The music world lost another good one.
Willie J. Campbell, longtime bass player for the James Harman Band and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, died Dec. 18, 2022, after a battle with ALS.
Willie J. was the first-call bassist on dozens of albums, but many will first think of his key role in the classic five-man “Those Dangerous Gentlemens” lineup of the James Harman Band in the 1980s: Harman, Campbell, Stephen Hodges on drums and the two-guitar attack of Kid Ramos and Hollywood Fats.
In 1993, Campbell joined an ever-revolving lineup with The Fabulous Thunderbirds, the first post-Preston Hubbard, post-Keith Ferguson bassist in the band. When his tenure ended in 2002, Kim Wilson’s group was made up entirely of Harman alumni: Campbell, Ramos, Hodges and Gene Taylor on keys.
He crossed paths, of course, with Lester Butler, teaming in various configurations, including the mythical, short-lived Snake Snake. In 2011, he was part of a Lester Butler tribute at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues festival with Alex Schultz, Big Pete and Johnny Morgan.
In recent years, he held down the low end for The Mannish Boys blues collective, on several Delta Groove recordings. He made two records, in 2018 and 2020, with The Proven Ones, a blues-rock supergroup with guitarist Ramos; keyboardist Anthony Geraci; vocalist Brian Templeton; and Campbell’s longtime rhythm partner, drummer Jimi Bott.
In fact, in an August Facebook post detailing his illness, Campbell said The Proven Ones planned another album. He aimed to be on it, knowing it would be his last.
For the past few months, Campbell’s friends and musical cohorts have been recording one more for Willie J. In a GoFundMe to support the recording, Templeton said the record will be released as “Willie J. and Friends” — not the Proven Ones. Guests will include Kim Wilson, Sugar Ray Rayford, David Hidalgo, Janiva Magness, Anson Funderburgh, Mike Morgan, Shawn Pittman and others.
In addition to his many friends, and wife and children, Campbell is survived by his brother Scott Campbell, a fantastic roots drummer who played in the original rockabilly Red Devils as well as The Paladins.
Top photo of Willie J Campbell at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues festival in 2011 taken by Tina Hanagan for NoFightin.com.