30 years later, The Pulsators still pack venues across the North Bay
One of the tougher jobs in rock music is playing drums and singing lead vocals at the same time. Yet there have been some great drummer/vocalists: Don Henley of the Eagles, Levon Helm of The Band and Phil Collins of Genesis, to name a few.
You also could make a case for Karen Carpenter or Buddy Miles if you’re so inclined, but there’s one singing drummer you might overlook.
Johnny Campbell celebrates three decades with the popular and venerable Sonoma County band The Pulsators this summer, and although the band is best-known close to home, it’s still packing the house at venues all over the North Bay, including at the Sonoma County Fair Friday, and at the Barlow next weekend.
Admired for volunteering to play benefit shows whenever local musicians need help with medical costs or other crises, the band enjoys a sterling reputation among leaders of the local music scene. The Pulsators have been the first to volunteer when the need arose, said Frank Hayhurst, organizer of numerous benefits for musicians in need.
“This band has been at the heart of this community,” Hayhurst said.
The public likes them, too. The Pulsators have repeatedly won local popularity polls, including three Press Democrat Readers’ Choice awards.
“Great music and dedication to the community are why The Pulsators are such enduring band,” said concert producer and music educator Jim “Mr. Music” Corbett. “It is not a simple task to keep a band together for even five years, much less 30 years. Under the direction of Johnny Campbell, the group not only survived, but thrived.”
One of Campbell’s fellow Pulsators has a simple, practical explanation for that longevity.
“In almost every band I’ve been in over the years, the hardest thing to do is keep a drummer,” said guitarist Doug McKenzie, co-founder of The Pulsators. “When the drummer is your main guy, then you’ve always got a drummer.”
Another reason they’ve lasted, Campbell figures, is that they’ve kept their careers as a band at a manageable level, playing often but working at other jobs, too. Campbell has been an audio visual recording studio owner, music teacher, software IT manager, bicycle shop manager, auto paint salesman, truck driver and more. But as musician, he remained independent.
“I didn’t sign up with management. I didn’t sell my soul to the devil,” he said. “We stayed true to ourselves. We argue like brothers, but fortunately, I can still play with a bunch of guys I really like. That’s the real reason we’ve able to stay together all this time.”
McKenzie was working with his sister in a band called Teresa and the Brewers and looking for a drummer when he first met Campbell. What struck the guitarist most was that Campbell wrote his own songs.
“I wasn’t trying to find a top 40 band,” McKenzie said. “That’s not me. I like to play original music.”
That fit nicely with Campbell’s goals back in 1989, the drummer recalled.
“I wanted to form my own band, and in order to do that, I felt I needed a body of songs,” Campbell said. “We play 70% original music. We can always play original songs. I write a lot. It’s all about the songs.”
The band has recorded four albums and is working on a new one, the first in 10 years.