“It’s Gonna Be A Wild Future.”
Deputy Zero front man, Sean Campbell, has a gig tonight. More like a moonlighting thing than a sanctioned L.A. club date. In fact, points two and three of the Deputy Zero musical group triangle—Chilean born drummer, Fernando Jaramillo and transplanted Vancouver-born bass player, Chris Hammer – are nowhere to be seen. This audience is not composed of Jack-swilling rockers and low-cut Betty rollers. On the contrary, the crowd of near hundred sits crossed legged on rubber mats, eyes closed, ears tuned into world-renown six-string toting Kundalini yogi, Guru Singh, as he leads another Thursday night Yoga West packed house through post exercise mantra. This evening’s special guest guitarist, seated to the master’s left and plucking his heart out, is an artist in transition.
“I just discovered Yoga West and Guru Singh recently,” says the Providence, Rhode Island born/L.A. raised Sean. I’ve been attending classes for several months now. That man throws down some pretty heavy stuff, makes you examine yourself, where you’re at, how you fit in…or don’t, and why? Last week, he invited me to sit on the chant. I was honored.”
Sean Campbell’s personal musical journey began in 1987, the year I became editor of RIP Magazine and started writing about rock n’ roll. The synchronicity of our meeting does not end there. But we’ll return to the other cosmic coincidence later. Let’s return to that moment of epiphany for the 21-year-old San Diego State University senior when the angels spoke, “Hey, man, wake up! You’re a rock musician!”
“Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, there was a piano and guitar in the house where my mom, my grandma and me lived,” Sean remembers. “But I didn’t play them. No one did. They just sat there. I saw KISS in ’77 at the Forum and Rush’s Moving Pictures tour. Great shows. I dug the spectacle. And I spun the albums. But I never had an urge to play an instrument or perform. Until one day, just before graduating from college, I drove up from San Diego to hang out with some friends in L.A. My buddy wasn’t home and neither was his roommate but the roommate’s brother answered the door with this white Squire Telecaster hanging around his neck. ‘Cool guitar,’ I said off handedly. ‘You wanna buy it?’ he asked. ‘Hell no, I said. ‘What do I need with a guitar?’ Then as I’m walking through the courtyard leaving the apartment complex, I hear this little voice in my head say, ‘Dude, your birthday’s coming up. Do something for yourself.’ I walked back up the path, threw down $75 and I had my first guitar. I took it back to San Diego and immediately bought a book on how to play rock guitar. Not reading music; tablature, where you use pictures and numbers. I got pretty good pretty fast.”
The Tao Te Ching says the thousand-mile journey begins with a first step. Sean Campbell paid attention to the unseen voice and started walking his walk, no destination in mind save exploring whether he was, in fact, destined to make rock n’ roll his life’s calling. Naturally, the road to success or revelation is often, forgive the expression, rocky. “I had different jobs in the 90s,” he says. “I interned at Sony Music for Larry Douglas in the A&R department but no scouting, mostly administrative stuff. I remember one day I was in the stock room and saw this tower of boxes containing CD singles by a hot new band on the label called Pearl Jam. I took one of those ‘Alive’ discs home. It was inspiring. Hearing Eddie Vedder’s voice and those powerful chords. I started fooling around with writing my own songs. Riffs that I attached poems to. I found I liked to write poems. But the day job wasn’t inspiring. It was busy work. So I bailed.”
As he developed his own chops and material, Sean was introduced to a local guitarist who would have a profound effect on his life and music. “His name was Jeff Powell,” he recalls. “He played bass in a band called Dr. Whiskey, fronted by a guy named S.C. “Stuart” Bailey, Axl Rose’s brother. I’ll never forget cruising up to Axl’s Malibu house, that living room with those radiant white couches, grand piano, giant glass windows and hypnotic view of the Pacific. That scene represented the big enchilada of success to me then.
“Jeff’s talent was undeniable. I knew he was the shit so I built a band around him called Swamp and became their manager. But along with immense musical gifts came a gamut of personal demons. His mom committed suicide and that haunted him. He often escaped into the ‘snow’ fields. One day in the spring of ’94, someone called me and said that Jeff had driven his car into a wall at 85 mph. He was killed instantly. I’ve felt his presence a lot the last couple years as the Deputy Zero incarnation began to take shape.”
Sean Campbell has just finished writing, recording and producing his debut effort, a notable, home-grown seven song EP that features some genuinely smoky riffs and potent phrase twisting. Sean’s gift for alliteration marries nicely with heavy hooks and dynamic production. “Blazing the trail of a new generation/Fighting the shadow of a bad reputation/Come together and give a demonstration/Don’t be a part of the common population.” In the track, “Common Population,” the archetype of the leader on the path comes through. In the bold, progressively tinged, “Eye in the Sky,” the metaphor again evokes evolution, and elevation. “The things we see below don’t matter/Fight the fear of heights and climb the ladder/Walk away from the disaster/Turn around and face the Master.”
In 2008, Sean Campbell is beginning to acknowledge who that Master truly is. Though his commitment to yoga, accelerated devotion to self examination and acknowledging the Synchronicity that has brought forth a phenomenal rhythm section and a fellow Guru Singh student who just happens to be a rock journalist in the throes of his own elevation (I first walked into Yoga West in the winter of 1998 and haven’t been the same since), Sean is beginning to see the reflection of his own talent, purpose, humility and humanity. “I don’t want to grow up,” he admits. “I want to grow OUT. This will sound odd because Deputy Zero is my first record but that chapter is already closed. Those songs are done, past. I will never write that way again. I’m going to be twice the guitar player I am now in a very short time. And twice the vocalist. Something clicked this year. My prime motivation for making music is to uplift and excite people and in the process, pass on a positive message. That’s my mantra.”
And a fine mantra it is. Here’s to a wild and conscious future. Sat Nam, brother.
Copyright Rumi Enterprises 2008
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