Bobby Campanell – RIP
The Boss and Our Loss - Bobby Campanell - the Pete Rose of Rock and Roll
Bob Campanell was the first real rock and roller who turned me on to what rock and roll is really about.
I’ll never forget the night I first met him, on a Memorial Day weekend at Mothers – an all night joint just on the other side of the creek from the Somers Point on the Longport Boulevard that put it in Egg Harbor Township. So Mothers flourished all night when the Somers Point bars were required to close at 2 a.m, just as the Dunes did a few miles up the road and the Attic and Brownies did on the backroads.
It was early in the season when I ventured into Mothers early that morning. I didn't have to pay a cover since the place was owned by a friend of mine – Andrew – who also owned the historic Anchorage in Somers Point and a popular first class Italian restaurant in the Ducktown section of Atlantic City, where his family had roots.
So I sat in and listened to the Shakes for the first time and was astonished.
I had not heard this style of music before – where the lead singer, before breaking in to a song, would give a little story behind it – keeping up a steady drummer backbeat, a slow bass rhythm, and a little guitar melody while the lead singer Bob Campanell explained how he recently came down to Somers Point and got off exit 30 on the Parkway, and tried to get a gig on the then famous Bay Avenue Strip.
As the rhythm and the percussion stayed steady, Bobby recalled how they went first to the club that had the neon arrow on the roof – and entered the doors above which read a sign that said: Through These Doors Enter The Most Beautiful Women in the World. With the college pennants on the ceiling, it was quite clear he was refereeing to Tony Marts – The Showplace of the World!
The Shakes got an audition with the Boss – Anthony Marotta, who sat by the door at the little side bar, smoking cigars and sipping a drink. But after a few original songs the boss cut them off – cut off the electricity – and said, “Get Out-a-here! You boys are playing for yourselves – you have to play the hits!”
And at that point in relating the story, Bobby and the Shakes kicked in – the percussion picked up a notch, the bass increased the rhythm, and Bobby began to sing, what Anthony Marotta, Sr. told them, “Hit the Road, Jack, and never come back, no more, nor more…..” I was blown away.
So at the end of that set I asked Bob, whose name I didn’t even know at the time, if I could interview him about his music, as at the time I wrote a music column for the Ocean City Broadsider Magazine. And since the owner of Mothers had taken out a nice advertisement with us, I felt obligated to write about the entertainment he presented.
No problem, Bob said, motioning me to follow him from the bar to the little storage closet they used as a dressing room.
With the other members of the band sitting around us, drinking beers, I asked Bob about how he got started in music, and noticed the old tin Beatles lunch bin he said he had from his grammar school days, that he now used to keep his guitar picks and strings.
When I said that baseball star Pete Rose bore a remarkable resemblance to him, he reached over and put on a Philadelphia Philly baseball cap and grinned, that brought out the likeness even more. From then on I called Bobby the Pete Rose of Rock and Roll, as he played just as hard.
I didn’t get much out of Bob that night, but knew that we were born in the same year – 1951, and graduated from high school at the same time 1969 – him from Triton and me from Camden Catholic, both in South Jersey. So I felt we had something in common.
Later that year, on Labor Day, I requested and Bobby gave me permission to tape record their final show of the summer, that I did on two 90 minute cassette tapes. Sitting at the bar in front of the band, I set the microphone hanging from the glass racks with the tape recorder on the bar. With the tingling of the glasses, and conversations as a backdrop, you can almost smell the cigarette smoke like you can see in the original LA private detective TV series Peter Gunn, whose favorite bar was Mothers, from which the local joint took its name.
I still have the two 90 cassette tapes and occasionally play them, going back into like a time machine, to that place at that time when the Shakes ruled my music world.
Around the same time – give or take a year or so – late 1970s, the top rock radio station in the country – WMMR – put out what they called a Breakout album, a 33-1/3 rpm that included a song by the Shakes that Bobby wrote – “Pour it Out,” undeniably the best song on the LP.
And with the radio airtime they got a special gig – opening for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at a suburban Philadelphia college auditorium – just like Eddie and the Cruisers. It was their chance to breakout from being a local Jersey Shore bar band to a full blown national act with records, hits on radio and the charts.
That never happened, and I didn’t find out until years later when I got off a train from D.C. in Philly and caught a bus to Ocean City. Pulling in to the Camden bus station at the old Parkade building, across from City Hall, I reminisced about picking up my father there every Friday to drive to Ocean City for the weekend. I wondered if there was anyone around town who I knew, and Bubba (real name Ansen Cooper) – the drummer for the Shakes got on the bus and gave me a big toothy smile and joined me in the back of the bus.
