Friday, July 2, 2010

Bobby Campo ... Has Class! (1999)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

"It's interesting," muses Bobby Campo, a founding member of Louisiana's Le Roux and the man behind the heart-melting flute solo on the group's FM classic, "New Orleans Ladies." "If we could've been as big around the country as we were in Lafayette, we'd be rich."

Campo is referring to Le Roux's 1978-to-1982 heyday, when as major-label recording artists they toured with Kansas, performed on such pre-MTV showcases as Midnight Special, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and Solid Gold, and hit Number 18 on the singles chart with "Nobody Said It Was Easy (Lookin' for the Lights)." Campo left in 1982, shortly after the departure of lead singer and main songwriter Jeff Pollard and shortly before the recording of So Fired Up, the album that signaled the band's move toward hard rock.

Now forty-eight, Campo has just released his solo debut--and his first recording of any kind in sixteen years--Bobby Campo (Club Louisianne). Le Roux fans expecting classic rock laced with trumpet and flute are in for a surprise: Campo now plays jazz. And although he's hesitant to admit it, he plays it very well. "I still don't think of myself as competent to do this," Campo laughs. "That's really what kept me out of doing it for a bunch of years."

That and his need to solve the problem of what to do to support his wife and kids once his tenure with Le Roux ran out. By 1989 he'd earned a degree in applied trumpet and a teaching certificate and spent a frustrating year teaching music to students in kindergarten through eighth grade. He'd almost decided "it was time to start [his] career at Albertson's" when his former mentor and band teacher at Baton Rouge High School, Lee Fortier, passed away. Campo was asked to take Fortier's classes and finish the year. In 1994 he was hired full time.

His transition from high-profile rock-and-roller to low-profile high-school teacher was made both easy and pleasant by the students, whom Campo found to be sophisticated ("You can be sarcastic with them," he says, "and they get it") and talented. It is, in fact, the Baton Rouge High graduate Troy Davis whose drumming brings such funky-bottomed Bobby Campo tracks as "Leadville Shuffle," "In a Blues Funk," and Thelonius Monk's "Well, You Needn't" to life. "Troy is a remarkable drummer," says Campo. "He's played with Terence Blanchard, and now he's playing with Monty Alexander. He's one of the big guys in jazz."

Campo met Davis when Davis was still in high school in the mid-1980's. "Mr. Fortier would have what he called the Jazz Invitational," Campo recalls, "and one year I got invited to be the guest soloist. That's when I met Troy. We've bumped into each other over the years and have become good friends."

Campo has also bumped into Lawrence Sieberth and Bill Grimes, the pianist and bassist respectively of the Bobby Campo Quartet. Among Sieberth's most important contributions to Bobby Campo is "Exotica," the gentle, moody composition that closes the disc. As for Grimes, he brings to the album the expertise that has earned him his status as a professor of jazz and bass studies at Louisiana State University.

But the most impressive aspects of the disc by far are Campo's playing and composing. Six of the ten songs are Campo originals, originals that hold up well amid the standards "Autumn Leaves" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." And if the title of "Lunch Time Duty" suggests one too many hours spent on the day job, the rich, gorgeous "For Donna" and "Sunrise Samba" suggest a future in professional jazz at least as rewarding as Campo's past in professional rock and roll.

Campo isn't so sure. "The thing about music--and it's probably truer in jazz--is that it's really difficult to make a living unless you're in the top echelon. It's really a young man's game--a young single man's game."

Nevertheless, Campo says, age has its rewards. "I don't think that people really come into their own as jazz musicians until after they're forty years old. The really blessed ones are the ones who start out in their early twenties and manage to make enough of a living to stay with it. Then, when they're forty, all of a sudden they're monsters."

Or teachers. Now in his tenth year at Baton Rouge High, Campo still finds his classes as challenging and inspiring as any audience he performed for with Le Roux. And, although his students aren’t necessarily all that impressed by his former membership in a band that quit having hits before they were born, they do like his new album.

"I get a lot of good feedback from the kids," Campo chuckles. "They say, 'Look at the old guy! He made a record, man! How about that?'"

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