Shawn Camp Finally Brings ‘1994’ to Life
The release party for Shawn Camp's new album, '1994,' took 16 years to come together. The singer-songwriter recorded the album as a followup to his critically acclaimed self-titled album, which had seen two single releases, 'Fallin' Never Felt So Good' and 'Confessin' My Love.' The head of Warner Bros. at the time told Shawn his second effort didn't sound enough like the wildly successful John Michael Montgomery album, and asked him to remove the acoustic sound by replacing them with electric guitars. Shawn politely declined and asked to be released from his contract. The album was put in the dead zone at the label and basically forgotten by everyone but Shawn.
Last year, the new head of Warner Music Nashville, John Esposito, happened to be at the same music conference as Shawn and was very impressed when he heard him sing. Shawn took the opportunity to mention that he had, at one time, been signed to that label, and that there was an unreleased album hanging around somewhere in the back vaults. John pulled out both albums, liked what he heard, and called Shawn to make an offer that the singer couldn't refuse. John proposed to re-release the first album, which has been out of print for a decade, and at the same time release the one buried in the vault, which he appropriately titled after the year it was made.
John's explanation for releasing Shawn's album now is simple. "I was trained to sign people who are magnificent and then to allow them show their magnificence. It shouldn't be about trying to change what they do. There's this sly, underlying sexiness to Shawn's songwriting that I dig."
In between touring, doing interviews and writing with Loretta Lynn, Shawn took time to speak with The Boot about '1994' and how much things have changed in the 16 years since he recorded it.
What was your reaction when the label told you they wanted to release this album after all these years? Does this justify you standing your ground about leaving the fiddle and dobro on the album?
I was thinking it was about time! It's kind of shocking really. Something like this doesn't happen in this town. I figured I would have to die and have a hit before it came out. Somehow I survived. It's been a long road.
As far as justifying my decision to not change the original recording, it does to a certain degree but in hindsight I probably should have gone back in and did some different stuff. I'm proud of the majority of it, and I wouldn't want to change it. I have some great guests on the record, like Bill Monroe and Patty Loveless, and some great musicians including my fiddle hero, Bobby Hicks, along with John Hughey, Richard Bennett and Roy Huskey Jr. I was in awe of having Bobby in the room with us. I moved to town as a fiddle player, and went to work with the Osbornes. My first job was playing on the Grand Ole Opry with them, so I've always looked up to Bobby Hicks as great fiddler.
Where were you in your life when that album was written and recorded? How far is that reality from where you are now?
I was just on the road with fair dates, traveling all over the place and just keeping the road hot. I had written pretty good little pile of songs, but those were just a drop in the bucket compared to what I've got now. These were some of the best songs I had at the time. Some of them are still really good, like 'The Grandpa That I Know' never left my set list. It's a powerful song and it works just as well today. It's a true song, those seem to hold more water than the others.
The beginning sounds like rain. Special effects or the real thing?
That's actually the rain. We -- me and Tim Mensy, who wrote the song with me -- did a demo, and it was raining the day we did it. We walked out on the porch and caught that sound and ended up using it on the record later.
How far have you come since 1994?
Hopefully a long ways. I know ammunition wise, I have written a lot of songs. I could stand there all day and sing songs and never repeat them. At the time I had 50 good songs, now I have no idea how many I have. I've learned a lot along the way.
What have you learned?
Just how to write a song. I'm learning every day, but that's just been my main focus all these years, that and playing a few shows here and there. I want to go out and play more shows and do more performing. Now that I have all these songs, they need to come out. Without performing as an option, they only go so far. Art needs to come out as much as it can. I need to see things through to the end, which is performing for fans who come out to listen. I'm hoping that the release of these records will instigate some kind of touring for me. For years it's been hard to get the momentum going in terms of touring, so I'm hoping this will help me get to play more shows.
Is there one song on the album that defines you at that time?
Probably 'The Grandpa That I Know.' He was actually was in the VA hospital on Christmas day, and I had to leave him to come back to Nashville. Between Little Rock and Nashville I had written couple verses, and within a few days I got with Tim Mensy. He had lines he had for 10 years, and it was really weird. It was raining at his granddaddy's funeral. We had similar granddaddies so we combined our stories and came up with that song.
Granddaddy lived long enough to see me do it on the TV show 'Crook & Chase.' When he passed away, we found a new white shirt and new pair of overalls hanging in his closet that he definitely wanted to be buried in. He didn't want to be buried in something he wasn't normally in. He got that from me. It's just a special song to me.
'Stop, Look And Listen (Cow Catcher Blues),' which is on '1994,' is an early collaboration with Guy Clark ... a very special surprise on the album.
It is the first thing we ever wrote together. It's tough writing with him. Initially, it's intimidating. He's just such a great writer. He's a great teacher, too. He's not afraid of the truth and he can just cut straight to the bone with a word or a line. He's a real honest interpreter. It's always a lesson when I have the opportunity to write with him.
How did you and Guy meet?
When I had that first record on Warner Bros., I was on the road and my publisher, Pat Higdon, called me and said "Who do you want me to set you up with to write when you get home?" l told him that I would love to write with Guy Clark. When Pat approached Guy, he told him to send me over. I was stunned. I got over there and we were able to write a good little song, with both Arkansas and Texas in the lyrics. I remember Susanna (Guy's wife) coming down to the basement writing room and she sat at the end of the desk and was laughing about the song. It was a lot of fun. For those who don't know, a cow catcher is what they call the big grill on the front of a train.
Jack Clement is also an influence in your life – where did you meet and what has he taught you about the music business?
I love Cowboy Jack. In '88 or '89, I was playing with a group called Weary Hearts. The band members were Chris Jones, Mike Bubb and the late Butch Baldassari. It was a bluegrass group and after the end of that leg of the tour, we were to compete in a bluegrass band competition at the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America convention in Nashville. We won that competition and they were to follow that up with a recording session at Cowboy Jack's studio. They wanted me to play on two or three cuts. When I got done, I went downstairs and there was jam session going on in Jack's bedroom. I stuck my head in the door, and they invited me in. I started hanging out there just about every day for the next two years. Cowboy Jack took me under his wing; he's a hero to me. Almost every one in the business has been directly affected by Cowboy Jack Clement and his music.
Before your label head approached you about releasing this album, how long had it been since you'd listened to it?
Honestly, it depressed me to hear it for years. I didn't want to think about it not being released. All except for the song about my Grandpa that is; I did keep singing it. Right now I feel a little bit like I've been locked in prison for a crime I didn't commit and now I've been set free. I'm excited and grateful to John [Esposito] for seeing something special enough to release in this album.