Larry Campbell is music royalty. He’s the musician’s musician. The guy those in the know want at their side in the recording studio or on stage. Campbell’s guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, violin, and more have left a permanent dent in multiple genres of music. Campbell’s list of credits include recording, producing or touring with the best of the best… Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, Emmylou Harris, Phil Lesh, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne and on and on.
If that list isn’t exclusive enough, Campbell’s resume includes touring and recording with Bob Dylan from 1997-2004. Amazingly, that was immediately followed as Levon Helm’s (The Band) right-hand man until Helm’s death in 2012. Campbell was the musical director of the legendary Levon Helm Woodstock rambles.
It’s not cliché to say Campbell has seen it all and done it all musically. It’s a fact. His phone constantly rings with requests from musician after musician to record and tour. These days, there’s one, and only one musician Campbell has at the top of his list to make music with, his wife Teresa Williams.
Williams, who has been married to Campbell for over 30 years is one of the finest vocalists around. Her voice is the perfect blend of the musicians born near where she was raised in West Tennessee… Loretta Lynn, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and June Carter Cash. Like her husband, Williams has a long and impressive list of credits as well. She was an integral part of Levon’s rambles. Her vocals along with Helm’s daughter Amy continually provided plenty of energy to power the 200 seat barn.
With a musical lifetime of countless miles and memories behind them, Campbell and Williams have set their focus on releasing their own music. 2015’s self titled debut “Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams” and 2017’s “Contraband Love” are shining examples of the music they’ve been creating their entire careers. Polished, precise, silky smooth with an effortless flow and ease.
The latest release and first headlining live album for Campbell and Williams is “Live at Levon’s!” The album was recorded at Levon’s barn, home of the rambles and infinite music lore. It’s a collection of their original songs mixed with several brilliant covers. The duo travel the southern country roads with stops at Loretta Lynn’s “Success,” Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” and Bill Monroe’s “Old Dangerfield.” Williams’s vocals throughout, whether solo or with Campbell are as heartfelt as the love you can hear in their voices when they discuss traveling one road together personally and professionally.
SlideandBanjo sat down with Williams and Campbell for an extensive interview. The duo discussed a wide variety of topics from their latest release, focus moving forward, Larry’s near fatal bout with Covid, and inside stories about rock and roll’s biggest legends. The pair begin by discussing how this live album found its way to see the light of day.
Larry- It was originally suggested by our manager. We were looking towards our next studio album. We weren’t quite prepared to get a full album done. We needed to get in and do something, so he mentioned let’s do a live album as a placeholder until we get the studio album done. We thought that was a great idea because it would allow us to do some songs we don’t have on our other records. Stuff we would do only for this particular project.
Teresa- Its stuff people ask for that we put in our sets that doesn’t make it on our studio records. People always would ask, and we’d be like no, we don’t have that recorded. It was a no brainer really.
Larry- The other no brainer part is where should we do this.
Slideandbanjo- That was my next question. Yes. That might be the biggest no brainer in the history of music.
Larry- (laughs) And we all instantly agreed it had to be at Levon’s because of our history there and the beauty of the room.
Slideandbanjo- Did everyone know going into these shows it was being specifically done to be released as a live record?
Teresa- Oh yeah. We knew going in and the audience was warned we may have to stop and start. I don’t think we had to do hardly any of that. They were in on it. I hate it some of the applause stuff got sanitized.
Larry- It was a microphone problem.
Slideandbanjo- That’s interesting. There really isn’t a lot of the audience in the mix except at the end of the songs. I was going to ask if that was intentional.
Larry- You’re right. There were some technical issues with the microphones for the audience.
Teresa- That part was disappointing because our audience was there, loud and proud.
Slideandbanjo- The benefit you get is one of the cleanest sounding live albums out there. It’s a beautiful, pristine recording. It’s as clear as a studio release.
Larry- We are all in with how it sounds. Justin Gulp is a whiz with mixing. The mics that were pointed at the audience failed. Justin took all the tracks from those two nights in the studio and did his magic. He’s a total whiz.
Slideandbanjo- The setlist is a mix of covers, songs you have released, and songs you haven’t released. How did you determine which songs you wanted to include?
Larry- We talked about it. Teresa and I suggested tunes back and forth. We needed to know what we were doing when we went in there. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for off the cuff stuff.
