Eddie C. Campbell | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Eddie C. Campbell 

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EDDIE C. CAMPBELL

In 1977 Eddie C. Campbell, already a veteran bluesman of two decades, took a break from his regular gig as a guitarist in Willie Dixon's band to record his debut LP, King of the Jungle (currently available on Rooster Blues). That disc showcases his blend of rootsiness and eccentricity in its full, roaring glory: his trademark deep-pocket shuffle and Carey Bell's alley-tough harmonica squalls keep the slapstick holiday anthem "Santa's Messin' With the Kid" more or less down-to-earth, but Campbell's voice is nightmarishly double tracked on the title tune, where he sings of facing down Mister Lion and halting an elephant stampede and punctuates his boasts with whammy-bar-enhanced leads. In 1984 Campbell moved to Europe, where he recorded for several European labels, worked clubs and festivals, and apparently found some inner peace: his output since he returned to the States in the early 90s has been much more tranquil. On 1994's That's When I Know (Blind Pig), his lyrics are still surrealistic, and his voice shifts impishly from an ethereal falsetto croon to a gut-bucket growl; but the music--a meld of 12-bar shuffle patterns, burbling bass lines, and wafting organ backing--is almost dreamlike. His latest, Hopes & Dreams (Rooster Blues), sounds even more centered. The Freddie King-influenced instrumental "Cougar" is a no-nonsense west-side burner; "Did I Hurt You?" is more adventurous, as Campbell's leads form freakish curlicues beneath his smoky croon. "Geese in the Ninny Bow (Hey!)" is a funk-propelled remake of That's When I Know's "I Been Thinkin'," buttressed by ballsy horn charts and featuring Campbell's lyrics at their most delightfully weird ("Geese in the ninny bow won't fly over / Woman in the bed and won't turn over / Look for somethin', know it ain't there / Get back now 'fore you lose your hair!"). Most affecting is "Lost Soul," a caustic yet tender ode to a wanderer with "your mind in a daze, can't find your way out the haze," set to an ironic juke-joint lope. Its fusion of compassion and barbed restraint make it one of Campbell's deepest cuts. Friday and Saturday, 9 PM, B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted; 773-528-1012.

DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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