Born 20 July 1938, Jacksonville, Florida
Jo-Ann Campbell was blonde, beautiful and talented. Her mother gave her dancing lessons from the age of four and by the time she was in her early teens she had become a very adept drum majorette, winning the title of Florida State Baton Twirling Champion. In the summer of 1954 she went to Europe on a big USO tour of Army bases, performing as a dancer for the U.S. troops stationed there. After she returned, the then sixteen-year old Jo-Ann Campbell moved with her parents to New York City to go for that dream of becoming a professional dancer. The idea was to get her on Broadway, but after seeing one of the first Alan Freed spectaculars at the Paramount Theater in November 1955, she became enthralled with rock n roll and told her perplexed parents that she quit dancing to become a singer.
Jo-Ann began recording in 1956, debuting with "I'm Coming Home Tonight" on the small RKO-Point label. After a successful performance at Harlem's legendary Apollo Theatre, her manager (Mike Glendel) took her to Eldorado Records, a company run by Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman of "Flying Saucer" fame. The single "Come On Baby" (penned by Jo-Ann herself) sold well on the East Coast, so she was asked to cut a follow-up. This second Eldorado single, a revival of the oldie "I Can't Give You Anything But Love", was recorded in New Orleans with Cosimo Matassa's studio band and got heavy airplay from Jocko Henderson. An even more influential deejay than Jocko also began to take notice and it wasn't long before Jo-Ann was added to the line-up of Alan Freed's shows. During the years 1957-61 she worked with every major rock n roll star on package shows. Jo-Ann was Alan Freed's wild rocking girl during those years and she's still proud of it. "Connie Francis was always Dick Clark's girl, and I was Alan Freed's. He was my hero, and I was there for him whenever he called", she told Billy Poore. She really liked rock n roll and even in the 1960s, Jo-Ann included songs like "Jailhouse Rock" in her live set.
Two floors under Eldorado (at 1650 Broadway) was the location of Gone Records, which became Jo-Ann's new company in the autumn of 1957. She made many good R&R recordings for Gone, like "Wait A Minute" (another of her own compositions) and "You're Driving Me Mad" (with Dave "Baby" Cortez on Little Richard-styled piano). Several of her records reached high positions on local charts in East Coast cities, but as yet there were no national hits. She had a role in the 1959 rock 'n roll movie "Go, Johnny, Go!", where she sang "Mama (Can I Go Out Tonight)", written especially for her by Bo Diddley. Also in 1959, George Goldner released Jo-Ann's first LP, "I'm Nobody's Baby", on his End label, containing the tracks of her seven Gone singles, minus "Tall Boy"/"Happy New Year Baby".
Her next stop, in 1960, was ABC-Paramount, a move she later regretted. Her producer, Sid Feller, hated rock n roll and wasn't interested in the material Jo-Ann brought to him. Instead, she was given silly pop songs to record, like "A Kookie Little Paradise" and though this brought Jo-Ann her first chart entry (# 61), she would never sing it in her live acts. In the UK the song was covered by Frankie Vaughan, resulting in a # 31 hit. In November 1960, Sid Feller reluctantly allowed her to cut two rock 'n' roll numbers, "Crazy Daisy" (written by Jo-Ann under her mother's maiden name, Doris Hatcher) and a red hot remake of Joe Turner's "Boogie Woogie Country Girl". But although the latter is arguably her best ABC recording, it would not see a release until 1987. "Motorcycle Michael" (1961) flopped in the US, but reached # 41 in the UK, her only chart entry there. Also in 1961, Jo-Ann filmed her second movie role, in "Hey Let's Twist!" alongside Joey Dee. The next year she moved to Cameo Records, where she had the biggest hit of her entire career with "I'm the Girl from Wolverton Mountain" (# 38 pop, also # 24 country), an answer song to Claude King's Top 10 hit "Wolverton Mountain". Her third and last 45 for Cameo, "Mother, Please !", also charted (# 88, spring 1963). In 1964 Jo-Ann wed singer/songwriter Troy Seals, to whom she is still married today. As Jo-Ann and Troy, they made a stunning debut single for Atlantic, "I Found A Love Oh What A Love" c/w "Who Do You Love" (the Bo Diddley song), which went to # 67 on the Hot 100 around the turn of the year 1964/65. After the birth of their son, Jo-Ann appeared for a while on Dick Clark's 1965 rock 'n roll TV show Where the Action Is, but in 1967 she quit the entertainment business for good and refused offers from Richard Nader and other rock n roll promoters to make a comeback in the 1970s.
Stuart Colman sums up (in the liner notes for the Westside CD): "Jo-Ann Campbell was way ahead of her time. Raunchy male rockers were tolerated, not to say appreciated, in the 50's but sassy female Rock 'n' Rollers stood little chance of cutting through the old-fashioned ideals that existed back then. (Look how long it took her similarly-styled contemporary Brenda Lee to make the breakthrough!) Jo-Ann, though, lived through it all and loved every minute of it."
CD: That Real Gone Gal : The Complete Gone and Roulette Recordings. (Westside WESM 508). Released in 1997. 19 tracks. Liner notes by Stuart Colman. Probably hard to get now.
Acknowledgements : Stuart Colman. Billy Poore.
Dik, June 2013
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