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Jim Campilongo Brings Guitar Wizardry to L.A.’s Hotel Cafe

To see a Jim Campilongo performance live is to witness guitar wizardry at its finest.

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Campilongo on playing with Norah Jones (Little Willies): “Nora’s not just a great singer; she’s a great piano player. I really enjoy that aspect of playing with her. The band got together prior to things hitting with Nora. We just loved country music and liked playing with each other and were all friends. Out of the blue, Nora said, ‘Why don’t we record a record?’”

The New York City-based virtuoso took that show to Los Angeles’ Hotel Café this week and wowed a full house with a 75-minute set packed with tasty tracks from his diverse canon.

Diverse is an adjective that aptly described Campilongo’s work, too.

Take his 2010 album Orange. A full listen to its 14 tracks runs the gamut from blues to jazz to rock to country before taking you back again. While the San Francisco native claims many influences, he adroitly melds them into something that is completely Campilongo.

“It was a concern of mine that Orange did go in a lot of directions, and I worried that it may lack continuity,” he admitted before his concert. “But with that said, I come from a lot of different American styles. I really love country music, I really love punk rock, I love Chet Atkins, I love Miles Davis. There are a couple of songs that might even encompass all of those things.

“One thing that I feel good about is that because I have a sound, there is continuity to the songs. It’s not a ‘business card’ record that you show people all these styles that you can play.”

Campilongo, who donned a patterned red fly-collar shirt and dark blue neckerchief, let his Atkins affiliation shine with an early cut called “The Prettiest Girl in New York” from his 2006 album Heaven is Creepy.

The song is a jaunty shuffle that would be perfect for a roadtrip across the Midwestern plains.

He further proved his picking chops with an excellent rendition of the traditional Merle Travis song “Cannonball Rag,” which has been played by greats such as Atkins, Doc Watson and James Burton.

For the majority of his appearance, Campilongo wielded his blonde 1959 Fender Telecaster, which he noted was an “extension of [his] hand.”

In addition, he brings his Fender Custom Shop Signature 1959 Telecaster on the road with him as a backup when he is performing his solo shows.  Campilongo’s signature model is his main guitar when he performs with the Little Willies, his other band that features Norah Jones on vocals and keys.

On this occasion, however, the guitarist was joined by bassist Chris Morrissey and drummer Ethan Eubanks, both of whom laid down a tight foundation for Campilongo’s epic journeys up and down his fretboard.

Morrissey will also be featured on Campilongo’s upcoming album Dream Dictionary, alongside drummer Josh Dion.

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Chris Morrisson joined Campilongo on bass.

“I think it’s a great band, and I’ve written a bunch of good songs,” Campilongo said.  “I would have put out a record sooner, but the climate of the music business makes me more willing to wait. But I think it’s going to be great. Orange did really well, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a couple of years, so I’m due.”

Tuesday’s audience seemed vey familiar with Campilongo’s back catalog, a group of pure guitar lovers.  Fans periodically yelled out song requests, with one shouting “Thanks for coming to SoCal, Jim!”

Everyone seemed particularly delighted when Campilongo closed his set with a searing cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” that lasted a full seven minutes. Then, loud applause brought Campilongo back on stage.

“You didn’t have to work that hard,” Campilongo laughed about the ensuing encore of the suspenseful “Mr. and Mrs. Mouse.”

All in all, Campilongo demonstrated that one doesn’t necessarily need to use words to tell a story.  Whether it is the tale of a couple of mice or a lesson in chicken picking, Campilongo only needs his fingers.

It’s up to the audience to use their imagination.

For more information, visit Campilongo’s official website

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