West Side blues gui­tarist en­joyed ca­reer that spanned decades

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - TOP NEWS - BY LAU­REN FITZ­PATRICK, STAFF RE­PORTER lfitz­[email protected]­times.com | @by­lau­ren­fitz

Ed­die C. Camp­bell may not have had ma­jor name recog­ni­tion among the gen­eral pub­lic, but in Chicago’s blues cir­cles, he was a tow­er­ing gui­tarist, blues vo­cal­ist and song­writer whose ca­reer spanned decades.

Mr. Camp­bell’s ca­reer got un­der­way in the ’50s and ’60s, but un­like many of his peers who also had roots in the ru­ral South, he con­tin­ued to play clubs and record new stuff in the 1990s and 2000s, too, not con­tent to sim­ply con­tinue play­ing the stan­dards.

“He epit­o­mized the West Side sound, which in­cluded R&B and soul,” Chicago mu­sic his­to­rian James Porter said. “He had an ex­cel­lent voice, an ex­cel­lent blues voice, but he was more dis­tin­guished as a gui­tarist and a song­writer.”

Mr. Camp­bell died Tues­day of heart fail­ure at home in Oak Park, his wife and man­ager, Bar­bara Mayson, an­nounced on Face­book. He was 79.

“I have my own true sound,” Mr. Camp­bell told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1995, be­fore a free show at the Harold Wash­ing­ton Li­brary. “I write my own mu­sic, I ar­range my own mu­sic, from bass to the horns . ... Re­mem­ber, just be­cause I’m liv­ing on the South Side or liv­ing on the West Side doesn’t mean it is South Side or West Side mu­sic.

“Blues are an in­di­vid­ual’s mu­sic.”

Mr. Camp­bell was born May 6, 1939, to share­crop­pers in tiny Dun­can, Mis­sis­sippi. He moved to Chicago at age 6, as his fam­ily joined thou­sands of other African-Amer­i­can fam­i­lies leav­ing the ru­ral, seg­re­gated South for the more in­dus­tri­al­ized cities of the North.

His mother took him to the old 1125 Club on West Madi­son Street. There, he met her friend Muddy Wa­ters. By age 12, he was sit­ting in with Wa­ters’ band.

As a teen, Mr. Camp­bell played in a band with Luther Al­li­son, his neigh­bor, and later with Lit­tle Wal­ter, who’d rev­o­lu­tion­ize the har­mon­ica the way Jimi Hen­drix did the elec­tric guitar.

But Mr. Camp­bell also had a knack for box­ing, win­ning 16 heavy­weight fights in a row.

He once was booked to fight Muham­mad Ali when the champ was still known as Cas­sius Clay. The pair knew each other; they bought their mo­tor­cy­cles at the same shop. Mo­tor­cy­cles would side­line Mr. Camp­bell’s pro box­ing ca­reer when he had an ac­ci­dent and broke his leg.

“In 1959, I weighed 210 and was go­ing to fight Ali in the Golden Gloves,” Mr. Camp­bell said. “But I was too happy with my mo­tor­cy­cles.”

In 1963, he be­came band­leader for Jimmy Reed, whose min­i­mal­ist guitar play­ing and slurred singing style he adopted. And then he played with Wil­lie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All-Stars and Koko Tay­lor.

In the 1970s, Mr. Camp­bell dressed, drove and per­formed flam­boy­antly, rid­ing a pur­ple Honda 750 mo­tor­cy­cle through the West Side.

He re­leased his first LP, “King of the Jun­gle,” in 1977; its cover fea­tured him in a fur vest and full Afro.

The open­ing track he penned on it, “Santa’s Mess­ing with the Kid,” be­came a Christ­mas sta­ple and was cov­ered by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Mr. Camp­bell spent the 1980s in Europe, tour­ing and liv­ing in the Nether­lands and Ger­many. While over­seas, he met his wife, who also be­came his man­ager. They moved to the States in 1992.

Sev­eral more al­bums came on dif­fer­ent record­ing la­bels, the last two on Chicago’s his­toric Del­mark Records.

“He never made a bad record,” Porter said, though his de­but and “That’s When I Know” (1994) and “Tear This World Up” (2009), his first for Del­mark, stand out.

Mr. Camp­bell’s last al­bum, “Spi­der Eat­ing Preacher” (2012) snagged an Amer­i­can Blues Award nom­i­na­tion for best tra­di­tional blues al­bum in 2013, ac­cord­ing to Del­mark’s pres­i­dent, Ju­lia Miller, who em­pha­sized how sig­nif­i­cant he was in shap­ing the West Side Blues sound.

“He was not a purist, and his mu­sic had hints of rock in it,” she said. “And he was a great West Side blues guitar hero.”

But that same year, while tour­ing Europe, Mr. Camp­bell suf­fered a heart at­tack and stroke in Ger­many that left him par­tially par­a­lyzed. The blues com­mu­nity ral­lied around him, rais­ing money to bring him home.

He could still play har­mon­ica and sing — and still turned out to pub­lic ap­pear­ances — but he couldn’t play guitar any­more.

“Af­ter the stroke, it was an event when he showed up in pub­lic,” Porter said. “The Chicago blues com­mu­nity is in mourn­ing right now.”

Aside from his wife, Mr. Camp­bell is sur­vived by a daugh­ter, Sheba, and a son, David.

Ar­range­ments for a me­mo­rial ser­vice are pend­ing.


JU­LIA MILLER, pres­i­dent of Del­mark Records, which put out Mr. Camp­bell’s last two al­bums


Ed­die C. Camp­bell, a le­gend in Chicago blues cir­cles, died Nov. 20 in his Oak Park home at age 79.

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