Journeyman Nashville Artist Loves Where He’s At, Bringing His Show To Windjammer
By: Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
While he’s been around Nashville nearly two decades, 42 year singer songwriter Craig Campbell didn’t begin his solo journey into country music until 2010. The Lyons, Georgia native spent his early years in Music City doing what many do, cutting demos and working as a musician. His first taste of success came when he worked in Luke Bryan’s and Tracy Byrd’s road bands. With those notches on his belt he took the advice of Bryan and started writing songs, which ultimately lead him to his first record deal.
Although Campbell believes his journey was pre-destined, he does credit Bryan for pushing him in the right direction. “In a weird way yes. I was on tour with him playing piano in the band, and it just kind of happened. One day I’m setting up on stage, we’re doing sound check and I was singing. All of sudden Luke comes up on stage and says to me, ‘was that you I heard a couple months back on Broadway in Nashville?’.”
Campbell goes on to say, “Apparently he heard me sing, but didn’t catch my name. So here I am touring in his band, and Luke puts the two together. Long story short, Luke said when we get back to Nashville, I’ve got some people I want to introduce you too. I’m glad he did. That helped jumpstart my career and getting my first record deal.”
After more than a decade on his own, and eight Top 40 country singles, Campbell’s name may not be as recognizable as the artists he’s toured or opened for, but he’s happy to be making a living at something he loves to do. “Absolutely. I guess you could say, one of my greatest accomplishments is the fact I’m able to pay my bills. Making music is all I know. I’ve never really had a plan B, nor do I see myself doing anything else.”
Campbell’s debut single ‘Family Man’ was released in the summer of 2010, and included on the EP Five Spot, with the song reaching as high as 14 on the charts. His self titled debut album followed in April of 2011 on Bigger Picture Records, with ‘Fish’ and ‘When I Get It’ reaching 23 and 38 respectively on the country music charts. His fourth single ‘Outta My Head‘ was the first release from his second album, including the top ten hit ‘Keep Them Kisses Comin’.
Apparently Bigger Picture didn’t see the bigger picture and abruptly shut down in 2014, with Campbell having been their biggest artist. He would sign later that year with Red Bow, capturing Top 40 success with ‘Tomorrow Tonight’, ‘Outskirts of Heaven’, and ‘See You Try‘ from an EP of the same title. Currently Campbell has taken his recording career in his own hands.
Campbell would welcome taking his career to the next level, but says he doesn’t lose sleep over it. “I think we all strive to keep climbing the ladder of success. When I first started out my dream was to be the next Alan Jackson. He was one of my early idols. Obviously, my career hasn’t taken off in the same direction as Alan’s, but at the end of the day, I’m still performing country music, and I love what I do. So I don’t second guess how my career has panned out.”
Long before Campbell began writing and having his songs played on the radio, he admits he was a fan. The pureness of the genre has always drawn him in. “I love the feel of country music. I love the stories behind the songs. I honestly believe country music connects more with the audience than other form of music. It deals more with real life, and fans can relate.”
He has collaborated with other artists, and recorded songs written by other artists. Campbell truly believes the artform is a gift, and for him songwriting just flows. “They’re not normally spur of the moment, nor I don’t labor over songs. I’ll write down ideas, and things I notice that might make nice lyrics for a song. Sometimes after I’ve laid the groundwork for the song, maybe I go back and put some personal stuff inside it. It’s important to me that I connect with the song. If I have a connection, then the listener hopefully will pick up on that.”
Like many artists COVID 19 presented its share of ups and downs for Campbell. “The pandemic was a blessing for me in a way. Obviously it took all my shows off the books, so it had a financial impact, but my family and me weathered the storm. The upside is I got to spend time with my wife and kids, and I had been missing them over the years being out on the road.” There were some other positives. “I did learn a lot during the pandemic. Like I don’t necessarily have to drive 45 minutes to downtown Nashville for a 30 minute meeting. I discovered I can do that online.”
Aside from playing piano on tour with Tracy Byrd and Luke Bryan, among Campbell’s highlights over the past decade include opening for one of his idols, and a country music legend. “For me it was a big deal to open for Alan Jackson. Always been a fan of his music. A few years back I got to open for Merle Haggard. I actually lost money on the show. But honestly I didn’t know how much time he had left, and I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity like that.”
