Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Eddie C. Campbell & A Tall Tale

Eddie C. Campbell
Hopes and Dreams
Rooster Blues Records

Here's another one of my reviews that I'm rescuing from obscurity. Eddie C. Campbell's forte is not playing harmonica (although he has exhibited that talent on record), but I uncovered him when I was tracking down the discography of Carey Bell, whose harp playing I've always admired and I mention in my post regarding Bob Margolin. Back then I found an LP reissued by Jim O'Neal's Rooster Blues Records that was first on the Mr. Blues label and was called King of the Jungle. The original album cover featured a wild looking Campbell replete with a full-blown Afro. Carey blew some good stuff on that album, but what grabbed me was the take that Eddie C. had on the music. The liner notes explained just what a unique individual he was and it translated into his music. It seems that he was one of the seminal second generation Chicago bluesmen that grew up around Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Elmore James and others, but ran with young pups like Magic Sam. He played guitar and bass in a number of the bands in the area, most notably Willie Dixon's. When things slowed musically, Eddie C. left for Europe, recorded several well-received albums and remained for a good ten years.

I may be wrong, but I do believe that he returned because he had a child due to be borned and he wanted to make sure that happened in America. The blues genre was enjoying a bit of a resurgence at the time also, so that may have helped prompt his return. Strange thing is that very shortly after his move Stateside, his band ended up booked into a Bryan, Texas venue (the same Third Floor Cantina that's mentioned in the Sam Myers' post). For some reason, these Chicago cats were swinging through the Lone Star state. Real Chicago blues guys were showing up in my neck of the woods--what a rarity. So, I called on a brother-in-law who loves such things and was soon rubbing elbows with Eddie C. and company, such as drummer Robert Wright, who had played with the late great Magic Sam and a who's who in Chicago. Eddie C. told me how he and Magic Sam lived in the same neighborhood and were close childhood friends and picked up guitar ideas together. He told how he literally sat on Muddy Waters' lap as a youngster and etc...the tales went. He had a good harmonica player along, a young white guy that I'm still trying to recall enough to track down. Don't ask me how I forgot his name, because he played guitar and sang well that night, also. It may be because Eddie C. called me up as a "special guest" in the house. He asked me if I had a harp on me and I told him that I had a "C" harp out in the truck and he told me to go fetch it. My knees have never knocked together as hard as they did on the return trip up those stairs to a stage inhabited by Real Chicago Bluesmen. Nervous? Oh, yeah! I had never been on a stage before, never played through an amplifier before and certainly never had a bandleader ask, "Now, what would you like to play?" I called out Little Walter's Blues With A Feeling and Eddie C. said, "Okay, you kick it off" and away we went. It was a little surreal. I had practiced that tune enough to hit it fair to middling, but the crowd went nuts, Eddie C. said that I nailed it and the harp player told me that he liked my tone. My brother-in-law was totally amazed and the Aggies in the room wanted to know what band that I played with around town. It was at this point in my life that I realized that there were a lot of people that have no clue as to how the blues harp is suppose to sound. I'm pretty sure that my brother-in-law paid Eddie C. money to let me play, but he's never admitted that. I digress, though.

So, I became a huge Eddie C. Campbell fan and sought out his recordings and hoped that he would put out something new now that he was back it the USA and he promptly recorded That's When I Know for Blind Pig Records to critical acclaim in 1994 and then this one for Rooster Blues Records in 1997. This is what I wrote back in the day:

The revitalized Rooster Blues Record label has swung back in action with some really fine recordings. Two of which are by blues veterans who have yet to get the attention that they are due. Eddie C. Campbell and Jerry "Philadelphia" Ricks, who both live in Europe for extended periods of time, have put out perhaps the best example of who they are and why we should pay attention to what they do.

Expansive. That is my best description for Eddie C. Campbell's blues. His is a sound with lots of air under it that lifts it up and allows the music to transport the listener to a zone that only blues music can reach. This is the sound that permeates Hopes and Dreams.

It is the sound of his reverberating guitar, hatched on Chicago's Westside, and a voice that echoes with the same resonance. A voice that is as unique as his music. Eddie C. Campbell's music is a sonic contradiction in terms. It is contemporary, yet traditional. It is explosive, yet mellow. His lyrics are deeply philosophical, then lighthearted and humorous.

It's been way too long of a wait since the 1994 release of That's When I Know on Blind Pig to hear from the pen of Eddie C again. This CD picks up where the last one left off with eleven more originals, many in collaboration with his wife, that proves he has few equals that can provide the blues with the freshness of ideas that he can.

Campbell has surrounded himself with solid sidemen that aren't just window dressing. They each supply vital elements to the sound that he wants to get across. He has in tow his old compadre, Robert "Huckleberry Hound" Wright on drums (he was a favorite of Magic Sam's), who knows exactly what Eddie C's music needs. Louis Villeri, one of Bobby Bland's ex-bandmates, helps him hold down the bottom on bass. Ernest Lane, who played with Ike Turner and Robert Nighthawk, lays down the lowdown piano, while Lester "Duck" Warner, Tim Perryman and Kenny Glover handle the horn charts. Jeff Jones provides the organ flow and last, but certainly not least, he coaxed his old buddy from his Waukegan band, Billy Boy Arnold into joining in on the fun on a couple of tunes.

