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Brun Campbell: Joplin’s Disciple

What an unexpected delight this release is! The recordings of Brun Campbell existed as one side each on two long-unavailable LPs, sharing billing with Dink Johnson, whose efforts were of more historical than musical interest. The excellent notes supplied by Paul Affeldt on the original records have been edited to fit this reissue, and though his assertion that Campbell was the only one of Joplin’s disciples ever to record was true when these sides were made, the subsequent rediscovery of Joe Lamb makes the statement untenable today. And while Campbell did know and learn from Joplin in Missouri, his style would seem much closer to the way ragtime sounded before Joplin refined it.

Contrary to the view that became prevalent in the ’70s-that “real” ragtime should be approached as if it were some orphaned cousin of the classics-it was a highly evolved folk-art form that stands on its own merits. The great value of Joplin’s Disciple is that Campbell was the only working player from the ragtime era ever to record. He hits a groove that literally has to be heard to be believed. Neither great revivalists like Charlie Rasch nor stride masters like James P. Johnson and Fats Waller sound anything like Campbell. The tunes tend to be simple compared with Joplin’s classic compositions, but the relentless drive lifts the music to great heights. This is ragtime, as contemporaries heard it, without the frills, but with a full measure of that wonderful Punch-and-Judy tragicomic quality that can make music like ragtime, jug band or Klezmer truly transcendent. For ragtime fanciers who don’t already know him, hearing Brun Campbell is like finding the Rosetta stone, if not the Holy Grail.

Now if Smithsonian would just release that Joe Lamb Folkways records….

Originally Published