Gary James' Interview With Tommy Roe's Drummer
Mike Campbell is Tommy Roe's drummer. Back in the day he played drums for the Syracuse, New York group Wilkesbury Brigade. So, how did Mike Campbell go from the clubs of Syracuse to playing drums for Tommy Roe? That's what we wanted to find out.
Q - Mike, up until there was this article in the Syracuse New Times, I never realized you were playing drums for Tommy Roe. I'm sure that a lot of people didn't realize that.
A - Yeah.
Q - It's the same people who get all the publicity in Syracuse.
A - That's true. That's so true.
Q - I'm not going to mention names because I've interviewed them!
A - (laughs)
Q - So, I'm not going to mention names.
A - I understand.
Q - Where do you call home these days?
A - I live just outside of Denver (Colorado), Westminster, which sits right in between Boulder and Denver.
Q - When did you join forces with Tommy Roe?
A - I first started in the 2000s some time. To go back just a little further, I got in this business of playing in national acts, oldie acts, whatever you want to call them, back in 1996 when a friend of mine, Lee Brovitz who was from Rochester, New York, called me and asked me if I wanted to get together and go out with the original singer from The Shadows Of Knight. I said, "Well, that sounds like a blast," so we did. Anyway, long story short, the guitar player that ended up playing with us also had played with Tommy Roe and when Tommy needed a group he just used him and the same rhythm section that was in The Shadows Of Knight because they're tight knit guys and we just started playing with 'em. Here I am 'til today. He did retire for a little while but then came back out, so hence that's why I'm playing with him still.
Q - So, you've been playing with Tommy Roe for twenty years?
A - You know, it doesn't seem like it. Not twenty years 'cause we didn't start playing with Tommy until like I said in the 2000s. That was probably around 2003, 2004. At least ten years.
Q - How much work is there for Tommy Roe? I probably should be asking him that question. Are you working all the time with him, traveling around?
A - Yes. He could probably be working a heck of a lot more if he had a cheaper price. He decided when he came back out of retirement and playing for the second time that he was going to be a little more choosy on going out and what he was going to get paid. So, prior to when he retired we used to work all the time, but he was going out much cheaper. Now that he's raised his price, and it's a pretty good price and what I get paid I found out is more than a lot of sidemen get paid, but that's because he can get more money so he trickles it down.
Q - When you were in Wilkesbury Brigade did you ever play a Tommy Roe song?
A - You know, I don't think we did. We weren't necessarily oldies oriented. We were playing '70s. We did play a lot of Beatles, a whole lot of Beatles, but I have to admit we never played a Tommy Roe song.
Q - When you were asked to be a part of his band, how much did you know about Tommy Roe? You probably knew his songs, didn't you?
A - Oh gosh, yes. All the hits I could have done without rehearsal. (laughs) But then it was amazing. He has a lot more recognizable songs that you'd ever think, like "Heather Honey", a song called "C'mon". I know he has had at least five or six Top 10 charted songs. In the '60s apparently he is the only single artist to have had that many charted singles and still to this day owns all his publishing.
Q - That is impressive.
A - Yeah. He did well.
Q - How did it feel to come home and play that reunion with Wilkesbury Brigade?
A - Oh, it was great! All my family is still there. I told the guys in the band, "You better rehearse because I'm not going to be rehearsing more than two times 'cause I want to spend some time with my family. (laughs) So basically they buckled it down. Because I kept doing it myself as far as playing, it was really easy for me to sit down with the guys and just kind of slip right in. The two rehearsals we had we couldn't believe how easy vocally we were able to make it happen.
Q - You were not the original drummer in Wilkesbury Brigade, were you?
A - Oh, no.
Q - You joined the group when?
A - I played from '71 to '74.
Q - What were you dong before that?
A - Before? Actually I was still in high school. (laughs)
Q - You were learning!