The slashing, biting, reverb-drenched runs that intro the opener, Did I Hurt You, lets us know that, yes indeed, Eddie C is back. His solos wring out the high notes as he slams back into the bass notes and then slings out surprises that seem to come from nowhere. He voices sincere apologies for hurting his loved one and the horns really drive this one right.

The title cut rides a Chuck Berry Memphis groove, but Eddie C's guitar and voice mellow it into a smooth rhythm. His vocal range is on display here as he moves from a falsetto to a baritone and sings about how you can look but you can't see/the hopes and dreams inside of me.

Geese In The Ninny Bow begins with an insistent drum beat from "Hound", then Eddie C jumps into a Stevie Wonderish Superstitious riff, before the horns move it into classic R&B territory with a little funk on the side. It is unique in that he combines the lyrics of a couple of his previous recordings and successfully meshes them into one song.

You Worry Me starts with the low down, slow down 12 bar flow that the blues is most notable for and is THE tune that really reflects what Eddie C. Campbell's guitar style is all about. Lane's piano work is fabulous here. Otis Spann lives in the man's fingers.

Funky rhythms and the Chicago Westside string bending Eddie C does so well show up on Cool, Cool Woman. If you don't know the Westside sound, tune in here for a taste.

Slow and Easy is a mid-tempo shuffle instrumental that allows the sidemen to shine a little. Lane intros with some nice ivory tickling and Warner throws down some downright nasty tromboning and trumpeting. Eddie C jumps in about half-way through, tearing it up, but never over playing.

Billy Boy Arnold joins in a talking blues conversation with Eddie C on Those Was The Days. They reminisce about Waukegan nightspots, girls they've known and even "Hound" when he was a young pup. It is a downhome, acoustic foray that shows off Eddie C's skill on the flattop and allows Billy Boy to let his harp do some talking. Sweet stuff for a song that is not sung.

On Spend, he kicks out the licks, opening his ode to spending money as he gets it. He wants a new car and wants a new coat that will match his new boat. The horns riff along and boost the tune while Eddie C really gets the tone monster cranking with a solo that is sharp, short and too the point.

I'm Your Santa mines the same territory that Santa's Messing With The Kid did from his King of the Jungle LP. The latter has made its way on to more that one Christmas blues compilation. He backs himself on harp and plays the bass as he sings, I'll carve your turkey/I'll roast your duck/If you're good to me, you'll get a Christmas truck. This may just be another Christmas chestnut.

Lost Soul is another classic example of the Campbell sound, lyrically and musically, beginning with just Eddie C's remarkable voice echoing through the speakers. Both he and Billy Boy throw out harp licks on this lament.

It is back to Westside slinging on the the instrumental, Cougar that is close in spirit to Freddie King's San Ho Say. Of course, Eddie C and most of those that hung out on that side of Chicago will tell you that Freddie borrowed the tune from others. Eddie just borrows it back and twists it inside out and plays it the way he did back at the old Cougar Lounge--before anyone borrowed it.

Eddie C. Campbell is a unique and original bluesman with a perspective on life like few others and that is captured exceedingly well on Hopes and Dreams. Here's hoping that we don't have to wait as long to hear from his talent again.

Okay, there it is from back in day. You got to get you some Eddie C. Campbell if you don't have any. I do believe that some of his European releases have been re-released and most of them are worth getting. Let's Pick It is a good one to grabbed if you can find it. Check out Eddie C's myspace page and see what's up there. I'll try to get the Jerry Ricks review up soon. Anyway--


Anonymous said...

The unknown white harp player/guitarist/singer with Eddie C. Campbell was almost certainly Mark Cihlar, a/k/a Mojo Mark. He's been with Eddie since Eddie's return from Europe, and still plays with him today.

HTownFess said...

Would you have an idea who might have been playing harp with Eddy Clearwater in the spring of 1979? That was the first time I ever saw live blues harp, didn't catch the name and still wonder who that was. Never expected at the time that I would wind up playing the thang.

Ricky Bush said...

Hey Anon--

Thank you very much! I do seemed to remember Mark as being the name of the harpman. If he also takes a turn at guitar and at the mic during Eddie's gigs, then it definitely has to be the guy. He said he played a bit with and learn a bit from Lester "Maddog" Davenport. Anyway--

Anonymous said...

Great Eddie C post- one of the most distinctive sounding Bluesman around and last of the originators of the Chicago West Side sound (along with Jimmy Dawkins)- look for a new CD this May from Delmark Records!!

Ricky Bush said...

Yeah, I'll always owe Eddie C. for that one night in my life. Great guy! Great to hear that he has a new release due--I'll snap it up. You're right, there ain't anybody that can spin a blues yarn like Eddie C. Anyway--thanks for reading and thanks for the comment.

Kaspar said...

Good news for all Eddie C. Campbell fans (..and those who have yet to discover this great artist):

Eddie C. will be performing at the Cool River ( in Homer Glen IL - which is a south western suburb of Chicago on 04/11/2009.

I heard he'll have a CD for sale at the gig which you can't get in any record store; it's a live recording from one if his recent tours in South America...

Make sure to mark your calendar and common out for a great time with even greater blues! ...and tell everybody you know to come too..

Ricky Bush said...

Cool news, Kaspar--

Report back here with a report if you make the gig. Tell Eddie that I'm thinking about him and hello for me. Pass this blog address over to him. Anyway--