Interview with Johnny Campbell
A member of the Impact Showband with Rory.

Made by Swedish journalist Mats Karlsson at Clancy's Pub, Cork Sep 8 1995

Both our fathers came from Derry, they were in the Irish army. Rory's family used to have a pub in Cork and my father went there regularly, about 8-10 years. When we were young teenagers, he was already an amazing player. I played the drums. We played Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee, rock'n'roll stuff.

The Impact Show Band made some gigs in Germany. It was Rory, myself and a bass player who wasn't very good. But if he started at the right time, he played well. It was exciting in Hamburg. England was 20 years behind at the time. There were lots of English bands and German around.

When I went to college, he formed Taste 1. They all came from Cork, but then he moved to Belfast fairly soon afterwards and found Richie McCracken and John Wilson. That was the best band he's ever had. Second Taste was absolutely amazing.  We remained friends over the years, played together a few times. I changed from drums to bass and then I couldn't go back.   Eddie Kennedy from Belfast managed Taste and they broke up because of him. After Isle of Wight 1970, and then British and European tours, he threw Kennedy out. Donal became his personal manager.

Rory wanted to take control and after Taste 2 all were backing bands. Before that they were all a band. They used 300 watts PA, now it's an absolute minimum to have 1000 W. They had two Philips amps, and that was it, quite enough.  He was more interested in jazz in those days. He played sax on the second Taste album. He also did it some times on stage, in Denmark. But he quit, after Taste he never did it again. He was a quite accomplished sax player, influenced by John Coltrane.  But Muddy came first however. He was the biggest influence. Rory spoke of him as a

During the last couple of years - and it's a tragedy it didn't happen - he wanted to record an acoustic album. And his last gig in Cork was an acoustic one, with Lou Martin on grand piano and Mark Feltham on harp. It was at the technical college, where his uncle was principal. They had been talking about it a long time. He brought a lot of stacks and guitars, but he never set it up. He was a bit nervous about doing it, so just in case...  He was always nervous, edgy. I would say he was his own hardest critic, always afraid he wouldn't match up to the demands he put on himself. In the early seventies, when he was very big, he could have released a couple of singles in America and cracked it there, but he regarded singles as being pop music.  He always made the distinction between pop and blues. But even Led Zeppelin had singles out in America. Anyone could if it was standing out from everything else.

Did he find the new blues boom too commercial?

I think so. He never talked about this, he was a very private person. He felt that he had to move on, that he couldn't keep on doing what he was doing. That's how I feel.  He had songs written for an acoustic album and an electric one. He wrote this after his  last gig in Cork, but he never started recording. The band had just changed and that was something he wasn't happy about. He had a new drummer and a new bass player. That was holding up the recording a bit.  But he was making up big things for both, but it was tough. "Unplugged" would have been totally opposite to Rory's ethic. If he wanted to play an acoustic gig, fine, it didn't have to be labeled as "unplugged" or whatever.

 He was very pleased to have achieved success by doing what he wanted to do. His biggest kick was when he was voted the world's number one guitar player in Melody Maker. He was happy that he made it on his own, building up the crowds. Now, it's all PR and marketing.

Was he annoyed that he didn't get enough credit for paving the way for Irish rock?

Certainly he was. Of course, there was Van in Northern Ireland, and there wasn't any visible friction between north and south then. He would always play Cork, Dublin and Belfast. In 1978-81 he toured Japan, Australia, Italy, Europe, USA.  He was working non stop. From 1967 and on he made about 200 gigs a year... you count! He'd go into the studio, have the songs recorded and then back on the road.

Where did he get the 1961 Strat?

He bought it in Cork in 1963 or something. The story is that it was owned by Jim Connolly of the Irish Showband and it was the biggest thing in the country at the time. It was a pink one and he wanted it. He kept the colours all over the years - certainly it was never painted over. My guess is that he wanted the same as Buddy Holly, he had a pink one, and that's the reason why he bought it. He was absolutely attached to it.   He was very true to his music. From the start he didn't even want to play a Gibson, but then later he obviously did. He didn't want to use Marshalls, but then he did. He certainly didn't like modern technology, digital recording.  He bought a CD player and a few CDs of his favourite albums, but he never liked it. It didn't have the depth of the records.

When did he start doing the duckwalk?

When I first saw him on stage he had a six or seven minute guitar lead and jumped all around the stage. The band leader Bernie played a sax and there was a venue here in Cork with a stage as a balcony over the audience. Bernie used to hang from the railings of the stage backwards by his legs, playing the sax. Rory was so full of action, jumping and... so I can't say exactly when it started, but he did it from the very beginning.

Which song was his favourite?

The song "On the boards". They recorded it in a small room, playing tightly. They were very close to each other, musically and otherwise. They used to rehearse in a church room in London and they wanted that sound.

What about the fame?

He was quietly pleased to be recognized, but not more. And he wanted to do it on his terms, not to sell out. Not do a commercial thing as the Stones.

Is that why he didn't want to join them?

Probably. Then they spoke to Ronnie Wood and asked What do you want? - Half a million - OK, and that was it.  That's the way the story goes anyway. It wouldn't have lasted - Ronnie was perfect, behaviourwise and otherwise. And the Stones wasn't doing much at the time - this was probably during one of Keith Richards less comfortable times.

The funeral?

There was the removal on Saturday, outside town in the afternoon. They didn't want to go through the city centre to avoid disrupting traffic. There were grandparents, kids, teenagers, all ages - astonishing! Even people who were impeding on his career in the beginning.  The musicians union was very powerful in the sixties. They were dictating the minimum number of people in a band for venues of different sizes. So at the Arcadia, here in Cork, there had to be six people on stage. So Taste brought three people who just sat on the stage in chairs.  So people in the union were there. I found it uplifting, people were showing respect, solidarity and concern. The 1961 Strat was carried along at the removal. Then it was put on display in the church.   Lou and Mark played in church. An Irish fiddler played "Slow Air". Then Lou and Mark played "Slow Blues" and "A Million Miles Away". It was very spiritual, the whole thing.  And then the priest sang a hymn, hopelessly out of tune all the way through, which was a very good thing, because it took away all of the tension and everyone felt relieved. It was somehow uplifting at the end, it was actually fitting.

Wilgar Campbell died about five years ago, suddenly. It was the liver. I met Gerry McAvoy last week, he was a bit scared because both the others in the band are dead now from liver problems.

reformatted by roryfan
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