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Willie J. Campbell – Be Cool

Blue Heart Records

Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro © August 2023

It’s sad that award winning bassist Willie J. Campbell, who played with countless award winning musicians and bands, is not around to witness the huge success I’m sure Be Cool will achieve. Having literally played with everyone who is someone in the blues, Willie passed away a short time before the release of his debut solo album.

Be Cool features twenty incredibly talented musicians joining Willie, and I can’t help but wonder how many others would have wanted to be a part of this project had they known it would be their last chance to play with this legendary bassist. The band consists of: Willie, of course, on bass; Kid Ramos on guitar; Brian Templeton on lead vocals, background vocals and harmonica; Jimi Bott on drums, tympani and percussion; and Brooks Milgate on keyboards. The special guests include: Mondo Cortez, Anson Funderburgh, Mike Morgan and Joe Louis Walker on guitar; Shawn Pittman on guitar, acoustic guitar and lead vocals; David Hidalgo on guitar, lead and background vocals; Joe “Mack” McCarthy on horn and horn arrangements; Sax Gordon on tenor sax; Janiva Magness and Sugaray Rayford on lead vocals; Pat McDougall on piano; Johnny Ramos on background vocals; Jason Ricci on harmonica; Kim Wilson on lead vocals, vocals and harmonica; and Jimmie Wood on lead vocals, chains, and harmonica. Based on those names alone, you should have already stopped reading and started shopping for the CD. You can read the rest when you get back.

Be Cool is a joint production of Kid Ramos, Brian Templeton and Willie. Of the disc’s fifteen tracks, all but four of them are originals, and/or compilations, from various band members and guests.

Since Willie, Jimi Bott and Brooks Milgate are the only bassist, drummer and keyboard player of this large group, anytime there is any mention of the intense rhythm on a particular track, they’ll be the reason for it. That said, “No More” (B. D. Templeton), is one of those tracks. With Willie and Jimi holding down the bottom on this rocker, it’s Brooks who sets it on fire with his scorching piano leads. Additionally, being one of several tracks that features all four guitarists, this one has Anson Funderburgh lighting it up on the solos; and, on his only appearance on the instrument, Jimmie Wood doing pretty much the same on the harmonica leads. Last, and just the mention of his name tells you it’s not least, as he does on everything he sings, Brian Templeton is singing the hell out of ‘his’ song.

Slow, lowdown and gut wrenching blues is certainly “wheelhouse material” for pretty much everyone involved with this project and “Can’t Stay Away” ((M. C. Robinson) is easily some of the best of that. Just reading the credits and seeing Janiva Magness – vocals (4), pretty much tells you right off the bat it’s going to be a powerful and compelling vocal presentation. Add to that another stunning blues guitar performance from Anson; magnificently moody rhythm and piano chords so common to these songs; and make it be the longest song of the lot; it’s sure to get my go to compliment of ‘this was six-and-a-half minutes of pure slow blues bliss’.

An instrumental titled “Docksidin'”, is a rhythm fueled smoker that’s sure to fill the dance floor. Willie, Jimi and Brooks, this time on the B-3, are all over this one. Once again, it’s another of the several guitar orgies, this time with Kid – the song’s composer – running lead on the scorching solos.

On a ballad which he wrote, Brian – while singing his heart out – takes us in a direction towards church. Even the song’s title – “Forever Shall Be” – has a Gospel feel.

“Standby” (B. D. Templeton) is a rhythm and blues filled smoker powered by the fiery horns of Sax Gordon and Joe McCarthy. While being backed by Joe’s soaring trumpet leads, Sax lays down several scorching tenor runs. Talk about powering things along, the track features Sugaray Rayford on the vocals and Joe Louis Walker on guitar…..’nuff said.

On a laid back bluesy number he wrote, “Devil On My Shoulder”, Shawn Pittman not only showcases his outstanding vocals skills, but he does some fancy pickin’ on the acoustic guitar as well. Lyrically, the line that follows “I’ve got a devil on my shoulder” is “and an angel by my side”. With Anson and Kim nearby, both tearing it up on the lead guitar and the harmonica riffs, at this particular moment he has two.

The opening of “She’s A Twister” (Templeton/Ramos), starts off with a raunchy guitar lead in from Kid, followed by a thunderous drum entrance from Jimi, crazy and wild piano pounding from Brooks, then Kim Wilson joining in with some good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll vocals……and that’s all within the first fifteen seconds. Right then and there you know the song is not about a woman who likes to dance to a Chubby Checker recording. No Sireee! This song is about a woman who is like the kind of twister that comes with an EF Rating. And from the way this one rocks out, it could very well be an EF 5.

Backed by some N’awlins style rhythm, boogie woogie piano playing, and lots of well synchronized hand clapping, Kim Wilson, both on vocals and harmonica, does a fabulous rendition of Huey P. Smith’s nineteen fifties rock ‘n’ roll classic called “You Can’t Stop her”.

Other tracks on the outstanding release are: “You Better Let Go” (B. D. Templeton, D. S. Ramos, W. J. Campbell, J. J. Bott); “This Time” (L. F. Perez, D. K. Hidalgo); “Drone” (B. D. Templeton); “My Fault” (I. P. McLagan, R. D. Stewart, R. D. Wood); “One Man Chain Gang” (J. Wood, D. S. Ramos); “Use As Needed” (B. D. Templeton); and Albatross” (P. A. Green).

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