50 years later, Dick Campo Big Band is still swingin’

Dick Campo of Waterford, drummer and founder of the Dick Campo Big Band, plays his Gretsch drum set, resembling the color scheme of a 1957 Chevy, at his home in Waterford on March 6.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, John, Ringo, George and Paul. We know all about the 50th anniversary of "The Ed Sullivan Show" - and good for you and good for us.

As it turns out, 1964 also happened to be the same year New London's own Dick Campo Big Band recorded its first album.

Half a century later, Campo and the Big Band are still going strong and, in commemoration, have released two new in-performance CDs - "The Dick Campo Big Band Live at the Garde Arts Center" and "Dick Campo Big Band Live at Mechanics Hall, Worcester, MA" - as well as DVDs of both concerts.

"I'm shocked at the way time goes by," says Campo, a drummer as well as the band's leader. "After all this time, to suddenly record two live albums? I thought, 'What am I doing? Am I nuts?' But I still believe there are a lot of people in Connecticut who enjoy big band music."

Now 75, Campo heads up not only his 16-piece big band but also a smaller, nine-piece unit. Over the years, not surprisingly, there's been some turnover in membership and, in fact, the band actually stopped for a few years in the 1980s when the musicians' family lives got really busy. As kids grew older, though, the band reformed and has stayed active, playing a schedule of weddings, private parties and events, and occasional club gigs.

"It's hard to keep a big band running because you're dealing with a lot of personnel and we're all getting older," Campo says. "But we have a lot of chemistry and a lot of fun. What's great is that, while people correctly think of it as music from the 1930s that appeals to an older generation, we constantly see younger people hearing it for the first time at our shows - and enjoying it."

There is a timeless quality to the repertoire of music made famous by artists ranging from Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

The impetus for the Garde show was to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the death of Campo's brother-in-law, Frank Londregan, a popular New London lawyer, former mayor and city activist. In anticipation, Campo and Frank's brother, Tom Londregan, conceptualized a memorial concert with proceeds benefitting the Garde. On Aug. 11, 2013, it happened.

"I'm a little partial, but Frank was the best brother-in-law you could have," Campo says. "He was just an amazing person."

Campo tailored the set list for that performance to reflect not only Londregan's extensive musical tastes but also to guarantee a fun visual show for the audience - and for those who would be watching the DVD.

"It's one thing to sit there like bumps on a log and play big band music," Campo says. "We honor the music, but we want to put on a show, too. On songs like 'Daddy' or 'Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead,' our vocalist, Valerie Rogers, will engage the audience and maybe bring someone up on-stage."

Because of the emotional component of the Londregan tribute, Campo figured the band's performance and energy would be top of the line. Those aspects, along with the quality of the Garde stage, sound and lights, might make for a fine recording.

"Live at Mechanics Hall," taped almost a year earlier in October 2012, came about in a more accidental fashion. The band was contacted by the hall about the possibility of a performance.

"I'd never heard of Mechanics Hall, and I thought I'd better go up and just see what the facilities were like because I want us to sound our best any time we play," Campo explains. "It turned out it's a gorgeous place and doubles as a very nice recording and video facility. We thought, as long as we were there and they could record it, why not?" He laughs. "Of course, recording live is difficult. You can't make mistakes. Some artists overdub, but I don't think it's the same."

Again, for purposes of the Mechanics Hall DVD, Campo again arranged the set list so that there would be plenty of visual aspects to the show.

"It was a rewarding night. The people in the crowd and that worked at the facility were very great," Campo says.

Since the majority of the shows played by the Dick Campo Big Band are private, he says there are no plans at present to have an actual release party for the new CDs and DVDs. Folks can purchase them at Alpha Audio Works in Mystic and Spindrift Guitars in New London.

FOR YOUR EYES AND EARS

Who: The Dick Campo Big Band

What: Two new live CDs and two new live DVDs: "The Dick Campo Big Band Live at the Garde Arts Center - In Memory of Frank Londregan" and "Dick Campo Big Band Live at Mechanics Hall, Worcester, MA"

Where you can get them: Spindrift Guitars, 107 State St., New London, (860) 444-2112, and Alpha Audio Works, 44 Washington St., Mystic (860) 572-0460

For more information: dickcampobigband.com

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