Campbell lists some iconic venues as well in the plus column. “Among my other highlights are performing at Red Rocks, the Ryman, and the Grand Ole Opry. It’s been a good ride so far. I’m not going to complain about my journey in country music.”
Recently Alan Jackson has made reference to the lack of traditional country music being played on the radio, suggesting country has gone to pop. Campbell has mixed views on the subject. “I don’t totally agree with him, but I do understand where he’s coming from. Radio is often scared to step out of the norm. When my debut album (2010) came out and my single ‘Family Man’ started to chart, the face of country music was slowly beginning to change. And then Florida Georgia Line hit, and country radio went in another direction. But I saw myself taking a slightly different path.”
Campbell adds, “I feel certain there is room for all of us in country music, were just all going about it in our own way. I’d like to be among the artists that are bringing a more traditional sound back to country music. I feel guys like Cody Johnson from Texas, and Luke Combs are blazing that same trail.”
While Campbell doesn’t foresee ending his country music trek thus far, he has taken control over his forward progress, most importantly by starting his own label Grindstone Records with his wife Mindy Ellis, who is an accomplished artist in her own right, and was featured in his 2018 video ‘See You Try’ from the EP of the same name. “She’s an amazing singer songwriter. We met through this industry, and I couldn’t be more happy. It just so happened that my career started to take off first, and she was and has been totally supportive of that.”
Regarding Grindstone Records Campbell likes being in charge. “It’s about the same cost for me, but now my wife and I have total control. We love it. I didn’t know when I had a record deal, how much I would love not having a bigger record deal. Not having Mindy involved all along was uncool. I value her input. Now she’s the only sounding board I need.”
Campbell does hope to gain traditional radio support when he releases new singles, but admits it’s not his primary source. “I’ll work the radio stations, and hopefully welcome their support. But in this day and age, artists like myself have so many avenues when it comes to digital streaming. Ultimately my plan is to do whatever I have to do to get to have my songs out there.”
The pandemic did allow Campbell to write and record new music. His latest album ‘Good Things Come To Those Who Drink’ include the up-tempo boot kickin’ title track, and what is sure to be another signature ballad ‘What A Girl Will Make You Do’.
The album includes a good mix that showcase his range, and the songs will take you back to late 1980’s and 1990’s when old school country music had one of its biggest comebacks from the likes of Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Randy Travis, Vince Gill, and Garth Brooks. Grabbing a quote from his website Campbell admits, . “Man, oh man . . . . I love where I am.” Campbell definitely has his finger on the pulse of country music.
Music and family are not his only passions however. Campbell and his wife are working on opening a coffee shop called Grindstone Cowboy (clever name) outside of Nashville. “It’s in Eagleville where we live, which is about 45 minutes from downtown Nashville when the traffic is running smooth. We both love coffee, and we’ve come to realize that coffee shops do well in small towns.”
Mindy and he have specific plans for the shop. “We want it to be a place where folks can not only get great coffee, but come an hang out. We plan to have a stage and have live music on occasion. Our dream is to make it very ‘Bluebird-ish’, but with great coffee.”
He adds it will be a family affair, including their two daughters. “My wife grew up in a small entertainment business, so she likes that personal feel. Besides we wanted something for our girls. Some place they can come and help out, and eventually work at.”
By all accounts, Campbell is an easy going country music artist content where his journey has taken him. He recalls fondly his time touring and playing with other artists, but knew he was destined to be center stage. “I wanted to be that guy. The singer who is out front entertaining the audiences.” Country music fans in the lowcountry, and fans of Craig Campbell’s music will have an opportunity to see him perform live August 11th when he plays the Windjammer.
Campbell looks forward to returning to Charleston. “I’ve been through Charleston a few times. I think the last time I played there was for a fundraiser Darius Rucker was doing for a local hospital. It was me, Darius, and Charles from Lady Antebellum. I love Charleston, and honestly I’m just happy to be back out performing after all we’ve gone through over the last 18 months.” For more on Craig Campbell visit his website at https://www.craigcampbell.tv
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