09/03/00  Conversation between Herb McCullough and Shawn Camp

 

Shawn Camp was born in Arkansas on August 29th, 1966. A gifted musician, he plays fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and a bit of banjo... actually he plays a bit of almost everything musical. He's also a terrific singer. He recorded two albums for Warner Reprise in the early 1990's. The second one was never released even though the first produced two top 30 singles. He cowrote two songs on Garth Brooks "Seven" CD including Two Pina Coladas. He also cowrote the 1999 Brooks and Dunn hit How Long Gone. Other artists who have recorded his songs include John Anderson, Mark Chesnutt, Diamond Rio, Randy Travis, Kenny Chesney, Tracy Bird, Gary Allen and many more.

 

An informal Herb McCullough conversation with Shawn Camp

(recorded on 08/27/00 and transcribed later):

 

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HM: So, Shawn… I know you started playin' guitar at an early age, how old were you?

SC: My grandmother, Mother's mother, bought me little plastic guitar, and I dragged that around while I was still in diapers, but I didn't start playin' until I was five. Daddy showed me some chords, and every evenin' after supper, that's what me and Daddy did was play guitar. Then when I was seven years old, Dad's mother stayed with me while my Mom and Dad went to Little Rock to do some Christmas shoppin'… My grandmother taught me "The Wildwood Flower" that night. She showed me how to actually play the melody (grabs a guitar and picks a few notes with his thumb).

HM: Did she play like that… with her thumb?

SC: She played with her fingers, sort of like Maybell Carter style (pickin' and strummin' now with fingers and thumb). So Mom and Dad came back from Christmas shopping, and I played that for 'em. From that day on I dreamed about melodies in my sleep, about playin' guitar. I would dream about particular songs that I had never played before, and I'd wake up in the morning… and I could play 'em.

HM: So, if you can dream em, you can play em? That's cool! Could you play the complete melody or just pieces? Did you have to work on em… figure 'em out?

SC: I knew where they were on the guitar, and I was dreamin' of actually playin' in my sleep and in my dream, I suppose, I was visualizin' where to put my fingers … when I was a little kid.

HM: That's heavy!

SC: Wish I could do that now!

HM: Me too! Hey, I know your dad played guitar when you were young 'cause I saw a photo of you as a baby… you were sittin' there in your diaper starin' at him, and he was playin' an ol' sunburst guitar. I believe you had a sparkle in your eye.

SC: I was six months old in that picture. Daddy always played and sang. And Mother sang in church. Either one of them prob'ly could have been stars if they'd just come on to Nashville in the late '50s and started pursuin' it as a career.

HM: Both of 'em?

SC: Yeah, Mother is a great singer if she'd just do it! And Daddy is too!

HM: I've heard your dad sing, but not your mom.

SC: She used to sing great harmony with Daddy.

HM: Did they have a band?

SC: No, they never did, but we used to have "pickin's"… where everybody'd go to each other's houses. And we went to bluegrass festivals where I'd learn under the shade trees.

HM: While you were a kid?

SC: Well, you know, my mother and daddy took me to bluegrass festivals when I was in diapers.

HM: When did you start playin' bluegrass festivals yourself?

SC: You know I don't really remember. We used to go to the Wooten Brothers Bluegrass Festival in Center Ridge, Arkansas. They were a local bluegrass band. I was still a little kid, and to me… they were big stars.

HM: Is that Gene Wooten?

SC: No, that's a different family. This is Roy Wooten and all his sons, just a great bunch of pickers. And ol' man Wooten used to play… he had a stiff finger, his index finger on his notin' hand would stand up straight, but he could still play certain fiddle tunes. He could tear up Fire on the Mountain, boy, with his finger sticking up. He was great, and he's still around, probably in his late 80s.

HM: Do you still go to bluegrass festivals?

SC: Yeah, a couple weeks ago I went to Arkansas for a reunion show with the Grand Prairie Boys at the Cystic Fibrosis Benefit Bluegrass Show in Adona. They were the first band I was ever in. It was the first time in sixteen years we'd played music together. Most of us showed up.

HM: That must've been fun?

SC: Yeah, it was great.

HM: Do you remember… when you were dreamin' songs… were they bluegrass?

SC: They were old traditional country music songs… things I'd hear on the radio at that time.

HM: Something that impressed me a couple of years ago… we were sittin' down to write, when you started playin' some old rock stuff… maybe Stairway To Heaven? I was surprised you knew songs like that

SC: Yeah, Stairway to Heaven… which I don't really know. I think I caught it on the playground somewhere.

HM: You mentioned at the time that most of the kids you went to school with weren't into bluegrass music. They were into Led Zepelin, Aerosmith, stuff like that?

SC: They wanted me to play songs like Stairway to Heaven whenever I was around with my guitar, and I just picked it up. I never listened to it all the way through, actually.

HM: You took your guitar to school?

SC: Yeah, I used to take a little Sears and Roebuck guitar to school.

HM: What grade were you in?

SC: Prob'ly seventh or eighth grade. It always caused me problems, got me in trouble. And people thought I was weird dragging it around. I also had to keep up with it so I didn't take it all the time.

