John Campbell National Steel Guitar Hero

Following the untimely death of Stevie Ray Vaughan, My Dear Friend Terry Carr and I were seeking new territory for inspiration. We were also going back to the living Masters who brought inspiration to the players Like SRV. Buddy Guy had long been on our Radar, but we never expected to see him Live. Well, we soon found out an incredible experience was about to fall right in our lap.

Buddy Guy at Staches in Columbus.The Blues Legend Who made Jimi Hendrix Jump. Small Hot sweaty bar….and we are heading for it full throttle. We arrived about time an opening act was taking the stage. We were immediately stopped in our tracks before a note had been played. A striking figure of a man Named John Campbell a future national steel guitar hero is getting seated, in a Buckskin Jacket, with All manner of bones, and odd Regalia on him. To be perfectly Honest this cat was scary. He had lines of experience on his face, He also had scars and when he looked around the crowd the intensity of his gaze was a cold chill. He was in no hurry as his time was his time and he was holding a 1934 National Steel Guitar and he explained she was old and a bit temperamental to get in tune. Then he cut loose with a version of Son House’s “Pony Blues” and his delivery of vocal deep dark growling half talking half preaching was perfectly matched to the Blues coming softly at first from the old 34, Tension Building until he poured on the Gasoline and that little bar turned into a Raging Juke Joint.

Video JOHN CAMPBELL Our NATIONAL STEEL GUITAR HERO

He was touring on the second album, and the first released on a Major Label titled “One Believer” and Buddy was on his comeback with “You Damn Right I Got the Blues”. John being born in Louisiana and having lived in Texas was no imitator of the Blues, He was carrying on a Tradition, In More ways than one.

John Campbell Howlin’ Mercy

NATIONAL STEEL GUITAR HERO John Campbell Howlin Mercy

There’s not much talked about his interest and education of the Southern practice of voodoo but it was more than understood that it was part of his surroundings. Lines Like “ I taught the Hell Hound to sit, I cheated Satan Playing Cards. I pulled a knife on the Devil when he Damned my heart.”From His 1993 release “Howlin Mercy”  Campbell was no Poser, He meant his business. This was a Rocking set, but it wasn’t all about fun, and let’s have a good time. He was telling you something deep, it was up to you if you took it in or you just waited on Buddy.

His was no image, Hair down halfway to his waist, Pulled back and the small adornments didn’t come from some executive’s idea of Image, John was who he was. Like it or leave it. I think he believed and fought the same struggles many of us do, in Spiritual warfare. John’s song “Down in the Hole” Where he speaks of Jesus saving your soul if you can Keep the Devil down. Same with Son House, battling his mission between The Blues and the Church and the devils music debate. Campbell also embraced Native American Culture and Spirituality in Using the “Medicine Stick”, The Skull of a Coyote with Bags, bones, Beads, and Feathers Campbell would employ as a Tribal Percussion instrument. I believe he as the Biblical writings go “Tested the Spirits”.

JOHN CAMPBELL – Saddle Up My Pony

His Slide wasn’t just the only side to him. He also played a 1952 Gibson Jumbo Acoustic with a pickup installed and was Highly adept at the art of lead Guitar. His Playing was his own combo of Texas Banjo style and the Mississippi Slide Style and he was known or unknown as one of the very best Musicians in every sense of the world.

He had a total of 4 albums during his life 1975: Street Suite (Sync)

1988: A Man And His Blues (Cross Cut)

1991: One Believer (Elektra)

1993: Howlin Mercy (Elektra)

 And one posthumous Release 

 2000: Tyler, Texas Session (Sphere Sound)

On June 13, 1993, Campbell died from heart failure as he slept at his Manhattan home in New York City. He was 41 years old. Many Tributes were given from The New York Times to Music genius Chris Whitley.

It’s funny how music can almost stick in your head even Subliminally. I Only Saw John live once in 1991 and heard a particular song that night. This morning as I was writing this I went back over some of his Material and a guitar line stuck out that had popped in my head around 2013 In a tune I wrote called “Creeping Crow” from one of my Solo records and then a Live Staple for the Band “Black Cat Mass”. Influences are fascinating in that you don’t immediately know they were influences. Yet the Hour I got to witness John Campbell do his thing is still with me. He was a Mindblower. He was a nice man offstage from my experience, yet when he took a stage He was in the Pulpit of the Blues, A Disciple of the True Delta Bluesman. Then he was gone and much too soon.  R.I.P. John

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Jimmy Flemming