Alex Campbell - A Tribute
Alex Campbell (1922-2013)
Our dear friend Alex Campbell passed away October 24, 2013. Along with his sister Ola Belle Reed, they were legendary in bluegrass and folk music circles worldwide.
Alex, one of 13 children, was born in 1922 on the banks of the New River In Ashe County, North Carolina. When Alex was 10 years old, his sister Ola Belle taught him to play guitar. That was the beginning of a lifetime partnership.
Alex was wounded in the invasion of Normandy in the Second World War. As luck would have it, he was in the same unit as Grandpa Jones. After the Germans surrendered, the Americans took over a very powerful radio station in Munich, Germany. The broadcast could be heard over the entirety of Europe from Britain to Russia. Alex loves tell the story about how he and Grandpa Jones set up a weekly country music broadcast in a huge beer hall in Munich and called themselves Grandpa Jones and his Munich Mountaineers. They broadcast from April through December 1945.
When Alex returned from the war, he and Ola Belle started the New River Boys and Girls. The first broadcast was over WHAS out of Havre de Grace Maryland. They eventually moved to the Oxford, Pennsylvania area and were featured over many stations including WCOJ in Coatesville, Pennsylvania and WBMD in Baltimore, Maryland. By 1949, the New River Boys and Girls featured Deacon Brumfield on Dobro, Ted Lundy on banjo, John Jackson on fiddle and Earl Wallace on bass. The great fiddler Sonny Miller would later join and be a staple in the band.
In 1951, Alex and Ola Belle established New River Ranch near Rising Sun, Maryland. It was one of the most active country music parks in the nation and they were the first to bring big names in bluegrass and country music to that area. In 1960, they transferred to Sunset Park in West Grove Pennsylvania where they were the opening act for 26 years. Each Sunday during the summer Alex would broadcast live from Sunset Park. In the 1960s, they did a remote broadcast from Oxford that followed the WWVA Wheeling (West Virginia) Jamboree. That was a clear channel station that reached the entirety of the eastern United States and maritime Canada.
To understate the case, Alex has a unique and compelling radio voice. It was as much fun listening to his commercials as the rest of the show. And he was overflowing with hilarious stories and anecdotes.
Alex was a dear friend to many of the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music. Of the dozens of name bluegrass and country artists who have appeared at our festivals over the years, each one, if and when the discussion came around to Alex and Ola Belle, remarked what good friends and decent folks they were. We were all fortunate to get to know, enjoy and appreciate such a fine gentleman.