Shawn Camp proves the adage that a man can be measured by the company he keeps.
Known for his ability to straddle bluegrass, honky tonk, folk and roots rock, Camp stands as one of the most respected young artists in Nashville’s creative community. As a performer, a songwriter and an instrumentalist, he’s an accomplished, triple-threat artist whose easy-going demeanor doesn’t obscure his ability to create lasting music in a variety of styles and on any number of instruments.
His collaborators include historic figures like Cowboy Jack Clement, Guy Clark and Jim Lauderdale – all of whom have written with him and used him as a supporting musician. His most enthusiastic supporters such esteemed artists as John Prine (who signed him to his Oh Boy Records), Del McCoury and Ricky Skaggs (both of whom have recorded his songs).
Camp’s breadth and the accessibility of his work also can be illustrated by how many country music superstars have recorded his songs: He’s written No. 1 hits for Garth Brooks (“Two Pina Coladas”) and the duo Brooks & Dunn (“How Long Gone”), and his songs have been cut by everyone from George Strait and Kenny Chesney to Patty Loveless and Randy Travis.
Now Camp goes public with what Nashville already knows. On Live At The Station Inn, his first album for Oh Boy Records, the Arkansas native takes an engaging jaunt through his song catalog with some of the best young bluegrass pickers around along for the journey. Recorded live and without rehearsal, the album is typical of Camp – putting artistry and creativity on the line for a fun-yet-adventurous evening of high wire acoustic music.
An introductory record of sorts – Camp will follow with a studio album that embraces the entirety of his musical palette -- Live At The Station Inn takes the one-time bluegrass prodigy back to his roots while cherry-picking some of his favorites of the songs he’s written over the last decade. “I was raised on bluegrass music, and I’ve always wanted to have a bluegrass band,” Camp explains. “Last year, I got to looking at all these songs I had that I wanted to hear a banjo on. So I called up my favorite pickers in bluegrass and invited them to a pickin’ party.”
The album was recorded in two unrehearsed, combustible evenings at Nashville’s famed Station Inn. Both shows included Dobro player/acoustic guitarist Bucky Baxter (Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Ryan Adams), fiddler Stuart Duncan and mandolinist Mike Compton, members of the Nashville Bluegrass Band and featured featured players on the soundtrack of O Brother Where Art Thou? Bassist Dave Roe (Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam) and in-demand banjoist Dave Talbot (Larry Cordle, Reba McEntire) were on-stage for the first live recordings in March 2003. When Camp returned in July, Roe and Talbot were on the road in other bands, so Camp recruited bassist Dennis Crouch (Steve Earle, June Carter Cash) and banjoist Scott Vestal (Sam Bush, Chris Thile). “These are my favorite pickers in the world,” Camp says. “I thought I’d invite the guys I most wanted to play with, and they were able to do it.”
He also knew he wanted the shows to take place at his favorite music club, the Station Inn. “The first night I moved to Nashville, I went to the Station Inn, and Roland White was kind enough to invite me on stage to play with his band,” Camp recalls. “For the first eight years I lived in town, I used to go there every night. I lived a few blocks away on 16th Avenue, and I’d go to the Station Inn virtually every night it was open.” The album includes three songs co-written with Guy Clark, including the fiddle-based tunes “Sis Draper,” “Magnolia Wind” and the stunning “Soldier’s Joy 1864.” The two singer-songwriters met shortly after Camp recorded his critically acclaimed 1993 debut album for Warner Bros. Records. “I just went over and hung out with him,” Camp remembers. “We thought we might try to write something commercial or something that some country artist would record, which is ridiculous to begin with. We ended up writing a song called ‘Cow Catcher Blues,’ and we’ve been friends ever since. Every once in a while I just go over there to visit, and we come out with a Guy Clark song.”
All three of the songs on Camp’s album come from a series of songs he and Clark wrote based on the melodies of old fiddle tunes. The songs began when Camp told the Texas veteran about an older woman named Sis Draper who would travel through Arkansas playing old fiddle tunes with a guitarist named Kentucky Sue.
“My grandpa and Uncle Cleve would just light up talking about her,” he says. “They’d tell me to practice up on the fiddle and get good on that thing because Sis Draper was going to be here. She’s the best, they’d say.”
Live At The Station Inn also features Camp’s co-write with Billy Burnette, “My Love Will Not Change,” a recent bluegrass hit for the Del McCoury Band, and “Redbird” and “Forever Ain’t No Trouble Now,” two songs he wrote with Jim Lauderdale that were highlights of the Grammy-winning album Lost In The Lonesome Pines, Lauderdale’s duet album with Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys.
“I had run into Jim at the Station Inn one night,” Camp says. “He asked if I had any songs, because he was about to do a duet album with Ralph Stanley. I called him the next morning, and he had an hour before he had to go to the airport. I had the lyric idea to ‘Forever Ain’t No Trouble’ on a legal pad. I had the date I’d started it in the corner, and it turned out to be his birthday, April 11. We had the song hammered out in no time.” The hour not yet finished, Camp suggested the two of them write another. “I told him, ‘Heck, if you’re recording with Ralph Stanley, then we have to do one in the key of B and make it fly.’ That’s how we came up with ‘Redbird.’ We just thought about how kids entertained themselves 100 years ago, before they had all the toys they have today.” By the time Lauderdale left for the airport, the collaborators had two songs for Lost in the Lonesome Pines.
Camp and his frequent collaborator Burnette have worked often with the legendary Jack Clement in recent years, playing on Clement’s upcoming Dualtone album and backing him in the producer’s first series of live shows in decades. Clement opens his upcoming album with a Camp song, “Off to Join the World.” Working with the former Sun Records engineer and the man who produced Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Charley Pride and so many others has been a remarkable experience. “Jack’s a hero of mine, for sure,” Camp says. “I feel like everyone’s been influenced by Jack Clement, they just don’t know it.”
Camp released his last solo album, the acclaimed Lucky Silver Dollar, on his own label. He’s excited to join up with his friend John Prine and Oh Boy president Al Bunetta for his next series of albums. ”I’ve known John for as long as I’ve known Cowboy Jack,” Camp says. “We do a Christmas show every year together with all of our friends called The Whole Damn Family Christmas. He’s John WholeDamn and I’m Shawn WholeDamn.”
With the release of his bluegrass project, Camp’s already looking forward to his next Oh Boy album. “I’ve got some songs that need an electric band behind them, so I’ll be doing those and who knows what else,” he says. “Who knows, I may have a whole orchestra on my next record.”