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INTERVIEWS MICHAEL CAMPAGNA
HOW DO YOU MAKE GOD LAUGH?
MICHAEL CAMPAGNA OF THE AVERAGE JOHNSONS
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED ABOUT
BEGININGS AND ENDINGS
BEING A CONDUIT FOR THE MUSIC
AND THE DANGER OF MAKING PLANS
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSHGenre is a five letter word that's best used for marketing purposes, not for defining music. So, you can imagine ROCKWIRED's delight when a gentlemen by the name of MICHAEL CAMPAGNA came to ROCKWIRED, with his stunning band, THE AVERAGE JOHNSONS.
CAMPAGNA is a singer songwriter with a history that reads like the history of modern music itself. He started under the wing of JESSE JAMES AND THE OUTLAWS as a teenager in Buffalo NY. A steady succession of bands followed and eventually led him to playing with PSYCHIC TV. Following a migration to Los Angeles, MICHAEL and his then-wife DEBORAH ASH, became a songwriting team for the likes of CHAKA KHAN and JENNIFER HOLIDAY.
How did such a fine group of musicians get together? THIS guy's been all over the map.
Despite forays into jazz, rock, and electronic music, blues and R&B remains the primary focus of the debut CD from MICHAEL CAMPAGNA AND THE AVERAGE JOHNSON, but seeing as how this is a CAMPAGNA endeavor, the man and the band can't stop themselves from adding a little rock, funk, honky-tonk, and gospel sounds to the pot.
How did such a fine group of musicians come together?
I met CHET(the bassist) playing in another band called LIES LIKE TRUTH. MORRIS, I ran into him while I was out shopping for instruments and we ended up talking. GARY is one of my childhood heroes back in Buffalo. When I got out to LA, I looked him up. RICK SCHLOSSER, I met through CLIFF HUGO who is a bass player who has played with SUPERTRAMP and RAY CHARLES and he's one of my longest and dearest friends in LA. RICK's played on many VAN MORRISON albums and all kinds of things with ROD STEWART. It's made up of many different people
You grew up in Buffalo and seems like you got into music as teenager which coincided with a very intersting time for music. What was that whole experience like?
It was an amazing time, actually. We had great radio back then. GEORGE LORENZ who was also known as "THE HOUND" would play all kinds of records that you wouldn't hear on the AM stations. I don't even know if I was teenager yet, but I remember hearing BOBBY BLUE BLAND's TURN ON YOUR LOVE LIGHT and that was a great thing. When I got into my teens, there was a blues jam at THE GOVERNOR'S INN so I went down there. My mother had to drive me because I didn't drive yet. JESSE JAMES AND THE OUTLAWS were the headlining act. I went to see them a few times and eventually I started playing with those guys and became friends withthe owner of the GOVERNOR'S INN. His name is JAMES PETERSON and he's the father of LUCKY PETERSON who records for the ALLIGATOR label. He's a great blues guitarist, keyboard player and singer. LUCKY was only 6 or 7 years old then and they used to bring him down on the weekends. It was a great time! The GOVERNOR'S INN always had these legends coming in. People like HOWLIN WOLF, MUDDY WATERS, BUDDY GUY, and FREDDIE KING. One time FREDDIE KING's bass player got into trouble and ended up in jail and I ended up filling in for him and I was just this kid, really. It was one of the great thrills of my entire existence. I got into playing a lot of blues branched off into different things. I went to the University of Buffalo and they had a wonderful avant-garde music department there. It had this creative associates program and they'd have composers from all over the world come there to do residencies. The keyboard player from the GRATEFUL DEAD was thereand MORTON FELDMAN who was a contemporary of JOHN CAGE.This program even delved into that whole avante-garde electronic music sound as well and MINGUS actually taught jazz theory their on Fridays. From there, I went on to playing with this band called PSYCHIC TV. Are you familiar with that band?
I'm embarassed to say 'No'. Maybe I'm showing my youth.
PSYCHIC TV is still an active band. It was founded by GENESIS P-ORIDGE right after this other band he started called THROBBING GRISTLE. I played in the second version of PSYCHIC TV.Needless to say, it was not blues
How long have you lived out here in L.A.?
I moved out here in 1975. I was very youngI got out here in my early twenties
That was the year I was born.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I grew up in the early MTV era, so a lot of new wave stuff ot to me at first, then it became jazz and rock with a little bit of hip hop.
we certainly play blues and R& B with the AVERAGE JOHNSONS. Live, we improvise and play some jazz depending on the situation. I also play in another band called the ICE AGE JAZZ TEST. When I first got out here I was working with my first wife who is a terrific R&B singer.We got into the writing things for a long time
Is that DEBORAH?
DEBORAH ASH. She and I have written stuff for CHAKA KHAN and...
Yeah. Needless to say that was pretty much R&B. Apparently, I'm not much a of a genre guy.
You don't sound like it. These days do you think that there's too much of an emphasis on genre?
I don't know. I think with the internet young people are more hip to stuff than ever. I have a daughter who knows everything.She loves SARAH VAUGHN,hard core punk music,and SEX PISTOLS. Everything is more accessible now. It's a great thing! I hear that record sales for the major companies are way down. That must mean that more independent people are selling more. Not neccessarily millions,but some. There's much more diverse information out there.I think it's great.
You are the songwriter for this band, right?
Mainly. I wrote more than half of them myself and wrote the others with GARY and one with my ex.
And is this CD the only release from THE AVERAGE JOHNSONS?
We're hard at work on a second one.
Back, to the technology thing, It seems like it people make record a lot more now.
Yes., and with reasonable quality with stuff like pro-tools. Sure, you might hear something like a helicopter flying over head, but hey, it's atmosphere.
And I think a lot of early rock n roll recordings had a lot of atmosphere going for them.
I was having this discussion with someone just a few days ago. There was a time when there only used to be mono recordings with two tracksand whenit got up to four tracks, it was a big deal. Alot of the recorodings by THE BEATLES and HENDRIX were only 4 tracks. On this computer, that I've got in front of me, I've got 64 tracks with Pro-Tools. I've never gotten close to using all 64 of them. Listen to an album like REVOLVER by THE BEATLES and there's nothing that sounds like it. Now, GOD in his infinite wisdom has decided that everyone can record their own music. I think it's a good thing.
From this current CD, are there any songs that stand out for you in particular?
I like the song FROM THE INSIDE. I like how that recording came out and I like what it has to say. OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD is another one that I like. It's got that modern blues sound and OH I DIDN'T TELL YOU has a nice NEVILLE BROTHERS feel to it and I like the interaction within the band. YOU BY YOU reflects how I feel about humanity on a good day. The song GET UP AND START MY LIFE AGAIN, I wrote after my ex and I split up. It was a really down period and I woke up one morning and decided that that I couldn't live in the past anymore. That song's really meaningful to me. It's all about letting go of things. Life is this whole series of beginings and endings. You kind of have to give up ownership of things. When people use that expression "my music", it annoys me. As musicians, we get into the best position possible to be conduits for the music. How can anyone own music?
What would you like a listener to walk away with after hearing the music?
I want them to feel elevated, and more positive about being alive. I hope that people can let go of some suff. The purpose of living may get clouded but you have to take it at its own terms and not get attached to stuff. Thats what holds people in depression and stuff. the results are always out of our hands no matter what you try to do. You can't control what's going to happen. There's this old joke, "How do you make God laugh?"...Make some plans.