Thursday, September 15, 2016

Royce Campbell to play Wes tribute on Saturday

Hoosier guitarist recounts his introduction to Montgomery.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 15, 2016 at 10:17 AM

Royce Campbell - PHOTO BY BOB TRAVIS
  • Photo by Bob Travis
  • Royce Campbell

On Saturday, September 17, Indy Jazz Fest will take over the IUPUI Campus Center to stage an epic tribute to Indianapolis guitar icon Wes Montgomery. Jazz Fest organizers have assembled an extraordinary cast of nearly two dozen jazz guitar greats to participate in this day long celebration of all things Wes. 

From 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., you can hop from floor to floor on the Campus Center to participate in panel discussions on the history of Indianapolis jazz or watch some of the greatest guitarists on Earth hit the strings.

If you have any interest in jazz or the guitar, you need to be at this event, which will certainly be a musical summit of legendary proportions.

Among the many guitar greats descending on Indy for this monumental festival will be the Hoosier-born guitarist Royce Campbell. Born in Seymour, Indiana in 1952, Campbell came to prominence in the 1970s touring with music superstars from Marvin Gaye to Henry Mancini. During his time off the road, Campbell worked the Indy jazz scene, recording and performing with some of the city’s best players. And since releasing his first solo disc in 1983, Campbell has cut nearly 40 well-received jazz LPs.

I caught up with Campbell via phone from his home in Virginia.

NUVO: I have some questions for you about Wes Montgomery, but first I want to ask you about Chuck Berry. I read that Berry was the musician that inspired you to pick up a guitar.

Royce Campbell: Chuck Berry wasn't a strong musical influence, but he was the reason I took up guitar after I saw him on TV. After that I asked my mother for a guitar. The real rock and roll influences on guitar were Hendrix, Clapton and Alvin Lee.

NUVO: So how did your interest in rock and roll guitar develop into an interest in jazz?

Campbell: The interest in jazz definitely came from Wes Montgomery, which came through my uncle Carroll DeCamp (arranger and pianist). He played with Wes Montgomery. He was from Indianapolis also. Wes was not only an internationally known musician, he was also a local guy too.

The very first jazz album I ever bought was a Wes Montgomery album.

NUVO: So you learned of Wes' music through your uncle's involvement with him?

Campbell: Initially he'd made some tapes of Wes. That's the first time I ever heard Wes. I was eleven years old and I heard these tapes. These tapes are now finally going to be released. My uncle knew Wes was something special and that people needed to hear him. At the time my uncle made those tapes Wes hadn't been discovered.

At that time I didn't really understand what I was hearing, but it still somehow made an impression on me.

NUVO: What was it about Wes’ music that caught your attention at that young age?

Campbell: I think what fascinated me the most was that I didn't understand it. I knew the blues and understood the blues. But this music was beyond me and it fascinated me. I was determined to figure out what he was doing because the rock stuff I'd already figured out.

NUVO: And that determination to figure out what Wes was doing led you to a deeper connection with his work?

Campbell: Yes.

NUVO: So, do you feel like you've figured Wes’ music out yet?

Campbell: I'm still trying to figure it out. Wes is still over my head.
NUVO: I did want to ask about your own work as well, I'm a fan of many of the projects you've been part of and the records you've put out. I have your album with Affinity and the album you made with Billy Wooten as a member of The Naptown Afro-Jazz Quintet. But first I wanted to ask you about Marvin Gaye, I know you toured with him at some point. Can you tell us a little about that time of your life and how you got connected to Marvin Gaye?

Campbell: I only did a couple tours with Marvin Gaye. With Marvin I was just hired by a music contractor that booked shows. I was booked as an extra. I wasn't part of his core band. I didn't fly on the jet, I rode the on the bus with the string players. (laughs) I didn't get all the good pay either. But it was an interesting experience. It was the first time I'd played with that big of a name in the big arenas. It was very loud.

I didn't get to know Marvin Gaye really at all. I was with Henry Mancini for nineteen years and we'd hang out with him and have dinner and we really got to know Mancini.

NUVO: Do you remember what album Marvin was touring on during your time with him?

Campbell: Yeah, it was the single that was a hit while we were touring which was "Let's Get It On." It was right during that era.

NUVO: You mentioned Henry Mancini and I did want to ask you about the many years you spent touring with him. Obviously Henry Mancini is an incredible composer and an icon of American film music. I'm sure you learned a lot from working with Mancini for so long, is there anything particular that stands out in your memory?

Campbell: That's a good question. So many things flashed across my memory at once. What stands out the most I think was his influence on me as a composer. I was very prolific as a composer and made a lot of my living through composing. So I think he actually influenced me more as a composer than as a musician. Playing his compositions all the time, I began to understand how he would arrive at melody. I learned a lot about composing through playing his music.

