For Colin Cameron, a North Hollywood bass player whose credits include award-winning movie scores and more than 20 gold records by pop and rock stars, playing country music is a return to childhood roots.
As a boy growing up outside Riverside in the 1940s, Cameron was a devoted fan of the radio show broadcast by country dance band leader Spade Cooley from the Venice Ballroom in Santa Monica. Later, Cameron expanded his musical horizons to include jazz, and in the ‘60s his taste turned to folk, folk-rock and then rock.
Now, 25 years after playing on his first gold record, Brian Hyland’s 1970 hit “Gypsy Woman,” Cameron, 53, has been named bass player of the year by the Los Angeles chapter of the California Country Music Assn. He is a regular on the local country-western club circuit, performing as a sideman in bands and in periodic recording sessions.
Country music provides him the challenge and musical opportunity that, to him, makes being a musician worthwhile. He’ll be appearing this weekend at Jack’s Cinnamon Cinder in Burbank.
“Today’s country music has much more sophisticated rhythm patterns than it did a generation ago,” Cameron says. “That lets me use approaches in my playing now that I acquired over years of playing pop and rock. There’s really always an opportunity to try new things.”
Despite the satisfaction he finds in contemporary country music, Cameron did not set out to be a country-western bass player--or a bass player at all.
“I started out playing the trumpet,” says Cameron, who moved with his family to San Diego in 1956, “then switched to drum, then the ukulele, then the guitar.” He began playing guitar in bands when living-room and garage bands were becoming a new strand in an emerging California ‘60s pop culture. His switch from guitar to bass came out of circumstance.
“I was in a band that needed a bass player,” Cameron says, “so I became a bass player.”
In 1966, after attending UC Santa Barbara and serving with the Army in Vietnam, Cameron moved to Los Angeles. There he says he met and befriended musicians who would become big names: Jackson Browne, Glenn Frey, Kenny Loggins. Early contacts led to recording-session work and the first of many gold records, and inspired him to add a new skill to his musical portfolio--sight-reading.
“Early in my recording career,” Cameron says, “I realized that I was missing out on session work that went to players who could sight-read. So I determined to learn.”
His fluency as a player, bolstered by his reading ability, led to recording dates with Quincy Jones and Henry Mancini, and such movie soundtracks as “Every Which Way but Loose,” “Moonraker,” “Honky-Tonk Man,” “Smokey and the Bandit II,” “Phantom of the Paradise” and “The Muppet Movie.”
Artists with whom Cameron has played bass either on stage or on records range from Judy Collins to Cher. Cameron performed in an Emmy-winning TV comedy special with Lily Tomlin and recorded a country album with Tina Turner in the early 1970s.
As a musician, Cameron is known for steadiness and reliability, as well as an inventive approach to compositions.
“Colin’s an extremely articulate player,” says Red Rhodes, 64, of Van Nuys. A near legend on the country-western steel guitar, Rhodes has recorded numerous country albums with Cameron.
“His playing is very precise,” Rhodes says, “and he always has ideas to offer for ways a recording could be better.”
Like most free-lance country musicians, Cameron often works with two or three different artists in the course of a month. Frequently, those performers are singer-songwriters with whom Cameron has played for years. One of them is Kathy Tally, a singer-songwriter Cameron has been working with since 1990.
“Colin’s kind of like my right-hand man,” says Tally, currently California Country Music Assn. female entertainer of the year.
“Whenever he’s with the band, I know it’s gonna be an A-1 show because of his professionalism.”
One of Cameron’s unfulfilled musical ambitions involves working in the studio not just as a session man, but as a producer.
“I’ve had my share of hit records as an anonymous sideman,” says Cameron, “and I’ve produced several country-western recordings, but no hits.”
“I’d like to produce a hit record--preferably a song that I wrote.”
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WHERE AND WHEN
What: Colin Cameron with the Tony Ryan Band.
Location: Jack’s Cinnamon Cinder, 4311 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank.
Hours: 8:30 tonight and Saturday.
Price: No cover or minimum.
Call: (818) 845-1121.