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Scott Cameron dies at 76; managed the careers of blues greats

Scott Cameron¸ the manager for Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and other blues greats, dies at 76

Scott Cameron managed the careers of blues greats Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and others in the 1970s and 1980s in what should have been a boom time for the artists.

White rock bands — including the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Doors — covered his clients' songs, and their vintage recordings were brought back on CDs. But the classic blues musicians had sold off the rights to the songs, sometimes under questionable circumstances.

"My clients made all these recordings — the foundations of modern music," Cameron told the Chicago Tribune in 1990, "and reaped none of the benefits."

Cameron, 76, who played a key role in winning back ownership rights and royalties for blues performers, died Feb. 19 in a Springfield, Mo., hospice facility.

The cause was lung cancer, said his daughter, Manda Cameron-Hussain.

One of Cameron's moves was against members of Led Zeppelin, who clearly loved songs written by Dixon, a pivotal member of the Chicago blues scene.

Led Zeppelin recorded two Dixon numbers on its 1969 debut album, crediting the songwriter. But the follow-up album the same year included one of the group's biggest hits, "Whole Lotta Love," credited to members of the band.

Dixon and Cameron believed the song bore a close resemblance to Dixon's "You Need Love," recorded in 1962. "We feel very strongly that a wrong has been done," Cameron told the Los Angeles Times in 1985.

A lawsuit accusing the band of copyright infringement was settled out of court.

Later agreements were reached on behalf of Dixon, Waters, Otis Rush and other artists signed to the pivotal Chess Records blues label, founded in 1950 in Chicago.

"I first met Willie in 1971," Cameron said in a 1988 Philadelphia Inquirer interview, "and I thought he should be a wealthy man. He wasn't."

Cameron, who started his management agency in Chicago in 1973, built up a mostly blues-oriented roster and eventually opened a Burbank office.

To research how often his clients' songs had been covered, he looked through phonologs — large loose-leaf books detailing recordings — formerly found in record shops. And he researched copyright records at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Cameron said that many of the blues artists didn't fully understand documents presented to them in the 1950s. "How can you take someone like Muddy, who had a 4.0 in street smarts but couldn't really read or write," Cameron asked in a 1989 Times interview, "and expect him to understand a complicated legal document?"

His research sparked a mid-1970s lawsuit, brought on behalf of Dixon and Waters against Chess' publishing arm, that was settled out of court. A more inclusive agreement, involving more blues artists, was reached in the mid-1980s with MCA, the music recording giant that owned the Chess catalog.

Dixon paid tribute to Cameron in his 1989 autobiography, "I Am the Blues." "I had a chance with my songs that other people had done, but if I hadn't gotten my manager Scott Cameron," he wrote, "I wouldn't have had a damn bit more than anybody else."

But after Dixon died in 1992, the relationship between Cameron and the bluesman's family soured over payments the manager said he was owed. A 1994 legal battle in Los Angeles County Superior Court was initially won by Dixon's widow, who said — much like in the days of Chess — that her husband signed an agreement he didn't fully understand. A judge overturned the jury decision, however, and the matter was settled out of court.

A few years later, Cameron's career took a different turn, going back nearly to his roots.

He was born Nov. 20, 1938, in Madison, Wis., and graduated from Madison West High School in 1957.

Hoping to become an actor, he set out with a buddy for Hollywood via fabled Route 66. But somewhere around St. Louis, Cameron fell asleep while his friend drove and when he woke up, they were in Tennessee. His friend had taken a wrong turn.

"We decided we weren't meant to go to California on that trip," Cameron told the Daily Record in Lebanon, Mo., in 2010. But he never lost his fascination with Route 66.

In the late 2000s, he withdrew to a large extent from the music business. He moved to Lebanon and opened along the highway Mr. C's Route Post to sell Route 66 souvenirs and novelty items. He also bought an interest in a soda company whose flagship product is Route Beer.

Cameron considered his new endeavor to be, in a good way, his "childhood" business.

"My adult career," he told the Daily Record, "was in the music business."

In addition to his daughter Manda, Cameron's survivors include his third wife, Elizabeth; daughters Tere Lawton, Teresa Richards and Sharon Rux; sons Matthew and Jamie Cameron; sisters Sandy Champagne and Sara Pumilia; brother Stuart Cameron; and 17 grandchildren.

david.colker@latimes.com

Twitter: @davidcolker

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