A - That's for sure. As a matter of fact, there's a little lounge that's still there called The Gathering Lounge on Rd. 57. I think it's now just called Oswego Road. Right up there in Liverpool, (New York). I remember talking to Danny (Elliot), who was the lead singer and is now the lead singer of The Monterays. I'm not sure how I got to do this, but I said "Can you guys get me in and say I'm like the cousin of the guitar player and I'm out here visiting and I'd like to play some songs?" (laughs) Little did they know they were actually auditioning me, I mean little did the drummer know they were auditioning me. I guess I won the job 'cause after that they let him go and I was the drummer. (laughs)
Q - What happened to the original drummer? Do you know?
A - Actually I did not replace the original drummer. That was an interim drummer. The original drummer was Joe Maggio. He was a really good drummer. I really don't know what he is doing to this day.
Q - Wilkesbury Brigade never played any original material, did they?
A - No. It was a cover band.
Q - Wilkesbury Brigade played two hundred consecutive Saturdays staring in 1972 at this club, Poor House North, which you were a part of then.
A - Oh, yeah. They were playing Saturday nights at The Poor House before I joined them. I left the band for a group called The Alligators. They still played The Poor House after I left. I'm not sure how long.
Q - What accounts for all the people coming out to The Poor House every week?
A - Oh, boy.
Q - What was there about that room that kept people coming back week after week? One week seven hundred and fifty people turned out to see Wilkesbury Brigade. I haven't heard those numbers since the days of Buddy Grealy. You must remember them.
A - Oh, gosh. I booked Buddy Grealy Band for my high school, (laughs) for $300. When you say we pulled in seven-hundred plus people, that was like a buck a head. So, we were doing okay. It was good. What pulled people in? At that time we're talking the apex of the Baby Boomers. The drinking laws, it was eighteen to drink. Actually, I started playing that club when I was seventeen and just blew the drummer away who was actually a sheriff, but he was just kind of being the door guy. When I had my eighteenth birthday he nearly punched me out. (laughs)
Q - Why was that?
A - Because I obviously was playing in a bar before I was eighteen. I was not of age, which a lot of musicians did back then. It wasn't that hard to do back then. The liquor laws weren't anywhere near that they are now. Obviously you've got the age change to twenty-one. Just about late '70s is when they started to get pretty tough on drinking and driving. Before you knew it a bartender could be taken to court, let alone the club, if somebody got tangled up on the roads for driving drunk. I don't have to tell you the rest. It just got too chancy to go drink and see the band. Back then when you were pulled over basically the policeman would say, "Get behind me, we'll take you home." Now "take you home" means a whole different story. It's a trip to the jail. I think that's the big deal. As far as the band was concerned, we played popular music and we didn't play any Heavy Metal or Hard Rock. Maybe a Led Zeppelin song we did. But we were an uplifting group. People came out just to socialize. The Poor House just was a place that people were familiar with. I don't remember horrible fights, although there were fights. I think people just enjoyed going to The Poor House for the fact there was good music and people treated you fine.
Q - How many gigs a year were you guys playing? Do you remember? Saturday night was The Poor House. Were you working Friday nights? Sunday nights?
A - Yeah. During the school year we always played school dances. Back then, schools hired bands. They had dances. So Friday nights we would play. Actually, if we had a really, really good offer on a Saturday night we would find another band to come in and take our place and we would go play that. A lot of times it would be like The Livin' End or Carnage, groups like that to come in and take our place while we went out and did a high school dance. For awhile there I think we were doing a Thursday night at The Poor House West and then I think we were also doing Wednesday nights at what use to be called The Poor House up in Oswego and it turned into The Great Laker Inn. So for awhile there we did like a Wednesday night at a Poor House, a Thursday night at a Poor House and Saturday night at a Poor House. (laughs) And they always asked us to do New Years. So we were playing pretty hard and heavy. School dances plus a couple of other clubs we frequented. We never played The Scene because that went down before I was in the band, but it turned into Uncle Sam's. So, we played Uncle Sam's. We played Barrel Of Fun.
Q - That turned into a strip joint later on. Did you know that?
