Who was/is Ray Campi ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
EAGER BEAVER BOY
BCD 15501 AH
Ray Campi is unique in that he's old enough to remember what rockabilly was all about in its heyday, but young enough to make great new music that rocks in the old way. Everything here has Ray's inimitable sense of humour and Fifties style. Here's his personal tribute to the music he loves. Titles include Waffle Stompin' Mama, Let 'er Roll, Pinball Millionaire, Born To Be Wild, Dobro Daddio From Del Rio, Penal Farm, and Major Label Blues.
Jesse James and All The Boys
I still recall that first week when my family arrived from Yonkers, New York, to the capital city of the Lone Star State. Upon arrival, in order to assimilate to Texas culture, my parents hit the first record shop they could find and bought a package of 78s by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys who were the rage at that time. Soon San Antonio Rose, Take Me Back To Tulsa, Miss Molly, and Roly Poly became my favorite songs at age ten, and their strains filled our upstairs apartment on West 6th Street often.
My folks quickly adjusted to Texas recreation when, after a hot day's work in Alex Fisher's grocery store (a property my father bought in 1943), they headed out several days a week to nightspots like the Pioneer Club, the Knights of Columbus Hall, Schultz's Garden, and sometimes the famous Dessau Hall to sip beer and 'cool off' on the outdoor patios and dance to the traditional waltzes, foxtrots, and polkas of Texas.
At that time a very popular presenter of these western dance styles in Austin was William 'Jesse' James and All The Boys. His popularity developed by broadcasting during the week around noontime on radio station KTBC, and when I had time off from school classes, usually during the summer, aspiring musicians like Bert Rivera, a Jimmy Grabowske fan, and I would visit the broadcasts in the large studio in the Brown Building.
"I really would like to play steel like Jimmy some day," Bert revealed to me, and he'd watch the player's every move on his solos. (My 1951 recording of Toe Tappin' Rhythm on Dionysus Records and Enviken Records of Sweden reflects Jimmy Grabowske's influence on Bert's steel guitar solo.)
"You boys are welcome to come and watch us play on the radio when you like," Jesse would say. He was a smiling, friendly person who wrote songs, sang, and played a beautiful Gibson, F-hole guitar. He, like Bob Wills, was a good organizer and chose the best players he could find. The ones I met often were Dean Curry and Harold Horner on piano, drummer Dowell Smith, the twin fiddle team of 'Roddy' Bristol and 'Junior' Burrow, and of course steel player Jimmy Grabowske, whom I got to know best.
One day during a visit to the station Jesse and the program director Richard 'Cactus' Pryor, son of 'Skinny' Pryor who opened the first motion picture theater in Austin, decided to record some songs following the broadcast to be released on 4 Star Records of Pasadena, California.
It was a great thrill to witness my first recording session in 1950 and to meet 'Cactus' Pryor who was to become a family friend to this day. I had already heard one of his records on the radio called Jackass Caravan which was a funny parody of Frankie Laine's Mule Train, also a hit by Tennessee Ernie, a record my dad bought at Woolworth's. "That sure was a funny record Cactus has out,"
I remarked to my friends. "I hope someday I can make a record."
With the help of my cousin Harold Layman I assembled on West 6th Street a neighbor band and started to record some songs I had written, thanks to the invention of disc recorders and technical assistance from Jack McGraw and Roy T. Poole who later went on to bigger things in the recording studio business. One of my first completed audio discs was a song I wrote called Disc Jockey Cactus. I took this demo record to Mrs. Macy Henry of Macy’s Records in Houston along with a few other original tunes, hoping for my first record release. The lady patiently listened to my painful playing and high-pitched singing and wisely rejected me as Macy’s Records' new singing sensation. "Come back in about ten years after your voice has developed and I'll give you another listen. You might have something there in that disc jockey song," she said encouragingly.
The influence of meeting Jesse and Cactus was rubbing off and any success I've had in performing and recording music sprang from these roots. These were people I watched and from whom I received my first music lessons.
