Bay Area bluegrass rhythm section rocker, who once jammed with Jerry Garcia, dies at 74

The annual summer “Yard Jam” in bassist Pat Campbell’s garden on Friendly Lane in Novato was a date circled on the calendar of every bluegrass artist in the Bay Area.

Guitarists and banjo players, fiddlers and mandolinists, even bongo drummers formed half a dozen spontaneous circles with a different song construction in each. The one player all circles wanted was Campbell, who had a cool stage presence and light touch on his upright bass, holding the hootenanny together as he transitioned from daylight to night.

The Yard Jam was put on hiatus due to COVID-19, but was scheduled to return July 31.

Then the reliable bassist who never missed a gig finally missed one. Campbell suffered a fatal heart attack on July 28 at a Novato theater where he was watching “Elvis” after going out for a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake, his daughter, Remy Hennessee, said. He was 74 years old.

A self-taught musician, Campbell played both acoustic and electric bass, accompanying Mike Bloomfield, Mark Naftalin, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Big Joe Turner, among others. His legacy project was the Good Old Boys, formed in the early 1970s when bluegrass music was experiencing a revival. David Nelson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage was on guitar and eccentric virtuoso Frank Wakefield was on mandolin. For a legendary two-night adventure on February 20 and 21, 1975 at the Cantina de Margarita in Santa Cruz, Jerry Garcia was on banjo and vocals.

The shows were taped for a double live album called “Drink Up & Go Home” and the Good Old Boys were apparently on the way.

But Garcia’s own bluegrass act, Old & in the Way, with David Grisman and Vassar Clements released its own live album in 1975, and it became a major crossover hit. The Good Old Boys session was suspended for 40 years before Campbell could finally produce “Drink Up & Go Home”, with Garcia singing the title track. It was released in 2018 on CD and vinyl.

Pat Campbell on double bass, at the 2010 Yard Jam.

Provided by Bob Minkin Photography

“This album didn’t get the publicity of ‘Old & in the Way,’ but it’s quite the landmark, as a bridge between classic Appalachian bluegrass and California vibes,” Chuck said. Poling, San Francisco regional manager for California. Bluegrass Association and a popular stage host at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. He also plays mandolin in the duo Jeanie and Chuck, with his wife, who always called Campbell first when they needed a bassist.

“Pat was really sensitive to the music and listened carefully to what the other players were doing around him,” Poling said. “He always did his best to serve the song.”

Although still in demand as a sideman, the music was a side gig for Campbell.

“Dad always told me that real musicians had direct jobs,” Hennessee said. His was a bit glamorous. For 20 years he sold insurance, heading to an office on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco with one of a succession of black Labradors – first Val and then Maddie.

Labs were put to work as field dogs. Campbell was a dedicated duck hunter and once he took aim with his shotgun he rarely missed. He kept a framed jacket patch proclaiming him “1964 World Champion Junior 5-man Team from the World Skeet Shooting Championships”.

This award dated from his youth in Stockton where he was born Patrick Charles Campbell on June 10, 1948. While at Stagg High School he got a summer job at a fruit cannery which exposed him to the type of people who listened to the blues. . He followed his colleagues to blues bars at night, beginning his custom of working day jobs while working music at night.

In high school, he joined a band, agreeing to play bass because everyone wanted to play guitar. He also grew his hair out in a Beatles cut with bangs and sideburns – a style that seemed to work for him.

“He’s pretty much done with that look too,” said his younger sister, Maureen Campbell.

As an intermediate student, Campbell expected to be drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam as an infantryman, his sister said. So he joined the navy before the draft could get him. He spent four years on a ship in the South China Sea before his release in 1971.

On the GI Bill, he attended Sonoma State University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology while entering the San Francisco music scene. His sister moved to Pacifica, so he moved there too, renting a small house two blocks from the beach.

He got a job as a sales rep for movie videos and his sister set him up on a blind date with her friend, Patti Hennessee, a classically trained pianist who played in rock bands. Their first date was at the beach in the fog. They married in 1987.

The Campbells, Pat and Patti, formed a rhythm duo on piano and bass and played in bands of all genres.

“We would go to these concerts and get the country music out of the air,” Hennessee said. “We’d make the lyrics up on the spot if we couldn’t remember them.” Although Campbell normally sang harmony in a high, solitary tenor, he took the lead on “The Tiki Bar is Open”, a John Hiatt song he enjoyed covering with the Water Brothers Band.

Campbell and Hennessee divorced in 2000. A few years later he was playing in a trio led by Jimbo Trout at the Bay View Boat Club on the San Francisco waterfront. During a break, he strikes up a conversation with club member Meg Sandine. They ended up dating and married in 2013 at San Francisco City Hall.

A few years later, Campbell sold his insurance business and eventually retired from direct employment. But he never retired from performing, whether in his backyard or in places like the HopMonk Tavern in Novato.

“Pat has been fantastic in organizing these great events,” said Sandine. “He brought in all these musicians he knew and he knew everyone. They played for hours and hours and Pat had to play all night because he was usually the only bass player.

The Yard Jams on Friendly Lane asked each musician to bring a camping chair and a dish to share. It was a large flat garden and there could be a few hundred people from the afternoon until late at night. “It was the party not to be missed,” said Poling, who arrived with his mandolin case and chicken mole in a covered serving platter.

Campbell also held an annual concert on St. Patrick’s Day to benefit cancer research. Some of his musician friends were struck down with the dreaded disease, and this unlucky group came to include Campbell himself, who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in November 2019. He was weakened by surgery, chemo and radiation, but he still had to answer the call for a sideman.

“He kept playing small gigs, nothing that would take too much energy,” Sandine said. “He didn’t want to give up what he was, which was a fabulous bassist that everyone wanted to play with.”

Survivors include his wife, Meg Sandine de Novato; his daughter Remy Hennessee of Novato, his daughter-in-law Reilly Sandine of San Francisco and his sister Maureen Campbell of Groveland (Tuolumne County).

Sam Whiting is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]

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