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Reviews: 1992 Performances

Houston - Bon Ton Room - With Buddy Guy

Excerpt from: "Rock isn't dead/Just listen for it between the claps of blues 'thunder" by Marty Racine

Houston Chronicle, January 13, 1992

Country music might have lent rock 'n' roll its vocal inflection, but the blues gave it the guitar. And while rock gets all cutesy or so ugly it should crawl in a hole, the blues keeps chopping with an ax, 50 years since it moved to the city and got plugged into a wall.

The Shreveport native Campbell is familiar in these parts, but Saturday's was his first important gig here as a "recording artist". Backed by Joe Ely's rhythmaires -- bassist Jimmy Pettit and drummer Davis McClarty -- plus New York City guitarist Zonder Kennedy, the ghostly one responded with a growling, hard-hitting set that had the crowd biting for more.

Despite the same lineup and songs, Campbell 's brooding debut album "One Believer" doesn't do his urgent, wicked live show justice. Best song first show Saturday was a little thing he calls "Slim Slide Boogie". Played on a 1934 National steel guitar, it celebrates three ways of attacking the strings, ending in a torrid Mississippi slide burst that rattled the glassware.

Look for Campbell to return to this room in a month or two.

Copyright 1992 Houston Chronicle

Wickam - UK - The Boar's Head

Blueprint, May 1992 p 34

"John Campbell: The Boar's Head - Wickam - 12/3/92" by Gary Revilo

With John Campbell now, we are talking mean, as in meeeean. Hailing from the deepest US swamplands, he's like something out of a Hammer movie, only twice as frightening. He has a kind of bionic face, reconstructed after a teenage drag racing accident, which I suppose gives him a lot to be angry about, but little could prepare the audience for the full-scale gutting it received.

Virtuosity comes no harder or crueller than this and the sheer intensity of the music was hard to cope with. The agony seemed to be channeled straight from the strings of his National Steel guitar into the veins of the audience, who were actually crying out in joyous pain every time Campbell rose from his stool to add one of his paint stripping solos to his dark, mutant, voodoo-ridden basso profundo twelve-bars. What's more, second guitarist Alexander Kennedy was almost as good and nearly as violent.

Staggering. Some of these punters have been attending the Boarhunt Blues Club for six years or more, but tonight they found out what the blues really is. It hurts. - Gary Revilo

Copyright 1992 Blueprint

London - UK - The Grand

Feedback (UK), 13 April - 17 May 1992 p 20

"John Campbell: The Grand - Saturday 21st March" by Jacinta Gerald

With a voice like a slow-rolled havana, John Campbell draws you into the sound of Louisiana blues like nobody else. With a slow hand and a strong acoustic rhythm, he moves bravely from traditional beat-oriented blues into something more intimate, more whispered and very, very sexy. But then this rarely the soulful, plaintive stuff of negro spiritual song. With the devil in his closet and the wolf at his door, Campbell literally growls his way through the set.

Mellow and erotic, this is music for connoisseurs - or sultry August nights. Campbell makes the blues both melancholy and haunting. He sings about the wrong side of town, about wild-streak women and trouble at the door. And then, just when you're getting dreamy, the mood shifts and he raises the roof with an acoustic jamboree and some raunchy, spine tingling instrumental. Slamming down the Southern Comforts, the upbeat tracks get you to your feet, and as you shuffle or sway, you're feeling the blues. - Jacinta Gerald

Copyright 1992 Feedback

London - Crystal Palace

London Times, July 7, 1992

Excerpt from: "Going down a storm;Blues" by Clive Davis

Midsummer Blues Festival, Crystal Palace Bowl. EIGHT hours of top blues musicians playing in the open air ought to be the stuff of dreams. Thanks to the capricious English weather, Saturday's gathering part of the Radio One FM American Music Festival turned into a test of endurance. These were hardly ideal conditions for a blues party. Still, the opening act, John Campbell, left tongues wagging in the press tent.

