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Drawing from Classic Rock and Funk, ?Valley Teen Gus Campbell Is Ready to Rock

Though it's premature to call Gus Campbell a guitar god, he is a true talent. One could use adjectives like "wunderkind" or clichés like "He's an old soul," but the truth of the matter is the kid can flat-out shred for any age. At 16, Campbell has a maturity and musical acumen that many local musicians two and three times his age wish they had. After gigging around town (and out of state) for the past couple of years with his trusty Stratocaster in hand and bandmates Alex Chacon (bass) and Mark Savale (drums) , it is apparent this young man is ready to take things to the next level. Who knows? Maybe he can take it to levels we have yet to see.

New Times: Tell me about your involvement in McDowell Mountain Music Festival? Are you excited about it? Who do you really want to see?

Gus Campbell: We played a gig with the MMMF Crew at The Yard, and Nate Largay really took a liking into us and wanted us to be on the MMMF bill the next year. So here we go! We are super-excited to play. We really want to see everyone we can. They are all great bands. Trombone Shorty will be a cool act to see, though!

We read that listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn was your inspiration to pick up the guitar. What's currently inspiring you to keep it going? Who are your guitar heroes?

SRV was definitely one of the first, and he has always been a very ground base for me. Whenever I need someone to listen to, I go back to him. As far as now, I've been listening to a lot of old funk bands, and they are really inspiring me. Isley Brothers, Bar Kays, Prince, D'Angelo, The Time, Zapp, Parliament Funkadelic, Rick James, James Brown . . .

What is your guilty pleasure music?

"Forget Me Nots" by Patrice Rushen. The groove is infectious.

Given the chance, who would you like to collaborate with?

Hard question. The rocker in me wants to collab with Jack White, but my funk side wants to collaborate with George Clinton, Quincy Jones, or Prince. That'd be a weird session with them all.

How involved (if at all) do you feel you are with the Phoenix music scene? What is it like being 16 in an industry that caters to the 21-plus crowd?

I feel very involved. Pretty much everyone I've played with has really cool. Even the club owners have been supportive, especially Brannon at Last Exit Live. I don't think a lot of people know I am 16 at first, since I am a taller kid (Campbell stands at 6-foot-2). Plus, I don't mention it. My family knows how much I hate marketing my age.

How are you received by music fans in your own age group?

To be honest, not a lot of my friends in middle school knew I played music. I didn't talk about it unless they asked. The ones that did know, though, liked it. I make music I enjoy, so I hope someone else in my age group enjoys it too. Our audience seems to be 18-plus.

What is your goal for the next five years?

I want to be busy doing what I love. Releasing music I love to write, playing shows with people that share the same passion as I do. I'll be working my ass off to get there.

How do you think your outlook on music and the music business has changed over the past few years?

My outlook hasn't changed a whole lot since I started. That may be because I have (So I've been told) a strong intuitive sense of being able to notice if people are really who they say they are. So that's helped me avoid getting in with the wrong people. I'm in this for the long haul as long as it's fun. What's the point in doing anything if you don't love it?

What is your typical (if it even exists) writing process?

I usually like to write the instrumental and at least create a title that is catchy. Then I start building from there as far as lyrics and different instrumental hooks. I think my EP I am currently working on will be a good example of this writing process.

Talk to me about your partnership with Fender? How did that come about?

Curtis Grippe of STEM Recordings, where I record, told me that an old friend of his was stopping by, who happened to be an artist relations exec at Fender and he wanted me to stop by and talk. We have become very close friends and Fender has been a huge support to me. They treat their artists great.

Where do you go to school?

I do online school through [Arizona Virtual Academy]. It offers me a lot of free time if I work ahead and I can work at my own pace. I do plan on going to a campus high school for my last two years.

Gus Campbell is scheduled to perform Saturday, March 28, at McDowell Mountain Music Festival.

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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon