Wednesday, March 25, 2009

John Campbell

John Campbell
Milan, Italy (March '93)

photo: ht
scanned from a lenticular 3-D print

Feb 6th 1993: So John Campbell, Alan Vega, Teddy G (Vice President of the Hells Angels, NYC Chapter) and I went to Madison Square Garden to see Riddick Bowe defend his WBA and IBF heavyweight title against Michael Dokes. Vega and I enjoyed going to the fights at the Garden. We saw Hagler/Hamsho in '84 and even went to see Hagler/Hearns on giant pay-per-view screens there the following year. At that one, Alan spotted Julian Schnabel sitting directly across the aisle so they made a bet. Vega took Hagler and won. Bowe beat Dokes by TKO in one round but there was a fight on the undercard, "Merciless" Ray Mercer vs Jesse "Boogieman" Ferguson that I remember just seemed plain weird. Mercer, a tough brawler with a "cement chin" was a huge favourite and had been promised a shot at Bowe (reportedly worth $1.5m) if he won. However, he was seriously out of shape and after 10 rounds of clumsy action and a some heavy punching in the later rounds, Ferguson managed to get a unanimous decision, much to Mercer's visible distress. Later (in court) it was alleged that prior, and during the fight, Mercer had offered Ferguson $100,000 to take a dive but it was never proven due to lack of evidence.
Riddick Bowe training, (ht watching)
Caesar's Resort, the Poconos, PA (1/27/93)
photo: Richard Williams

After the fights, we went back to my apartment in Chelsea for a hang and, because it was the first time they'd met, John was telling Alan a little about himself. A serious drag racing accident when aged 16 had thrown him through his windshield "twice", landing him in hospital while they rebuilt his face ("a coupla thousand stitches") and he learned to live with one eye, half a lung and a dodgy heart. He was taken out of school and a prolonged, lonely convalescence found him studying blues masters like Lightnin' Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters while "attempting to learn this vocabulary...play this music. And at that time I realized that I could get in touch with feelings that I couldn't verbalize, I couldn't feel any other way...I could feel anger, I could feel pain, I could feel hope. It's really hard to describe, but I can recall just sitting on the edge of my bed and playing the guitar and it was almost like a mantra, just to repeat these figures and suddenly I could feel things... and I felt like I was in touch with something...it was like I was exorcising my pain, I was learning to live again, really, and I realized that was what I was gonna do the rest of my life. I caught a Greyhound bus and ended up in Nacogdoches, Texas". That led to years of hitching between Baton Rouge or Shreveport and various Texas towns playing places where "if you didn't have a gun, they gave you one".

'Saddle Up My Pony'
w/Zonder Kennedy (guitar)
Robert Medici (drums)
Jimmy Pettit (bass)

live at the Shocking Club, Milan, Italy 3/13/93

"If I felt like I wanted to play, man, I'd just step outside my door, and whether it'd be a gas station...or a pool hall...or a street corner...or a club, you know - I didn't have any agencies or anything like that - I'd just go and knock on somebody's door and say, I hear that you have people here who like music...well, I play guitar. And they'd say, What do you need? And I'd play five or six hours, man, and when it was over, I'd go to what we call a house party and I'd play over there. And if I had a place to stay, I'd stay...if I didn't, I'd go to the bus station. And if I had money for a bus ticket, I'd take it. And if I didn't, I'd take a job the next day to get it. You know, I mean, there's been more than one times I've had to sell a pint of blood to buy guitar strings before a gig".
He did that for about 25 years, finally moving to NYC in '88 where Peter Lubin spotted him opening for Albert King and brought him to the attention of Elektra. Peter has his own fantastic Campbell stories (which hopefully you'll get to read in his autobiography one of these days) and I recall him coming into my office, telling me he'd seen someone quite extraordinary and asking if I'd come and see him. Peter had certain reservations about making an offer, not the least of which was that he found John a little "scary", so we caught John's next appearance
at the (now much missed) Lonestar Roadhouse where he put on an undeniable display. The following day I let Elektra boss Bob Krasnow know that Pete had found something special. When he later ran into Pete (whose signing of Robert Cray to Mercury Records had gained him a solid reputation in the blues world), the Kras said, "I hear you've got a blues guy... go get him", rather forcing Pete's hand, haha.
John Campbell
Central Park, NYC

