Jo Ann Campbell
Jo Ann Campbell
She wrote and released her second single, "Come On Baby" in 1957. Later that year she released "Wait A Minute", appeared at the Brooklyn Paramount and on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. In the early days of rock ‘n roll “girl singers” scored their biggest successes with sweet songs about boyfriends like “Frankie”, “Johnny Angel”, and “Teddy”. Jo Ann Campbell was something of an exception. Although she could pine after her dreamy boyfriend with the best of them, could also rock with an abandon usually reserved for the boys from down South. Jo Ann grew up loving jazz and rhythm & blues, and unlike a lot of the guys, she later wrote many of the songs she recorded.
In an interview for Billy Poore’s Rockabilly: A Forty-Year Journey, Jo Ann recalled, “After school, me and my girlfriends would all listen to the pop music then, but rock ‘n roll type music was just starting to come in around 1953, and there was this one black station we’d all turn on and get excited when we heard the songs they were playin’ like The Orioles, Drifters, Clovers, Five Keys, and others. I remember hearin’ Fats Domino then, too. All us girls loved that music, but we had to sneak it on the radio, ’cause our parents didn’t want us to listen to those kind of songs.” By her junior year in 1955, Jo Ann was so busy professionally she quit high school. Poised to become one of the top dancers on Broadway, she attended one of DJ Alan Freed’s rock ‘n roll package shows at the Brooklyn Paramount.
Caught up in the excitement of seeing Frankie Lymon, the Moonglows, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and the rest, she recalled “…When I came out of that first Alan Freed rock ‘roll show, I knew my days as a dancer were over… The next morning I went to my manager’s office and told him I wasn’t gonna dance anymore and that I wanted to make a rock ‘n roll record”. Of that first single for RKO-Point, she told Billy Poore: “My lord, I’ll never forget it, ’cause they both sound so terrible to me today. I can’t stand the thought of ‘em”. But the record did get some local spins and earned her some nightclub bookings.
Meanwhile, she attended every Alan Freed show she could. Already proficient on piano and guitar, Jo Ann set about honing her rock ‘n roll vocals. In early ’56, the founders of the mostly black R&B record company Eldorado caught her performing at a club and signed her. At her first Eldorado session Jo Ann recorded a song she wrote called “Wait a Minute”. It was released in spring that year, and Jocko, New York’s leading black DJ, began playing it regularly.
His support boosted the record across the northeast and earned Jo Ann that booking at the Apollo in Harlem, a rare occurrence for a white artist. Jo Ann recalled, “I’ve always thought of myself as an entertainer, and I moved, rocked, and danced a lot when I sang, and back then blacks and whites liked to see that, so I guess that’s why they kept bringin’ me back to shows at the Apollo as late as 1958”. Jo Ann’s hero Alan Freed began to play “Come On Baby” on his show, too, and he dubbed her “the blonde bombshell”. Jo Ann was soon on the bill of Freed's shows at the Brooklyn Paramount, where a year or so before she'd been just another excited face in the crowd. In the early ’60s, when many rock ‘n roll stars abandoned Freed’s New York shows for Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, Jo Ann stuck with him. With the airplay support of Freed and Jocko, her next release, a rockin’ remake of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, had Jo Ann topping every chart in the New York area.
Then she signed with the independent Gone label and followed up with a string of scorching-hot rock ‘n roll platters: “You’re Driving Me Mad”, “Wassa Matter With You”, “I Really Really Love You” and “Beachcomber”. None were national hits, but consistently made the Top 10 in markets up and down the east coast. Jo Ann’s no-holds-barred delivery made her records some of the most memorable slices of “girl rock”. Many of the songs she wrote herself, although sometimes they were credited to her alias “Doris Hatcher”.
Later, Jo Ann recorded for the larger labels ABC-Paramount and Cameo and charted a couple of songs nationally for them, but her output there paled in comparison to what she recorded for Gone. A couple of exceptions were her spooky self-penned “Duane” and her answer to Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack”, called “I Changed My Mind Jack”. Although answer songs generally haven’t stood the test of time, “Jack” is a sassy and bold take on the Charles original. She updated "You Made Me LoveYou"" as the b side and also issued "Kookie Little Paradise" coupled with "Bobby Bobby Bobby". Alan Freed continued to promote Jo Ann, and in addition to airplay he featured her in his 1959 rock ‘n roll movie Go, Johnny, Go where she performed “Mama (Can I Go Out Tonite)”.
Sadly, in 1962, Freed's star waned as a result of the payola scandal, although many considered him to be a scapegoat for what was common practice at the time. Jo Ann said, “When I saw Alan Freed go down and have to leave New York in 1962, a big piece of my heart went with him, and I knew that New York rock ‘n roll radio would never be the same again”. In addition to Go Johnny Go, she also appeared in Johnny Melody and Hey, Let's Twist in the early 1960s while continuing to release records. In June 1961 she reached #41 in the UK Singles Chart with "Motorcycle Michael". She had her biggest hit in August 1962 with "(I'm The Girl On) Wolverton Mountain", an answer record to Claude King's "Wolverton Mountain".
The record reached #38 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. In April 1963. She followed up with "Mother, Please! (I'd Rather Do It Myself)", a takeoff on an Anacin television commercial of the day, but it only reached #88. In 1964, Jo Ann married singer Troy Seals, whose band had been backing her on some live dates, and Atlantic Records signed them as a duo. They hit the lower third of the Top 100 pop chart with “I Found a Love, Oh What a Love” and did better on the R&B chart.
Their next song failed to chart at all, but in ’65 they were regulars on Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is and did some touring the year after that. Then in about 1966 Jo Ann settled down to raise their son while Troy focused his efforts on songwriting, penning some big country hits like Ronnie Milsap’s “Lost in the Fifties Tonight”, George Jones’ “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”, and The Bellamy Brothers’ “Country Girls. Seals is a member of the prominent Seals family of musicians that includes, Jim Seals (of Seals and Crofts), the late Dan Seals (of England Dan & John Ford Coley) and Brady Seals (Little Texas and Hot Apple Pie). During the '70s, Troy Seals recorded with Lonnie Mack and Doug Kershaw and made two albums of his own but he is best known as a songwriter.
In addition to Milsap, Jones and the Bellamys, his compositions have been recorded by Randy Travis, Conway Twitty, Hank Williams Jr., Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. Since leaving the music business in the late 1960s, Jo Ann Campbell has devoted her time to her family and to the local animal shelter. She has declined all offers to perform in revival or nostalgia shows. Note: The best source of information about Jo Ann Campbell is Rockabilly: A Forty Year Journey by Billy Poore (Hal Leonard Corporation, 1998) Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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