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Stacy Dean Campbell: Plenty To Say

August 18, 1999

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ The prisoner serving ``a year and ninety-nine″ in Stacy Dean Campbell’s finely crafted song ``I’m Gonna Fly″ finds release only when he dreams.

Things never felt THAT dire for the 32-year-old singer-songwriter as he fruitlessly pursued country music stardom in the mid-1990s with two overlooked Sony Nashville albums.

But being a moody, contemplative artist in a sea of perky Nashville go-getter singers took its toll. The talented but reserved Campbell never quite fit in, and eventually the goal of country music stardom became a sort of prison.

``I was once a guard for a detective that would go and get prisoners and bring them back to Oklahoma,″ said Campbell, a native of Carlsbad, N.M. ``I think a lot of (`I’m Gonna Fly’) came from seeing some of those people.

``And just the feeling of needing freedom, I guess.″

Four years after his ``Hurt City″ album tanked and he left Sony, Campbell is showing what he can do with a little freedom on his new CD ``Ashes of Old Love.″ It was released by Paladin Records and is distributed by Warner Bros.

``By the time I got off Sony, I think I was a little bit relieved and kind of anxious to go see what else was out there. I kind of sat back and didn’t pursue another deal for a while. I wanted to spend some time writing and trying to develop myself as more of a singer-songwriter and a more well-rounded artist,″ he said.

When he was ready, he recruited his older brother Spencer to co-produce ``Ashes of Old Love.″ Campbell wrote three of the album’s 11 songs and co-wrote five others.

The independent Paladin label doesn’t have much money to promote its artists, so Campbell is playing smaller clubs than he did in his Sony days. But he says that suits his low-key songs.

``We’re going to concentrate on trying to play more listening rooms and smaller venues that focus a little more on music and not quite as much on partying,″ Campbell said. ``I don’t want to go into a club where people want to dance and I’m up there with an acoustic guitar singing `I’m Gonna Fly.‴

Fellow performers Chris Knight and Bruce Robison are already playing the so-called alt-country circuit of listening rooms, and Campbell is following suit. But he isn’t giving up the dream of mainstream stardom.

``I’ve never felt like I was that far removed from the mainstream,″ he said. ``I listen to (the single) `Makin’ Good Time’ and I don’t see that as being too far off the mark from a lot of things that are playing on mainstream radio, so I really don’t consider myself left of center.

``It became a real personal goal for me to make this record and do it the way I wanted to do it and get it out. Now I’m kind of sitting back going, `Well, I don’t really know where I’m going to go from here.‴

Campbell grew up in the desert Southwest, raised primarily by his grandparents after his parents divorced when he was 3. His grandfather introduced him to the records of Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash. Campbell sang along with Everly Brothers hits.

Pestered by his brother, who played in a succession of rock bands, Campbell sang 1980s hits with a club band, but didn’t consider it a potential career.

He studied criminal justice and was offered a job in that field in Oklahoma City, when his brother persuaded Campbell to join him in Nashville.

Campbell arrived in 1990. Two years later, Sony released his first album, ``Lonesome Wins Again.″ Campbell got some minor radio play with singles ``Rosalee″ and ``Poor Man’s Rose,″ and Sony emphasized his dark good looks in its marketing. He was 24 and still somewhat shy.

``I had gotten signed so quickly at Sony and I was so young that I hadn’t really had enough time to develop as a songwriter and to develop a style,″ he said.

``Ashes of Old Love″ is a reflection of the artist. Campbell is the kind of guy who would never shout for attention in a crowded room. But if you’re willing to lean in to hear his soft-spoken voice, he has interesting stories to tell.

In ``One False Move,″ he’s an uncertain, desperate car-jacker: ``I got a woman, she likes fancy things/Cadillacs and diamond rings/And it’s just your luck/You drive an Eldorado.″

Material like this evokes Bruce Springsteen in his quieter moments. ``Makin’ Good Time″ could be the story of ``Born to Run″ continued 500 miles down the road, when excitement begins giving way to reality.

``Flatlands and cotton fields/White knuckles on a steering wheel/I watch the world go rollin’ by/And your head against the window/My jacket for a pillow/I hear you breathing/As the engine softly whines/And I don’t know where we’re going/But we’re makin’ good time.″

Campbell said he has listened to Springsteen and Steve Earle, and is inspired by short story writers such as Larry Brown.

``I’m just a real fan of that blue-collar Southern culture. ... I’m a big fan of movies that have that kind of underdog character in them. I don’t find a lot of interest in characters that are just happy all the time.″

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