(April 2024)


INTERVIEW: Track By Track: Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams Muse on Adoration and Adversity with All This Time

Artist: Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams

Album: All This Time

By: Dean Budnick

“Although I did not set out to create a common thread between these songs, it did seem to happen subconsciously. On our last record, Contraband Love, the theme was about my conquering some of my demons. I didn’t intend to write about that, it just started happening. On this new record, it seems that the subconscious thing was a connection to the ones you love,” Larry Campbell says of the subject matter that percolates throughout All This Time , his fourth album with his longtime partner in music and life, Teresa Williams.

Williams suggests that Campbell’s life-threatening struggle with COVID may have informed his perspective. “A lot of these songs came out of what he experienced during the pandemic when he was really sick,” she says. “It impacted his outlook after going through that.”

In addition to the seven songs that Campbell wrote for the album, All This Time also includes covers of Jesse Colin Young’s “Pretty and the Fair,” Julie Miller’s “I Love You” and George Jones’ classic “That’s All It Took,” which they recorded with Levon Helm during the sessions for his 2009 album, Electric Dirt. Campbell produced All This Time and contributes guitar, mandolin and pedal steel. Justin Guip, who recorded and mixed the record, adds drums and percussion, while Brandon Morrison appears on bass. Little Feat’s Bill Payne guests on piano and organ.

Although she is singing songs of love written by her husband of nearly 40 years, Williams reveals that, whenever she performs Campbell’s compositions, she engages them in a manner that lies outside their personal history. “He’s creating a piece and I’m interpreting it. I look at it like he’s a playwright and I’m getting inside the character of the song to find a way to relate it to the audience,” she observes. “That’s my job. I’m a storyteller and he’s a world-class musician’s musician. So I find a way inside that story. It tells me how it wants to be. That all comes naturally to me. Tennessee is a state deep with storytellers and my family was full of them.”

As Campbell shares his adulation for her efforts, he adds: “I’ve come to find with Teresa, once she’s got the song inside her, she is not just up there singing it, she inhabits it. She’s expressing the deepest part of the emotion of the song with everything she’s got. It’s pretty intoxicating.”

Desert Island Dreams

Larry Campbell: A couple of tunes on this record started with me noodling around with guitar licks. From that, I derived a chord progression, and from that, I derived a melody in my head. The title of the song was a phrase that crept into my head when that melody was running over and over.

I don’t know where it came from, but those words just formed in my head— “desert island dreams.” I thought, “Now that’s pretty fertile. I can find something that’s worth talking about with that hook on it.” Then I started thinking about how we are all so preoccupied with our occupations and our daily routines and the ubiquity of social media that it leaves very little time to just lay down, relax, daydream and let your mind go somewhere. That’s what that phrase was invoking in me. Then I just was off to the races with the rest of the lyrics.

It’s something that would serve us all well to think about. With Teresa, on rare opportunities, we get to go somewhere just for a vacation. We’ve gone to Hawaii and out to the Four Corners area, hiking and all that kind of stuff. When we do that, it’s a totally rejuvenating pleasure we can share. Those experiences are what I was thinking about as I was writing this song.

Teresa Williams: Sometimes I don’t cotton to a song at first, but then once I start singing it—once the song lets me know what it wants to be—I start having a blast. When I first heard this one, I was like, “I don’t really want to sing this.” I never told Larry; he’ll find out when he reads the article. [Laughs.]

But I don’t feel as though I have to say everything initially. Sometimes I let it coax me along. This is one that coaxed me along and then I started having a blast with it.

All This Time

LC: “All This Time” is kind of a diversion from my experience with Teresa. Oftentimes, the person you marry and spend the rest of your life with is someone that you are head over heels romantically attracted to. That happened with Teresa and myself, then we became best friends.

But I was thinking about how often the opposite can happen, where a couple has a really deep bond and friendship, but for some reason they’re reluctant to turn it into a romantic relationship. That might be because they don’t want to ruin it or because somebody is involved with somebody else or something like that.

I’ve seen this happen with a few couples I’ve known where after a while, they finally realize, “This is the best person I’m ever going to meet, I am in love with this person and we could have a great life together.” The idea of coming to that revelation is intriguing to me.

