluesman, Rolling Stone, January 23, 1992, p14

Robert Johnson may have had a hellhound on his trail, but when John Campbell went down to the crossroads, Old Scratch followed him home and established residence. As Campbell growls on the opening cut of his Elektra debut, One Believer, "I got the Devil in my closet, and the wolf is at my door."

Had that statement come from any of a number of alleged blues revivalists, it would be easy to dismiss it as wishful thinking. "When I was a youngster," says the thirty-nine-year-old Campbell, "if you found one or two other people who knew who Robert Johnson was, you had a big group. What's going on today is an increased awareness of where the blues has been and, hopefully, where it might go. To me, that translates to a revival. But you know, the blues has always been here."

Through a yearlong tenure of gigs at a downtown bar, prophetically called Crossroads, Campbell earned a reputation in New York City as a purveyor of guitar-driven roadhouse raunch. Nominated for the prestigious W.C. Handy Award as Best Traditional Male Blues Artist for his first album, A Man and His Blues (on the German Crosscut label), this Shreveport, Louisiana, native was plucked from near obscurity by Elektra A&R VP Peter Lubin, who helped Campbell create One Believer, a hauntingly beautiful album of truly modern blues.

But the record delivers much more than just the expected guitar pyrotechnics - there's also surprising whiskey-and-smoke-saturated vocals wrapped around original songs that catapult traditional blues motifs into the 1990s.

"These bluesmen forged a genre," says Campbell, "and to sit still and just carry someone else's guitar case ... if I did something like that and Robert Johnson were to walk into this room, he'd slap the hell out of me and say, `You didn't get anything, did you?'"

Copyright 1992 Rolling Stone

Copyright � 2003, Thomas Geiger
Revised: July 23, 2003