Craig Campbell is the 1-in-100 guy, or maybe it's 1-in-1,000, who followed his dreams to Nashville — and actually has a country music hit.
Campbell chalks up his success to several factors: "A little bit of luck, a lot of hard work and there's that factor of networking, of meeting the right people who believe in you. I got lucky and found those people," he said in a phone interview last week.
A year after breaking into the country music radio rotation, Campbell will be the featured act at this year's Cowlitz County Fair with a show on July 26.
He's on his way up, according to Joel Hanson, general manager of KUKN radio and promoter of the show. "He's just one of these up-and-comers," Hanson said. "He's new, he fresh, he's young" — and in the fair's price range.
Campbell, 33, is often likened to country star Alan Jackson, and for good reason. "It's only right because we're both from Georgia and we have the same producer," Campbell said. "You can listen to my record and hear Alan and Travis Tritt."
Campbell, a native of Lyons, Ga., grew up playing piano in his Baptist church. When he was 15, an older sister convinced him to enter a local round of what was then known as the Jimmy Dean/True Value Country Showdown. He won the local event twice — but stardom was years away.
After high school, Campbell put together a band and toured the country, covering Lynyrd Skynyrd and Garth Brooks. Campbell also worked for a couple of years as a corrections officer for Georgia state prisons.
In 2002, a friend living in Nashville was getting divorced and asked Campbell to move there and share an apartment. Campbell said he'd been meaning to move to the capitol of country music and jumped at the chance.
He got a day job and started playing piano in Nashville clubs, then toured in Tracy Byrd's band for 15 months. And Campbell connected with Keith Stegall, the veteran producer who has also worked with Jackson and other big names in country.
Nine years after Campbell moved to Nashville, his album "Craig Campbell" was released.
In addition to favorable notice in typical county music media, the album got a good review in the Washington Post, whose reviewer called Campbell "an unapologetic heir to the buttoned-down neo-traditionalism of Alan Jackson and George Strait."
The album's highest-charting song, "Family Man," is a mid-tempo tale of a modern working class dude trying to support his wife and kids through tough times.
His other hit isn't nearly as wholesome. "Fish" is a wink-wink tale about what his baby likes to do after they go to the lake in the pickup. It was proposed by a friend, Campbell said. "I said that ain't never going to work. But we couldn't get it out of our heads. I started to do it live," and the song landed on the country charts.
Campbell's newest single, "When I Get It," is the response he gives to his ex-wife and a line of other people trying to collect money he owes them.
Though his songs have risen into the top 20 of country charts, Campbell said the next step for him is to score a No. 1 hit. "After tying three or four hits together I can get to the next level" of headline major venues, he said. That big hit might be in the new album Campbell is working on.
Campbell has some advice for local singers who want to try their luck in Nashville. "First of all, you've got to do it 110 per cent. You can't do it as a hobby.
"Another question people need to ask themselves is do they genuinely think they're good enough. I think I can stand up and sing beside anybody on the radio now."
By - Tom Paulu