Making one of his rare Twin Cities appearances, Eddie C. Campbell's show at Famous Dave's was the "best show in town" that night despite the fact that Jimmy Thackery was also playing over in St. Paul. Born in Mississippi in 1939 his sharecropper parents moved to Chicago when Eddie was 6. His mother, who knew Muddy Waters from Clarksdale, bought him his first guitar at age 8 and began taking him to the 1125 club on Madison Street where he would watch Muddy play (this was in the late '40s and early '50s. By the age of 12 Eddie had learned enough on the guitar to have Muddy allow him to sit in with the band. While still in his teens, during the mid '50s, he was playing around town with friends Luther Allison, Willie James Lyons, Pee Wee Madison and later became running mates with Magic Sam who lived a few houses down the street from him.
Eddie was one of the more flamboyant players on the west side during this time, usually riding around on a purple motorcycle with his bright red guitar strapped to his back and outrageous hair styles. He was also involved with karate and was a successful amateur boxer. By the late '50s Eddie and his band were backing up Lowell Fulson, Percy Mayfield, Tyrone Davis and Little Johnny Taylor. He also played with just about every blues artists in the Chicago area at that time including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, Little Walter, Mighty Joe Young, Oscar Coleman and Magic Sam who was influential on his guitar style. The wide respect Eddie has from fellow blues musicians in Chicago was evident when he recently celebrated his 60th birthday party with an all-star show at Buddy Guy's Legends in May of this year. Joining him on stage that momentous night were: Carey Bell, Billy Boy Arnold, Aron Moore, Lester Davenport, Willie Kent, Nick Holt, Mojo Mark and many others, with Dick Shurman emceeing. In fact, that star studded evening and this show at Famous Dave's were perhaps my top two favorite shows of 1999 (at least in the top 5).
In the early '60s Eddie was band leader for Jimmy Reed, playing with him until Reed's death in 1976 when he played with Koko Taylor and then joined Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All-Stars. In 1977, while still playing in Dixon's band he released his now classic record, King of the Jungle. He toured Europe for the first time in 1979 with the Blues Legends Tour (he said he just wanted to go to England so he could buy a motorcycle) and wound up moving to Europe in 1984 where he spent the next 8 years living in England, Holland and finally Germany. He returned to Chicago in 1992 so his son could be born here. He played on the main stage at the 1995 Chicago Blues Festival and has attained blues cult status with an international fan base while he continues to be one of the best practitioners of his own unique brand of west-side Chicago blues. He is perhaps one of the better and most under appreciated Chicago blues guitarists playing today.
With irresistible guitar rhythms overlaid with his lithe guitar lines, Eddie C. Campbell has a precise, clean, popping guitar tone, unique phrasing, with heavy borrowings of Magic Sam's rich tremolo and his own resonant reverb-loaded sound. He has a percussive rhythm chording that is a treat to watch and listen too. Eddie's guitar playing draws on some of the more hard-core, delta influenced, classic Chicago blues of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Magic Sam as well as taking in some of the more modern sounds of Albert King, Johnny "Guitar" Watson" and even the James Brown sound as well as other west side guitarists his own age. There are some strong similarities to Robert Ward's reverb-soaked guitar sounds. Campbell's playing is purposeful with every note having a design--with the silence between the notes taking on just as much importance as the notes themselves.
Some of the excellent songs he played this night at Famous Dave's included: the Mack Rice (Johnny Taylor hit) "Cheaper To Keep Her," a heavy dose of Magic Sam songs, including, "Look Watcha Done," "Love Me with A Feeling," "Easy Baby," and "All (of)Your Love." And later The Otis Rush classic by the same name, "All Your Love (I miss Loving)." He played many of his own songs, like "King of the Jungle," and the superb "That's When I Know" from his 1994 album of the same name. To add to the good time he also played an entertaining Chuck Berry medley of "Little Queenie," "Nadine," and "Lucille" and then segued into Hank Ballard's "The Twist," prompting an impromptu "twist contest" out on the dance floor. He did a wonderful version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious," that seamlessly transitioned into his own unique version of "Hey, The Blues Is Alright." He later did Guitar Slim's all-time classic, "The Things That I Used To Do," and even played a sublime "Summertime."
Joining Eddie on drums was longtime friend and bandmate, Robert "Huckleberry Hound" Wright who has played with Eddie for over 40 years. Fiery Chicago guitarist, now living in the Twin Cities, Johnnie Sanders was also in the audience that night and Eddie called him up to play during the last set.
Eddie C. Campbell is something very special. He is one of the Blues' unique talents that certainly deserves much wider recognition. So if you thought you were having a good time at the Thackery show that night, you were in fact, missing "the best" show in town.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Ray Stiles, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
Photograph copyright © 1999 by Tom Asp, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.