Form Follows Feeling

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Viv Campbell:  Form Follows Feeling

by Joe Lalaina

Guitar World Magazine

January 1985

Much attention is placed on the technical virtuosity of players like Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen these days.  But an equally noteworthy approach is embraced by the champions of feeling over form—that feeling, not technical prowess, is the primary essence of rock and roll.  Vivian Campbell adheres to this belief.

            “Guitar playing has become so technical it’s ridiculous,” he says.  “The Guitar Institute of Technology in California recently asked me to give a seminar and I told them to get lost.  I completely disagree with their philosophy.  I don’t believe a guitar player can be taught how to feel for rock and roll by reading from a textbook or by watching some guy whiz up and down a fret board.  That’s all so clinical.  I’m old fashioned in that I like to think someone who’s interested in guitar develops a natural feel for it.  They buy a guitar, learn the fundamentals, plug into an amp and go for it.”

            On ‘The Last in Line’, Dio’s second album, Campbell displays a style that’s noticeably different from the play-as-fast-as-lightning stance many modern day players fall into.  Throughout the album, Campbell swaps inventive rhythmic structures and emotionally charged solos with equal facility, building guitar passages that are as much a part of the songs as they are a demonstration of his guitar know-how.  Sure, he is often just as flashy as other guitarists, but what makes his style special is he doesn’t rely on show off techniques—integrating his playing into songs is what matters.

            “One reason I was hired for this band was because I have empathy with songs,” he explains.  “I’m not out there to be the fastest guitarist in the world.  As far as I’m concerned, you can train a monkey to play fast.  It may take ten years, but a monkey can do it.  It’s just a matter of getting the proper coordination between your hands and your brain.”

            “There’s also too much competition among players,” he adds.  “They approach the instrument like an athlete approaches a race.  For example, when marathon runners are competing, they’re competing against other runners and they’re competing against the clock.  So to them something like speed is important.  Music is a lot different—it’s an art, not a sport.  Musicians shouldn’t be in competition with one another.  I’m not in competition with Eddie Van Halen or Gary Moore or Yngwie Malmsteen.  They’re my contemporaries, not my competitors.”

            Campbell obviously speaks with intelligence and confidence.  But when he first started working with the other members of Dio he was a bit confused about his direction. “I wasn’t sure what the best playing approach was when I first came to Los Angeles and started rehearsing with the band,” says the guitarist, who was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, twenty-two years ago.  “Since there’s so many fast guitarists in LA it totally disrupted my way of thinking.  And since I never had much experience in the studio, I had to rely on Ronnie’s guidance.  My playing is a lot more liberal on the new album, though.  Ronnie developed more confidence in my ability so he gave me a lot more freedom.  I also became more relaxed with everybody in the band, so I voiced my opinion more.  For the last album, ‘Holy Diver’, I was so happy to be a part of a major band that I didn’t speak out as much.”

            “Although my playing has considerably improved on ‘The Last in Line’, I’m still not completely happy with it.  For example, I especially like the solo I played on the title track, but it’s not the sort of thing I’m going to listen to over and over.  Once I’ve played something I’m happy with, I know I can do a lot better.  I don’t glory in my playing and say, ‘Wow, what a brilliant solo.’  I just play the best I can and refuse to analyze it.  My motto is to strive for perfection and settle for excellence.”

            Excellent is one word that can easily be used to describe the vocals of Ronnie James Dio, a former member of Rainbow and Black Sabbath.  To many, he is heavy metal’s premier vocalist.  And Campbell has always been one of his fans.  “Ronnie was probably my favorite rock and roll singer before I ever met him,” says the guitarist, “and he still is now.  Ronnie has such a unique voice and an individual style.  And his lyrics always follow a certain pattern no one else can imitate.  I couldn’t believe it when he hired me to be in his band.”

            Here’s how Campbell got the gig:  “I was playing in my first band, Sweet Savage, and we were touring through Ireland with Wild Horses, a band which featured Brian Robertson on guitar and Jimmy Bain on bass.  Jimmy told me he really liked my playing a lot.  And then, when we ran into one another again, he told me his friend Ronnie James Dio called him from LA to tell him that he and Vinny had just left Black Sabbath and that Ronnie was looking for a guitarist and a bassist.  Jimmy told me he had volunteered for the bass spot and that he had recommended me for the guitar spot.  So Jimmy asked me for a tape of my playing that he said he was going to let Ronnie listen to.  I gave him the tape and a month later I got a call for an audition…and I scored the gig.”

            At first, Campbell maintained his cool.  But then, when the band went into the studio to record ‘Holy Diver’, the guitarist’s new responsibility took its toll.  “My hands started shaking as soon as I began recording,” he recalls.  “I mean we weren’t talking about it or rehearsing—we were actually doing it.  It was the first time I was ever in a professional situation of this sort, and the pressure was getting to me.”

