Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Larry And Teresa Celebrate ‘All This Time’ Making Music

Gregg Roth

The 1980s alt-country underground in New York City - and yes there was such a thing - sparked iconic careers (Jim Lauderdale, John Leventhal and Shawn Colvin for example), and at least two great Americana love stories. Buddy and Julie Miller married there in 1981 in between gigs at the Lone Star Cafe. And when Larry Campbell laid eyes on Teresa Williams at the Bottom Line before a show they were to play together, he declared that he’d marry her, and the rest is history. Her story too.

Forty years later, the Larry and Teresa love affair is palpable and, for the past ten years or so, it’s manifested on stage and record as an official, ever-popular act. One rarely sees married artists who lean into their personal chemistry and musical history with as much vocal power, songwriting prowess, greasy grooves, and instrumental majesty as these two. I first caught them live in 2015 at Music City Roots when their duo project was quite new, and between their whip-crack original song “Surrender To Love” and their inspired cover of “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning,” all of us were astonished at their unified and soulful sound. I wrote then that their tour was “a coming out party for what should be a vital force in Americana for many years,” and it appears that prediction has held up.

Before their musical union, Larry and Teresa pursued separate, sometimes overlapping careers as studio and stage musicians. Teresa sang with Mavis Staples, Jackson Browne, and eventually Levon Helm, about whom more is to come. Campbell played on some of those same gigs too, but is best known to some for his long stint with Bob Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour.” His producing career has been exceptional as well, landing three Grammy Awards. He’s been a regular member of the Americana Honors and Awards house band, and he’s winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the AMA.

Now the couple is out touring in support of their third studio album, lovingly titled All This Time from the always nourishing label Royal Potato Family. Last month, before a show at 3rd & Lindsley here in Nashville, I got to sit backstage with Larry and Teresa to hear about recent developments, about Larry’s difficult recovery from Covid, and about the decision to formalize their music making and form a true duo. This will be little surprise to married folks, but they remember it differently.

“Larry wanted me to come to breakfast,” says Teresa. The date was with his manager on a Sunday morning and she wasn’t into it, but he pressed. “I thought, well, they have good pancakes. All right, I'll go. And (manager) Mark says, I want to do this and this. And Larry says, well, what I really want to do is be on the road with Teresa. And I was like, somebody could have told me about that!” 

Campbell steps in to say that as he recalls, they were already well into making their first duo album. “And the assumption is, you're going to make a record, you're going to tour the record, you know?” he says. Their basis for heading that direction was the many years he and Teresa worked together on a here-and-there basis, with Phil Lesh, with Hot Tuna, and most fatefully and brilliantly with icon Levon Helm during his prolific final years. A duo “was the perfect situation to me, you know?,” Larry adds. “We're both doing music that we love to do. We're getting to do it together. If there's traveling involved, we're traveling together. So it was sort of, in my head, the perfect solution, after we lost Levon.”

That historic passing wasn’t the only provocation to live large and make music while they can. Campbell was among the first wave of Covid cases, and in March of 2020 he was laid low for many months. “It almost killed me,” he says. “I felt like a shell, like I'd never sing again, I'd never play an instrument, I'd never write again. I felt like I had to restart everything. And subsequently, these little snippets of melody would start coming to me and then they’d turn into full melodies. And then little phrases would start coming to me, and they’d turn into lyrics. And it was over a period of a couple of years that these songs started to take shape.”

“He couldn't pick up an instrument for a long time,” says Teresa. “And then when he picked up a mandolin, it was like, we're gonna be okay.” She says she felt the album title cut emerge as she recognized a pattern and thematic thread in the songs coming out of Larry’s gradually less-fuzzy mind. “Once I saw it's like a relationship - the good, the bad, the ugly, the end, the beginning (hopefully not the end!), but just all of the facets of being in a relationship, and most of the songs are along that line.”

It really is exciting and inspiring to hear a guy write such swooning love songs after 40 years of marriage. “Desert Island Dreams,” one of the early singles, spins a fantasy world right there at home in bed. “The Way You Make Me Feel” has the fella doing cartwheels and kicking up his heels, setting off the title with some clever rhymes. I’m especially fond of “We Done Earned It” about the privileges that come with long term commitment. Then the two covers really add a lot - the old George Jones song “That’s All It Took” and a contribution from Julie Miller, who had the nerve to write a song called “I Love You” and who has us understanding in the first couplet that she’s more than pulled it off.

All this and more is in the audio conversation linked here. Enjoy the surprise thunderstorm that made the roof of 3rd & Lindsley sound like it was going to cave in. It didn’t.

Happy Anniversary Larry and Teresa. You’ve earned it.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org