HM: What else did they want you play?

SC: Oh well, you know, some wanted to hear Charlie Daniels' Long Haired Country Boy. I used to play that, and Willie Nelson's version of Whisky River… stuff like that… things that were hot in the mid 70's.

HM: Were you into songwriters early on?

SC: I think when Willie started hittin', I started payin' more attention to songwriters. I don't know... I never thought of it too much before that. I know we were livin' in Kansas in a trailer park when I got my first taste of Willie… If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time; and I remember hearin' the Redheaded Stranger album… and I liked that.

HM: When did you first start writin'?

SC: I remember goin' through a hymnal we had at the house and puttin' all these lines… patchin' them together… in my own song, but threw it away immediately 'cause I realized I was stealin' from all those writers. That was in the fifth grade. I didn't really start puttin' things together seriously until I moved to Nashville. That's when I actually started writin'.

HM: You must've dabbled in it before then?

SC: Yeah, a little bit, but the songs I put together were pretty pathetic. I still write a lot of those. (laughs) I got down here, and actually I started sayin' I was a writer, even though I wasn't. Before I knew it, writers were sittin' down with me and trying to cowrite, and so I learned a lot from a lot of great writers just bein' around 'em and workin' with 'em.

HM: I went to a SPBMA (Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America) convention with you a few years ago and was impressed with how many people you knew there. You said it was kinda like a reunion for you 'cause you'd played music with so many of 'em. You started attendin' those conventions in your teens, right? And won a contest there at some point?

SC: Actually, I was living down here, may have been '88 or '89, and I was with the "Weary Hearts". They had had a band together for years, and I came on as an add-on kinda fiddle player… really specifically for that contest. But we worked on the road a few weeks prior to that just to get used to each other's playin'. Then we went to this contest at the SPBMA convention here in Nashville… they had something like 75 bands that competed and several stages of trials and eliminations, and it got down to us, and we won. We all got these little super bowl rings for it and a little chunk of change. That was it for me and the "Weary Hearts"... parted ways. Those guys all went on to other places. Chris Jones has his own band on the bluegrass circuit and is doing good. Mike Bubb plays with Delbert McCoury. Butch Baldasari leads the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble. And Ron Block is playin' with Allison Kraus.

HM: I've heard all those guys play… terrific pickers!

SC: A bunch of incredible musicians, and I was fortunate to be in the middle of that. And I was real fortunate to be with 'em when they won!

H. Didn't Tim O'Brien produce an album on that band?

S. Yeah, actually that's right. I was workin' with them during that two to three week period when they were recordin'. I played on a couple of songs on that record which Tim was producin' at Cowboy Clement's Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa. After the session I heard Fergie (David Ferguson) and Cousin Bob Clement pickin' in one of the rooms downstairs. I stuck my head in the door and said "What's going on?" And Fergie said, "You're either going to stand out there, or you're going to come in here and help us". So I went in and hung out for about two years. That place was like a breedin' ground for a lot of pickers. It turned out to be a great stage in my life. I didn't realize what I was walkin' into.

HM: It's interesting when you think about it… you walked into that room and became a part of that whole Cowboy thing, and here you are now working with Allen Reynolds who started out as an assistant to Cowboy working for Sam Phillips at Sun Records. What a trip! You've come full circle.

SC: Yeah, I think I have. Jack Clement has influenced people without people even knowin' it, and he's been such a huge part of the whole music business even when he's not at the forefront. He used to videotape me doin' Elvis songs and Jimmy Rogers' songs… just me standin' there in front of a microphone in the studio upstairs while he sat downstairs in his office. He had remote control cameras and an intercom system, and he'd go "Okay, Shawn, play me an Elvis song". So I'd do an Elvis song with the cameras rollin'! Years later, Jack played that video for Allen Reynolds… it was the first time Allen had seen me to know who I was. Not long after that I had a great visit with Allen at Jack's Tracks (Allen's recording studio). I was lookin' for a producer for my second album at Warner Brothers because my first producer, Mark Wright, got hooked up with Decca Records and wasn’t goin' to be able to do another project unless it was on the Decca label. So I met with Allen who was trying to retire at the time. When I left there, I went home and told my mother "I met my next producer. Some day he's going to produce a record on me". I just had a great connection with him. He's a super guy, and I just felt like that was goin' to happen. And here it is six years later… and he's my producer. Pretty cool!

HM: Yeah, I'd say that's full circle! So what's goin' on with your recordin' right now?

SC: Well, Allen and Mark Miller are co-producin' me, and we've just finished a new album. We're shoppin' it around. You and I have a couple of songs on there that I'm real proud of. I'm proud of this whole album and can't wait for it to get out there on the market… and hopefully, someone will take a listen to it.

HM: It's a great album! And I'm always thrilled to have songs on a Shawn Camp project. And one way or another… I believe it's gonna happen.

SC: Thank you! Hey, I don't know about you, but I'm tired of talkin'. Let's go play some music!

HM: Heck, let's go write one!

 

(Listen to and purchase Shawn's CD, LUCKY SILVER DOLLAR at www.shawncamp.com)

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