An Article by Mike Mooneyham
(Published Dec. 21, 1997)
It’s unlikely that a recent obituary for Carl Dennis Campbell Sr. raised many eyebrows. Campbell, 62, was a loner most of his life, had been in ill health in recent years and had retired from his profession more than two decades ago.
But to longtime wrestling fans, Carl Dennis Campbell will be remembered for the sizable mark he made in the world of professional wrestling.
Under the name Luke “Big Boy”Brown, Campbell carved his niche in mat annals as part of a beloved team known as The Kentuckians. With partner Jake “Grizzly”Smith, Campbell formed one of the biggest and most colorful duos in in the business during the ’60s when tag-team wrestling was at its peak.
Big Boy Brown was a bear of a man, standing 6-8 and weighing 380 pounds in his prime. His partner was no slouch either, towering at 6-10 and tipping the scales at 370. Only two other wrestlers at that time – Tex McKenzie (6-9) and Ernie Ladd (6-9) – were as tall.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]“I met Luke in 1960 in Texas,”recalls Smith. “He and I hit it off together. I was still working in the oil field and wrestling on weekends. I decided to get into it full-time in 1961. We got together as a team, and teamed together in Oklahoma for a few weeks, and then went into Charlotte in 1961. We went to Florida after a few weeks and polished up our team there, We went to Georgia and returned to the Carolinas in 1963.”
The team was a natural, says Smith, who took an immediate liking to the farm boy from Perry County, Kentucky.
“Luke was always from Kentucky,”says Smith. “He was a Kentucky hillbilly straight out and proud of it. He was a good old country boy who’d give you the shirt off his back. But at the same time, if you got competitive with him, he’d try to beat you at whatever he was doing.”
In addition to resembling one another in appearance and physique, the two men shared a genuine trust and respect for one another. “I was a country boy, too, and I guess that’s why Luke and I got along so good together,”says Smith. “He was the closest thing I had to a brother. I lost my brother when I was only 4 and he was just 9. Luke and I were very close. We enjoyed wrestling and traveling together. We had some great times,” he said.
Sporting long black hair and beards, dungarees and their signature cow horn, The Kentuckians were one of the most sought-after teams in the business. Their heyday was 1961-68 when they were main-eventers throughout the country.
Smith took the name “Tiny Anderson” in the Carolinas because promoter Jim Crockett Sr. at that time was using a team known as The Mad Russians – John Smith (Soldat Gorky) and Ivan Kameroff – and he didn’t want two Smiths in the same territory. Smith says he always marveled at the agility of Brown and his natural ability inside the ring.
“Luke was a tremendous athlete. Even though I was teamed up with him for those years, I still enjoyed watching him. It was amazing to me that a man his size could do the things he could do.”
Brown, whose pro mat career spanned from 1958-76, was a standout football player in high school and the Marines before going to Xavier on a football scholarship. He left college, however, to pursue a pro wrestling career in 1958.
“When Dad broke in, he was a carny,”says Brown’s son, Carl Kerbe, an air traffic controller at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. “He traveled with the carnival in a `beat the champ’ sort of thing. That’s how he made his money. Anyone who wanted to be a wrestler would have to come in and beat him.”
Veteran matman Frankie Townsend spotted Campbell’s natural ability, cleaned up the Kentucky hillbilly, took him to Canada and whipped the 400-pounder into shape. He gave Campbell, who started out as Man Mountain Campbell, the “Big Boy”Luke Brown gimmick. Brown hooked up with Grizzly Smith in 1961, and the rest is history.
The Kentuckians won regional tag titles throughout the country, but it was in the Carolinas and Virginia where they perhaps enjoyed their greatest popularity.
Smith retired from ring in 1977. Big Boy Brown left the business in 1976 after tearing up his shoulder. A victim of health problems for the remainder of his life, he went on dialysis after his kidneys failed. Brown, who married three times, was in the Veteran’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., after suffering a heart attack when he died of a stroke a day before he was to be released, according to his son.
Smith says what Brown told him during their last conversation makes his partner’s passing easier to endure.
“Luke, bless him, he used to call me Moses,”says the bearded Smith. “That was a nickname that stuck around a lot of areas. I was so happy when he visited me in Baltimore. He said, `Well, Gabe, remember I used to laugh and call you Moses. Well, I’ve found a church, I’ve found peace and I’ve found the Lord.` That made me so happy. I’ve been happy with my relationship for God for many years, but I’ve been worried about him some. He was pretty much a loner, but pretty much a rounder, too. He lived, but he enjoyed his life.”
Carl Dennis Campbell was laid to rest in his hometown of Elkton, Md., where his old high school basketball and football coaches were among those attending his funeral. Former wrestler Dutch Savage (Frank Stuart), a lifelong friend who Brown broke into the business in the early ’60s, delivered the eulogy.