I got connected to Mancini through Al Cobine who booked music around the region. Mancini was on a short three day tour, and at that time he was hiring through a musical contractor. He was looking for a regular, steady guitar player and he decided not to go through contractors because he'd had some problems. He had a new album out with some more contemporary stuff and he needed to make sure he had someone who could cover that, not some old fart. (laughs) At that time I was young!

We did this short three day tour and at the end of the tour he asked me to be his regular guy. It was kind of the right place at the right time kind of thing. But I also did a good enough job to impress him to ask me to be his regular guy.

NUVO: You performed and recorded with so many of the Indianapolis' great jazz musicians during the '70s and '80s. Yet you were spending all this time on the road with Mancini, how did you balance those two roles?

Campbell: One thing about touring with Mancini was that it was part time. His main thing was writing for movies, not always doing concerts. We averaged about forty concerts a year I think. So it wasn't full time and that left me time to do other things. Though I couldn't make a full time commitment to anyone else either. But I did have my own group and did stuff around town.

NUVO: Speaking of your own group, you had a jazz fusion band called Affinity. Do you remember what sort of role Affinity had in the Indy jazz scene and what sort of venues the group worked?

Campbell: This was before Affinity, but I remember in the '70s the very first place I played jazz in Indianapolis was the Hummingbird.

NUVO: Okay, most people in Indianapolis now probably know the Hummingbird as Talbott Street, which unfortunately just closed.

I actually have an old newspaper that the Hummingbird venue produced during the '70s and Affinity was listed on their upcoming events calendar.

Campbell: Oh wow, so Affinity did actually play at the Hummingbird? I wasn't sure. Affinity evolved out of another band I was in called Myriad led by a sax player named Terry Cook [Note: Terry Cook was a former member of Bloomington's legendary Screaming Gypsy Bandits.)

NUVO: How do you feel now about the work you did with Affinity. The record you made with Affinity in the 1980s Around The Town has become a desirable LP on the collector's market.

Campbell: I don't know how I feel about. I'd probably need to go back and listen again. It's been awhile. [laughs]

I recently have been listening to a number of my albums for the first time in a long time, because people put them on Youtube. That makes it easier to hop around and check them out.

NUVO: One particular record you made that I'm eager to ask you about is the 1980 LP Naptown Jazz by The Naptown Afro-Jazz Quintet. You were a member of The Naptown Afro-Jazz Quintet along with Billy Wooten, Jack Gilfoy, Steve Dokken, and Nigerian percussionist Julius Adeniyi.

This was a really unique group for Indianapolis which mixed Brazilian and African music with jazz. That 1980 Naptown Jazz album is also a highly sought after LP for record collectors around the world. Tell us about your work with The Naptown Afro-Jazz Quintet.

Campbell: Once again, you're really making me use my brain. That goes back a long time ago.

That was Jack Gilfoy's group really. I'm pretty sure he was the leader. I'm pretty sure that we primarily did school programs with that group.

NUVO: Steve Dokken mentioned that to me recently. He told me the group was basically created as an educational music tool for local schools. So you guys wouldn't have been playing the club circuit together as The Naptown Afro-Jazz Quintet?

Campbell: No.

NUVO: So the group existed solely as a music education initiative for local schools and the Naptown Jazz album was cut as a byproduct of the music you were playing during these school programs?

Campbell: That's the way I remember it.

NUVO: Finally I did want to ask you one last question related to Wes Montgomery. Being a jazz guitarist from Indianapolis, I'd guess that you're associated with Wes Montgomery whether you want to be or not. Has that association with Wes Montgomery influenced perceptions of your work?

Campbell: Well, that's an interesting question. At times it's been a bit of curse for me. There was one instance where I actually lost a chance to do a recording project because I was labeled a Wes clone by the head of this label. Mel Rhyne, who played organ with Wes, said he wanted to use me on this project and the label rejected me because they said they didn't want a Wes clone.

When I heard about that I was kind of angry because I have my own style. After that I went through a period of almost twenty years where I purposely didn't listen to Wes because I didn't want to be influenced by him too much anymore. Now I kind of regret that, because Wes is so great and I shouldn't have avoided listening to him. There's nothing wrong with being influenced by Wes.

NUVO: So how do you feel now about coming back to Indianapolis to participate in this massive tribute to Wes Montgomery that Indy Jazz Fest has put together?

Campbell: I'm really excited about. It should be a lot of fun. It will be inspiring playing with that many great guitarists.

(Editor's Note: This article was graciously boosted on social media by Indy Jazz Fest []. Indy Jazz Fest had no input on the content in this article or the decision to create it.)

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