Bassist Josh Campbell talks about playing on the Island

Josh Campbell plays bass and mandolin, and is also a visual artist in his free time. – Courtesy Josh Campbell

A bassist and mandolin player, Josh Campbell exhibits the personality of a true entertainer and part-time rogue scoundrel. His skill as an accompanist is on point, and Josh’s western New York rust-belt sarcasm blends seamlessly into the salty vernacular of the venues that make up our Far East Coast pub crawl. We snagged the super-busy musician and contemplated his cat’s impression of him, reflected upon the rewarding aspects of traveling as a musician, and realized his very personal affinity for fellow Vineyard artists. Chances are you have already met him, contemplated his artwork while getting coffee, or witnessed him killing it on the longer or shorter strings in an ensemble. His work will be on display at Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven for the month of January. Josh is a Vineyard character in the classic sense, and though he is most comfortable performing side stage, we were glad to have an opportunity to hand him the mic.

What instruments do you play, and what are your special musical skills?

I pretty much only play the bass these days. I used to play a lot of mandolin with a band called Ballyhoo, but these days when I play the mando, it’s generally to my cat on the couch. While he sleeps. As for special musical skills, I think I’m still working on that. Jemima James, whom I play with often, says that my best skill is that I am eager to play and I show up. Little does she know that this only applies to her. She is the best! I am working hard at getting my own voice on the bass. I’m fortunate that here on the Island we are surrounded by a diverse group of really talented musicians who suffer from a desperate lack of bass players. So…lucky me!

You are close to some very well known musicians. Do you have any wild stories about them?

This may not be the time for my stories about my friends in heavy metal. Recently, I played a gig in the Hudson Valley with Jemima James, and at the end of the set, the venue owner’s son (who is a traveling musician himself) came over and excitedly asked where she had learned the song “Waiter at the Station.” He had learned the song years ago and plays it regularly. Jemima answered, “I wrote it.” It was great to be present for what must have been an exciting moment for her.

What genres are you comfortable with?

Only in the last few years have I had an opportunity to break through into what I think of as different musical genres. I played bluegrass exclusively for years, which is based on a blues progression. Auntie Em is the first band I played bass for on the Island. We play a really diverse set of covers, which really was my first exposure to tunes that weren’t strictly blues based.

In addition to Auntie Em, the bands that I play with regularly (Good Night Louise, Jemima James, Rose Guerin, Willy Mason, and Nina Violet) are all led by people who write really smart and quirky original music. Each of them has a very particular approach to writing, which is why I consider them to be in their own genres. I’ve learned a lot from them all. They are currently writing new and innovative music, so be sure to check them out and support them. Am I making any sense? What was the question again?

What would you say about the art you are exhibiting at Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven and at Mikel Hunter’s shop in Edgartown?

Art is very important to me. More accurately, thinking about art is important to me. The piece that comes out in the end is really just a relic of the process that I had worked through. The copper I’ve been working with was once destined for a job-site dumpster. It’s great to give the material another life. The goal is to make something that communicates to the viewer on a level that can only be expressed through art. For me, once I began making objects, I found that the creative process unconsciously continues throughout the day. The mindset of creating anything, in my case it’s art and music, is life-altering. I hope everyone has a chance to experience what I’ve gotten out of making stuff.

From whom did you develop your positive attitude?

I’m not sure I do have a positive attitude! Any modicum of positivity I have comes from my parents. The older I get, the more I realize that they did a pretty good job providing me and my brothers with the tools required to have a happy and balanced life.

Where and when can we see you performing?

I have a regular Saturday evening gig at the Ritz with Rose Guerin. We always have some great guests as well. Showtime is 7:30.

Good Night Louise is playing at the Port Hunter on Oct. 27.

On Oct. 28, there is an Island Women in Music event at the Ritz, which will feature a lot of great bands. I am playing with Auntie Em, Jemima James, Rose Guerin, and Nina Violet that night. It’s going to be a long night.

I’m sure there are others as well. I’m always the last to know.

What does the future hold for you?

I am also a carpenter, and I’m very excited to begin a new job in the cabinet shop of Holmes Hole Builders. Other than that, I’m not sure what the future holds. Perhaps one day my cat will look up and acknowledge that I’ve been serenading him all this time and all will be right in the world.

This article by Kyle Kotarski originally appeared on