Q&A with St. Louis guitarist Tony Campanella - raw talent and experience gained the respect of fellow artists

"I feel that Blues can provide us all a means to transcend all of these boundaries. As musicians, we also have the responsibility to honor the history and roots of the music that we hold dear. Through that, we all can have a better understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of our racial and cultural differences. Hopefully that will lead to an elimination of our divisiveness and unite us."

Tony Campanella: St. Louis Blues

An old Stella Harmony acoustic guitar and an old record Guitar Boogie inspired the young eleven-year-old Tony Campanella to start playing guitar. His uncles continued to feed him a steady diet of Albert Collins, Albert and Freddie King, Son Seals, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, Jeff Beck, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Jamming with local musicians whenever he could paid off with his first club gig at age twenty. In the early 90's, Tony performed in the LA West Blues Band with Tommy Bankhead and then later joined The Sliders in the mid to late 90's. He then branched off and started his own power trio The Tony Campanella Band. Best described as a heavy, rockin' blues band, The Tony Campanella Band has been working the St. Louis circuit for a lifetime. St. Louis has know what a rare commodity it has in Tony for a long time but now it will share him with the world. Tony is a virtuoso level guitarist with a big voice full of fire.

For twenty years, Tony Campanella has been a part of the well-known Stevie Ray Vaughan Tribute Show in St. Louis, MO. Talent and experience gained Tony the respect of fellow artists. Tony has had the honor of opening for Etta James, Robin Trower, Deep Purple, Bernard Allison, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Koko Taylor, and Shemekia Copeland. Tony Campanella was the perfect choice to be the first artist signed to the Gulf Coast Records. Tony Campanella’s debut album “Taking It To The Street” on Gulf Coast Records (release date, April 19th, 2019) was recorded at MARZ Studio with producer Mike Zito. An album that will make Blues Rock fans swoon. Tony is ready and he is taking it to the street.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

The biggest thing that I have learned from the blues is that this music is the salvation from the difficult times in our lives, and a means of expressing the best times in life. Different cultures relate differently to each of these extremes, but the blues is a vehicle to express these feelings. I believe that the blues is a way to transcend cultural differences and join together in a common feeling, a common salvation.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues researches? How do you describe your songbook and sound?

St Louis, Missouri has had a long history in the foundation of blues, rock and roll, and jazz. The roots of all that music stretch back to my hometown. Growing up as a musician in this town, I was fortunate to learn from some of the founders of that music. Because of that rich history, it was natural for me to be drawn to the Blues. I was listening, and learning the Blues from an early age, but I also listened to a lot of rock music, rhythm and blues, and soul. I think my sound is a mixture of all of those influences.

"I miss the rawness of the sound, and the message. The voices and the playing of the founders of this music were so raw. I think that part of that rawness came from being so close to the pain within the black community. As time has passed, and this music has grown, the proximity to that pain is decreasing. The rawness has deteriorated as a result." (Tony Campanella / Photo by Madison Thorn)

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I believe that every acquaintance, every situation, good or bad, has been an influence on the person that I have become. They are all learning and growing experiences. One of those that always sticks in my brain is the death of my grandfather. He died when I was 12 years old. He was so happy and proud when I started playing guitar. When he died, I found an inspiration to keep playing, and keep improving, and become the best player that I could be. The best advice I ever received was from a very good friend. When I was dating the woman who would become my wife, he told me, “You need to marry that girl, because she is way better than you actually deserve.” I did marry that girl!

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

A couple stick out in my mind. The first was opening for Koko Taylor in St Louis. I have never felt nervous about performing, but this night was very different. She was a blues legend. I was so nervous about playing that night. I was so worried about putting on a performance that was worthy of the queen of the blues.  Once we started, the anxiety went away, and we put on a great show. The other was opening for British Rock legends, Deep Purple. They were so gracious, and complementary. They were very down to earth guys too. After the show we sat around for another hour talking about fishing, and their amazement that we could go watch Chuck Berry every month in St Louis.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the rawness of the sound, and the message. The voices and the playing of the founders of this music were so raw. I think that part of that rawness came from being so close to the pain within the black community. As time has passed, and this music has grown, the proximity to that pain is decreasing. The rawness has deteriorated as a result.

"Different cultures relate differently to each of these extremes, but the blues is a vehicle to express these feelings. I believe that the blues is a way to transcend cultural differences and join together in a common feeling, a common salvation." (Tony Campanella / Photo by Rhonda Pierce)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would like to see musicians receive proper payment for their hard work. In these days of digital audio, and streaming, the digital services make the Lion’s share of the money, and the performers get next to nothing. It is so inequitable. I would love to see that change.

How has the Rock n' Blues music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

It has made me believe in one irrefutable truth: that music is the great unifier. No matter our differences, music will always be the vehicle to bring us together.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications? 

I feel that Blues can provide us all a means to transcend all of these boundaries. As musicians, we also have the responsibility to honor the history and roots of the music that we hold dear. Through that, we all can have a better understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of our racial and cultural differences. Hopefully that will lead to an elimination of our divisiveness and unite us.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I have always been fascinated by the renaissance era in Europe, specifically Firenze, Italy. I would love to go back to that time, and that city. It would be fantastic to experience the birth of free thought and artistic expression.

Tony Campanella - Home

(Tony Campanella / Photo by Rhonda Pierce)

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