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Reviews: 1993 Performances


New York City - Lone Star Roadhouse

"Bluesman All He's Cracked Up to Be" by Matthew Auerbach

New York Daily News, January 12, 1993

John Campbell is the kind of bluesman George Thorogood dreams he could be. A student of the Muddy Waters/Lightning Hopkins/Robert Johnson school of "dark blues," Campbell brought his ferocious guitar/vocal style to the Lone Star Roadhouse Saturday.

Backed by a tight three-piece band (drums, bass and second-lead electric guitar), Campbell slashed his way through a 60-minute set. Accompanying himself on amplified acoustic and National steel guitars. Campbell sang of classic blues concerns, the devils hiding in his closet, the hellhound on his trail, and, of course, an unfaithful woman. When an artist tackles these time worn subjects, the curse of parody beckons. The only way not to becomea victim of that curse is to have total emotional commitment to the material, and Campbell has it.

Campbell and the group opened with the self-penned "Ain't Afraid of Midnight," a galloping slice of rockin' blues that set the tone for the rest of the set. Since he played only acoustic guitars, Campbell couldn't rely on any guitar pyrotechnics, which only added to the basic feel of the blues.

Campbell's voice, which had a cracked quality, like a broken stero speaker, was as expressive as his guitar. His version of Tom Waits' ""Down in the Hole" kept the song's understated terror intact, and his solo take on the traditional "Saddle Up My Pony" brought back the glory days of '60's bluesman John Hammond.

For an encore, Campbell and the band did a great cover of "When the Levee Breaks" and dedicated it to birthday boy Jimmy Page, who did a pretty good version of the same tune with Led Zeppelin. At the end, the audience rewarded the musician with a well deserved standing ovation.

Copyright 1993 Daily News


Toronto - Horseshoe Tavern

"Campbell's strings suit all styles" by Lenny Stoute

The Toronto Star, February 25, 1993

Impressive and widespread word of mouth brought an extremely varied crowd to the Horseshoe Tavern last Saturday to cheer on John Campbell's lucid fretwork.

The Louisiana native plucked, strummed and stroked his way through material that resembled an anthology of guitar styles: Mississippi delta blues, Texas shuffle, Oklahoma swing, Louisiana bayou, Kansas City bar-chording and every hybrid in between.

The dude's loaded with cool and effortlessly held the attention of the packed house in a vice grip. And his backing band dragged no butt - rhythm guitarist Zonder Kennedy showed himself more than capable of a lead slot of his own and bassist Jimmy Petit and stickman Robert Medici laid down the appropriate slow-walkin' or hard-runnin' foundations.

The measure of Campbell's original material from his One Believer and Howlin' Mercy albums is how well they fit together with classics such as Elmore James's "When The Levee Breaks." Given the amazing reception for the 'Shoe show, look for Campbell to be back soon.

Copyright 1993 The Toronto Star


Hartford - The Sting

Excerpt from: "Hot Louisiana guitarist stuns, startles at Sting " by Roger Catlin

The Hartford Courant, February 27, 1993

On stage were two artists just starting to make their names known in blues and rock circles. Free admission at the New Britain club was the perfect excuse to check them out.

The first was Louisiana guitarist John Campbell. He has attracted as much attention for his exaggerated blues growl as he has for his blues picking and slide guitar, but on stage with a red hot, road-tested band, the overall package was startling, even stunning at times.

A rail-thin man with a skull-like face framed by long curly hair knotted in back, his face became even more skull-like as he seemed to suck in his sinuses and purse his lips in a small scowl as he played. More than Ichabod Crane in a Michael Bolton 'do, he sometimes resembled John Barrymore in his later B-movie horror pose, face frozen in shock just before the monster pounced. There's a voodoo thing going on here, too -- from the witch's-tooth earring to the Indian fringe jacket to the devil's frequent appearance in songs -- and even his fascinating array of guitars. It was shocking, first off, that the wailing blues and boogie style in the opening number came from a beat-up Gibson acoustic with one electric pickup. You had to think black magic, and not mere electronics, made it sound so sinewy, dark and affecting.

Then there was his array of National steel guitars, not shiny like chrome bumpers as most guitarists keep them but rusted and battered as if he'd found them in the Delta river bottom. One model was nearly 60 years old, another so sensitive to feedback he could rap his pinky ring around its frame for a sustained wail. Another was an electrified National with garish orange trim -- in all, the kind of models that made you want to hang out at guitar stores all day.

