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Cecil Campbell & His Tennessee Ramblers

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Biography

Cecil Campbell was most famed as a steel guitarist for the Tennessee Ramblers during the 1930s and '40s, although he also played tenor banjo. Born March 22, 1911, in North Carolina, Campbell worked on his father's tobacco farm and played occasionally on WSJS in Winston-Salem. While visiting his brother in Pittsburgh in the early '30s, he met Dick Hartman and was asked to join Hartman's Tennessee Ramblers, a large group that played both Western swing and old-time string music. Campbell played on radio broadcasts and Bluebird sessions with the band throughout the '30s, taking over the leadership of the Ramblers' by-then skeleton crew in 1945, when the only original member left was guitarist Harry Blair. Cecil Campbell & the Tennessee Ramblers gained a contract with RCA Victor in 1946 and recorded throughout the late '40s. Campbell's steel guitar wizardry was emphasized, and the Ramblers gradually became more Campbell's backing group than an original entity themselves. During his RCA tenure, "Steel Guitar Ramble" became Campbell's only hit when it reached the country Top Ten in May 1949. Campbell also recorded for Disc and Palmetto Records during the early '50s, but signed with MGM in 1955, mixing some rockabilly material in with his traditional swing. He recorded in the '60s for Starday, and Campbell later founded his own label in North Carolina, occasionally playing shows and recording. He also appeared often at the Western Film Fair (held in Raleigh, NC) until his death in 1989. ~ John Bush