Larry Campbell is a multi-instrumentalist and producer with an impressive list of credits. With a career as a supporting musician that dates back to 1980 he has recorded and performed with musicians including Shawn Colvin, Roseanne Cash, Levon Helm, Jorma Kaukonen, John Sebastian, Cindy Lauper, Rory Block, Leon Redbone and a raft of others. He was a member of Bob Dylan’s band from 1997 to 2004. He was a major contributor to Dylan’s 2001 recording “Love and Theft”, which made a strong foray into western swing territory. I had a chance to see Dylan on tour after the release of “Love and Theft.” The band was a tight, rockin’ unit that left Dylan no choice but to be at the top of his game.
In 2002 Campbell added guitars, fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel and background vocals to the album “Sleepless” by Peter Wolf, former lead singer of the J. Geils Band. “Sleepless” was Wolf’s sixth solo release. This is a textured and layered roots rock ‘n roll record, modern and vintage sounding at once.
‘Growin’ Pain’, the opening track, starts with a slinky minor chord riff on electric guitar joined by a restrained yet insistent rhythm figure from Campbell on mandolin. The bulk of the song is carried by an acoustic guitar playing three note chords in a syncopated rhythm with single line or double stopped fills and accents playing off the mandolin doing the same.
‘Nothing but the Wheel” features back up vocals by Mick Jagger and guitar from Keith Richards. Not surprisingly, it has a vintage Stones feel to it circa “Let It Bleed” or “Some Girls” but it is a distinctly American song as the lyrics evoke a middle country scene.
From the Stax sound of ‘A Lot of Good Ones Gone” and ‘Never Like This Before’ (co-written with Wolf by Isaac Hayes and Booker T. Jones) to the Drifters feel of ‘Oh Marianne’ Wolf pays tribute to the roots of the music. Throughout, the guitar playing holds the central position in defining and expanding the sounds. The playing is never over done, just enough to make it clear that now, as then, it is the guitar that makes it rock ‘n roll.
Also listen for Campbell’s work with Levon Helm on 2007’s ‘Dirt Farmer’ and 2009’s ‘Electric Dirt’. Campbell produced both of these and adds his instrumental talents to both as well. Through the entirety of his work there is much to be gained from Larry Campbell’s approach to serving the music.