Folks who caught any of the shows on Glen Campbell’s ongoing Farewell Tour will have noticed a striking young woman playing banjo in the show.
You may also have noticed her in the video for country superstars Rascall Flatt’s current hit, Banjo, appearing as the star attraction.
And if you followed college theater in southern California, you might have seen her appearing in student productions at Pepperdine.
This talented young lady is Ashley Campbell, Glen’s 25 year old daughter, who is making quite a mark in the banjo world this year. One of three talented Campbell siblings – all of whom are involved in music – Ashley spent some time with us last week sharing her story about coming to the banjo and bluegrass music.
Despite her famous dad, it seems she found a love for the instrument on her own.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved hearing the banjo and have always wanted to learn. Every time I would come across one at a friend’s house or at a store, I’d always pick it up and try to plink out When The Saints Go Marching In. But for some odd reason I never started playing until college.
In 2008, right before my senior year I was cast in a play at Pepperdine that was supposed to take place in 1800’s Kentucky (The Kentucky Cycle), and the director asked me if I could learn banjo for the show. So they bought me a cheap banjo and paid for my first lessons. I traded in the cheapo almost immediately for a Deering Goodtime open-backed banjo, started picking, and by 2009 I was playing on tour with my dad in Australia and New Zealand.
I think that’s a cool story to show that it’s never too late to pick up an instrument if you love it.
I had some friends in LA who were in a bluegrass band called The Dust Bowl Cavaliers, and their banjo player was giving me lessons every week in Scruggs style. They introduced me to a lot of bluegrass music and I found so much joy in playing those songs. It wasn’t until I learned to play Foggy Mountain Breakdown that I really felt like I was beginning to get the hang of the banjo.
I listened to Scruggs radio on Pandora every time I got in my car to go somewhere and would buy the songs that I liked later on iTunes. Scruggs was such a wonderful player.”
Ashley says that the past few years have turned her attention towards a career in music, a change in direction for a young woman who had trained to act on the stage instead.
“Up until I started playing banjo, I was dead set on being an actress on Saturday Night Live.
When I went on the Australia tour with my dad, I was originally supposed to be going for a vacation, but they said, ‘Well hey, why don’t you play banjo on Gentle?’ And I have been touring with him ever since. Seeing my dad play music and seeing the love the fans have for him has been one of the biggest inspirations of my life.
My friends outside the music world have been very supportive since I’ve started playing music full-time, however, the downside is that I barely ever get to see them. Since the tour started in August, I haven’t been home for more than a week. It is such a strange feeling, being away from home for so long. Sometimes I really miss home a lot, but I love what I am doing so much, it makes it worth it.”
While Ms. Campbell turned a lot of heads performing with her dad, it has been the visibility in the Rascall Flatts video that seems to have really put her on the map.
“The Rascal Flatts shoot was a lot of fun. A lot of people who have seen it have had very positive things to say to me, but surprisingly, most end up asking me, ‘Where’d you get those boots?!’ A lot of people also have been asking me if I played the banjo part on the album and the answer is, ‘I wish I was that good!’
But I did learn the song when I found out I was going to be playing banjo in the video. I learned it by listening to the song over and over until I came up with a pretty good copy with my own flair. I really wanted to get the fingering right so that it looked like I was actually playing on the video. It bothers me when I see music videos where the person playing the instrument obviously has no idea what they are doing.
It took me some exploring to get the triplets down, but I had a little help from my godfather, Carl Jackson. He’s such a cool guy. I am really glad that I learned how to play the song, because the Flatts ended up asking me to play the song with them in a live show a little after the shoot. That, too, was a very fun experience. The Rascal Flatts guys are very nice people and lovely to work with.”
But this wasn’t her first rodeo in the music video world.
“The experience of being on the set of a big music video was surreal.
When I was in college, I was trying to get into the acting business, so I did extra work sometimes. I was an extra in Justin Timberlake’s What Goes Around Comes Around video, so I had been on a big film set before, but this time, instead of being an extra, I was a bigger part of the shoot, so the director actually talked to me by name, which was a big step forward for me!
It was a great shoot and everyone involved was so much fun to work with. The Nashville shoot, as opposed to the LA shoot had a much more laid-back vibe.”
Spreading the family love around, Ashley not only performs with her dad, but separately with her two brothers as well.
“My brother, Shannon, and I have a duo project that we are working on called Victoria Ghost. He plays guitar, I play banjo and we sing harmony together. We’ve been told it’s a very fresh sound with elements of indie/folk and country. We are very excited about this music and we are constantly writing together.
I also play in a band with my other brother, Cal, called Instant People. Instant People has been opening for my dad for over a year now and is in more of an indie/pop/rock genre.
I love how diverse the two bands are. It enables me to express myself through a wide range of music.”
For someone who has only been playing banjo for 4 years, Ashley Campbell has made the most of her time with the five string. She is now an official Deering Banjo endorser, and taking the banjo to a large, worldwide audience.
But there is nothing of the big head be found.
“I am flattered that Bluegrass Today has asked me to do this interview and I hope that people enjoy reading what I had to say. I guess one thing I could say is, never stop learning.”
Wise beyond her years, this one.