Teresa- There were more songs in the show that we used, and they were selected for sheer fun like “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” Like me doing more eclectic stuff such as “Success.” Which I confess I don’t think is my best performance. But I’m still glad it’s on there. I’ve always loved that song. We did it many years ago and it was magical. With Loretta Lynn’s passing, it’s another reason that one is included.
Slideandbanjo- This album was recorded in 2019 and because of the delay from Covid is finally being released. Quite a bit has happened since this was recorded, including Larry having a nearly fatal fight with Covid right at the beginning.
Teresa- It feels like five lifetimes ago when this whole project began to where we stand now. Larry had gotten so sick from Covid at the beginning of the pandemic. When I got the news his fever had broken, I can’t express the elation of him getting through that and me being able to let everyone know. The next day, it was a Sunday and I just crashed. The phrase that kept going through my mind was we have truly walked through the valley of the shadow of death here. This whole project feels special. It feels like a lifetime ago. I’m glad we have it.
Larry- The album was supposed to be released in the spring of 2020. We couldn’t tour and it seemed frivolous to put it out there without being able to back it up. Then Teresa had to spend most of the covid part with her dad in Tennessee. He was on his off ramp with Alzheimer’s.
Teresa- I had the car ready to go the next morning to Tennessee because of my father. We were at the point where my mother had to have help. It was great we were off the road so I could be here for family, which is a priority for me. When I got the word Larry tested positive. I said instead of going to Tennessee, I’d go to see him in person. The doctor said no way you’re getting near Larry because you’ll get it. Because you’ve been near him, you have to quarantine. Larry had to sign papers he wouldn’t let anyone in the house. They didn’t bring him any medical equipment, nothing but paperwork. We were on a 3-way call, and I was like he’s so sick he’s not capable of listening to you right now. It was so absurd. I stayed away and let the nurses call me every day. I decided one of us needs to be left standing. I was worried he was going to die in the house with nobody there.
Slideandbanjo- If you look at the totality of the music you’ve been a part of for decades, most of it falls under another musician’s umbrella. Larry, you played with Bob Dylan and Levon Helm for years. It seems like the past few years you have both made a conscious decision to have more Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams specific releases. Is this your current focus musically?
Larry- Yes. In a word, that’s it.
Teresa- Let me jump in here. I’ve said to Larry you could be doing luxury tours 24/7. Larry’s dream list of musicians constantly calls him up to tour or play on their record. I’m like your bags could be sitting in your hotel room. You wouldn’t have to touch a piece of gear except to play. He could be living the good life. Why are you doing this with me? He stresses he needs this level of creativity. So, Yee ha, I get to be a part of that.
Larry- I have to say I’ve played with some wonderful people in my life. I’ve had some of the greatest gigs I could have imagined. The thing Teresa and I do. When we started playing together with Levon, that was the apex for both of us as far as satisfaction from a musical experience. Regardless of all the greats I worked with before. The thing we had with Levon was making music for the right reasons. Just for the joy of doing it. We were all throwing in and participating. It was a communal thing. Out of that grew this thing Teresa and I do together. We were able to hohn it in that environment. After we lost Levon, the only thing I can think of that brought me that level of satisfaction and complete musical experience is this thing Teresa and I do together. We own it. It’s our thing. I want to be with her. I want to sing with her. I want to hear her voice. It’s a completely personal and musical experience. At this point in our lives, I could be out there touring with somebody. Then I’d be away from her and be playing someone else’s music. We’ve done that. If I could do nothing else but Larry and Teresa that’s what I’d do. I’m hoping we can get to a point where everything else I do is only because it would be fun to do it.
Slideandbanjo- These days, you don’t hear the name Larry Campbell without it being followed with and Teresa Williams. You two are synonymous.
Teresa- (laughs) I’m sorry Larry.
Larry- That’s music to my ears.
Slideandbanjo- Nobody said which half is better.
Larry- Seriously. That’s just the way I want it to be. The work we did with Phil Lesh, Little Feat, Jorma Kaukonen and others grew out of their awareness of us and what we did with Levon.