Copyright 1992 London Times

Blues & Rhythm, September 1992, p 9

Excerpt from: "A Week of Blues and Weak Beer" by Neil Slaven

After Friday's dowsing, saturday morning (July 4th) was overcast with the certainty of rain sometime during the day. At Crystal Palace, and ineptly parked lorry delayed the start of Radio 1FMs American Music Festival. Doors opened an hour late for a sparse crowd of faithfuls.

John Campbell was first on a rearranged bill, playing songs from his 'One Believer' album and demonstrating state by state the different approaches to bottleneck guitar playing. This roving reporter then proceeded to the press facilities and missed John Hammond and Mose Alison, but did see a stirring solo set form Terry Garland, duetting along the way with John Hammond, and yet another by Pops. Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Smith injected some badly needed pace to the afternoon, Smith getting a better tone from the same Hammond organ that McGriff had belaboured. To complete his ignominy, the Times reviewer thought he was the tenor player.

By late afternoon, the rain that had threatened throughout the day began. Albert Collins had launched into his first number to the biggest roar that crowd that can't have exceeded three thousand could muster. Having been beckoned by destiny, this reporter had to leave, listening to Collins continuing set via car radio. Despite their drenching, Collins and CO. did well. Apparently Buddy Guy did also, although some celebrants discovered that the Crystal Palace pond could numb the limbs with greater efficiency than the ubiquitous Sol beer. - Neil Slaven

Copyright 1992 Blues & Rhythm

Blueprint, August 1992 p 19

Excerpt from: "Sol/Radio 1 FM American Music Festival - Crystal Palace Bowl" by Bob Chapman and Scott Duncan

The familiar sounds of 'Devil In My Closet' told us that John Campbell was opening up the festival and that the advertised programme had been jettisoned. Given that the Press enclosure was was to one side of the lake and directly in front of the banks of the PA sstem, we cannot claim to have enjoyed the best of the sound. Like all the early artists, Campbell had what seemed like an emasculated set to get across to the audience, but at least with his band he could make enough noise to fill the bowl. And what a contrast it was to hear them later that evening in the Mean Fiddler, when they had a chance to develop a set and show the distinctive character of their music. We were also able to pass on to John a copy of Blueprint containing his interview, and news that said interview is to be reprinted in the American magazine Blues Access later this year. Mr. Sunshine was noticeably chuffed.

Copyright 1992 BLueprint

Chicago Blues Fest - Tribute to Lightnin Hopkins

"Artists Dish Out Steaming Music to Hungry Crowd" by Jae-Ha Kim and Jim DeRogatis

Chicago Sun � Times, June 8, 1992

Sam "Lightnin' " Hopkins was more comfortable playing for intimate crowds than at festival gatherings - he once turned down a $2,000 touring performance to play for $17 at a Houston nightclub - but Sunday afternoon's tribute was a fitting honor nonetheless.

Bluesmen from three generations paid homage to Hopkins on the homey Front Porch stage (decorated to look like just that), playing music written or inspired by the Texas singer/guitarist. The performers included guitarist John Campbell, harpist George "Wild Child" Butler, guitarist Jesse Thomas and guitarist Lowell Fulson, as well as a surprise appearance by Hopkins' cousin, "master of the Telecaster" Albert Collins, who wasn't scheduled to perform at the festival until Sunday night's closing concert at the Petrillo Music Shell.

Hopkins, who died of throat cancer in 1982 at age 70, was a minstrel street singer who developed his gritty call-and-response style by playing with Blind Lemon Jefferson. He recorded hundreds of sides in the 1950s and '60s, including the standard "Baby Please Don't Go." The best description of his music comes from the liner notes of one of his many albums: "His only understanding of music is that it be as personal as a hushed conversation."

Louisiana guitarist Thomas tried to capture that quality in his acoustic set, which opened the tribute, but Thomas' three songs were so hushed that he could hardly be heard above the crowd.

Campbell, who appeared in his trademark black outfit and shades with wildly flowing hair, was harder to ignore. He brought the crowd to its feet with a mesmerizing display of blues styles performed on a 1934 National steel guitar bought on the streets of Hopkins' beloved Houston.

