“It Was the Music” documents couple’s story
It was April 2016 and I had recently started writing music stories for The Enquirer again. Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, the husband-and-wife duo who were a staple of Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles at his home in Woodstock, had released their first album and were coming to the Southgate House Revival. I have done this enough to usually be able to tell in the first moments how the conversation is going to go, so when Larry said something to the effect of, “Hi Bill, thanks for calling, we appreciate you doing this …,” in my mind I found my new best friends. Shortly after the interview, their manager Mark McKenna asked if I was willing to talk to a filmmaker named Mark Moskowitz for a documentary he was making. That project, “It Was the Music,” was released in December 2020 and for some reason, he put a sentence that I muttered in the first of the 10 episodes.
Anyone who loves a good love story will love the story of Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams.
Yep, that’s a lot of love in one sentence, but the emotion enveloped the couple as they prepared to make their Tristate debut headliners at the Southgate House Revival in 2016. Their eponymous album, which found a home in many Top 10 lists in 2015, is a testament to their love of music and the people they have played with for almost 40 years.
If you’re not familiar with the boy from New York City and the girl from rural Tennessee, you probably have heard one or the other or both play with Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour band, Paul Simon, Hot Tuna, Mavis Staples, Phil Lesh or various Buddy Miller projects.
But it was Campbell’s role as Levon Helm’s consigliere in the Midnight Ramble band during the beloved Band drummer’s late career renaissance (Williams was in the chorus with Helm’s daughter, Amy) that put them one step outside the spotlight. Campbell co-produced “Dirt Farmer” and “Electric Dirt,” and was a constant presence in Jacob Hatley’s documentary, “Ain’t in It for My Health,” the intimate portrait of Helm’s grit that fueled his return from bankruptcy and throat cancer, and the people who rallied around him at his Woodstock home before he died in 2012
“Those last years of Levon’s life were a true, honest, bona fide collaboration for all the right reasons,” Campbell says. “It was the ideal music community. It brought out all the reasons why music is communal, why it brings people together; it heals people and it just improves your life
“Teresa and I are finding that we can continue that. We both found the beauty of what we do. You go on stage to play, you’re not thinking about the money you’re making, you’re not thinking about where it’s getting you … you’re not thinking about any of that. You’re just thinking about that stream of communication you’re putting out there.”
Like the proverbial pebble in that stream, the ripples have taken them around the world. They have a home in Bearsville, New York, near Woodstock, an apartment in New York City and spend much of their time on the road or in different cities while Campbell produces albums for other people. When he takes on a project or whenever she can string some days together for any reason, Williams heads for west Tennessee (Exit 114 off I-40 to be specific, just down the road from Bucksnort).
“My parents are aging and I just want to go home,” she says. “If I’m going to be sittin’ in the country up here (Bearsville), I’d rather be sittin’ in the country with my family. There are lovely people here, there are thinking people, it’s really great, but you know, home is home.
“You can’t buy the kind of family where there is a deep, deep community cushion that I have there because my family has been there since the 1830s … on both sides.”
You might not be able to buy that kind of family, but Campbell and Williams have built an expanding one in the notoriously nasty music business. Neither has an unflattering word to say about anyone as they recount stories of playing, traveling and living with some of the biggest names of their generation.
In other words, they have looked for love in all the right places.