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SLAS Member Profile: Robert M. Campbell –Drum Roll Please!

Robert M. Campbell, Ph.D., is senior research advisor at Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis, IN, where he heads the Cancer Cell Growth and Epigenetics Group. He recently spent two-and-a-half years in Singapore, directing an oncology research group for Lilly. Campbell serves SLAS as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Biomolecular Screening, a position he has enjoyed for three years.


Rat a tat, rat a tat, rat a tat. Colleagues walking into Bob Campbell's office at Eli Lilly and Company, Indianapolis, IN, are not surprised to see the researcher "drumming" on his desk throughout the day.

"I'm always tapping on my desk with my fingers or on the floor with my feet, and I'm always thinking about some rhythm," says Campbell. "It can be annoying to people!"

But anyone who knows a drummer…knows this is just the way it is.

Putting the Sticks in His Hands

Campbell has been tapping out rhythms since he was a young boy. He is grateful his first choices for an instrument to play in middle school band – flute, trumpet and saxophone – were already taken when it was his turn to select an instrument. The band director suggested drums to Campbell, and he was off and running.

"Drums just sort of came easily to me," Campbell states. "In my family there were lots of musicians and singers, so I had been around music all my life. I was the first drummer, however."

And, as with most musicians, he went through playing a variety of styles before settling in with his favorite – rock and roll. He began on classical and jazz and then found rock.

He continued playing the drums throughout his school years and took private lessons from a former U.S. Army musician who had been trained by famous big band drummer Sonny Igoe. Through this association, Campbell had the chance to attend summer music camps where he was fortunate to meet jazz drummer Buddy Rich, jazz pianist Count Basie and Woody Herman. It was at one of these summer camps that he realized that he loved jazz, but simply was not a good jazz player.

"Jazz has to swing; you have to feel and flow with the music," he explains. "There is a very fluid motion to the drumming and it can be extremely complicated. Mainstream rock and roll is relatively ‘angular' by comparison and generally played with less finesse (although this excludes progressive rock). Like every teenager, I loved rock and roll. One of the first songs that inspired me was "Tommy" by The Who. Other favorite bands were Yes, Genesis and really any band that had good drummers."

There also was a time Campbell almost gave up his music completely when he found it interfering with his schoolwork. But, a school music teacher stepped in and offered to work with Campbell during his lunchtime – just so he would stick with his drumming. Campbell did, and that proved to be a very wise decision for many reasons.

In his first year of graduate school at Rutgers University, Campbell met his future wife, Helen, and joined her father's band playing local weddings. These gigs helped him pay off his undergraduate loans, learn more styles of music and get to know his future family.

"Playing in this band wound up to be a great experience, and I did it for 14 years," Campbell states. "While it was pretty boring music at first, I learned to appreciate the style of various ethnic songs and really got to know my wife's dad, brother and uncle better, who were all in the band." Playing weddings with the family band ended when Campbell moved from New Jersey to Indiana to join Eli Lilly in 1999. Fortunately, he soon found another band; one that wrote and played original alternative rock music. They soon came up with a name – The Fallen.

The Fallen allowed Campbell to explore his rock drumming. The Fallen had success in the Indianapolis club scene, including taking second and third place in consecutive Battle of the Bands competitions at Indianapolis' Birdy's Bar and Grill, "rock and roll's nesting grounds" and huge supporters of local music.

"Split Personality," "Ghost of a Man" and "Torture" are a few of the songs Campbell arranged for The Fallen. Band members included Ryan Powell (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Jeremy McQueary (bass and backing vocals) and Aaron Hoover (lead guitar). You can hear these songs on MySpace.

SLAS enthusiasts have experienced Campbell's playing as well. Campbell has enjoyed sitting in on a song or two with PerkinElmer's Molecular Groove when they entertained at the former Society for Biomolecular Screening annual events.

