Scotty Campbell – Blessed and damned
Scotty Campbell says he feels a little like the town oddball who, year after year, stands on a soapbox and, in the face of indifference, rages at the world. And then one day he’s alarmed to find people are paying attention.
For years, the Hamilton, Ontario, native has been zealously denouncing the state of country music, as if it were a personal affront, while making music that mines the rich vein previously tapped by Buck Owens, Hank Thompson and Webb Pierce.
He’s the kind of guy who got so worked up about Garth Brooks’ shameless MOR reinvention as Chris Gaines that he wrote a blistering letter-to-the-editor of his local paper complaining like it was a matter of public policy. He also has a reputation for naming names and ruffling feathers among the insular Canadian music biz.
Since the release of his new independent album Damned If I Recall, though, disaffected old-school honky-tonk fans have begun to rally to his cause.
“I wouldn’t want to make a retro record, but the kind of record I want to listen to is an honest record,” he says. “The title Damned If I Recall comes from my belief that there is a conspiracy by the country music industry to have absolutely nothing to do with music before 1975. I am damned because I recall country history. But if people come to the door, I can deliver.”
Campbell, 36, was literally born on the road during a family trip to Nova Scotia from their home in Hamilton, a blue-collar town near Toronto. His obsession with the golden age of country was bred in the bone. Supper included talks about country hits of the day, and the family made outings to every show within driving distance. “This was part of the fabric of my upbringing,” he says. “Songs weren’t wallpaper. They were discussed.”
In high school, he joined a mid-’80s new-wave cover band, which toured Canada and the U.S. for several years. On his own, he continued listening to and writing country songs, and took encouragement from the late-’80s success of neo-trad heroes Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis. But he kept his light under a bushel until a friend convinced him to send his work into a nationwide songwriting contest in 1992.
The tunes he submitted, a heartbroken travelogue called “Lonely In San Antone” and a battle hymn for traditional country fans called “An Ole Hillbilly Song”, won the contest, and he hasn’t looked back. Both songs are featured on Damned If I Recall.
Things are looking up for Campbell’s career lately, but he acknowledges his fortunes partially rest on whether he can win over the very same music business he has been dissing. He can’t bite his tongue, though, and he won’t find another line of work.
“Ten years from now, if this doesn’t work out, I know this is what I’ll still be doing. It’s not a new toy for me. This is my life.”