Teresa- The way I got involved in the Levon thing is his daughter Amy saw Larry and myself sit in with a couple of her bandmates. There was a little gig in a hole in the wall bar in the east village. This was just after Larry stopped playing with Dylan and I had finished my contract with the Carter family play I was doing. Those things ended at the same time, and we went down for giggles and did a few songs with them. Amy saw us there. Levon and Larry had done that Dixie Hummingbirds record in 2003 and they had reconnected from the Lonestar days. Amy said she and Levon drove from Arkansas to Woodstock, all the way there and all the way back listening to that Diamond Jubilation album. Next thing you know they’re calling Larry to produce his record or whatever they were working on at the barn. Then she called me to come up and help.
Larry- Things really started to grow from there. With all the projects, Phil Lesh, Little Feat, or whoever. They all began thinking of us as a unit. They knew if they were getting Larry, they were also getting Teresa. We had such a great chemistry with all of them. How cool is that for us to be playing with these guys we love and respect. And we get to do it together. What more can you ask for?
Slideandbanjo- If you look at Phil and Friends, who you’ve both played countless times with, that is a direct continuation of Levon’s rambles. An always rotating group of musicians gathering to play the music they love. If you look at the numerous one-off groups ending with “and friends” playing at festivals throughout the year, that all traces back to Levon’s rambles that you were the musical director for. Can you appreciate the amount of music that exists in the world because of you, Levon and the rambles?
Teresa- When we played with Jackson Browne, he did the show like it was a ramble. A lot of the young folks who have moved to Woodstock from wherever was because they went to a ramble. Levon totally revived it, not that it ever died. Music that put fresh blood and a lot of serious people in the Woodstock area. I think Levon is somewhere happy at the ripples his music created.
Slideandbanjo- But you had the golden ticket. An invite to sit in on a ramble was a clear sign for a musician they were doing something very right. You were creating music the musicians respected.
Larry- It was so much about everybody in it together. It was such a generous atmosphere. Whoever was guesting that week insisted we all played together. Oh god, those experiences were legendary.
Slideandbanjo- We discussed the obvious choice of recording this album at Levon’s barn. How much of a home field advantage is it for the two of you to play there? It must feel like playing in a room at your home?
Teresa- It’s really, really, warm.
Larry- Even if it was the first time we played in that room. There’s an overwhelming vibe there. There’s something indescribable in the air when you walk in there that says this is where we’re supposed to be. Having had all those years of wonderful times in there musically and personally. Teresa and I and Levon and his wife Sandy would sit by the fire on Sunday nights. It’s like a church. That’s what it is. For the audience and the performers, it’s a monumental place.
Teresa- It really reminded me of the old church revivals when I was little. I remember the revivals where there was no air conditioning, and the windows and doors were open. That’s how it was at the barn with the lights spilling out. There were so many people there you were glad to be on the outside if you couldn’t get in. I’ve written and said this many times. It really reminded me of those old church revivals.
Slideandbanjo- Before we get back to the live album, what are you guys currently working on? I’d assume a studio album is at the top of your list.
Larry- We just got a couple of basic tracks done. Our plan is to have a studio record in the can, and we will release it next.
Slideandbanjo- You mentioned you chose several of the songs on the album based on fan requests you’ve gotten over the years. Some of these songs haven’t been released before. What led you to add these to the album?
Larry- We’ve been asked for a recording of “Caravan” forever. The same for “Big River.” “Darling Be Home Soon,” we had done that at a tribute to the Woodstock festival. We both re-fell in love with that one from that. I’ve said this over and over. When Teresa gets hold of a song. First, she sings it and it sounds like a woman singing a song. Then before you know it, it sounds like she owns the song. It’s almost like that song was meant to be sung by her.
Teresa- Well thank you Larry. Or as Mavis Staples would say… Laaarrrrryyyy!
Larry- That one really was special to me.
Slideandbanjo- You have original tracks on the album like “Let’s Get Together” and “Angel of Darkness” that haven’t been released. Have you been playing those live so the crowd is familiar with them, or will this be the first opportunity to be heard?
Larry- Those two we have done live. The ones we haven’t performed live is “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” and “Success.”
Teresa- Because I can’t get Larry to lug that massive pedal steel around (laughs). How much fun would it be. I keep suggesting a straight up hardcore honkytonk tour with that pedal steel. He was playing pedal steel the first time I ever heard him. I hadn’t even laid eyes on him yet. That was how I fell in love because he was so inside that country pedal steel stuff. Yeah!
