On their business card (which doubles as a refrigerator magnet), vocalists Jim Sweney and Chris Campbell have, under their names, the term “music partnership.”

Truer words were never written.

These two veteran performers – who both rose to local stardom back in the ’70s, the halcyon days of Tulsa’s live rock-music scene – have been singing together in venues all over the area for more than 31 years, sometimes with a keyboardist, but more recently with a computer setup that gives them access to instrumental tracks for thousands of songs. It’s an association that has endured as both a friendship and a business, which may be only right, since it was born under some pretty tough personal circumstances for both men.

In 1990, Campbell and his bandmates in the Mystery Band, one of Tulsa’s top groups, were returning in the early morning from a job at Grand Lake’s Shangri-La Resort. He and bassist Jim Parmley were involved in a wreck, which took Parmley’s life and put Campbell in the hospital.

Although Campbell and Sweney worked in different bands, they knew each other well enough for Sweney to pay Campbell a visit.

“When I went to see him in the hospital, he was saying, ‘I think I’m just going to quit singing and doing music and everything,’ because he’d lost his best friend, Jim Parmley, in the accident, and he was taking a lot of that on himself,” recalls Sweney, “So I said to him, ‘Please don’t quit. I haven’t had a chance to sing with you yet.’”

That opportunity came along quickly – because of another challenging turn of events.

“Shortly thereafter, my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia,” Sweney explains. “There was a benefit for her at the Cain’s Ballroom, and Chris came to it, crutch in hand, sat on a stool, and he and I sang together for the very first time at Tessa’s benefit.”

“The place was packed,” adds Campbell. “It was really cool. The Mystery Band played, and I said, ‘Let’s get Jim up here to sing with us.’ And afterwards, he and I thought, ‘Well, this is fun.’”

It was so much fun, in fact, that, Sweney says, “We decided to carry on with it, and the only way we felt like we could do it – since both he and I are not players, just singers – was to do a piano and vocal deal with [keyboardist-vocalist] David Tanner. That’s what got us started.”

“It was kind of a doo-wop thing at the beginning, with a piano player and three singers [including Tanner],” remembers Campbell. “David had a real good left hand, so he could cover the bass parts.”

In the beginning, the trio was called simply Tanner, Campbell, and Sweney. “But then,” says Sweney with a chuckle, “we decided to call ourselves the Tiptones, because we were telling people we’d sing anything for a buck.”

With the Tiptones, the Campbell and Sweney musical partnership was launched in earnest. It’s been in orbit ever since.

After Tanner, the two enlisted Gary Cundiff, best known as a bassist but, as Sweney notes, “a very good little piano player.” Then came Frank Westbrook, another well-known area musician.

“We were working a lot then,” says Campbell. “We were doing the doo-wop deal, playing at Camerelli’s and the Blue Rose, and we also had our own bands. So we played five, six nights a week.

“Then, one day, Frank said, ‘Well, you know, I’ve got these tracks.’ They were [musical] tracks that he’d actually put together himself, in his studio. He had a bunch of dance tracks, early ’90s stuff. We started doing that and it just exploded.”

For the next several years, the trio held down house-band gigs at, first, Encounters in Tulsa’s Doubletree Hotel, then Elephant Run at the Trade Winds Central, and back to the Doubletree again.

“It started with the Doubletree in 1997, something like that,” notes Campbell. “I don’t know why, but it was like we were a phenomenon for a while. The place was packed every night. People lined up outside to come see us.”

In fact, they were doing so well and working so often in the trio format that they had to say goodbye to their regular groups.  

A combined band came together, however, some years later, after Westbrook left. By way of explaining Westbrook’s exit, Sweney says, “It was always his responsibility to do the tracks we were working with, so it was more work on him than on Chris and myself.”

Campbell calls the Sweney-Campbell Band, the seven-person aggregation they put together following Westbrook’s departure, “the greatest band I was ever in; I mean, everybody in it was fantastic.” But, as Sweney notes, “We just couldn’t get that one to fly monetarily.”

However, after the Sweney-Campbell Band’s demise, they were able to get one of the members, Jon Glazer – still another first-rate keyboardist – to join up with them. And, as Sweney, Campbell, and Glazer, they went back to the piano-vocal setup, with no prerecorded tracks.

“We did that for a little while, and then Jon got himself the gig he’s doing now at the [Tulsa club and restaurant] the Bull in the Alley, and he’s making more money than we could possibly throw at him,” says Sweney, laughing.   

Next stop was Lennie’s Club, where Lori Duke was singing to tracks and management was looking for another vocalist to join her. According to Campbell, the club reached out to Sweney, and he said he’d do it – but only if his musical partner was on the gig as well.

“We ended up playing there 10 years,” Campbell notes. “It was very successful. We had fun. And it taught us so much, because you could do any song; you had ‘em in the computer.

“I knew all of our musical buddies were going to look down on us [for singing with prerecorded tracks],” he adds. “But after awhile, we were working when no one else was. I mean, we’re in our seventies, and we’re still working.”

And these days, the computerized-music template they used at Lennie’s – in which they have access to a nearly unlimited number of backing tracks in a variety of musical genres – continues to serve Sweney, Campbell and their audiences well.  

“We can do anything,” Campbell says. “That’s the beauty of it. When people call me about a party, they might say, ‘Well, this is a 1972 reunion,’ and I’d say, ‘Okay. If you have any requests, send ‘em to me, and we’ll have them for you.’”

“I will have to say that Chris is the powerhouse of this duo,” adds Sweney, “because he’s willing to try anything, whereas I’m the guy who goes, ‘Oh, no, I want to know that song first.’  I don’t want to stand out there and blubber around. But Chris is magnificent. I tell everybody he holds me up.”

Says Campbell, “Well, Jim likes to be a little more rehearsed. I like to fly by the seat of my pants. So our big schtick now is, ‘Bring the requests.’ My theory is that I’ll either be able to pull it off, or I’ll blow it completely and we’ll all have a good laugh. I blew one really bad last night, as a matter of fact.

“But we make light of it,” he concludes. “I think people like the fact that you’re kind of vulnerable up there.”

Sweney and Campbell play every Thursday evening at the Blue Turtle in Tulsa and often add weekend jobs as well. To find out about their upcoming shows, go to the Sweney/Campbell Facebook page, which is updated each week.   

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