Last year was a veritable blur for guitarist Jim Campilongo. The Bay Area native — who moved to New York a decade ago, where he initiated a popular Monday night residency at a bar called The Living Room — spent most of 2012 on the road with his Trio (featuring bassist Chris Morrissey and drummer Josh Dion). He toured Canada, the East Coast, Finland, the Czech Republic and made it to Japan twice, where diehard fans followed him everywhere. He dedicated this year to recording. The band’s new “Dream Dictionary” hits stores in January, and it features jazz-bluesy reworkings of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” and Campilongo’s own “Heaven is Creepy,” plus a skeletal version of Ray Charles’ “Here I Am,” with Norah Jones — his cohort in The Little Willies — on vocals.
How did it feel to do that Ray Charles chestnut with Norah? It felt great. The guys were really excited, the producer was really excited. But I wanted her to come in and hit the ground running. So that was our first take, but the first time I went through some decisions, like “Should I make it heavy, like Led Zeppelin? More evil-sounding?” But the minimal arrangement really complements Norah, especially the kick drum. I think it’s the best collaboration she and I have ever done.
You seem to swim in a rather large pool of talented friends who are always happy to help each other out. That’s a good observation. And it’s funny — when you’re in it, you still forget. I just played guitar on a record by this New York blues guy Bill Simms. And it ended up that Emmylou Harris sang on it, too. And the producer said, “I just realized that we have access to everyone — everyone we know eventually knows everyone else!” And I said “Yeah! Emmylou came to see me play, and I sat next to her at Martha Wainwright’s wedding.” I forgot even I’m connected to her!
And Lou Reed actually caught one of your Living Room shows? The Living Room just closed, so now I have a regular Monday residency at Rockwood Music Hall, two blocks away. But yeah, I looked up, and there was Lou Reed, sitting four tables in front of me. So I whispered to the band “Throw out the set list! We’re playing for Lou!” But at The Living Room, Billy Joel would come by, Abel Ferrara, the casts of certain plays, even Patrick Stewart.
Just hearing Patrick Stewart enunciate “Your show sucked” would probably sound cool. Yeah! But he kept coming back, several weeks in a row, and I wound up having Thanksgiving dinner with him two years ago. He really dug it!
IF YOU GO
The Jim Campilongo Trio
Where: Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore St. S.F.
Where: 7 and 9 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $16 to $21