Even better was his playing, the origins of which he took time to explain during one song: piano-style neck striding from a fellow Shreveport native, Leadbelly; banjo-style from Texas, where he has been playing with his band; and the sass Mississippi slide, with its pop, snarl and buzz.

His gravelly voice stood out less than it does on his Elektra albums; he'd merely throw out a couple of verses to set up enough of a song for the guitar to take over. He was aware of his influences -- he even did a Tom Waits song, "Down in the Hole," that the author would have approved.

Unlike the selections on his new album, which is understandably aimed at those who know "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin rather than by Memphis Minnie, Campbell strayed not far from the alluring swamp voodoo blues of his roots and succeeded with it.

Copyright 1993 The Hartford Courant


New Orleans Jazz Fest - B-97 Stage

Excerpt from: "JAZZ FEST Music, sun and crawfish to spare In opening weekend, 150,000 jam to the beat of New Orleans rite " by Steve Dollar

Atlanta Constitution-Jornal, April 26, 1993

Shreveport, La., guitarist John Campbell's ferocious blues set at the modest B-97 Stage. Playing an amplified acoustic guitar, Mr. Campbell rambled musically from Texas to the Delta, his wraithlike appearance and wraparound shades making him look like the devil's son-in-law - or at least a villain from a Walter Hill movie.

Copyright 1993 The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution


New Orleans Jazz Fest - Review

Excerpt from: "Summertime Blues - It's A Busy Season" by Cary Wolfson

Blues Access, Summer 1993, p 20

Every year some semi-unknown turns up the flame beneath our brain pans and sets those neurons to crackling. We weren't totally unaware of John Campbell. He had after all, been interviewed in BLues Access #11. But, we'd also listened to his two Elektra albums and wondered why a major label was making such a fuss about this guy with a monotone voice and somewhat disturbing lyrics that made reference to the Devil, voodoo and tiny coffins.

campbell and band, honed to a fine edge by a steady stream of one-nighters, played on a smallish stage, away from the throngs gathering for the Allman Brothers. In a word, the man is transfixing. Playing a hollow-bodied guitar with a pickup cranked to 11, he coaxed sounds that would have made Jimi himself proud. His music is clearly blues rooted. One memorable number was a nutshell guitar lesson that begun with a demonstration of the style played by Leadbelly and others on Fannin Street in Campbell's hometown of Shreveport. Campbell cranked things up a notch when he shifted to what he called the Texas "banjo picking style," and then went into overdrive witha stratospheric interprtetation of Mississippi Delta Blues.

It's obvious to us that the definitive John Campbell record has yet to be made. In person his unmodulated growl is perfectly convincing, his lyrics thoroughly believable, the guitar playing nearly transcendental. As the dazed-looking crowd dispersed after the set, a friend approached us. "This guy is scary," he said. "It sounds like he's really been there and come back." If John Campbell has indeed been over to the dark side, we can be thankful he was allowed to return to our world with something amazing. - Cary Wolfson

Copyright 1993 Blues Access


Excerpt from: "Sumptuous Selections" by Cary Wolfson

Blues Access, Winter 1993/94, p 9

To put some kind of closure to a fascinating year for the blues, we asked a few of our friends who cover the blues scene to list their top blues memories for 1993. We left it fairly open-ended and, no surprises here, got a great variety of responses. Our own Top 10? Here goes:

2. John Campbell, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. A transcendental experience, chillingly accented by his sudden passing only a few weeks later.

Copyright 1994 Blues Access


Excerpt from: "Backstage Notes" by Cary Wolfson

Blues Access, Spring 1999, p 5

That hoodoo you do: From John the Conqueror Root to Goofer Dust to Black Cat Bone, regional interpretations of voodoo have made their way into the lyrics of the blues: There's the gypsy woman who told Muddy's mother that he was gonna be a son of a gun; Junio Wells' "Hoodoo Man Blues"; Jimi Hendrix' "Voodoo Chile." In almost every case the singer is either an actor who fancies him/himself as the victim, beneficiary or shaman of the voodaic arts, or else is just injecting some tidbit of folk superstition.

Of course, when the musician is from Louisiana the tales gain a little more credence. Anyone who ever saw the late John Campbell soon became aware that the energies he drew from weren't all coming from the usual channels.

