Royce Campbell Interview with Jazz Guitar Life

“I never practised scales. I just worked on playing songs and improvising over the chords.”

Royce Campbell

Royce is a wonderful Jazz Guitarist who has played with a slew of top-shelf entertainers including Henry Mancini and Marvin Gaye. This interview was done via email in 2017


JGL: Thank you Royce for taking the time to talk to Jazz Guitar Life. First off, if we can get into a little background about you that would be great. How old are you?

RC:  64.

JGL: What geographical area do you reside in?

RC:  VA.

JGL: For those who may not know you, could you give us an elevator pitch of who is Royce Campbell and then we’ll get into more detail as this interview unfolds.   

RC:  A primarily mainstream jazz guitarist who has also done recordings in the smooth jazz and more modern jazz genres.

JGL: At what age did you first start playing the guitar and were you interested in jazz from the beginning or were there other musical interests before jazz? How did you find your way to this particular music and instrument?

RC:  I started guitar at 9 and the first jazz guitarist I was interested in was Wes Montgomery.

JGL: Did you know early on that music was something you wanted to do as a career choice and if so, what were some of the things you did to make this choice work for you?

RC:  I knew pretty early on and to make it happen I taught myself to read music.

JGL: Do you give private lessons and if so, how does one go about studying with you, and if so, is there a particular level of student you are looking for?

RC:  I don’t teach anymore.  

JGL: What was your first guitar and what are you playing now? Any guitar of particular note in between?

RC:  My first guitar was a Guild. I’m currently playing a ’70 Gibson L-5 and I also have a Benedetto Fratello.

JGL: What other gear are you using? Do you have a specific stage set-up that works best for you in a variety of musical situations?

RC:  I just use an Acoustic Image amp through a Raezer’s Edge speaker.

JGL: Who were your influences on jazz guitar when you were beginning, and have they stayed the same or have they changed over the years? Who are you listening to today (guitarists or non-guitarists)?

RC:  Wes Montgomery is by far my main influence. Some other of my favorites are Tal Farlow, Jim Hall, Jimmy Raney and Pat Martino.

JGL: In the same vein, who has been most influential in your life as a Jazz Guitarist and why?

RC:  Wes.

JGL: Is there anyone – alive or dead – who you’d love to play and/or record with and why?

RC:  Chet Baker or Miles Davis. I love their melodic styles.

JGL: I’ve really enjoyed your playing in all that I’ve heard you do, from straight-ahead to some outside playing as well. What was your practice routine like when you were beginning and what is it like now? Are there specific areas that you work on or do you just play through tunes?

RC:  I never practiced scales. I just worked on playing songs and improvising over the chords.

JGL: What would you advise students of Jazz Guitar to work on if you could only choose two components?

RC:  Harmony and melody.

JGL: You were Henry Mancini’s guitarist for 19 years which is very impressive. How did you land the gig?

RC:  I was hired by a music contractor to do a couple of concerts with Mancini in Indiana and Mancini asked me to be his regular after those concerts. I must have impressed him.

JGL: Was this only for touring or did you also record with him as well?

RC:  Touring only.

JGL: As Mancini’s guitar player, what was expected of you and were there any challenges that caught you off guard?

RC:  It was usually easy rhythm guitar parts. The challenge was just to blend in well with the full orchestra.

JGL: You have been very open about your health issues on Face Book and at one point it looked like you would be hanging up your guitar for good. How is your health these days and is it still affecting your playing?

RC:  It’s been a long road but I feel like I’m pretty much back.

JGL: Apart from Mr. Mancini, you have played with a variety of super-stars including Marvin Gaye, The Pointer Sisters, Dave Brubeck, Quincy Jones, Pavarotti, Mose Allison, Gerry Mulligan, Brother Jack McDuff, Ray Brown, Rosemary Clooney and Sarah Vaughn to name the most popular of performers. Do any of these musical associations stand out more than others? (in a positive sense of course)

RC:  All those names are great so one doesn’t really stand out to me. Of those names, I worked the most with Marvin Gaye.

 JGL: Having worked with so many popular artists, you’ve been outspoken about not working as much as you feel you should. Given your status as a top-shelf musician and player, why do you think it is that work is hard to come by? Do you think it’s a sign of the times? Or is it a young players game now?

RC:  Jazz just isn’t very popular and getting less so all the time. No way could I make a living as a player anymore. I make my main income from composer royalties, downloads and streaming sales.

JGL: You’ve been recording since 1983 and have more than 30 albums out as a leader. Sadly I am only aware of a few “Six by Six” – which I reviewed, “Project G-5, A Tribute to Wes Montgomery” and “Elegy to a Friend” – which I have also reviewed. Are these albums still available and if so, how would one go about purchasing them from you? Also, do you plan on recording anymore?

RC: All my CD’s are available through the usual outlets: CDBaby, Amazon or directly from me Yes, I recently recorded an organ trio album.

JGL: Among your prodigious number of recordings are there any that you dig more than the others? Any special moments you would like to share from these sessions?

RC:  I like my Tribute to Henry Mancini CD the best.

JGL: It seems like you’ve done it all! What type of musical situation do you enjoy the most (ie: trio, quartet, duo, solo, etc.) and is there something that you’d still like to do?

RC:  I have pretty much done it all. I haven’t done anything with a string quartet.

JGL: Conversely, almost every musician, no matter their level and professional stature have their own insecurities to deal with when it comes to music and playing their instrument. What, if any, insecurities do you face on your instrument and how do you work at getting over them?

RC:  I wish I had better technique to feel more at ease playing real fast tempos. The only way to get over that is to practice a lot.

JGL: In 2010 you were inducted into the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation Hall of Fame. Wow, how cool is that!!?? What was that experience like?

RC:  It was a surprise and an honor.

JGL: What’s your personal take on the health of Jazz Guitar in particular and the genre in general these days?

RC:  Not good.

JGL: Do you find the business side of being a Jazz musician something that should be taught in music schools or should the playing be left to the player and the business side of things be left to managers and agents?

RC:  I think the business angle should be addressed in school.

JGL: What – if any – new technology (ie: Internet, Face Book, YouTube, Instagram etc…) do you incorporate into your looking to get gigs or get hired?

RC:  I try to use whatever is available.

JGL: Any advice for the younger guy or gal who is thinking about playing jazz guitar? 

RC:  Learn how to read music and study harmony, harmony and more harmony.

JGL: Have you ever had second thoughts about your choice to have music as a career and if so, what other career path do you think you would have followed had you not been a guitar player.

RC:  Photography or art.

JGL: If you had to do one thing over again, what would it be and why?

RC:  If I had to do thing over I think I would have stuck more to one style instead of trying to be a jack-of-all-trades.

JGL: What does the future hold for Royce Campbell?

RC:  I’d like to do more recording and hopefully some concerts.

JGL: Before I bring this interview to a close, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you have a fondness for funny word-plays, which I enjoy as well. Can you share a few with us and have you ever gotten into trouble for using such word-plays in public or on the job?

RC:  I’ve used word play in some of my titles such a In A Sorta Mental Mood and Bossa Me Mucho . So far my puns haven’t gotten me in trouble. So far.

About Lyle Robinson 347 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.

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