Mr. Blue Sky
"Band introduction," says David Campbell. "Everybody ready?"
Campbell is sitting in Studio M of Minnesota Public Radio's the Current (89.3 FM), with the three members of Duluth's the Keep Aways.
"Take a deep breath," he continues. "We're going to do an 'om' together. Any pitch will do, just follow my lead. Ommmmmmmm."
The punk-looking musicians join in on the mantra, teetering into nervous giggles.
"Who's harmonizing?" asks the drummer.
"Yeah, I like that," says Campbell, scratching his thick beard. "Band interview. Here we go."
He pauses. "I'm joined in the studio today, right now, at this moment, by the Keep Aways," he says. "I'm going to try that again."
Everyone laughs. Campbell and the Keep Aways are taping an episode of The Local Show, a weekly music-scene talk program usually hosted by Chris Roberts, who is on leave in Germany for 13 weeks beginning August 12. Unlike Campbell's previous gig hosting a local-music show, Homegrown (which aired first on KQRS, 92.5 FM, and then Drive-105 FM, before being canceled in May after a decade-long run), this show is pre-taped, so Campbell's fuckups can be edited out.
"The goal is to record it like you're 'live,'" says co-producer Lindsay Kimball, sitting in the sound booth. "Oh, I know the goal," says Campbell, smiling. "I'm aware of the goal."
Campbell, who came to work dressed in a "YMCA SKATE CAMP" T-shirt and eggshell Converse low tops, has expressed doubts about fitting in at public radio. "I make poop and fart jokes," he says. Guests on his other shows have felt free to swear, which is strictly verboten here. "You can't say 'ass,'" says Kimball to one of the Keep Aways. "Not on MPR."
Yet as the taping proceeds, Campbell relaxes, and somehow helps everyone around him to relax, too. It's an art he's been honing over his years as a fan, musician, Electric Fetus record store clerk, and master of ceremonies at local-pop-related events—including the Minnesota Music Awards, where he once accepted six awards on behalf of Prince, and then proceeded to hold them hostage, eventually surrendering them to Michael Bland. In a music scene prone to taking itself too seriously, Campbell, 31, is funny and utterly guileless.
"I approached him a few years ago about being the host of our yearly 'best new bands showcase' at First Avenue," says Sonia Grover, one of the club's bookers. "He agreed, but only on the condition that he got paid in meat pizza."
Grover and Campbell have become friends. He once persuaded her to spend Thanksgiving weekend in a cabin in Duluth eating s'mores and watching Golden Girls DVDs. "I'm not lying when I say that it was his idea," she says. ("Ladies love D.C.," as Grover puts it, but the two have never dated.)
Interviewing Campbell involves meeting him a week after the Keep Aways taping at the Roller Garden in St. Louis Park, where he points out the "adult night" regulars bouncing on their skates to Next's "Too Close" under twin mirror balls.
After a few loops around the floor, Campbell rides onto the carpet to request something at the DJ booth, then clomps over to the snack bar, where he orders a red and blue slushy. "I have tapes of myself playing 'DJ' when I was in kindergarten," he says, sitting down at a table. "I was introducing the J. Geils Band's 'Rage in the Cage.'" The first record Campbell ever owned was "Centerfold," though he remembers crying once he learned the song was about pornography.
A jock among rock fans growing up in West St. Paul, Campbell won letters in four sports, but also found time to play in a talent-show cover band called Surrealistic Fish. He went on to play in Ween and Weezer cover bands. To some, he's now best known as the bewigged Jeff Lynne look-alike in the local Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) tribute group E.L.nO., for which he tracked down a Lynne-style Gibson Les Paul Goldtop guitar. ("When David does something, he's all in," says bandmate Jeff Hamm.)
Part of Campbell's charm is that he acts as if he's getting away with something simply by being accepted—whether onto the radio, into a friendship, or into a band. He's the rare fan who has talked his way into local groups he admires, such as the Winter Blanket (picking up bass), and swing-dance favorites Accident Clearinghouse (washboard and vocals). AC's Quillan Roe credits Campbell's enthusiasm for keeping the group going as a part-time endeavor.
Campbell also dabbles in the biz side of music, having helped run local indie label 2024 Records for a year before judging himself ill-suited to the work and bowing out. (When the Olympics were forcing 2024 rockers the Olympic Hopefuls to change their name, Campbell could be seen pacing the street on his cell with a gray look—one of the few times his smile deserted him.)
Radio and public speaking are Campbell's truest callings. The longtime Deadhead and Replacements fan was happy to find a local-music oasis at classic-rock KQRS while interning there in 1997. Hosted by overnight DJ Mei Young, Homegrown welcomed Campbell as a roving reporter. "Our big goal was to 'clean up the scene,'" says Young, laughing. "We had him going out with a scraper and a big plastic bucket and he'd go and scrape gum off the bottom of the bars. He handled it like a champ."
Campbell went from reporting on Big Wu shows to MCing their concerts and "hosting" Big Wu Family Reunions (numbers two through nine). At a Fitzgerald Theater gig, he impersonated one of his heroes, Garrison Keillor, by doing a hippie version of the News from Lake Wobegon. He also whipped 30 pounds of bananas into the crowd during "Bungle in the Jungle."
"There's all these people tripping on acid," remembers Campbell. "It was this total Ken Kesey-style weirdness."
By now, Campbell's slushy is gone, and he rolls back out into the Roller Garden rink for another skate, just as the DJ throws on his request, KC and the Sunshine Band's "Give It Up." "Everybody wants your love," goes the refrain. Good thing Campbell has enough for everyone.
David Campbell guest hosts The Local Show
Sundays at 5:00 p.m.
89.3 FM, the Current
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