At tender age of 15, Gus Campbell has already grasped the deep, funky essence of the blues and classic rock. And from this venerable tradition, he has forged his own distinctive and dynamic style of what might be called “contemporary classic” rock and roll. Campbell handles his guitar with effortless mastery, wresting impassioned riffs and screams of steely urgency from the fretboard. And when he steps up to the mic to sing, his flinty voice and gutsy sense of conviction tear the roof off every time. With prestigious opening gigs for headliners like L.A. Guns, Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown and Guthrie Govan’s Aristocrats, the Phoenix-based phenomenon is poised to bust out nationwide.
“The direction of the music I’m writing fuses early rock with elements of funk,” declares the red-headed guitar slinger. “I’m trying to develop something different than what other kids my age are doing.”
Campbell’s musical journey began at age seven. “My dad popped Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood into the CD player, and that was it,” he recalls. “That’s what inspired me to pick up the guitar—that passion for the instrument that Stevie Ray had. As a player, my influences run from Chet Atkins to Tony Iommi. But Stevie Ray was first.”
By age 10, young Gus was up onstage at a rock workshop camp, wielding his dad’s guitar, which was almost bigger than he was at the time, ripping it up on tunes by Led Zeppelin and Nirvana.
“I just loved being on stage right from the beginning,” he says. “I felt like I traveled to a different place. It’s not even that I wanted to do that. It just happened.”
Within a few years, Campbell had put together his own powerhouse trio, recruiting bassist Alex Chacon and drummer Mark Savale. The other guys have a few years on Gus, but their musical bond was immediate and palpable.
“We all dig the same kind of music, because we all grew up on the same records,” Campbell notes. “Alex and I both grew up listening to a lot of Southern rock. We were both raised on Lynyrd Skynyrd and Credence Clearwater Revival. And Mark is a real modern drummer. So it’s cool that I can write old school guitar licks, have cool driving bass lines, and Mark can lay down a real modern groove.”
While writing searing original tunes like “Time,” “Fell in Love Once,” “Little Miss Mischief” and “Be Mine,” Campbell also likes to dig deep into traditional blues repertoire—putting his own spin on classics like Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline),” Little Walter’s “My Babe,” and B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby.” He performs the latter song as a tribute to the late blues master Johnny Winter, who recorded his own memorable version of this 12-bar standard.
“I’ll listen to modern blues songs,” Gus says, “and although I like them, there’s just something about those really old blues songs. Sometimes I’ll just look at the lyrics—like if someone handed me some lyrics and asked me to put music to them. For ‘My Babe,’ what I had in my head was this swampy kind of sound.”
As further testimony to Campbell’s precocious musical accomplishment, he has been chosen as an artist endorsee by the prestigious Fender Guitar brand. This past January found him onstage at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchandisers) Show in Anaheim, California, demonstrating Fender’s newest line of acoustic guitars. Meanwhile Gus and his band are preparing material for a forthcoming debut EP.
Among rock guitar’s new breed of young guns, Gus Campbell stands tall and filled with the promise of great things to come. In his capable hands, the great blues and roots rock tradition is alive and kicking.
“I don’t know if I’d give myself credit for carrying the torch,” he demurs. “But I try to keep the legacy in people’s minds. I like to think that if one of those classic artists heard what I was doing with their music, that they’d be happy.”
And if you wanna be happy too, go check out Gus Campbell in concert.