Campbell's solo set was the highlight of the tribute; not even Collins, backed by his excellent band, the Icebreakers, came closer to capturing Hopkins' intensity. It might have been difficult for anyone to follow Campbell and Collins, but the long and boring set by Fulson, author of such hits such as "Tramp" and "Reconsider Baby" for Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and others, was especially disappointing.

Copyright 1992 Chicago Sun-Times

Excerpt from: "Caught: Chicago Blues Festival" by John Corbett

Downbeat, September 1992

The rustic Front Porch was the scene for a tribute to Lightnin' Hopkins in which an attempt was made to "recreate the Houston juke-joint environment where Hopkins played." Success of this aside, this engendered some excellent playing, particularly from the showy guitar work of John Campbell, who gave a National Steel lesson in the pop, slap & slide shuffle boogie, combining piano style, banjo style, and Delta style into a righteous roll. After the solo bit, he was joined by fantastic Chicago drummer Sam Lay (a jazz drummer, the way blues drummers oughtta be), and Hopkins' former partner, "Wild Child" Butler, on harmonica. An impromptu appearance by Hopkins' first cousin, Albert Collins (who played at Petrillo as well), put the overdriven guitar hero into a nicely spare setting, with a rhythm guitarist and Lay on Baby Dodds-ish drums.

Copyright 1992 Downbeat

Excerpt from: "Festivals: Part II - Spanning Mississipi to Po River Deltas" by Cary Wolfson

Blues Access, Fall 1992 p 23

Upstate New York rock critic Don Wilcock made his first visit to the summer's mongo event, the Chicago Blues Festival. He found it refreshing to be in a place where "conversations overheard in a downtown pizzeria were as likely to concern the relative strengths of Carey Bell and Junior Wells as the were Madonna's latest video."

Don was pleasantly surprised to find that John Campbell transcended his "major label skull-and-shiny-leather image" with an acoustic slide performance that attracted guest appearances by Albert Collins, Lowell Fulson and drummer Sam Lay to the Front Porch Stage. Collins later lived up to his top billing as the closer at the Petrillo Music Shell.

Copyright 1992 Blues Access

Excerpt from: "The Ninth Chicago Blues Festival" by Scott Dirks

Blues & Rhythm, September 1992 p 7

The tribute to Lightnin Hopkins featured Jesse Thomas, John campbell, Wild Child butler, Lowell Fulson and Sam Lay on drums. The highlight of the tribute was Jesse Thomas. Jesse is recovering from a series of minor strokes and there was some doubt as to whether he would make the festival. His guitar playing is still a little shaky, but his vocals were stronger than at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Jesse stayed in town for a few days to cut for Delmark, accompanied by John Primer which makes Jesse's recording career span 63 years! Although I haven't cared much for John Campbell's recordings he impressed me with his solo performance on the Lithgnin tribute with some very convincing slide work, but after Campbell it was mostly "Lowlights" rather than highlights. Butler and Fulson couldn't get it together and when they were joined by Albert Collins, a surprise guest, it sounded as if they were playing three different songs, in three keys at once.

Copyright 1992 Blues & Rhythm

Dallas - Caravan of Dreams

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 12, 1992

Excerpt from: "Campbell, Whitley Unplugged At Caravan" by Dave Ferman

FORT WORTH - Directly or indirectly, almost all blues comes from the Mississippi Delta: The basic riffs, structures and lyrical themes that colored the music of Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton and Elmore James went to Chicago, got electrified, and can still be heard just about any time most rock or blues bands take the stage.

Chris Whitley and John Campbell, though, have gone the other way, traveling back via acoustic - or acoustic-based - blues played on acoustic guitar or National steel; to modern music that can sound both ancient and lonesome and fairly modern or at least fresh enough not to just sound like basic imitation. And both gave a crowd of around 350 at Caravan of Dreams satisfying solo sets.