            “I’d recorded before when I was in Sweet Savage,” he continues.  “We did three independently-released singles.  But, since my playing was lost and had no direction back then, I didn’t take the band that seriously.  We played all over Ireland, did a British club tour, and we also toured with such name acts as Motorhead and Thin Lizzy.  But there was never much pressure on me—I just played in the band because it was fun.”

            Campbell first began playing guitar because he thought being a rock and roll hero would be fun.  “When I saw Marc Bolan on television with a guitar around his neck I knew I had to get a guitar,” he says.  “Bolan was never known as a guitarist, but whenever I saw him on TV he was always holding one.  He was my hero.”

            Campbell received his first guitar when he was eleven—an Arbiter electric with one pickup.  “My dad bought it for me in Woolworths,” he remembers.  “About a year later I got a bass and played that for a while.  Then I got a Fender Telecaster.  After that I got a Les Paul Custom.”

            “Ireland isn’t such a great place for a guitar player to grow up in,” he adds.  “It’s very barren and there aren’t many bands you could join.  And there were no record companies or music publishers there either.  But then I saw Rory Gallagher—my first actual guitar hero—and fell in love with his style.  His playing was so emotional and exciting that I went out and bought all his records.  Rory was the first guitarist I tried to imitate.  He was also one of the few guitarists who played Belfast; that indirectly turned me on to him.”

            These days, Gary Moore is Campbell’s favorite player.  “He is the ultimate rock guitarist,” he believes.  “It really bothers me that Gary isn’t given the recognition he deserves.  People rave too much about Eddie Van Halen.  Fair enough, he’s a talented player.  But he’s not as intense nor as soulful as Gary Moore.  Besides, Gary has more than enough speed than he’ll ever need.  He also has the talent, imagination and the flair to construct himself in a natural way.  And he doesn’t rely on flashy technique to get people to notice his playing.  He plays from the heart.”

            And though Campbell of course favors playing that’s based more on emotion than technique, he is equally firm in his view about another topic—the hardships of playing with another guitarist.  “It’s very difficult to find guitar players who are compatible both musically and personally,” he says.  “It’s a tough situation when you have to share it with someone else.  This is because you have to share it pretty much fifty-fifty.  Even when you do so it doesn’t always work out since guitar players are very egotistical.  This is due to the fact they’re in the limelight more than any other band member apart from the lead singer, so they always have to be at their best.”

            “You could of course have a situation where one guitarist plays the solos and the other strictly plays chords, but that doesn’t always work out either.  Sooner or later the one who’s playing chords is going to want to take a solo.  Yet the solo player isn’t going to want to let him, since he knows he can do it better.”

            “If you have two solo guitar players in a band, then some obvious clashes are going to occur.  After all, they’re both soloists, so therefore they shouldn’t play the same thing at once.  In most cases the stronger personality wins.  Not necessarily on the strength or the merits of his guitar playing, but because he happens to be more forceful in his approach.  And this will lead to the other guitarist being unhappy.”

            “But having two guitarists in a band can still work in some instances.  The best example I’ve seen so far is Night Ranger.  They’re both excellent guitar players and they’re both very different.  And they seem willing to cooperate with each other.  It’s hard to tell how much longer this will last, but it’s working for the time being.”

            “But I don’t think I could work with another guitarist because I’ve never met one who understands the way I play.  My style seems to confuse most of them.  This is probably because I don’t understand what I do.  Most guitarists, especially the American ones, are so involved in the technical aspects of what they do. They have words and paraphrases for everything they play.  Whereas I may do something a lot of other guitar players may do, but I wouldn’t know how to describe it in musical terms.  What I play is very spontaneous.  If it comes out sounding good—that’s great.  If not, I’ll practice until I get it to sound good.”

            Campbell admits he does most of his practicing on the road.  “When I’m staying in LA with Ronnie there’s too many distractions,” he says.  “If I happen to be home in Ireland, I’m too busy with my family and friends since I don’t get to see them very much.  But the main reason I’m on the road is to play.  After we do a sound check, the rest of the band goes to the hotel and I go in to the tuning room and play for about three hours.  It’s a combination of warming up and practicing.  It’s also a good way to get psyched for the evening’s performance.”

            The guitarist attributes the bands’ consistency of sound to Dio’s sound engineer, Angelo Arcuri.  “He’s our engineer in both the studio and on the road,” says Campbell.  “Since most bands have a different sound engineer for both environments, their sound tends to vary.  There’s no one better qualified to capture our sound than Angelo.  He’s worked with both Ronnie and Vinny when they were with Black Sabbath and he knows how to get our sound as technically best as possible.”

            Campbell has this advice to aspiring players:  “Be optimistic and don’t be disillusioned by all the competition.  Every aspiring guitarist at one time or another wants to be the greatest player of all time.  And if you ever do get a chance to be in a major band, like I did, you’ll realize that striving to be the best is a waste of time and energy.  One should only play guitar if they have a natural love for the instrument and are willing to convey their innermost feelings through it.”