The truth is, the Telecaster guitar is a simple instrument; essentially two pieces of wood, strings and pickups. From this simple design, first seen in 1950 as the Fender Esquire, comes some amazing sounds.
So how is it in the hands of a master, such a basic slab-o-wood becomes such an expressive voice? That is the mystery of such skill, isn’t it?
Jim Campilongo is such a mystery man. Well — not such a mystery to those in the know, as he has his own Fender Custom Shop 1959 Jim Campilongo Telecaster “toploader”. If you know Jim Campilongo, then you are well ahead of the game and in-the-know about such things.
For those of you who don’t – you may have heard and seen him perform with Norah Jones/ The Little Willies, and as a guest with acts such as Cake, Martha Wainwright, Teddy Thompson and the Little Willies, JJ Cale, Nels Cline, Pete Townsend, Bright Eyes, Burning Spear, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, and Peter Rowan.
Campilongo has been making music since the mid-1970’s — first in San Francisco and has been a fixture in the New York City music scene since he relocated east in 2002. Most of his work is made up of instrumental compositions which encompass sounds which harken back to Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk” as well as Johnny Cash’s train comin’ round the bend, Roy Buchanan, all the way to Gypsy Jazz and Django Reinhardt. His work is jazz, and, country, and, rock, and, swing, and, and blues. His music is amazingly happy and to listen to his work is akin to a purification of the soul.
If you listen to his music in a chronological order, you will hear a man who started out with speed and distortion, to one who now performs with a warmer mid-scooped-toneful confidence. His two-guitar duet work offers intertwining melodies and complicated themes and counter themes. His music is both complex and simple at the same time. It has a sense of longing along with a feeling of visiting an old friend.
There is a sound that can only be made when playing through an all-tube Fender amp with a spring reverb. As much as the Telecaster has a very recognizable twang, its signature sound through a Fender tube amp is actuated with the initial attack of the note made when the edge of the pick hits a string. For you guitar geeks — it’s much like a sharp compressed attack envelope on the initial note, followed by a slight delay of the reverb sound. No other guitar/amp combo can make this sound. It is the sound of the Telecaster played by a master who understands both the physics of the sound as well as the meaning of the passage.
I had the most wonderful opportunity to see Campilongo and Benedetti perform as part of Campilongo’s Monday evening residence at The Rockwood Music Hall — “Campilongo After Dark!” Watching them play is like watching masters performing their craft. The between-song banter is often Campilongo posing some fun, if not existentially inspired philosophical type questions. This evening, he spoke about his confusion about why people collect cars. An understandably difficult concept to grapple with between jazz and blues numbers.
Ten other random thoughts about Jim Campilongo I can’t figure out how to put into complete sentences…
- Bob Dylan should hire Campilongo as part of his recording and touring band;
- Campilongo’s music is more enjoyable than chocolate;
- Campilongo looks like he is wearing an ascot, even when he isn’t wearing an ascot;
- It is impossible not to smile as his band improvises during the tunes. If you don’t smile than you are most likely dead;
- Campilongo plays a top-loader — which is guitar/geek talk describing how the strings of his Telecaster don’t load from the back of the body, but from the back end of the bridge;
- Campilongo can make a Fender Princeton amp that has a 10-inch speaker, sound like it has the tone of a much larger amp;
- I bought a Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb amp because of how much I loved Campilongo’s sound. Those who know will instantly realize the Custom Deluxe Reverb has a 12-inch speaker. I personally need a 12-inch speaker to give my guitar playing a little deeper tone because I use somewhat lighter strings and want a deeper sound. That, and I myself, am a snob about guitar amps and couldn’t live with a 10-inch speaker amp;
- The Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb is the only amp I’ve bought since 1985 when I purchased a Roland JC-120 — which I now can no long lift;
- Campilongo’s music should have been included in the movie Baby Driver;
- Campilongo maintains an incredibly self-deprecating attitude.
Okay, enough guitar hero worship — just click here to hear Campilongo’s music and you will certainly be a changed person for the experience.
Jim Campolongo “Campilongo After Dark!” Live Review + Photos by Doug “Igoto” Dresher.
Here – have some photographs …
JIM CAMPOLONGO LIVE PHOTOS:
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