Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams: The Glue Holding Two Shows Together This Week at The Egg

Wednesday December 1st with The Midnight Ramble Band and Hot Tuna and Saturday, December 4th with David Bromberg 

Many artist resumes are littered with a perfunctory paragraph that lists all the legends they’ve “played and/or recorded with.”  Guitarist and mandolin player Larry Campbell toured with Bob Dylan for eight years. I haven’t done the math, but my guess is that’s a record. He left Dylan to work with Levon Helm until Levon’s death in 2012 and was producer and guitarist on Levon’s last two albums, both of which earned Grammys.  

Cambell’s tours with Levon and his work on those two albums were pivotal in elevating the former Band drummer and vocalist’s status from being one of five legendary founders of The Band to becoming an icon as a solo artist. While Campbell’s name recognition may not rank with rock’s biggest superstars, his hand at the throttle of Levon’s rise in stature alone is something not even Keith Richards or Mick Jagger could do when they stepped out of the long shadow cast by the Rolling Stones.  

Campbell is a central figure in two shows this week at The Egg in Albany. The first is as the guitarist and leader of the Midnight Ramble Band of which he was also producer before and after Levon’s passing. That show is a double bill with Hot Tuna playing both electric and acoustic at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Then on Saturday night Campbell is guitarist and violinist in the David Bromberg Big Band for a 7:30 show. 

The Midnight Ramble Band features other veterans of the Midnight Rambles held at Levon’s barn in Woodstock. Members include Levon’s daughter Amy Helm (vocals, mandolin), Jim Weider (guitar in The Weight Band), Campbell’s wife Teresa Williams (vocals, guitar), Brian Mitchell (keyboards), Tony Leone (drums), Adam Minkoff (bass), Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Jay Collins and Erik Lawrence (saxophones). 

Saturday’s show is being billed as David Bromberg’s “Spirit of ‘76” Birthday Bash and features John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful), Jimmy Vivino (Al Kooper, Fab Faux, Conan O’Brien), Andy Falco (Infamous Stringdusters), and Larry Campbell. Campbell’s wife Teresa will be singing on both shows. 

Venues and spontaneity  

Levon’s barn at the end of a long, unmarked road in Woodstock was built in a century-old style. The presence at those rambles by roots-rock legends gives the creaking beams an ambiance unparalleled anywhere in the world. I asked Larry and his wife Teresa to compare that ambiance with that of The Egg. 

“There’s no place like the barn,” said Teresa. “You know, it is its own thing, and it has that mojo from Levon’s playing and singing. So, that’s that. It has its own ambiance, but I love playing at The Egg. I love playing there.” 

“It’s one of the most beautiful rooms we have in the northeast,” added Campbell. “And they treat you good, too. Acoustically, that room you can’t miss. If you’re sitting in the audience or if you’re on stage, they put a lot of thought into the acoustics of that theater, and yeah, it does make a difference how the music is coming back to me. I mean you have the monitors in front of you, but the sound of the room is going to make a big difference in what you’re hearing on stage, and The Egg is a place where it all comes together very nicely.” 

Working with Levon 

Campbell is looking forward to resurrecting Levon’s mojo with the Ramble Band. “We’ll see what happens when we get there. But we’ve all been playing together for so long, and we know each other so well, we’ll just put a set list together: the stuff we played with Levon and the stuff we didn’t that’s evolved since then.” 

“There’s a joy to it,” adds Teresa. “We don’t see each other often enough. When we’re back together, it’s like when your family finally gets back together. And the music side of it is such a joy. You feel Levon sitting over there grinning. That’s ever-present. But it’s happy. It’s a happy thing.” 

Levon’s daughter Amy adds to the cache. “She’s part of his blood, and she’s an integral part of this band,” says Campbell. “And she’s keeping his dream going at the barn by keeping the music there,” adds Teresa. “It’s not the Midnight Ramble Band there that often. She’s keeping artists flowing through there on a regular basis which he was. I’m telling you, he would be ecstatic about that.” 

The Bromberg connection is just as vetted. 

Larry, working with Levon Helm, provided a couple of tunes for Bromberg’s Use Me album in 2004 and Campbell produced Bromberg’s Only Slightly Mad CD in 2011. “David was Americana when Americana wasn’t cool,” Campbell told me in 2015.  

 “We’ll just sit up there with a couple of acoustic instruments and see what happens. Basically, that’s the way this goes when we get together. It’s very much recreating what he and I were doing in the dressing room before the Dylan shows back then.” 

It’s with Rev. Gary Davis material that Campbell shares the closest kinship with Bromberg. Campbell has taught a workshop on Davis’ fingerpicking style at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch. (Jorma’s Hot Tuna Band shares the bill on Wednesday’s show) and Bromberg helped the legendary blues/gospel guitarist get around in Greenwich Village back in the’60s.  Davis was blind. Campbell, Bromberg, Jorma Kaukonen, Danny Kalb of the Blues Project, Hugh Pool of Mule Bone, and countless other tradition-based guitarists consider Davis to be the Holy Grail progenitor of the Americana fingerpicking style. 

“When I’m trying to interpret one of Davis’ performances, what I try to do is find a way to get the essence of what he’s doing but with a steady thumb,” says Campbell. “I try to alter it just to suit myself. Jorma in his own way has re-interpreted that stuff, too. That’s kind of the difference between being a diehard protégé of what he does and respecting it, admiring, and flowing the influence of what he does. 

“David (Bromberg) used to lead him (Rev. Gary Davis) around to church and was a student of Rev. Gary’s. He knew him quite well, and David also made his own thing out of that influence. 

As for the current show, “None of us know what’s gonna happen until we get there which is always interesting,” says Campbell about this, Bromberg’s 76th birthday bash.  

“Ok, so it’s David Bromberg. That’s reasoning enough right there. And then it’s him with his Big Band which is so dynamic, great performance and then there’s John Sebastian, Jimmy Vivino, There’s Teresa and myself, and Andy Falco, an incredible guitar player.  

“And he prides himself on not creating setlists,” adds Teresa. 

“The thing with David is it’s so off the cuff, and so dynamic and for Teresa and I. There’s Vivino, one of our greatest friends and collaborators, John Sebastian, some of our greatest friends and collaborators, and Andy who I don’t know that well but really respect, and love playing with him which I have a couple of times. 

Teresa: “It’s another joyous occasion.” 

“Exactly, nothing but joy,” underlines Campbell. 

Wednesday, December 1at The Egg, a double bill with Hot Tuna and The Midnight Ramble Band – 7:00 p.m.                              

Saturday, December 4 at The Egg. David Bromberg Big Band Birthday Bash – 7:30 pm • 

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