It was 1978 when Larry Campbell first came to Woodstock. He was introduced to the town by the legendary John Herald who was “looking for a guy to join his band who does what I do,” says Larry. And there are not many people that can do just what he does. He’s a connoisseur’s musician, master of many stringed instruments, who first picked up a guitar at age 11. He’s recorded on countless sessions for a who’s who of every style of music imaginable, produced numerous recordings including three Grammy winners for Levon Helm. And that just touches the surface. He has toured with K.D. Lang, Bob Dylan, and along with his wife Teresa Williams, with Phil Lesh, Hot Tuna, and, of course, Levon Helm. The couple has just come off the road, performing with Jackson Browne and this past summer released their debut CD on Red House Records, eponymously titled, “Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams.”
They bring their show home to Woodstock at 9 p.m. Saturday, December 12 at the Bearsville Theater.
Teresa Williams has been singing ever since she can remember. “[It] was like learning to breathe. I don’t ever remember not singing in public. I was ‘the girl who sang’ in my community, my high school and my county.” Growing up, picking cotton in Peckerwood Point, Tennessee, which isn’t on the map, 30 minutes from Music Highway, Teresa learned music from her mother, who played piano and her father who played guitar. “Our TV was rationed. Daddy played a lot country blues, Hank Williams, Jimmy Rogers. We didn’t have records mind you — maybe five. It was pioneer mode down here,” she says, speaking from back home by phone, spending precious time with her folks.
Because of the measles, she says, she had a rare Sunday night home from church on February 9, 1964, and remembers her grandmother calling out to her, “come see these long haired boys!”
Larry’s experience of that night seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show? “As clichéd as it may be, the Beatles were the big bang for me and twenty million other people. Just like the galactic big bang it just kept expanding and expanding and expanding.”
Teresa’s big bang may have been seeing Tina Turner on TV from the Ike days. She “rocked my world,” as she says. “All that raw energy oozing out of her — my jaw dropped.” It’s no surprise that Tina was one of Teresa’s early inspirations, especially if you see her at the close of their shows, when Teresa belts out the Rev. Gary Davis’ “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.” I have not seen such raw power, control and energy of any performer since Jimmy Hendrix’s performance at the Singer Bowl in 1968.
However this is not a story about the multitude of miraculous talents of Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams. This is a love story. I have known these two for close to 25 years and have always marveled at the love and respect that they have for each other. How do they keep the love between them while working together and touring on the road for months at a time? “The music is a huge net for us,” Teresa says. “The music got us together, that’s how we met, and that’s what pulled us together in our courtship. It’s a glue for us.”
Larry agrees. “I first met Teresa in 1986 during the Urban Cowboy thing that was going on in New York City from about 1978 to 1986,” he says. “At that point every woman in New York was a country singer, because that was the trend.“ One day Larry received a call asking him if he wanted to do a gig at New York City’s famous Bottom Line. “I said ‘Oh yeah; here we go again, another woman with a guitar.’ But the first time I saw Teresa my jaw was on the floor. Then I heard her sing and it was the real thing. I mean Teresa just stood out like a beacon of what the real thing is supposed to be…That was it, I was smitten.”
After that gig it was a long year before the two saw each other again, even though Teresa was on Larry’s mind for the entire year. At one of his shows in the city when he saw Teresa again he remembers saying to the bass player, “I’m gonna marry that girl.” And so he did. “We both have this passion for the music. We really both see the music the same way.”
They are really just getting started. Larry is currently producing The Stray Birds at Milan Hill Studio with his friend and drummer Justin Guip. After that Larry has two records planned for 2016, the next David Bromberg project and a second CD for Marley’s Ghost. Larry explains that he is not going to give up producing, and will seek to find the right balance between touring and producing.
I couldn’t speak to them without bringing up Levon Helm. For the duration of what became a truly spectacular final act, a bunch of years of performing in an amazing 12 piece band with a true American icon, Levon, in his home and on the road, Larry and Teresa were right there, essential players in a grand story.
Teresa says “working with Levon — it was such a heavy thing to end up with this guy who had been a touchstone for me as a singer and actor. He was like having some of home in Woodstock for me. We would sit around the fire on Sunday nights, me, Larry, Levon and Sandy and tell tales like we did down south. And the music was real: a safe music environment, just for the music. It was a continuation of what I grew up with, and what Larry and I began down here before we married just across the river from where Levon was from.”
Larry put it succinctly. “Working with Levon was the best musical experience of our lives. It was playing great music with great people personally and professionally for all the right reasons — mainly the love of doing it.”
After the first of the year Larry and Teresa will begin working on their second CD for Red House. Larry has a couple of songs finished. “We have a couple of basic tracks from the last record that we didn’t use, there may be a song or two from the sessions with Levon that “You’re Running Wild” came out of, and I have a good handful of stuff that I have to finish.” He is hoping, as much as I, that perhaps there will be an original Teresa Williams song on the next record. “I am eternally optimistic that that may happen,” says Larry.
Coming back to Woodstock, Larry says he feels lucky. “Fans are…God bless ‘em, man. For the most part it’s rewarding to know that what you are doing is having this sort of cathartic effect on somebody and I don’t get tired of hearing it.” Part of the proceeds from Larry and Teresa’s show Saturday night will go to the Carl Perkins Center For The Prevention Of Child Abuse. How fitting Larry and Teresa making a donation to the Carl Perkins Center, as Perkins was also from the cotton patch in West Tennessee and a big influence on Teresa musically, while being a major influence on the Beatles — who inspired Larry to play music.
Larry and Teresa will also be on the road from December 11, in Montclair, New Jersey, at The Outpost in the Burbs and finishing up in Ponte Verda, Florida in January where they will be sharing the bill with Shawn Colvin, who Larry also worked with early in his career. On January 31, they take off for a sold out Cayamo Cruise, waiting room only, on the Norwegian Pearl departing from the Port of Miami. Larry will also be the featured guest at The Beacon Theater on New Year’s Eve with Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule.
I guess what makes Larry and Teresa work is that they surrendered to love a long time ago, which by the way is the name of the first song on their debut CD.
I asked Larry what it means for him to be playing Woodstock next week after being away for a few months. “Playing in Woodstock is just like having a warm blanket on us while we are up there. Sitting in front of the fire with a warm blanket and a rocking chair.” I, for one, will be sitting at that fire listening to some of the finest people that I know.
Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams will perform at 9 p.m. (doors open at 8 p.m.) Saturday, December 12 at the Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock. Prices range from $25 to $35 and are available online at bearsvilletheater.com (some additional fees on checkout.) For more information or tickets, call 679-4406.
For more on the Carl Perkins Center For The Prevention Of Child Abuse, see www.carlperkinscenter.org/