In a musician’s vernacular, an axe is a guitar.
So, in his latest full-length album release, Ron Campbell uses many axes and many different musical genres to portray his musical vision. That’s why the album is called Many Axes, Many Styles.
The new album is instrumental. There were a few circumstances that actually motivated him to put together his 17-song album.
“For the past year, I’ve had a steady house gig playing instrumental music at the Garden Court Restaurant, and that kind of got me thinking about it,” said Campbell. “It’s more of a challenge in some ways because you can’t just strum the chords and sing the words, you have to keep something happening instrumentally. You have to carry a melody, which is a lot of memory work.”
Another factor is that the style of music he likes to play most is blues, which is featured prominently in his instrumental album treatment.
“Blues is very, very simple music, and the melody for one blues song is very similar to the melody for the next blues song,” said Campbell. “They all share a pretty common melody without too many variations.
“I’ve always had this urge to prove to myself that even though I like to play that simple, not much variation, melody music, I can write melodies and come up with something that is a little bit more complicated.”
Campbell said the main motivator that got him started on this album came during COVID-19. There was a period at St. David and St. Paul Anglican Church in Powell River, where he is a part of the music team, when live music could no longer be played.
“Everything had to be pre-recorded,” said Campbell. “That meant pre-recording some vocal choir music, but I also wrote a couple of instrumental preludes. I dashed those off and recorded them and I thought: ‘these are actually pretty good. This is worth putting on an album.
“That is what really motivated me to go back and put these new ones on a recording, dig out some stuff that has been sitting around on my computer, and put them all together.”
Campbell said putting out an instrumental album is something he has wanted to do for a long time. He said the pandemic was a good time to really connect with his instruments. He also put on live performances on Facebook for a year and a half on Wednesday nights, and kept his skills sharp.
“It was a real learning experience, coming to terms with the technology, which is always a challenge,” said Campbell. “I mean, what button do I push?”
Campbell said today, he plays for the love of music. He said it’s past the stage where it’s about the money.
“Now, it’s about seeming to have this ability and so it should be shared with others,” said Campbell. “That’s really what I love, to feel like I’m doing something that is of some benefit to people.
“I’m grateful that people still seem to be interested in what this old man has to say. I did this album for my own gratification but figured some other people would like it, too.”
Most of the music was recorded in Campbell’s home studio and music room. One cut was excerpted from a live recording in Duncan, and another cut came out of recently deceased Randal Drader’s studio.
“It’s a way to say I miss you, buddy, and here’s what we did,” said Campbell. “He was a big part of the music scene in this town.”
This is Campbell’s sixth full-length album. He has also recorded an EP with Dennis Fox and “way, way back” he recorded some 45 RPM singles on vinyl. He’s no stranger to the recording process.
Campbell, being a multi-instrumentalist, played most of the instruments on the album. In addition to guitars, he played bass, keyboards, drums and harmonica. He said putting together the album was a learning experience.
“I love being 70 years old and still learning more stuff regularly all of the time,” said Campbell. “You come to realize the more you know, the more you realize you’ll never get through this stuff. If you love learning, as I do, that’s just such a joyful thing.”
In terms of using a number of “axes” on the album, Campbell said they don’t all sound the same, so there is a necessity to use a variety.
“The classical guitar that I play has a very different sound than the electric Stratocaster that is featured,” said Campbell. “They have the same number of strings, and they are tuned the same way, but the technique of playing them is quite different, such a finger style versus using a flat pick.”
Songs have stories
All of the songs on the new album have a story behind them. For example, the lead-off cut called “Latinica” is a Latin-style tune, with the main instrument being a harmonica on a rack around his neck while he is playing guitar. The next cut, “Slapstick Rag,” is played on his old upright grand piano, in the style of Jelly Roll Morton, who was a master of old-time ragtime music.
“Blues 96” is a straight-ahead blues composition, using not only his electric guitar, but his dobro-style axe, too. He also explores swing, funk and rock on the album.
“It’s really quite eclectic,” said Campbell. “I’ve even got an electronic dance music tune on there. That’s one of the reasons that I put many styles in the album’s title, so that people are not surprised.
“It’s a satisfying challenge to make those attempts. It stretches you.”
Campbell applauds the musicians creating new music today but is rooted in the old.
“I listen to old Count Basie and Duke Ellington records, and I think I could live to be 150 years old and still not be able to play as good as those guys,” said Campbell. “That stuff that straddles the line between blues and jazz is the real sweet spot for me.
“But, I can still put on some old, not high-level musicianship blues, and it still hits me. That primitive stuff is so good. It’s so full of emotion and impact.
Those wishing to access Many Axes, Many Styles, can find it at bandcamp.com by searching Ron Campbell’s name in the search engine.