Guitarist, singer, and songwriter John Campbell had the potential of turning a whole new generation of people onto the blues in the 1990s, much the same way Stevie Ray Vaughan did in the '80s. His vocals were so powerful and his guitar playing so fiery, you couldn't help but stop what you were doing and pay attention to what you were hearing. But unfortunately, because of frail health and a rough European tour, he suffered a heart attack in his sleep on June 13, 1993, at the age of 41. In 1985, after playing a variety of clubs between east Texas and New Orleans, Campbell moved to New York. One night in New York, guitarist Ronnie Earl happened upon Campbell in a club, playing with Johnny Littlejohn. Earl was so impressed that he offered to produce an album by Campbell, and the result was A Man and His Blues (Crosscut 1019), a Germany-only release that has since been made available in the U.S.
Slide guitarist and songwriter John Campbell was a man driven. Before his untimely death, he had pulled out all the stops to play a music that was full of mystery, pathos, dark energy, and plenty of rock & roll strut 'n' growl; it could be frightening in its intensity. Howlin' Mercy was the last of two recordings for Elektra, and is by far the heavier of the two. As displayed by its opening track, "Ain't Afraid of Midnight," Campbell was a considerable slide guitarist who owed his skill to the bluesmen like Lightnin' Hopkins (from his home state of Texas), Fred McDowell, and a few others. His solos are wrangling, loose, and shambolic; they are undeniably dark and heavy. They cut with elegance across the rhythms and melodies in his songs. This is followed by a version of "When the Levee Breaks" that is a direct counter to and traditional reclamation of the Led Zep version and places it back firmly in the blues canon. As evidenced by "Saddle Up My Pony," Campbell was equally skilled at transmuting the Delta blues and framing them in a very modern context without taking anything away from their chilling, spare power and poetry.