There was a time when singer-songwriter Dale Campbell ran printing presses by day and scoured the local music scene for a chance to play by night.
But Campbell, of North Tonawanda, who turns 60 in March, is now the veteran performer helping others who might need to work up their courage to take the stage for the first time at an open mic night.
After more than eight years hosting Lewiston Council on the Arts’ Toast and Jam series, he said he has “made it his own.”
Toast and Jam is in its 15th year and is back by popular demand from 7 to 10 p.m. starting Monday and continuing on consecutive Mondays through March 24 in the Brickyard Pub, 432 Center St.
All performers – from singers and musicians to poets and actors, and dancers, comedians and performance artists – are invited to participate in the coffee house event. The intimate setting offers an opportunity for performers to try out material and for new performers to try out the stage.
Performers sign up as they arrive and take the stage on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Most of the people who perform at open mics are not professionals. They do it for the love of it, and part of the fun for the audience is never knowing what to expect. It’s a great atmosphere,” says Campbell. “By the end of the night, it feels like a sing-along at a friend’s house.”
And, Campbell added, everyone enjoys the food at the Brickyard.
The show is videotaped, and highlights are shown throughout the year on Lockport Community TV.
You have been hosting Toast and Jam for quite a while.
It’s amazing. Every time I film one for LCTV, I keep a copy. I have a whole pile of DVDs, spindles full of Toast and Jam. I save them all so we can look back. The first years were on DV film, so now I am copying them to put on an external hard drive.
Have you seen yourself or the show change over the years?
I know I’ve gotten better.
What do you do as the host?
I explain the rules. That’s hard, but the rules are set up so the person playing gets the best opportunity to do what they are going to do. One of the rules is that you don’t play – like if you have a tambourine or a drum - you don’t play along unless you ask the player. Because a new person who has never played with anyone ... they will be listening. It takes the attention away from what they are doing.
Is this a good audience?
It’s a great audience. People come every year. It runs really well when the musicians respect each other. They really appreciate each other. Monday, the first night, it will be packed. It fills up quick. The first and the last week are the only nights I will go past 10 p.m., because I want everyone to play. Those two nights are old-home week.
It sounds like this is more than just performing.
It’s so much better when you can play in front of people you know who will appreciate what you are doing. Performers can do everything, but we try to stay away from karaoke.
Have you seen some performers grow and blossom?
We had a kid who was home-schooled who used to just watch and then he started playing. He eventually went to school for music, and now he plays about everything. Even though they come in here and they are not good, they want to get good. It’s an appreciative enough audience that it will take the time to watch and help you develop and get better. It’s really amazing to watch people get better.
How did you get started?
I was going around doing a lot of open mics. I was writing stuff, and you have to go around and see how it’s working. I was doing three open mics a week. I heard about Toast and Jam in The Buffalo News and only caught the last week of it. I wasn’t the first host of Toast and Jam, but after that I made sure I was here every time. I think there were five hosts before me. The reason I have been doing it so long (as host) is because I made it my own. I also added film. I went to classes at LCTV.
You also host two radio programs on WJJL. How did that get started?
Half the stuff I’ve gotten into was because I worked with (the late) Iney Wallens. The sound guy passed away, and she said, “How would you like to do the sound for me on Fridays?” The radio show bounced around a bit, and that’s how we ended up at WJJL, and (co-owner) Earl Morgan talked to me and asked me, “How would you like to do your own show?” (Wallens used to come down to Toast and Jam, and that’s where she got some of the talent for her show. A lot of the musicians that have played here for a long time have played on Iney Wallens.
What was your job before you started working in radio?
I used to be a pressman, a four-color pressman, for computer printing, which was part of Arcata Graphics. They moved away, and at that time I decided I wasn’t going to wash my hands all day long (anymore). Printers always have ink on themselves. I could have gotten a job in another print shop, but I said, “Nah, that’s it. I’m done washing my hands like this.”
Did you always want to be a musician?
I started playing when I was 16. I actually played with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. It was kind of a folksy thing until they moved to Florida. It was mostly a church kind of group. I started on trumpet for the church – the Salvation Army. I used to play trumpet for the kettles at the Broadway Market.
Do you write your own music?
I started writing when I was 16. One of the songs I wrote was “Time to Say Goodbye.” When I started getting into it, I started writing more. I wrote that song for the minister when he left. I wrote that because I felt bad that we could never get along.
Tell me about your signature song, “Just Me and the Dog,” which is also the name of one of your radio shows.
Most of my songs, if you knew the story you would appreciate the song so much more. This about a night I went to an open mic, and I ended up at the Golden Nugget on Seneca Street. I walked in the bar with my guitar, and there was a big Doberman at the bar. I wanted to leave, but everybody saw me come in. The second week I went in and set up, and everybody left. It was just me and the dog there. Me and the bartender named Laura. So I wrote this song. Later people were humming the tune. It’s a good musician’s song because it might just be me and the dog tonight.
Do you do another show on the radio?
Every other week I do a show called “Dale Campbell All About Town,” which is just a pickup of what Iney was doing. I just do it at home, and people email me what’s going on.
What’s your radio show “Me and the Dog” about?
When other musicians have a CD, I invite them to be on the show, and I play their music and find out where they’ve been, what they are doing, and where they are going.
Do you remember the first time one of your songs was played on the radio?
Ramblin’ Lou from WYRK played local music on Fridays, and he played “Just Me and the Dog.” It was great hearing myself on the radio. That was a long time ago – 1998 or 1999.
How many CDs do you have?
My first was “Just Me and My Dog,” and the second was “Blue Moon Café,” which is named after the place on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. It used to be Blue Moon Café, and then it turned into Off the Wall. We used to play open mic there. We actually took a picture of me (for the cover), and we photo-shopped me in there. (His third and most recent is a Christmas CD). I really like to write Christmas music. Most of these are original.
Looking at these song titles, I would guess you are from Texas.
No, I am from North Tonawanda. Actually, I was born in Lockport, but my dad listened to country music all the time. That’s why it’s easy for me to sing old country songs. Most of what I do has been listed under Americana, not country. I have a little bit of everything.
Have you ever thought of going bigger and trying out for one of these TV talent shows?
Nah. If you are being judged by people that really know what they are talking about, that’s one thing, but to have people call in, that’s not ... There are performers that have music, but no show and performers that are all show. I know now that you have to have a little bit of show and a little bit of music, you can’t be all one way.
Toast and Jam is presented by the Lewiston Council on the Arts and sponsored by the Lewiston Brickyard Pub, Lockport Community TV, Cataract Printing, Lewiston Music and Vic’s Woodshed Music.