West Side mourns blues giant

Eddie C. Campbell, 79, died on Nov. 20

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By BONNIE McKEOWN

Contributor

Family members and musicians paid tribute to West Side bluesman Eddie C. Campbell, at a memorial service held Dec. 8 at New Progressive St. James Missionary Baptist Church. 

Campbell died Nov. 20, at his home in Oak Park, according to the Chicago Tribune and his Facebook page. 

In 2013, Campbell suffered a stroke while in Germany. Fans raised thousands of dollars to bring him back to the U.S. He was unable to return to the guitar, but after physical therapy he was able to sing and play harmonica for several more years.

The master guitarist, songwriter and singer was born May 6, 1937 to Gracie and Edward Brown in Duncan, Miss. — the youngest of three brothers and one sister. The family moved to Chicago when he Campbell was six. As a teen, he was already playing blues with Luther Allison and later with Little Walter.   

During his youth, he also boxed. Church pastor Reno "Sim" Wilson, Campbell's nephew, named after the family's oldest brother, said Campbell fought off eight gang members who tried and failed to recruit him.  

"He got a reputation and nobody messed with our family because of him," Wilson said. During the 1970s, Campbell was also known for riding a purple Honda motorcycle around the West Side, sometimes with guitar in tow, and sometimes with his oldest kids, Edward and Mae-Mae.

His first album, King of the Jungle, debuted in 1977 for Steve Wisner's short-lived "Mr. Blues" logo. The album includes the guitarist's lighthearted Christmas song, "Santa's Been Messin' with the Kid". 

His 1984 album with a Dutch group, Let's Pick It!, first came out on Black Magic.   He spent much of the 1980s in the Netherlands and Germany, where he met his former wife and manager Barbara Mayson. After returning to the U.S. in the 1990s, Campbell slowly gained recognition in the music industry. 

"He was a late bloomer in launching his career," said Pastor Wilson.  "He didn't know how to read and write. He would go sing in some club and musicians or promoters would write down and steal his songs and make hits out of them. Then when he'd sing the songs, people thought he stole them from the other people." 

Campbell's mother introduced him to Muddy Waters, said blues producer and critic Dick Shurman. But Campbell was also influenced by fellow West Siders like Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Eddie Taylor and Jimmy Reed. 

"Most of the cats that you listened to, back in the '50s, lived on the West Side," Campbell told the Chicago Tribune in 1993. "That's where the name came from, West Side blues."

"Playing the blues doesn't give you the (media) coverage that rock 'n' roll gives you," he said in a 1994 Tribune interview. "White guys copy the black culture, and they get all the attention, whereas if B.B. King plays a concert, you would hardly even know it

That's why the blues guys are driving Fords while the rock 'n' rollers drive the Porsches."

Campbell recorded "That's When I Know" for Blind Pig in 1994 and Gonna Be Alright in 1999. Tear This World Up (2009) and Spider Eating Preacher (2012), were produced by Dick Shurman for Delmark Records.

When home from Europe, he'd visit with family and with musician neighbors. 

"He never got separated from his roots," said Darrell Dwayne (D.D.) Jackson, who played with Campbell. Jackson reminded the congregation that the White Elephant lounge once stood on the very site occupied by the New Progressive church today.

Joe Wilson, another nephew of Campbell's, noted that Eddie and other family members got a sense of humor from matriarch Mama Gracie. Among family, Campbell was known as "Eddie B" for "blues."  

Wilson, who moved back south to Holly Springs, Miss. in 1989 to earn a degree from Rust College, recruited his uncle to play in Mississippi. 

"His band really lit the place up," Wilson said. "Eddie was the epitome of blues from the old school."

Musicians at the memorial agreed. 

"He was all about soul," Jackson recalled of Campbell. "In that era of the 1960s, blues was evolving, getting real strong. But that sound wasn't Eddie; instead, everything he did came from inside him."  

Playing a Fender Jazzmaster, Campbell would reach back into the 1930s and 40s for musical ideas, Jackson said. 

Kaspar, a Swiss musician who played with Campbell said that his "guitar playing was mesmerizing, but he was all about groove. He shared a loving, humble energy on stage.  You just wanted to lean back and dig the groove."

Piano player Karl "Little Daddy" Outten called Campbell "a great guy to play on the road with. He did all the driving through a snowstorm in Oklahoma that shut everything down. He took care of all the musicians."

Larry Taylor, who played drums for Campbell on "King of the Jungle," said his own father, the late guitar master Eddie Taylor Sr., called Campbell "an extraordinary guitar player."  Besides writing his own songs, Campbell was able to play other artists' recordings note for note.

According to the obituary, Campbell's include daughters Eddie Mae (Frank), Deena (Robert), Debra, Cindy, Carolyn, Sheba, Niecey and Tammy (Stanford). His sons include Edward, Eddie, David, Lil Ron, Billy, Ronnie and Guy. A daughter, Sharon, is deceased. Still living on the West Side are Cindy, Deena, Edward Jr. and Debra.

"Eddie will live on through his children and grandchildren. We will prosper and make his name live on," youngest daughter Sheba Campbell said.

CONTACT: bonni@barrelhousebonni.com

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