By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Campbell--who can be seen in the Rounder/Vestapol video Legends of Western Swing Guitar--joined the Doughboys two weeks before Marvin "Smokey" Montgomery, in October 1935. His skill at synthesizing blues and country was so complete as to render the result jazz. He appeared with the Doughboys in their two singing cowboy movies, Oh Susannah and The Big Show; it's he who plays the jaw-dropping acoustic lead during Oh Susannah's patio scene.
"He had a fantastic single-string technique," Montgomery recalls. "Before [the electric guitar], you couldn't even hear the guitar, but we'd play the state fair in Arkansas every year, and we'd go down to the colored clubs after work and Zeke'd bring his guitar and set in, and that's where he learned all that single-note stuff and string-bending."
Campbell, Montgomery, and the great piano player "Knocky" Parker formed a sort of triumvirate within the Doughboys. "We had to be in the studio at nine," Montgomery explains. "But we didn't have to go on the air until 11, so we'd just sit around and jam, every weekday morning. We'd pick a song, play it through, and then change the key, working our way through every key for each song. We'd also get together on Sunday afternoons with our wives, and have dinner and play."
Campbell's command of his instrument was so complete that he often didn't seem to recognize that it was a guitar. "He could play anything," Montgomery says. "On [the famous Doughboys song] 'Pussy, Pussy, Pussy,' he was playing piano parts. We'd sit around and listen to Benny Goodman records, and he'd be playing Goodman's clarinet parts. I'd transcribe these big band arrangements for the Doughboys--we were a string band--and he'd take the part of the trumpet player."
Montgomery and Campbell remained friends for life. "He was the straightest guy I ever knew," Montgomery says, noting that Campbell was playing single-string lead lines years before jazzmen like Charlie Christian. "He really pioneered the electric guitar." The Rounder/Vestapol video notes that if Eldon Shamblin was Western swing's first great rhythm player, Campbell was its first comparable soloist--high praise indeed. Campbell is survived by a brother, two children, four grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
Returning from SXSW is Bangalore Torpedo, the new project of Deborah Vial and Darla Whisenant, late of Blanche Fury; check them out at Sue Ellen's Monday, March 30...Sammons Jazz salutes the great Ella Fitzgerald on Wednesday, April 2...Baboon's new album Secret Robot Control is out on NYC-based Wind-up records.
Fans of western swing may wish to ease the pain of Zeke Campbell's passing this Saturday, March 29, by seeing Ray Condo at the Blue Mule...Condo is a fine example of the talent running amok on the West coast that, unfortunately, doesn't often make it over thisaway...Jim Suhler's Monkey Beat has a new bass player: Jim Milan, late of Doyle Bramhall's band, replaces Carlton Powell...speaking of bassists, Homer Henderson--he of the one man band--is the new bass player for the Nitrons, replacing Chad Lovell, who moves over to Doosu...Thursday, March 27, the Good/Bad Art Collective is having a benefit at the Argo featuring Corn Mo, Dooms UK, Baboon (minus vocalist Andy Huffstetler and featuring a galaxy of guest singers) and heavy with rumors of girls in cages, runways, and other zaniness. "it'll be more than just rock," intones the inimitable Mr. Mo...
REO a-go-go: After a very successful West Coast tour, REO Speedealer is back and basking in the fact that three of their songs are featured on the latest edition of MTV Sports, and former drummer Toby Sheets has rejoined the band. Look for a seven-inch to come out in a few weeks with the only available recording of "The Admiral" b/w "Fancypants" and "Crankbait," or catch them this Saturday, March 29, at Club Clearview...On a slightly different tip, Brave Combo is getting ready to release a new album--look for Group Dance Epidemic on Rounder in June. The Combo is also reaching a Toadies-like level of saturation on film soundtracks, popping up on The Devil's Own, Feeling Minnesota, Fools Rush In, Lords of Illusion, and Late Bloomers. See 'em this Friday, March 28, at the Czech Club, or Saturday at Rick's Place in beautiful downtown Denton...If you elect to stay within the city limits, take advantage of a rare chance to see Daniel Johnston play songs off of his critically acclaimed Fun album that night with Dallas' Sutcliffes at the Barley House.
Street Beat walks like an Egyptian at Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com.