A - That I didn't know. (laughs)
Q - And now it's a auto body shop.
A - Oh, okay. Alright. We played colleges too, frat parties and major college dances. We were a big favorite at Cazenovia College, a girls college. Matter of fact, I think I had a lot to do with it because I started going out with a girl that booked Cazenovia College.
Q - That probably helped! Did you ever play the Yellow Balloon, now known as The Lost Horizon?
A - We did play The Lost Horizon. I remember getting into The Yellow Balloon before I was playing in a band, under age, and saw what went on, to be some of the players with Joe Whiting and Mark Doyle.
Q - You were doing Wednesday, Thursday gigs while you were still in high school?
A - That pretty much came afterwards. The Saturday night job at The Poor House was the start of everything snowballing and we made it work. It worked pretty well.
Q - When you left Wilkesbury Brigade you went with The Alligators. Why The Alligators? Were they making more money? Did they offer you a better deal?
A - Well, they weren't really around yet. What was happening at that point was Wilkesbury was a favorite opener for the Stompin' Suede Greasers 'cause we were the same demographic, okay? So they used us a lot. We would always be asked to open the Stompin' Suede Greasers shows at the Lakeshore. I got in the business of booking bands and I got to know Larry Rand, who was the manager and booking agent of The Greasers. When they decided to split up, Ian, the leader of The Greasers, wanted to talk to me about being a drummer for The Alligators. What was kind of interesting was the bass player and the guitar player and the piano player all went to Liverpool High School. (laughs) So, it was kind of a neat little neighborhood thing that went on there. They really didn't audition me 'cause they saw me. They knew I sang. So they just asked me to be part of The Alligators. The reason I wanted to go with them is obviously because they did bigger shows and they toured. The Greasers toured up and down the East Coast and I wanted to do that. I wanted to do, if you want to call it bigger and better things. I thought I would get in front of some cool people and bigger audiences. It was a new adventure.
Q - What kind of venues were The Alligators performing in? Was it the Holiday Inn circuit?
A - No. We would do college campuses number one. My first job on a college campus with The Alligators was Georgetown University. Those were big concerts. We did a lot of university concerts. Le Moyne College was huge for hiring The Alligators. So, those are the things I wanted to do more of as well as we would go into Canada quite a bit. We'd go from Boston down to Florida and then we would play clubs as well, multi-night clubs. So it was bigger and better, and I hate using the word better, a bigger adventure. I just thought it was another stepping stone for me.
Q - Now that you're with Tommy Roe, are you touring the U.S. or the world?
A - Just the U.S. Tommy went over with the guitar player, who is basically the musical director of the group, last year to The Cavern in Liverpool, England. That was like the 50th reunion of when The Beatles played The Cavern. They just couldn't afford to bring Tommy's band over because they basically had all kinds of musicians there. So they didn't foot the bill to bring us over there and play. They just had one of the local Beatles bands back Tommy. I'm not sure what kind of a show he did there. The Cavern is not the original Cavern, but it's right next door. He basically did a club show. I'm not sure how long it was. But that was the only overseas thing. Most of the stuff we do here is State Fairs and casinos.
Q - Has Tommy ever played The New York State Fair? Do you know?
A - I don't. That's a big thorn in my side. Ever since they went with Live Nation and before Live Nation I tried to get them interested in Tommy Roe. I think a couple of years ago Chubby Checker was there.
Q - Joe La Guardia did the booking for thirty-two years.
A - Yeah. I could not get to him. I tried talking to I don't know how many people who knew him, but I just could not get him to hire Tommy. I wanted to play that town (Syracuse, N.Y.) so bad with Tommy Roe. (laughs) Why we never ended up at the New York State Fair I don't know. Central New York always had a big oldies following. Huge. I just thought it would've been a great thing. The greatest thing about artists like Tommy and Tommy specifically is it's so uplifting. Just happy songs. You know the melody. Most of the people who grew up listening to radio know those words. It's still very viable as far as bringing in an act like that.