Fiddling Clayton Campbell

Clayton Campbell & JoeJoe Saroyan at Strawberry Park in Preston, CT, 2012
Clayton Campbell & JoeJoe Saroyan at Strawberry Park in Preston, CT, 2012

Clayton Campbell, native of the Bluegrass State and the Gibson Brothers’ gifted fiddler since 2004, plays impeccable old-time country and bluegrass. His honed intonation, vibrato, double stops, and experience since childhood on the stage of the Kentucky Opry have made him a link in the chain of the band’s many grooves. With Clayton on board the band shifted from recording and touring quartet with varying fiddlers on albums to self-contained five-piece bluegrass band on the road and in the studio. Both fiery and cool, he is the consummate sideman.

Versatility:

  • During the first five years of watching Clayton on stage, I thought he was going to take flight on quick tempo solos like this bluegrass classic as he raised up on his toes. I’ve seen him enough now to know that the levitation will be purely musical.
  • The Other Side of Town,” Steve Earle’s country-western two-step, lands a moral in the third verse after tying in a midnight train, broken hearts, lonely souls, and a hearty serving of urban decay in the chorus. Clayton overdubbed a second fiddle part to his first on the Gibsons’ recording of the song on Ring the Bell that nails the image of sweethearts moving to a quick-step, quick-step, slow-step.
  • The singer/songwriter turns taken by the brothers as in Leigh’s “Safe Passage” bring out echoes of country-rock very akin to the fiddle introduction  for the Youngbloods’ “Darkness, Darkness.” (Thanks to Bill Christophersen for referencing their song.) The songwriter genre may come as a stumbling block to many fiddlers. Laurie Lewis, Gina Forsyth and Clayton are notable exceptions.

Bowing: Everything about Clayton’s bowing reflects a high level of discipline. His right arm moves fluidly at the shoulder; the crook of his elbow tracks circumferentially around the strings; his wrist is as loose as a handball player’s on the court; and his fingers are just at and below the frog. It’s a grip that is neither overly refined or off leash.

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Fiddle tunes: “Sally Goodin” and “Ragtime Annie” have been popular go-to fiddle solos for a number of years. Clayton was planning to record a solo fiddle album with Gibson Brothers’ bass player Mike Barber producing this past January. The death of Leigh and Eric’s father at the beginning of the year led to a temporary postponement. At the Winter Village Bluegrass Festival in Ithaca, where the band played their first gig following Mr Gibson’s passing, Clayton played “Old Joe Clark” during the band workshop. The band’s reaction to Clayton’s fiddling proves that music is, if not always the best, then the most joyful medicine.

The Gibson Brothers headline at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville this Thursday, July 5. The above links can be found on my YouTube channel under Fiddling Clayton Campbell.

6 thoughts on “Fiddling Clayton Campbell

  1. Hot damn John, you’re in a fine writing groove! “Circumferentially” Now there’s a word I’ve never seen applied to a fiddle player. But it fits, it surely does fit. One of my favorite Clayton intro’s is the haunting start of “I Know Whose Tears” which, for some reason, I’ve never heard in their on-stage version. Excellent article. Maybe you’ll be asked to write the liner notes on the next album. Thank you.
    jim

  2. Great article on our oldest son and fiddle player Clayton Campbell. We started him out playing the Suzuki Method of Violin at age five. We worked forever on that wrist, shoulder, arm and bow hold you bragged on.

    Clayton’s two younger brothers you will hear from someday too. Cody plays piano with the VanDells, a retro fifties and sixties band. But he does a lot of freelancing around his home in Nashville. Cody plays great upright bass as well as is a terrific singer The youngest Campbell brother is singer songwriter Casey. He plays banjo, cello, & guitar.
    The Campbell Bros have great family harmony – I hope you will get to see them in action sometime.
    I’m a proud dad- what else can I say.

  3. Clayton’s good. I’m proud to be able to have him play with my band in Nashville when he’s not on the road. Good fiddler – good person.

    1. Chris,
      Love hearing your Walkin West to Memphis at GB concerts. You are on my list of writers and performers to come down to hear and meet. Thanks so much for your words about Clayton. He walks on water in the Saroyan house!

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