Music is a mainstay in the Campbell family. "I love to listen to all kinds of music. However, traditional country and rap are the only styles of music I just can't listen to," he states. Campbell says he enjoys a couple of his daughter's favorites – Linkin Park, Nickelback, Three Days Grace and Sheryl Crow.


As if managing a career, family and playing music weren't enough to keep him busy, Campbell found another love – collecting vintage drums.

"I remember reading an article in Not So Modern Drummer magazine and a book by Harry Cangany, The Great American Drums and the Companies That Made Them, 1920-1969, and becoming enthralled with the history of drums and how and where they were made," Campbell shares. "I started searching eBay and buying snare drums. Then, I'd sell some of those and trade up for better drums. I was fascinated by the different metals and woods, the various engravings and whether they were hand crafted or machine made."

He continued to study drum history and do his own "research" on the sounds offered by the various makes. He became involved with the local Indianapolis drum community, as well as attending a variety of drum shows around the country including the Midwest Custom and Vintage Drum Show and National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) shows.

"The local drum community is something I truly missed while in Singapore. I love to meet people at shows and talk drums, especially with the custom drum manufacturers," Campbell offers. "I also stay in touch with other collectors through sellers like Steve Maxwell (Vintage and Custom Drums). Steve is amazing in that he knows great modern and vintage drums, but is also a tremendously skilled player. The Internet also provides a way to stay connected with the drum community and is a great marketplace for collectibles."

At its high point, Campbell's collection topped 170 snare drums. He culled his collection before the move to Singapore but since returning to the states, he has the collection back up to about 75 drums. In addition to the collectible snares, he has a couple of drum kits. One is a Roland TD20 electronic drum kit that he can play with headphones when he needs to be silenced for the sake of others in the household. More importantly, they allow him to play his iPod in one channel and hear the drums in another – a great way to write and learn new songs.

Campbell also has a unique set of glass and brass drums that were made for him by John Orlich, a drummer and well-known glass artist. Campbell said he first heard the unique sound offered by a glass set from Alan White, Yes drummer. White's hand-blown glass with custom solid brass fittings set was on display at Seattle's Experience Music Project. Tris Imboden, drummer for the band Chicago, also has an Orlich glass snare drum.

His vintage collection is displayed on racks he built to provide maximum support and accessibility. The drums occupy one room and part of the basement of his home. While Campbell says it's hard to pick a favorite item among his collection, a few stand out for different reasons.

He has several hand-engraved Ludwig Black Beauties and Leedy Elites, including 1920's models with high-quality brass and two-piece shells that are coated in black nickel.

"I also really like my Ludwig 100th anniversary Gold Triumphal model," he gushes. "Only 100 of these were made, each engraved with a year from Ludwig's production history. They are truly works of art." The original Triumphal was made between 1926 and 1928 and was the "crown jewel" of the Ludwig collection. The 100th anniversary reissue of the 1928 model has a hand-engraved, 24k gold plated brass shell that was crafted in the Italian Alps to the exact specifications of the original.

Life Beyond Drums

Living in Singapore for two-plus years was a challenging experience for the family, especially for the children who were 15 and 12 when they moved away from their friends and family. But, says Campbell, they were excited by some benefits that many children do not have. Living in another country provided them with immense travel opportunities, including Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia, Korea, China and Thailand.

"We saw history firsthand, like the ruins of Angkor," Campbell explains. "The scenery of New Zealand and Australia was breathtaking. We took a helicopter ride to see Franz Joseph Glacier in New Zealand, saw the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in Australia and were in awe of the architectural engineering of the Sydney Opera House. My son's class trip was a week in Taiwan, and my daughter did a service project in Indonesia. And, the food, oh my gosh, it was fantastic!"

Campbell adds that Singapore was great for his scientific endeavors. It has wonderful science parks supported by the Singapore government, which include biology, pharmaceutical and academic experts and places to allow folks to get to know one another and talk science in a casual environment.

All contribute to the rhythm Bob Campbell finds in life.

August 9, 2011