Ride With Me

TW: “Ride With Me” has got a Dusty Springfield aspect to it. I don’t usually get to do that and I loved being in that space vocally. I love what it’s saying, I love the way it lays in the groove and the way it lays in my voice. I wish I got to do that more often. It was just an easy ride.

I love it when we can do a song in front of an audience first. I love to work out the kinks with the audience for a year or two before we record it. That’s like falling off a log.

“Ride With Me” is one of those where we did not get that luxury, but I don’t think it hurt the song at all. In fact, I think maybe the song was helped by my just standing behind the microphone and letting it find its way. It’s exciting to stay out of the way and let that happen. That’s the proverbial flow right there.

The Way You Make Me Feel

LC: I knew this was something I had to sing because this is my story. I was talking about the week after I met Teresa.

I was remembering how heady it was, how I felt like a fool. It was just like that cliché, the fool in love—man, it was nuts. So this was an effort to describe in kind of a silly way, how I felt when we got together.

I had also thought for a while that I might sing “All This Time,” but I came to the realization that it would be a much stronger delivery if she did it. I can sing but I’m not the singer that she is, and I’m perfectly comfortable in that position.

My first choice when I’m writing a song is to have her sing it unless it becomes something that is more obviously interpreted by a male perspective or by me personally.

TW: This one is so much fun and was fun straight out of the gate. We’ve been doing it live for a few years. These people who are singing this song, they’re not sitting on Park Avenue. I’ve got a feeling that the new couch might not be really new. It might be used new.

I Think About You

TW: A lot of these songs came out of the pandemic when Larry was really sick. It impacted his outlook on life after going through that. He’d had a fever for so long that it reached the point when people’s organs start shutting down. His fever broke right when they were like, “He has to be in the hospital, now.”

It was a Saturday morning. His fever had been down all night and it stayed down. I was flooded with relief and then, the next day, I kind of crashed from all that suspension of emotion, just holding on to get through it. I realized we had truly walked through the valley of the shadow of death. That’s all I could think that whole day. It makes me almost cry right now, just saying it again.

He wrote a lot of this stuff after coming through that, and it was interesting to see his perspective.

LC: COVID almost killed me. It was six weeks of pure hell and Teresa couldn’t be here. I was at the house in Woodstock, and she was in the apartment in New York. We were on the phone every day but that was as close as we could get.

In this sort of delirious misery that I was going through, I would think about her and the times we’ve had together and what an inspiration she could be—how much I appreciated her doing everything she could to help me from a helpless position.

When you’re bonded with somebody and that’s the right person to be bonded with, they can be your fuel. They can be the thing that keeps you going and keeps you buoyant and moving forward.

That’s All It Took

LC: Early on, when we were working on the Electric Dirt record with Levon, we got to a certain point with that album where we had some days scheduled to record, but I wasn’t quite ready with the next couple of tunes. So Levon said, “Why don’t we do some songs with you and Teresa.” Levon, Byron [Issacs], Teresa and I recorded rhythm tracks for five or six songs. So far, one has ended up on each studio record. “You’re Running Wild” was on the first record. “Turn Around” was on the second record. And, now, we have “That’s All It Took” on this one.

We still have a few more left, so hopefully we’ll do them on the next couple of records. It’s just great and it’s a very personal thing to have a song with Levon’s playing on as many records as we can.

TW: I would say “Ride With Me” is my favorite song on here, but in another way, this is my favorite song. It’s my voice from 15 years ago. So that’s interesting to hear. Just the fact that Levon’s on it, I can’t even tell you how wonderful it is for me to listen to this again.

It is a treat to have it on this record, and I love where this song sits—the stone-cold country-ness of it.

A Little Better

LC: This song is semi-autobiographical, the beginning of it anyway. When I was a kid, I loved those guys [Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy]. They were all over the TV back then.

I start talking about a sick kid in the beginning but that wasn’t me. I distinctly remember that my brother was really sick and my parents were very concerned—I could feel it rather than being told it. I must’ve been 4 or 5 years old and he was two years older than me. This went on for a while, and it was affecting me. There was some kind of depression or fear going on inside.

I have this very distinct memory of watching Stan and Ollie on TV. While they were moving a piano up the stairs, I was getting more and more anxiety ridden. Then when they finally got it up there, it was a player piano that started playing “The Arkansas Traveler.” The two of them slowly started dancing and that gave me an infusion of joy at a time when I needed it.

