Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams have seen a lot and done a lot. Between the two, they have shared stages with Paul Simon, Roseanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Levon Helm, B.B. King and Mavis Staples — and that doesn’t even count the eight years Larry spent on the road with Bob Dylan as part of his Never Ending Tour. The married couple released their self-titled first-ever LP last year and they are set to perform at the Tally Ho Theatre in Leesburg, Virginia, tonight. We recently caught up with them by phone during their drive to a New Jersey tour stop. In good spirits, we discussed their favorite Levon Helm story, what it takes to be in a successful band that also happens to be your marriage, and why it took them so long to make music together.
What made you guys want to go out and tour this time around? Was there a hunger to get back out on the road?
Larry: No [laughs]. It’s just, you gotta make some money [laughs].
Teresa: But once you’re out there and you peel yourself away from your family and everything, it’s a lovely give-and-take between you and the audience.
Larry: Yeah, it’s great. There’s no complaining about the shows that we get to do. It’s just a wonderful privilege. The problem is everything around that — the travel and the schlepping and the weird hours and all that. But those two hours onstage, especially at this point in our lives, that Teresa and I can do this together, that’s a beautiful thing.
You guys put out your first record together last year?
Larry: Yeah, a year ago in June.
What took you so long to do a record together?
Teresa: We’re foolish. I did go through a spell where the whole husband/wife thing seemed totally not appealing at all. It just seemed kind of icky to me. I don’t know; we were just on our own trajectory, I guess.
Larry: We were involved with so many other projects. I spent eight years on the road with Bob Dylan and Teresa was out doing theater. Then, after I left Bob’s band, this great opportunity came up with Levon [Helm], and that sort of put us on this path where we’ve ended up now. We found ourselves on the same stage, making the same music together, and realized that we really liked it.
I know how much Levon meant to you guys. Every time you perform, do you still kind of get a sense of him? Can you feel him in the air some nights?
Larry: Oh, yeah.
Larry: Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. His presence will never not be felt.
Teresa: You know what’s interesting? Before I ever met Levon, he was a real artistic touchstone for me. As a musician, singer, actor, he just was so honest with his art and creativity. I never dreamed that I would meet him, much less work with him. So, it was just really something that I was able to get to create with him. I’m from Tennessee, right across the river from where he was from, and it was the same culture, same background. In New York, to have him in my life, was to have a big piece of home. To the day he passed away, he sounded like he just stepped out from the cotton patch, and that was a big comfort to me. When he passed, it was a loss on so many levels.
Do you guys have a favorite Levon story? A favorite memory?
Teresa: Oh, there’s so many.
Larry: The one thing that always amuses me — Levon was going to do whatever Levon was going to do. He tried to be conscious of creating as little collateral damage as possible, but he was going to do whatever he was going to do. I remember a day when we were working on the “Electric Dirt” record. I had spent a couple days getting the rhythm tracks for the song, getting it down until it was just right, and we were ready for him to sing it. I called him to tell him and we were waiting, and he finally comes out. He sits down and sings the song through once, and it was good, but we needed more for sure. He said, “I gotta go get a coat.” And two days later, he comes back! He decides, “Ok, boys, let’s finish this thing!” [laughs].
Teresa: But when he came back, it was all guns blazing, man. It was exactly what you would need. When he came back, somehow he had gotten it in his system and wrapped his head around it, and boy did he deliver.
Larry, I know you’re a master multi-instrumentalist. It’s how’ve made your living. How did you get into picking up all these different instruments?
Larry: Everything started for me in a big way when I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964. That, naturally, led to the guitar. The more I progressed on that instrument, the more I was exposed to different kinds of music and kept following these paths that would lead in different directions and musical genres and idioms that just knocked me out. There wasn’t a term for it at the time, but it was everything in the Americana bag. Instruments that were integral to making music in those different genres were really calling to me. Listening to Doug Kershaw play the fiddle back then or Bill Monroe play the mandolin or Earl Scruggs play the banjo, all these were instruments I had to get my hands on.
Are you guys bringing a wide array of instruments for this tour?
Larry: No, because Teresa and I are so song-oriented and we usually do most of this just as a duo. I’m playing a guitar and some mandolin and maybe a fiddle every now and then.
With this tour, do you have any surprises in store?
Larry: Well, if we do, it will be a surprise to us, too [laughs]. And those things do happen.
Being married for as long as you have — almost 30 years now — how do you make that succeed? That’s gotta be tough some times.
Larry: You know what? It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I gotta say. It’s the most satisfying on so many levels. If we were 30 years old and jumping right into this, I don’t know that we would have had the maturity to maintain a personal relationship and a professional relationship.
Teresa: I don’t know. We met doing music together, so I’m not sure that’s true. I think it’s a big part of our glue. It’s what I think attracted us to each other to begin with. It’s also a lot of what we talk about and breathe. Larry has said we come out of pretty disciplined backgrounds with art. We were older when we met, and that helped, too. You kind of know who you are and you’ve been through a few mistakes by that point.
Larry: The point, for me, is that right now, at this point in our lives, this is the most satisfying thing we could be doing. It’s music that we are commonly attracted to and we really enjoy being together. This occupation — there’s nothing that it’s keeping us from doing that we’d rather be doing. I just feel like we’re really lucky.
Is there any possibility of another record from you guys?
Larry: Ohhhh, yes. In fact, I am consciously and subconsciously obsessed with making that happen right now. We’re setting our own goals and hoping to meet them. The last record came out a year ago in June and I think this coming June, there needs to be another one.
Teresa: My mother’s vying for a gospel record from us and I have friends who are vying for a, as Larry so eloquently put it, chipped-tooth, sideburn country record, so that’s admittedly my first two [preferences].
Larry: Yeah, we’ll end up somewhere in the middle of all that [laughs].
What’s your songwriting process? Does someone bring one song to the other? How do you go about that?
Teresa: We haven’t been writing together. I always thought that it was two people trying to put on the same pair of pants. But I know a lot of people do it all the time together. And he dumped a poem that I liked that’s half-finished on my lap last week and I’ve just been staring at it [laughs].
Larry: With instructions that she has to write two verses for this song and that could be our first official collaboration [laughs].
If you could give advice to any romantic couples who want to do what you guys are doing, what would you say?
Larry: That’s interesting. Patience. That’s a big one. Patience, meaning, try to put yourself aside. Trust the person you’re with.
Larry: You’re not going to get, immediately, what you want. But have faith in the commonality that you both share for the music that you are attracted to. Have faith that the commonality will eventually put you both on the same page creatively. Don’t be inflexible with your opinions about the work because if you’re with the right person, leave them alone and they’ll come home wagging their tails behind them.
Teresa: [Laughs.] Well, that was an education for me! If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, have the passion. If you both have that, it will fly.