Casey Campbell talks Mandolin Duets, Volume One

His father is the late Jimmy Campbell, a popular bluegrass fiddle player who graced stages with Bill Monroe, Jim & Jesse and The Sidemen, among others. His mother is Marcia Campbell Thomas, a member of the Grand Ole Opry Square Dancers since she was 12 years old, and a radio personality on WDKN, XM/Sirius and, currently, The All-Nighter with Marcia Campbell on 650AM WSM. His uncle is Nashville-based fiddle player Johnny Campbell.

More senior family influences are his grandfather, Bob Campbell, an old-time and bluegrass fiddler, and his great-grandfather, Gus “Pap” Campbell, an old-time fiddler.

On his mother’s side, are his great-grandfather, Elvis Barnett, a guitar player and square-dancer, and his grandfather, Bobby Taylor, a guitar player and singer.

Casey Campbell, now one of bluegrass music’s rising stars, started his own musical exploits by playing the guitar at age of seven and moved on to mandolin by the following year. By the time he was in high school, he was already touring and recording with a variety of groups, notably Green On The Vyne, a group of young musicians formed and managed by Deanie Richardson.

As his burgeoning talent blossomed he earned a BBA in Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville. While there, he helped to form the Vickie Vaughn Band along with fellow classmates Vickie Vaughn, Zack White, Maggie Estes and Justin Hiltner. Their self-titled album, released in 2014, was produced by Ronnie McCoury.

Also in 2014 Campbell joined the Bryan Sutton Band – he is featured on Sutton’s The More I Learn CD as well as touring with the iconic guitarist.

Naturally enough for a Nashville musician, Campbell has performed and recorded with a host of fellow Music City bluegrass and country music artists, leading to him appearing at prestigious venues in the city and at festivals from Kansas and Colorado, across the States to North Carolina.

The 24 year-old two-time nominee for the prestigious Momentum Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) has recently released a collection of one-on-one live duet recordings with some of his favorite masters of the mandolin, 11 in all, thus satisfying a long-held fascination with the concept.

We asked Campbell to share information about the background to his self-released album Mandolin Duets, Volume One ….…..  

“This all started as a pipe dream to get together with a bunch of my heroes and make some music. The seed was planted as I was riding down the road with the Bryan Sutton Band (Bryan Sutton, Mike Barnett, Sam Grisman and me). We got into a discussion about duet albums, and, just for fun, I started a list on my phone of folks I would like to record with. According to my phone, that list was created February 14, 2015. The more I curated and dreamed about the list over the next few months, I decided that if I were going to make it happen, I better start as soon as possible.

It was important to me that the folks that involved with the album were fans of the mandolin. The first person I contacted was Brent Truitt, a great mandolin player (The Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton, The SteelDrivers) and producer/engineer (Riders In The Sky, David Grier, Lonesome River Band). He has a studio in East Nashville and we were lucky enough to have all of the sessions take place at that studio with Brent engineering. He knows how to make a mandolin sound great! The next member of the team was Scott Simontacchi, another great mandolin player (Sheriff Scott & The Deputies) and photographer. We were able to set up a little photoshoot area in Brent’s studio and get some incredible photos of each guest and the mandolins. Looking back on the project now, the photos Scott captured ended up being as vital to the project as the recordings. Other folks included in the project team were mastering-guru David K. Shipley and design-guru Gina Leslie (sister of the great mandolin player Dominick Leslie). I couldn’t have made this project happen without the help of these experts!

The first session took place on January 10, 2016 with Bobby Osborne and the last session took place on September 13, 2016 with Jesse McReynolds. There were nine more sessions, a few rehearsals, and a lot of phone calls between those two dates. I feel so honored and lucky to have been able to wrangle together eleven of my mandolin heroes, sit down one-on-one with them, and capture some of their great tunes.

When I decided this idea would become a reality, I turned it into a bit of a research project for myself. I started buying the LPs, cassettes, and CDs of each guest along with magazines that included any interviews with them. The goal was not only to get an overview of their career (from the first recording to the most recent), but also to scout out some tunes they had written that folks might not be as familiar with. Once again, I curated and dreamed about another list, this time including tunes that would be great for a duet treatment. As I contacted each guest, I gave them about three or four titles of tunes that they had written and recorded along with a request for tunes that they had in mind or even new tunes that hadn’t been revealed to the world. I wanted the song selection to be a collaborative effort, and I also wanted to feature their tune-writing abilities throughout the album. For each guest, we narrowed it down to two or three tunes, recorded them, and chose the best track to put on the album.

This is a project I would’ve done anyway for my own selfish motive to sit one-on-one with my heroes. Everybody involved was so generous and supportive. To be able to capture, share, and receive such wonderful feedback on the project is just icing on the cake!”

The full track listing with the names of each of the mandolin masters playing with Campbell is as follows …….

  • Wailin’ On Waldron (with Ronnie McCoury)
  • Monroebillia (with Mike Compton)
  • Down Home Waltz (with Buck White)
  • Cedar Hill (with David Grisman)
  • Cherokee Lady (with Bobby Osborne)
  • The High Road (with Tim O’Brien)
  • Amanda Jewell (with Ricky Skaggs)
  • Waltz With Me (with Roland White)
  • Sweet Potato (with Andy Statman)
  • Ode To Bill Monroe (with Jesse McReynolds)
  • Sam’s Bush (with Sam Bush)
  • White Horse Breakdown (with Mike Compton)
  • Saratoga Blues (with Buck White)  

With the CD is a beautiful 20-page booklet with liner notes and photographs of all twelve guests and their mandolins. Mandolin Duets, Volume One was released on 31 March 2017.

Purchases can be made at Campbell’s BandCamp website, as well as iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby .

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.