Campbell Coe, 1924-2005 By Scott Hambly Special to the Planet

Friday November 11, 2005

Campbell Coe, legendary resident of Berkeley and Seattle, Wash., died in his sleep at 4 p.m. on Oct. 2. Campbell’s six-year battle with prostate cancer ended in Honeydew Home, a hospice, in Renton, Wash. He was 81. 

Campbell was born Jan. 15, 1924 to Herbert E. Coe, the pioneer pediatric surgeon in the Northwest, and Lucy Coe of Seattle. 

Campbell worked in broadcast journalism during the 1940s, specializing in radio news. About 1951 he enrolled as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, graduating with the class is 1955. He then became a graduate student in biochemistry at UC Berkeley. 

An exceptionally skilled craftsman, he spent several years in the mid-1950s engineering and manufacturing custom-cast and -machined models of live-steam locomotives. He also began performing country and western music by playing guitar, singing, and learning the patois of masters of ceremonies. During this same time Campbell taught himself stringed musical instrument repair, and was in part-time business by May 1956. 

At this time the folk music revival in the mid-to-late 1950s began and old musical instruments were rediscovered. Prior to Campbell’s entry into the repair field and instrument sales, the sole East Bay craftsman was violin repair expert, John Aschow, of Oakland. Campbell’s repair skills filled an important niche for myriad banjo and guitar owners. He initially repaired fretted instruments out of his third floor apartment at 2419 Haste St.; he also became a supplier of fretted instrument accouterments (e.g., picks, strings, capos, cases) to locals and some regional music merchants. 

When Jon and Deirdre Lundberg came to Berkeley in 1960 to open a music store, Campbell helped them found Jon and Deirdre Lundberg Fretted Instruments. Lundbergs’ became the preeminent acoustic repair and sales store on the West Coast in the 1960s and 1970s, specializing in instruments constructed before World War II. 

Campbell’s business success soon outgrew his apartment, which prompted him in 1961 to open the Campus Music Shop at 2506 Haste St., near Telegraph Avenue. Business at the Campus Music Shop began to wane in the early 1970s. As the ‘70s wore on, transactions diminished incrementally until Campbell finally sold or packed his equipment prior to returning to Seattle. 

The legacy of his craftsmanship endures: for example, he inspired Hideo Kamimoto, three-year part-time apprentice (and sales representative), who in 1967 founded H. Kamimoto Stringed Instruments in Oakland, now in San Jose; Mike Stevens, of Alpine, Texas; Richard Johnston, of Gryphon Music, Palo Alto; and Larry Blom, Oregon, to enter luthiery. 

Campbell was a stellar guitarist, exceptionally versatile and extemporaneous, who played country music (e.g., country swing and Hank Snow lead guitar styles), blues, and Django Rinehardt jazz stylings, using both right-hand plectrum and finger methods. He was the bandleader of the Country Cousins. 

In his role as a musical mentor and supporter of developing musicians in the East Bay, he inspired such musicians as Sandy Rothman, Betty Montana (later a.k.a. Betty Mann), and Rick Shubb. Campbell also influenced select members of local bands, for example, the Redwood Canyon Ramblers, Country Joe & The Fish, the Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, Asleep at the Wheel, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, and Don Burnham’s Lost Weekend. 

He was proprietor of Aeromarine Photography, specializing in photography of ships and related maritime subjects in San Francisco Bay. He also performed freelance photography of crime scenes and events of civil disobedience in Berkeley. An avid collector of disc recordings, especially 78 r.p.m. singles, he was also a recording engineer, for example, recording the private session at his apartment with Roland and Clarence White in 1964. 

Campbell was a consummate conversationalist—occasionally to a fault. Exceptionally articulate, his diction and eloquence, doubtless polished by his days in radio, were precise and his speech irresistibly engaging. He was widely known as a raconteur who could speak knowledgeably about a kaleidoscope of subjects, not merely limited to the acknowledged specialties above. Frequently his stories were so elaborate and far-fetched that they seemed at the moment of telling to be incredible, only later to be confirmed as accurate. 

Campbell enjoyed attention, and confidently excelled in communications within the context of small groups. Despite his self-confidence, he paradoxically did not seem especially comfortable in front of large groups. His conversational arts thrived among friends. The smaller the group, the closer the friend, the more focused his conversation became. It was here his command of rhetoric, verbal nuances, and paralinguistics came to the fore. It was difficult to resist Campbell’s blandishments. 

He was well known to many as an iconoclastic, eccentric character, enjoying an improvised life of intellectual individualism in a town well known as a haven for liberals and individualists. He personified the adventurous, ad hoc spirit of Berkeley and seldom took life seriously. At times his free-wheeling spirit became irreverent, critically cynical, even impish as he perfected puns and performed as a learned jester among his coterie of friends, occasionally testing his own limits—and those of others, as well. His gregariousness and enthusiasm generously embraced those who knew him well or those whom he thought needed his support. 

His many friends held Campbell in high regard and were spellbound by his mellifluous voice, loquaciousness, and bonhomie. We all learned a lot about life, music, performing arts, and musical instruments from him. We will remember his confidence, optimism, and irrepressible spirit. 

Campbell left Berkeley to return to Seattle on June 30, 1981 to be closer to his mother. In Seattle he completed the marine diesel engineering class at Seattle Community College. He became well versed in wooden boat restoration, culminating in wooden tug boat refitting. He also helped to refurbish Hidden Valley Ranch, the family spread outside Cle Elum, Wash., which became the premier dude ranch in the state by 2003. 

Campbell’s surviving kin include his brother and sister-in-law, Bob and Bobby Coe, Mercer Island, Washington; and nephews Bruce Coe, of Cle Elum, Washington; Matt Coe; and niece Virginia Coe Garland of San Francisco. 


Memorial contributions may be made to Children’s Hospital Foundation, Department of Surgery, Herbert E. Coe Surgical Fund at PO Box 50020-5200, Seattle, WA 98145. 


Photograph by Carl Fleishauer..