Slideandbanjo- If you look at the covers you chose to include, they’re all old school tunes you completely refreshen. “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” has a 50’s jitterbug feel. You take on Harry James, Johnny Cash, the Carters and Loretta Lynn. Heavyweights in the music world. These choices seem predestined to make an appearance.
Larry- It’s stuff that turns us both on. We try to make that stuff our own. It speaks to us. Hopefully, it speaks to everyone else. That’s the goal.
Slideandbanjo- Well they certainly paint a picture as they’re being played. It’s literally that country drive from Memphis straight up Highway 51 to where you currently are an hour away Teresa. Those backwoods country roads filled with farms and all sorts of natural beauty.
Teresa- I love it. I love it. You know I’m on a campaign for Larry to permanently move me home to Tennessee. All my neighbors are helping me with that effort. I’m down here a lot. I’ve spent the last 2 and half years with my dad and now my mom. I’m grateful to be able to do that. Larry drags me away every now and then to do some road dates and record. I keep trying to get him to go to Muscle Shoals. We went down there and did a record for the Tony Rice tribute record.
Slideandbanjo- That’s a cool place with so much history. It’s in the middle of nowhere. You recorded there?
Teresa- I walked into that studio and they didn’t have to tweak nothing. I opened my mouth, and it was the best vocal sound immediately. I was like oh my goodness I’m in heaven. That’s not far down the road from us. I could still hang with my mother. Larry is joined at the hip with Justin in the studio and rightfully so. Justin is amazing. We could drag Justin down here with him.
Slideandbanjo- The music world has evolved so much it’s almost expected for an artist to be involved in multiple projects. The idea that you’re selling your fans short if you are involved in anything other than a Larry and Teresa project doesn’t exist in today’s music world.
Larry- Playing with Teresa and throwing in work with people I respect is a very satisfactory picture.
Teresa- It is exactly. I’d say with the Phil and Friends thing for me; I didn’t know much of the Dead growing up except “Truckin’” on the radio. Then when I was inducted in that world, I discovered it was a marriage of what I grew up on. People were like do you know this or that song. I was like yeah, I used to sing that in church. A lot of their songs I had grown up on. It’s hysterical. Just exploring the Dead material was like taking a trip to Mars. It was fabulous to explore their world. Phil is the reason we added “River Deep – Mountain High” to our sets. When he says I want you to do this song, you go along and say ok. I would never have approached that song and several others he called. Those are too iconic, and I would never have tried them by myself. Those side gigs are so much fun and incredible. I’m grateful.
Slideandbanjo- It really is amazing when you track these songs down to their origins. So many of them were written within 50-75 miles where you grew up in Tennessee Teresa. A perfect example is “Samson and Delilah” which was written by Reverend Gary Davis in Memphis about 100 years ago. That’s another one that’s a staple in your live shows.
Teresa- Yeah and there’s a whole Reverend Gary connection with Jorma. When Larry did the Reverend Gary tribute record with Marie Knight. That was a song Jorma had me pinch hit when Marie got sick one night. That also forced me to learn “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” which is another staple of our shows. I hate to sound corny, but what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Slideandbanjo- If we look at your musical road going forward, you’ve found the specific direction you want to take. Teresa mentioned earlier Larry that you can sit back and do whatever you want musically. There’s a determination in your voice that your road begins and ends with Teresa by your side. It doesn’t mean you can’t do other side projects, but your main focus seems to be on Larry and Teresa music first.
Larry- As I said, if all I did for the rest of my life was Larry and Teresa, I would be the happiest guy. That’s my focus now.
Teresa- Let me jump in here. Hold it, Larry. (laughs). It’s really fun when we collaborate with people like Jorma, Jackson Browne or Phil Lesh. Those are a total treat.
Larry- We get paid for those gigs buts that’s not why we do it. It’s for the collaboration with friends and people we admire and respect. As far as I’m concerned, the focus for the rest of my career has to be this thing with Teresa. I will still produce records for artists that move me.
Teresa- What Larry described is our version of planning. People need to plan their lives, which we never did, around each phase of things. Family is always high on my list. It tops everything. This is our version of planning for the phase where you have aging parents. Larry can produce other people’s records so I can be in Tennessee with my family. That’s the extent of our planning.
Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams “Live at Levon’s!” Royal Potato Family
All Photographs – Ruben Garcia Carballo