photo: ht
scanned from a lenticular 3-D print
Another means John used to get by was his sleight of hand. John described himself as a "conjurer, and a hoodoo man" and he had a way with a deck of cards or pair of dice. To demonstrate, as our boxing evening wound down, John motioned one of us to "pick a card". Alan picked a 2 of diamonds. After putting it to the deck and shuffling, John got up and said, "So with this, gentlemen, I bid you a good night." Bending the deck in one hand, he suddenly flipped the whole pack up into the air. As the cards fluttered down he turned towards the door and made his exit. The cards were scattered across over the floor, all except one face down. Sitting there all alone - face up - was the 2 of diamonds. He'd gone...we sat there, speechless.
Another time, John and I went to see a pay-per-view (Sugar Ray Leonard, probably) at the Sporting Club in Tribeca and we had a small wager, which I won. He was a little short of cash, so he asked if I would accept his marker? No problem...so he proceeded to grab a purple crayon from a glass on the table, tore off a piece of white paper "tablecloth" and proceeded to write out "I.O.U. 40 $" and signing it "Count Bubba, Good Buddy of Darkness"
I spent as much time as I could with John. Peter left Elektra having co-produced (with Dennis Walker) John's first album, 'One Believer' which allowed me greater access, as I was now JC's a&r person. He and his band, Zonder Kennedy, Davis McClarty (later replaced by former Model Citizen and former Lou Reed drummer) Robert Medici and bassist, Jimmy Pettit were good people and good times on the road were had, whether in New Orleans, San Francisco, Paris, Milan, Washington DC or back home in NYC. Simply hanging out at rehearsals was always a blast with these guys, and I was thrilled when John, Zonder, Robert and "Blind Willie Loobster" played a short set at a surprise party Valerie, my fabulous secretary organised for my 40th birthday party at the Lonestar. So it was a terrible blow when I was woken up a few days later to be told John had passed away during the night (June 13th, '93). I'd only seen him hours before and he'd been about as happy as a man could be, with a beautiful and loving wife (Dolly), a 6 month old baby (Paris), a strong infrastructure around him (finally) and a career that was on the verge of taking off in the US and well on its way in Europe. Out of the blue, something within him finally gave out and we lost a real, good man, to heart failure.
On August 6th, we put on a memorial show (benefitting Paris) at the Lonestar at which Cruel 13 (Zonder, Robert and Jimmy with Mark Grandfield on harp & vocals, Dolly Fox-Campbell, John Popper, Dr. John, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, The Voodoo Children (who included Metallica's Kirk Hammett and Jason Newsted) and Chris Whitley each paid their respects with short sets.
Teddy G, Lara B, Dolly Fox-Campbell, John Campbell, BB, Dr. John
photo: Brian Ashley White
(with thanks)
(In verifying parts of this story, Alan told me that, as he and Teddy walked to the men's room at the Garden between fights, everybody stepped aside and paid their respects to the Hells Angel, greeting him like he was a rock star, calling out with thumbs up, wishing him all the best. Furthermore, at the end of the night as they were leaving my place, there was a lot of traffic on 23rd Street. Alan said Teddy couldn't be bothered to wait at the kerb so he just marched into the middle of the street, held his hands up, holding up the traffic in both directions so Alan could cross the street to where Teddy's bike was parked.
John "Clutch" Campbell
photo: ht
scanned from a lenticular 3-D print

quotes in italics are from a taped conversation I had with John in '93
more Campbell photos here

good Campbell website here

l-r: Steve Schnur, ??, David Bither, John Campbell, ht, Mike Gormley, Bob Catania, Ellen Darst

Collector's Corner:
'A Man And His Blues'
Crosscut Records (CD, Germany), 1988


'One Believer'
Elektra Records (CD, US) 1991

'Devil In My Closet' b/w 'Devil In My Closet' (acoustic version)
Elektra Records (7" single, Germany), 1991

1. 'Devil In My Closet'
2.
'Devil In My Closet' - acoustic version
3.
'Devil In My Closet' - live
Elektra Records (CD Single, Germany), 1991

Various Artists: Strike A Deep Chord
'Brother Can You Spare A Dime': Odetta, John Campbell, Dr. John, Will Calhoun and Rufus Reid
'America The Beautiful': Odetta, John Campbell, Will Calhoun and Rufus Reid
Justice Records (CD, US) 1992

'Howlin Mercy'
Elektra Records (CD, US) 1993


1. 'Ain't Afraid Of Midnight' - edit
2. Candid Campbell
- a conversation between John Campbell & Howard Thompson
Elektra Records (Promo CD, US) 1993

'Ain't Afraid Of Midnight'
Elektra Records (7" promo, Spain) 1993


1. 'When The Levee Breaks' - edit
2.
'When The Levee Breaks' - album version
Elektra Records (Promo CD, US) 1993

1. 'Down In The Hole'
2.
'Ain't Afraid of Midnight'
3.
'When The Levee Breaks'

Elektra Records (Promo CD, Germany) 1993


'A Man And His Blues'
Blue Rock'It Records (CD, US) 1994

some cassette inserts:








(last public performance, Lonestar Roadhouse, NYC June '93)

last home demo (solo, acoustic)
1.
'Rough It Up'
2.
'Convent Girl'
3. 'Body Dragger'

(the last rehearsal - Big Mike's, NYC, June 11 '93)