Copyright 1994 Blues Access


Dallas - Deep Ellum

Excerpt from: "Bluesman Pairs Hokum with High-Energy Playing at Deep Ellum" by Matt Weitz

Dallas Morning News, April 29, 1993

Perhaps opener John Campbell deserves some credit for Mr. Guy's return. The National Steel-toting bluesman and his band perfectly embody the New Blues: fresh music that loves the old styles but doesn't ignore the lessons of rock, a point he made abundantly clear with a gale-force reading of Led Zeppelin's When the Levee Breaks. Scowling from beneath a mane of curly auburn hair, Mr. Campbell produced skull-and-crossbones vocals and furious slide work that made him a tough act to follow; Mr. Guy should keep him around for just that reason.

Copyright 1993 Dallas Morning News


Houston - Tower Theatre

Excerpt from: "Guy's Act Falls Short of His Rep" by Marty Racine

Houston Chronicle, May 1, 1993

Campbell , a New York resident who grew up in the South and learned guitar in the hospital after a near-fatal car accident, was touring on "Howlin' Mercy. Backed by his longtime guitarist Zonder Kennedy and Joe Ely bassist Jimmy Pettit, Campbell confronted all the cliches of the blues and overpowered them with a simple intangible: He is to be believed.

Playing most slide on a f-hole guitar, Campbell put the fear of the unholy into each song and came out growling like a man possessed. Highlights of a power-packed 45-minute set were Saddle Up My Pony and When the Levee Breaks.

Beyond authenticity, Campbell has an uncanny knack for projecting a rock 'n' roll attitude that will appeal to a mass audience. Skinny as a nail, with bony features, pallid complexion and long, flowing hair, he can almost be considered the Johnny Winter of the '90s, not an uncommercial role.

Copyright 1993 Houston Chronicle


Los Angeles - Troubador

Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1993

"John Campbell Brings Back '60s Blues at Troubadour" by Dennis Hunt

The almost obsessive passion that ignited the '60s white blues movement and sparked that era's blues/boogie bands lives on in singer-guitarist John Campbell, who turned back the clock Tuesday at the Troubadour, recalling the days when blues was a dominant, inspirational force in rock.

Campbell's obvious dedication to blues is almost as endearing as his music. His set was mostly joyous and precisely performed, a feast for fans of a style of music that has drifted to underground cult status.

With an admirable blend of passion and skill, the Campbell quartet came at the blues from all angles, from roots music to the agonized musings of Tom Waits' "Down in the Hole" to the riff-laden blues-rock of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks."

Like most of the white bluesmen of the rock era, Campbell's weakness is his voice. Enthusiasm is one thing, but vocal skill is another. His tortured, monotonic growls didn't illuminate the lyrics and seemed mannered. Fortunately, most of the numbers didn't rely heavily on lyrics but were mainly extended, dual-guitar instrumental jams that reworked blues riffs in myriad intriguing ways.

Copyright 1993 Los Angeles Times


Memphis - Beale Street - Tom Lee Park

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 14, 1993

Excerpt from: "Cool & Unusual" by Terry Perkins.

Memphis in May: We headed south to the Beale Street Festival last weekend and were treated to some of the best blues music right on the Mississippi. The three-day festival, which is held on three stages at Tom Lee Park, is much smaller than the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest. That means it's also a lot less crowded and much more intimate. In nearly all cases, we were only sweating distance away from each performer, the line-up of which included Marcia Ball, Ko Ko Taylor, Delbert McClinton, Dave Mason, NRBQ, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the Allman Brothers.

Best surprise: John Campbell. The guy knocked us out with his guitar playing, flowing gray hair and facial expressions. Doesn't he worry that his face may freeze in one of those contortions?

Copyright 1993 St. Louis Post-Dispatch


Commercial Appeal, May 10, 1993

Excerpt from: "Fest Music Rocks Tom Lee Park" by Larry Nager.

John Campbell followed Laury, playing a driving electric set of swamp blues that sounded like John Lee Hooker on steroids. The craggy-faced singer- guitarist shook a mane of blond hair as he roared his blues and pounded his amplified steel-bodied guitar into submission, drawing one of Blues Tent's largest weekend crowds.

Copyright 1993 Commercial Appeal


Atlanta - Blind Willies

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 11, 1993

Excerpt from: "The Summer Beat Goes On - Critics Picks"

John Campbell - If you were among the lucky ones who heard the fiery sets May 8 at Blind Willie's by the bluesman - who died June 12 at age 41 after years of problems related to a rheumatic heart - the man's intensity and his apparent determination to live the blues life will stay with you for a long time. A tragic loss of a tremendous talent. - Russ DeVault.

Copyright 1993 Altanta Jornal Constitution


Copyright 2005, Thomas Geiger
Revised: February 6, 2005