So that was the genesis of the song. The rest is invented, but it refers to two other episodes where I remember seeing those guys breaking into these silly dances. It’s such a carefree, unabashed expression of joy. So I thought, “OK, I can make a song out of this.”

I could always find that memory if I was looking for it, but it might’ve been more prominent because of my experience lying on a couch, sick with COVID. It led me to recall a lot of things from my past and that experience with my brother probably came to mind because that’s what he had been doing the whole time.

TW: We’ve been doing this one with audiences for a little while, and it’s been interesting to see their reactions. You really get a different read on the audience from how they respond. Some of them laugh and cry; some of them are crying and they don’t know if they’re allowed to laugh. The audiences always have their own personality and it is very interesting to watch how they receive that song.

I Love You

TW: Julie Miller handed me a disc and said, “You guys should do this.” So I told Larry, “Julie’s giving us this song; it’s called ‘I Love You.’” He was like, “I Love You?” If anybody could write a song called “I Love You?” it’s Julie.

I just love doing this. It’s bluesy, rock-and-rolly. It’s very sexy. I love being onstage with the band when we do this. I love where it sits musically. I love Julie for writing it and handing it to us. [Laughs.]

LC: Julie said she wrote the tune and immediately thought of us recording it. I say this onstage when I introduce it—“When Julie gives you a song, that’s like Christmas.” So, of course, we were going to do it. She’s one of my favorite writers out there and a longtime deep, close friend.

I was hoping to have the record done soon after we got that song, but I couldn’t get my writing finished. In the meantime, Buddy and Julie had their own record to do, and they had their particular version of this song, which they wanted to put on there. Buddy said, “I hope you guys don’t mind, but we’re going to put this on the record.” We were hoping we’d get ours out first, but it didn’t happen. And, of course, that’s fine because our version is way different than theirs.

It’s such a great song that there’s room for two different interpretations of it, and it’s all in the family. We stand here and cheer on their relationship and their success, and they stand there and cheer on our relationship and our success.

We Done Earned It

TW: I fought with Larry a little bit on some of the lyrics on this and I did not win, but it was a blast recording it. I went to a totally different persona when I was recording it—this other kind of West Tennessee persona. I don’t know how to explain it other than that.

The song definitely took its own course. It kind of ran off with me and said, “This is what I’m doing and you can come along for the ride.” So I did. It’s a funny song, too.

LC: There’s this character that lives inside of me. This is the same guy from “The Way You Make Me Feel” and earlier songs like “Bad Luck Charm” and “Ain’t Nobody for Me.” He’s this sort of hapless, hardworking rural guy who’s trying to get through the world and get through life.

I decided to make that guy a blue-collar worker, who despite his flaws and proclivities, works hard for the money and then goes out and spends it with his wife or lover.

There’s a simplicity of that kind of life where you’re just like, “We didn’t rob no banks, we didn’t strip no cars, we ain’t never pawned nothing that wasn’t ours.” It’s a certain class of existence, but you’re just making the best of it. You’re honest and hardworking; then, you’re going out and having a good time.

Pretty and the Fair

TW: Larry pulled that out years ago and was really adamant that we do it. I came along when I heard what he does with the guitar on it, which is so beautiful. I think a lot of people really enjoy that song live. It’s a surprise when we do it—a little gem in the show because we don’t always do it. It’s pensive and it’s pretty and there’s a lot of stuff going on all at once. It’s of an era, but it feels great now.

LC: I’ve been a Jesse Colin Young fan since The Youngbloods. In the mid-‘70s when I started playing in a band with John Herald, the bass player was Marty David, who had just done a record with Jesse [Light Shine]. He had a cassette of it and played me some of the songs. I just wanted to hear this one over and over again. I loved what he was saying and I loved the way he was saying it.

When Teresa and I started doing our thing together, and we started trying to come up with songs to sing at the Rambles, I threw this one out there and we worked on it a little bit, but it never really caught on. I was never going to give up on it, though. I thought about putting it on the last record, but we had filled that one up already before I got there, so I was determined to get it on this one.

We sat down, worked it up and made a great duet. I love the idea of having one of his songs on our records. I’ve got so much respect for that guy as a songwriter and a singer.

It just seemed like a smooth way to ramp out of the record, melodically and sentiment-wise. It’s a pretty song and a nice way to turn off the CD player, close your eyes and go to sleep.