Campbell was nominally the headliner; he played last, and longer, and he came with an unexceptional three-piece band, and his is the more rock 'n' roll of the two styles. A solo performer for years, his present style is one part Muddy Waters, one part Elmore James and one part rockabilly.

Campbell's set was about evenly split between rousing, fast paced Berry-meets-James guitar workouts Couldn't Do Nothin'; a long slide showcase on James' Person to Person; slow, brooding tunes such as Devil In My Closet; and two new tunes, an original called Love's Name and a cover of Tom Waits' Down In the Hole.

The boogie tunes were better, simply because the slow songs sometimes took too long to go anywhere. Campbell spent too much time rapping and striking the body of his guitar for sound effects and displayed his vocal shortcomings. Still, Campbell is a fine slide player. His cover of Patton's Saddle Up My Pony was first-rate and he's a good singer, even if some of his lyrics read like a laundry list of cliches from blues songs of the past.

Copyright 1992 Fort Worth Star Telegram

Dallas Morning News, October 12, 1992

Excerpt from: "Reinventing The Blues: Whitley And Campbell Infuse An Old Form With New Meaning" by Matt Weitz

With John Campbell, that wide loneliness got a bracing surge of electricity as he took his four-piece band on an engorged, energetic lurch through the chair-flinging roadhouse side of the blues. If Robert Johnson had made his crossroads deal with Old Scratch in the '90s, he'd have been rewarded with a band that sounded like Mr. Campbell's -- a squalling shriek of feeling that builds to beautifully potent outpourings of all the black-leather emotions: betrayal, loss, longing and anguish. When Mr. Campbell sings that the devil is in his closet and the wolf is at his door -- baby, you believe him.

His face showing his involvement with the music he was making, Mr. Campbell shone most darkly with the Tom Waits-penned Down in the Hole, a sweetly sinister, reverb-heavy invocation of desire and lurking evil. Hole's menacing authenticity and passion make David Lynch's self-penned soundtrack numbers appear the toothless white-bread approximations of danger that they really are.

Guys like Buddy may do their part to keep the old bones of the blues polished, but Sunday night's show made it clear that the idiom's living marrow will be maintained by artists such as Chris Whitley and John Campbell.

Copyright 1992 Dallas Morning News

New Orleans - Charlie B's

New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 16, 1992

Excerpt from: "Black Crowes Still Living In The Past" by Scott Aiges

It was blues straight-ahead and with tons of feeling at Charlie B's last Saturday when the John Campbell Band took the stage. His black leather and fringes giving him the look of a blues shaman, Campbell played his acoustic guitar as if it were a lightning rod - every time he took a solo a jolt of electricity shot through the room. Campbell grimaced and roared as he ran through a list of blues styles, from pianolike chord groupings to open-string banjo style to Elmore James-like frenzies with a gliding slide. His band, including bassist Richard Cousins from Robert Cray's band, anticipated Campbell's every move.

Copyright 1992 New Orleans Times-Picayune

Chicago - Park West

Excerpt from: "Park West Gets Double Delta Shot" by Dan Kening

Chicago Tribune, October 18, 1992

Shreveport, La., native John Campbell takes more of a purist's approach to the blues than Whitley. And although backed by a rocking three-piece band, Campbell never ranged far from its delta blues core.

Unfortunately for Campbell, many of the Whitley partisans left early, but those who stuck around for the lesser-known artist were well-rewarded.

Alternating between playing lead on an acoustic guitar and raucous slide style on a vintage steel guitar, Campbell conjured up the spirit of such seminal delta blues figures as Robert Johnson and Blind Willie Johnson with his tortured vocals and facile instrumental work on originals like "Devil in My Closet" and "Couldn't Do Nothin'."

While he dipped into blues' past with a fine rendition of Lightnin' Hopkins' "Bluebird Blues," Campbell's own "Tiny Coffin" was the night's most compelling tune. About the senseless killing of a 6-year-old in a drive-by shooting, Campbell showed that the blues can be as current and relevant as today's headlines.

Copyright 1992 Chicago Tribune

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