On that interesting afternoon in the KTBC studio, records were being recorded for 4 Star; hopefully I've re-created them accurately for this Bear Family CD. I heard the band rehearse and get 'takes' of Flying Saucer Mama, and Rag Mop. Jesse's rendition of the latter tune was a 'cover' version of Johnny Lee Wills' hit on Bullet Records. I recall that all the musicians went into another room to listen to the original hit and came out practicing the lyric "do-di-lee-da-da-loo-di" over and over. The music and singing were all cut together with the band singing off-mike where they were standing. I seem to recall that Jesse did Flying Saucer Mama that day and last up was Cactus with his tune which was Hog Calling Champ Of Arkansas. He requested a double bass on this one and a call was made to Hub Sutter who had finished his radio show at nearby KVET. His bass player, Joe Ramon, who had been a member of Jesse's band previously, entered the studio cradling his instrument. This tune was somewhat complicated as it contained a key change in the middle when Turkey In The Straw had to be played during the hog calling sequence. A staff announcer named Jim Nummy and Hub Sutter had an interchange with Cactus.
Jesse James was known for having great players in his fiddle section, one being Roddy Bristol. He always soloed on The Hot Canary which was his 'show off' number. One day I asked Jesse what I needed to attain a copyright on one of my songs, Shatterproof Heart. "You need a musical lead sheet," Jesse advised, "Roddy can make one for you, here's his phone number." I called the fiddler and an appointment was made. I arrived at his apartment with my guitar. I picked out the melody of the song and Roddy quickly jotted down the notes. I left and a day or so later he presented me a beautifully crafted sheet. I acquired a copyright form, sent in the music sheet with the fee needed and a few weeks later I received my first copyright. It was a great feeling of accomplishment. This was in 1950.
"The Jole Blon Boy," Jesse would introduce the man walking up to the microphone with his fiddle in hand. Harry Choates, whose record of the Cajun song became a hit, was a frequent guest with Jesse and the Boys during the last year of his life. I watched Harry perform on the radio program several times including his last appearance a few days before he died in the Travis County Jail. (A great double CD of his recordings is 'Harry Choates – Devil In The Bayou', BCD 16355 BH.)
The Jesse James band remained on the radio and performed around central Texas until sometime in 1956 or '57. I ran into the man after the band had broken up and he told me he was now an investment salesman. He had left Austin and settled in Cheyenne, Wyoming and I lost track of him as I moved to Los Angeles, California in 1959. Kevin Coffey has provided an accurate discography of his recordings which include Bert Rivera Sr. as a drummer on some early tracks. I checked with my old friend Bert Jr. and he recalls that his dad was an early drummer with Jesse as he was a few times with my young Ramblin' Ray and the Ramblers group in 1951.
Hub Sutter was also an important part of Jesse's early years. He was a clarinet player and his music blended well with the fiddle which you'll hear on Jesse's first record on Bluebonnet Records, When Jole Blon And Kilroy Got Married.
A few years later he sang on another Jesse James' record when he rendered beautifully the Floyd Tillman classic, I've Got The Craziest Feeling. I knew Hub in the 1950s as I sat in on his KVET radio show also. In 1988 I renewed my friendship with him and his wife Doris and invited him to play on my tribute record to Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters (Ray Campi: Taylor, Texas-1988, BCD 15486).
As I write these reminiscences I can picture in my mind's eye the gold 1947 Desoto limousine, its rack on the top brimming with instrument cases, with Junior driving, heading south on Congress Avenue around 5.00 p.m., delivering Jesse and the Boys to music-craving outposts like Bandera, La Grange, Bastrop, Dimebox, San Marcos, and Houston, Texas, to name a few, for another night of picking, dancing, and fun for all. I witnessed this scene several times in the past and cherish it today. It's a thrill to be able to produce this compact disc for Richard Weize and Bear Family Records and to re-live the songs I heard so beautifully played by good fellows who befriended this star-struck kid long ago.