It didn’t matter if his voice powered through a soulful version of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” or drifted through Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” fans and fellow band members watching musician Bob Campanell knew he could sell a song.
“If you didn’t know who wrote the song, you would think he wrote it,” said one of Campanell’s four sons, Mike. “He had that unique ability to extract the essence and soul of what a song is trying to convey to somebody.”
Campanell, who played alongside music greats and established himself as a local rock icon in his own right, died Monday night in the arms of his wife, Lynda. He was 67.
The singer, songwriter and guitar player was known as a founding father of the Asbury Park rock scene who shaped music at the Jersey Shore in the 1970s, not just sharing but owning stages with artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and a young Jon Bon Jovi.
“He was one of the innovators, the architects of the Asbury Park music scene,” said Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and the original drummer for the E Street Band. “The sound of Asbury Park is big. It’s not just one specific thing, and Bob was a part of that original bringing-it-into-light sound.”
After playing gigs in his hometown of Runnemede, Camden County, Campanell fronted and co-founded a band with Lopez, The Shakes, which played original songs and era hits regularly as the house band at the legendary Stone Pony in 1976.
“It’s something that’s being lost in this jam-band era and this era where every kid wants to grow up and be a shredder, a guitar idol. You can play a million notes in a minute, but this is about somebody who could play the song on the guitar and play it so well,” Carmen Marotta said.
Marotta met Campanell when he played at the Marotta family’s nightclub, Tony Mart’s, in Somers Point. He later worked with Campanell, who moved to Egg Harbor Township, for performances at multiple events and venues in the region.
Campanell performed at the Somers Point beach concert series, Kennedy Plaza in Atlantic City and was a staple at the Tuckahoe Inn, among others.
“He’s one of those musicians that never cashed in and just did the gig. He always gave everything he got, no matter if there was two people there or a couple hundred,” said musician Billy Walton.
Just before he died, Campanell performed two songs as part of a benefit concert for guitarist and longtime friend Ernie Trionfo at JD’s Pub and Grille in Galloway Township.
“He walks up, he counts off the song and from that point on the electricity in the house was raised by five points. It was just really intense,” Trionfo said. “There was always such intense joy when he played. You could see it was what he was born to do.”
While local musicians came together for the fundraiser, many were grateful they could share the joy of Campanell’s last moments. Trionfo noticed his friend’s powerful influence again when Campanell turned to him to play a guitar solo.
“I found myself bringing more energy to it than I thought I had,” Trionfo said. “It was magical.”
He also was an inspiration to aspiring musicians, encouraging them and supporting their shows.
“You don’t really find that too much. There’s some, but he was always in your corner,” Walton said.
Along with being a musician, Campanell served as an ordained minister for decades.
“He ministered for people who needed him. Anybody. We just loved people. He lived his life for his Lord and savior Jesus Christ,” Lynda Campanell said.
It was part of his overall energy that many said made people feel at ease.
“It starts by easing everybody’s burden by just a little bit,” Trionfo said, “and Bobby did that.”
A service will take place 1-6 p.m. Monday at the Tuckahoe Inn in Upper Township.