Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jim Campilongo @ Cafe du Nord

I try never to miss an opportunity to hear Jim Campilongo perform live on those all-too-rare occasions when he returns to his home town of San Francisco to play a gig. Steeped in the American traditions of blues, jazz, and country picking, Jim is a highly authentic and original musician. In my humble opinion, he's right up there with rootsy guitar greats such as (the late) Danny Gatton and Junior Brown (both of whom I've had the good fortune to hear live on many occasions).

Monday night's show at Cafe du Nord did not disappoint. I doubt I've ever heard a more sensitive and moving rendition of "Cry Me a River" coaxed from a Telecaster. Switching gears, Jim next played a stormy and brooding tune called "I'm Helen Keller and You're a Waffle Iron" -- which sounded like it could be the soundtrack to a movie written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by David Lynch. (I was at first mystified by the song title, but a quick bit of googling revealed this old joke: "How did Helen Keller burn her fingers? She tried to read the waffle iron." A clever title for what one supposes is an instrumental tale of love gone wrong.)

I first met Jim Campilongo in August of 2001. I'd just been laid off from a dot-com startup that was going down in flames -- which meant that I suddenly had a lot more free time to play guitar. I decided to take a few lessons to shake off the cobwebs, and found an ad on Craig's List that sounded promising: "Guitar lessons by local recording artist."

When I arrived for my lesson at Jim's house in Brisbane, the first thing that blew me away was his LP collection. I've got a respectable number of albums, but Jim's archive of jazz and country vinyl records appeared to number in the thousands. Jim turned out to be a gracious teacher and a great guy, and I was stoked at the prospect of learning a few tips from such an accomplished musician.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be my one and only lesson with Jim Campilongo. On September 11, Jim happened to be in New York -- and with the restrictions on travel after the attacks, he ended up spending quite a bit of time in the city and making connections with local musicians (including Norah Jones). Eventually, Jim decided to move to NYC permanently. Jim now has a regular Monday night residency at the Living Room. Next time you're in the Big Apple, be sure to check him out.