That’s when he told me the story about opening for Southside at the college auditorium. They had a regular bar gig the night before, and he picked up some chick and got drunk and woke up late, and by the time he got to the gig, Southside was playing and the Shakes had canceled, they couldn’t go on without a drummer. And he was crying just telling me the story of how he blew their best chance to make the big time. But Bobby forgave him.
The Shakes continued to play Mothers and the Attic after hour joints, then moved on to Margate, where they were the house band at Merrals for a number of seasons. Merrals was open until the wee hours of the morning, and the Shakes didn’t take the stage until midnight but played until closing – long and tiresome sets, but no one was ever disappointed. The Shakes were tremendous, and filled the joint to the rafters, the dance floor was packed, and a line to get in ran across the street to Lenny’s Hot Dogs.
Afterwards I occasionally joined Bobby and the Shakes in an extended tour of some of Atlantic City’s all night establishments.
Then one day Bobby pulled up on the alley outside the River Rat Club – the three car garage behind my parent’s Ocean City home that had a 9 foot regulation pool table with leather net pockets that came from our friend’s home in Camden. As me and Bobby played a game of 8 ball, he began to get emotional and said that he just learned that his girl of a few years had betrayed him had another lover. Bobby said that he felt that he had wasted years with this girl, years he had invested in her that was now down the drain. I tried to consul him, as he would counsel so many others over the next years. I said that he should consider it a learning experience, and move on from here.
And then, thank God, he met Linda, who I think was a waitress at Egos, the disco that was built on the old Tony Marts site. And she didn’t let him down. No more ventures into Atlantic City after gigs, he went straight home, and loved it.
When Southside Johnny and the Asbury Juke were billed to play a cancer benefit at the front ballroom of Convention Hall – now Boardwalk Hall, I hired Bo Higbee to video tape part of the show and allow me to do on camera interviews with some of the band. Afterwards we went to Merrals and filmed the scene there – including a walk around the dance floor and stage as Bobby and the Shakes performed “Hollywood Boulevard.” It was a memorable experience, except Boo later informed me that at Merrals, he had failed to turn on the audio tape and we had no sound.
In any case, I stayed friends with Bob and the Shakes were my favorite band of all time.
One day, sitting on my front porch in Ocean City, Bob gave me advertisements – photos and reviews of their Asbury Park days and I prepared a good story on the Shakes Asbury Park days for the Atlantic City Sun weekly. I wrote it and submitted it, but the newspapers offices had a fire and all was destroyed. I felt really bad telling Bob the memorabilia was lost, but he just shrugged, and was very forgiving, as he always was.
It wasn’t long after that when I drove up Highway Nine to Tuckerton to a small sleazy bar where Bob was playing a solo gig. As I walked in he smiled and winked but didn’t miss a beat.
I had seen Bruce Springsteen play the Spectrum the night before, and when Bobby was on a break, hot and sweaty he said that he was at the show too. Springsteen’s secretary, who he knew by her first name, called him and said there were front row tickets for the show waiting for him, and when he picked them up there was an invitation for him to go backstage where they renewed old ties.
Bob said that Bruce invited him to attend that night’s show as well and when I asked incredulously - Why didn’t you go?, Bob said, “Because I had to work too.”
I thought, but didn’t say, how ironical it was that both Bruce and Bob were playing so hard, for the same length of time, and just as entertaining, but Bruce was playing before tens of thousands of fans for hundreds of thousands of dollars, while Bob was playing just has hard for a hundred people and a hundred bucks.
The last time I saw Bobby play was a solo gig at Tyson Merriman’s Tuckahoe Inn. As Billy Walton said in his tribute to Bobby, it didn’t matter if he was playing for a packed house or just a few people, he always played just as hard, and with a meaningful passion. I requested his original “Pour it Out,” and while he said he hadn’t played that in a long time, he really poured it out.
And then Patty Blee, who also plays in a band with a red head named Patty Scialfa, announced on Facebook that they were doing a benefit show for Ernie T. – presenting him with an award indicting – err inducting him into the New Jersey Blues Hall of Fame, I knew Bobby would be there.
And he was, playing two songs at the end of the night, Canned Heat's "Lets Work Together," and Curtis Mayfield's “People Get Ready,” – “ People get ready, a train is commin’ – you don’t need no ticket – just get on.”
Then he died in the arms of his wife. What a way to go.
Bobby finally made the Big Time – he poured it out and broke out and is now on that train with all of his Hollywood Heroes. Hold on Bobby, I’m commin’ to catch that train too……
Musician Campanell was instrumental in forming Asbury Park rock scene | Living | pressofatlanticcity.com