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.
- 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.
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.