Issue 4 5/98
This time, the FolkWorld Scene from Inside contains not only fond memories and a great funny story of the late Alex Campbell, but also a call to all who knew Alex Campbell to help Jef by compiling a book of the great man of the folk music scene.
Alex Campbell was my European folk music mentor.
This would not be considered unusual in the U.K., where Alex was a fixture on the folk music circuit for many years. He was not only the "Big Daddy of Folk" to music lovers, but a perennial inspiration to younger musicians. Few of those musicians, however, lived here in my home town of Seattle, Washington, on the soggy Northwest coast of the USA.
In 1963, I was fortunate enough to have had a British exchange teacher for high school mathematics. When he learned of my interest in folk music he put me in touch with one of his former students in London. An exchange of folk music tapes ensued, and one of the first I received was Alex's "Way Out West."
Seventeen years later, while performing in Frederikshavn, Denmark, I saw Alex's name on the Skagen Vise Festival poster. I decided it was well worth a train trip up to Skagen to see if:
"Yeah," I replied, "and who might you be?"
"Campbell's the name. Alex Campbell." And he held out his hand.
I thought someone from the festival office had set me up for a practical joke. This must be the Danish National Sense of Humour, I thought. I stared back and sarcastically retorted, "Yeah, right, and I'm the bloody Queen of England!"
Next thing I know, this muscular guy stands up, towers over me, puts up his dukes and says, "Come on, ye smart-ass Yank! I'll teach you to insult me! Hell, yeah! Let's have a go. I'll teach ye a fookin' thing or two!"
Well, that was too authentic a response for me to think it was a joke. Still, I broke into profound laughter. Alex stood there with a very puzzled look on his face, and finally I said, "You really ARE Alex Campbell, aren't you? I came here looking for you! I've been trying to find you for 17 years!" The look of surprise on his face still defies description. Within minutes we were effectively life-long pals.
Gerd Parkholt came along a few minutes later and watched in amazement as Alex and I carried on. She quickly arranged a gig for me at one of the hotels during the festival; then she handed me a key to her infamous "Folkers Rest," which was also home to Alex at the time. I spent a lot of my subsequent time in Denmark playing back-up guitar for Alex, and sharing song circles with him and others. In 1985, when his health was starting to give out, we spent quite a bit of time together. I recorded a tune about the two of us, called "99 Years On The Road," for my 1985 Danish album ("Midnight Invitation"). On it I was privileged to play Alex's Gibson J-200. When he died 18 month later, Danmarks Radio played the song as part of its tribute.
Since his death it has been my hope to write the definitive Alex Campbell biography. (I don't know anyone else who would attempt it.) You can imagine what kind of work that entails, especially when I'm way the hell on the west coast of the USA. Still, I've managed to gather some good information. My next goal is to come to the UK and interview family members and some of his old friends. Ideally, I would come in late August, so I could attend Tønder Festival, where many of Alex's friends customarily gather and perform.
Meanwhile, I would be most interested in, and very appreciative of, any stories, experiences or leads which might help me put together an accurate picture of Alex. I can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com, or by post at P.O. Box 92, Bothell, WA 98041 USA.
Read also Allan Taylor's article: 'ALEX CAMPBELL, 1925 to 1987 - Reminiscences of a great man' in issue 1
Photo by Ian McCalman
Drawing by Annegret Haensel; more infos on the artist in the editorial
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