Q&A with Minnesota based Mark Cameron - continues his mission to hone his skills as a blues storyteller

"The blues is about conflict, often times conflict that ultimately goes unresolved. I love the idea of seeing trouble as fuel: fuel for your soul, for expression and for action. The Blues is a motivating force if you let it act on you in a good way."

Mark Cameron: Let The Good Times Roll

Minnesota based singer, songwriter and guitarist Mark Cameron has been active in live music for over thirty years. After five studio releases in the 1980’s and 90’s, Mark turned his focus to the blues with “Life Of Illusion” in 2009, followed by the ambitious project “Built To Bust” in 2011 and “One Way Ride To The Blues” in 2014. Mark’s break-through recording came in 2016 with “Playing Rough” which yielded the hard driving electric blues of the title track along with the funky romp ‘Somewhere Down The Line’ and the soulful ‘Borrowed Time.’ This was quickly followed by another chart-topping album “Live At Blues On The Chippewa” in 2017. This unplanned live recording during one of the band’s many festival appearances “perfectly captures his live sound, the next best thing to being there, totally hot stuff” (Chris Spector, Midwest Record). In 2019 Mark Cameron achieved chart success with On A Roll. The album reached #5 on the RMR Contemporary Blues chart and won a Global Music Silver award. On A Roll was also selected as the best independently produced album by the Minnesota Blues Society.        (Photo: Mark Cameron)

The Mark Cameron Band represented Minnesota at the International Blues Challenge and several original songs were also featured on the Minnesota Blues All-Stars album. Known as a charismatic front man and soulful guitarist, Mark delivers his original compositions with a mix of sincerity, honesty and often a touch of humor. Mark’s vocal range stretches from basement baritone to full-on growl and his original lyrics draw the listener in and paint a picture of the many worlds within the blues. Mark's new album "Back From The Edge" (2021), recorded over the last 18 months, continues the foot-stompin’, butt shakin’ sound that Mark Cameron is known for while adding an expanded range of songs as only Cameron can pen them – from the soul. This suite of ten original songs will take you on a memorable journey through the blues in its many forms.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The blues is about conflict, often times conflict that ultimately goes unresolved. I love the idea of seeing trouble as fuel: fuel for your soul, for expression and for action. The Blues is a motivating force if you let it act on you in a good way. When I travel, I look for the message in everything and always try to project every small situation I experience into a greater meaning that can be expressed in music and words.

How do you describe your songbook and sound? Where does your creative drive come from?

My catalog is a scrapbook of my life experiences and what I have seen around me. It is always growing and sometimes I love to go all the way back to the beginning and interpret one of my old songs in a new way. This was certainly the case with “Movin Out”. I wrote the song over thirty years ago but I feel as if only now can I deliver it the way it was meant to be shared. I always want the next record to be better than the last, or at least very different from anything I’ve done before. Like all musicians I have a drive to tell my story to as many people as I can reach. The energy comes from playing festivals with other musicians and seeing what they do and wanting to be “in that club” with them. My sound flexes to meet the mood in each song. Maybe I should call our sound “rubber blues”.

"There isn’t any question that people’s attention span for live experiences is tailored by their use of technology. I do miss the patience that past audiences once had to see where you might be going during a set or even during a single song." (Photo: Mark Cameron)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

When I started doing this I was a teenager and I played music that teenagers would want to play. I had interest in almost any style I heard. As I have grown I know much better what kinds of music I want to create and what helps me express what I am trying to say in any given song. I also have a much better understanding of what music fits a given lyric and the reverse as well.

I still am willing to try anything in a song. The Blues has such a great range; from field hollers to hypnotic grooves it all has a place in the Blues. Sometimes I find a lyrical phrase or a guitar riff I like and expand on them until a complete song emerges. In rare cases the melody and lyrics show up in my head all at once. This was the case with the title track “Back from the Edge”. I think the entire song was completed in under an hour. The thing that has remained in my process is that I have no set process; I go where the ideas take me and the ideas show up at any time and any place for me.

How do you describe "Back From The Edge" sound and songbook? Are there any memories from "Back From The Edge" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I see this album as a more stripped-down sound than our previous works. We all tried to stay true to the core message in each song and avoid over-doing the performances. The ten songs represent a more condensed time period in my life than our previous albums as well. The ten songs of “Back From The Edge” were all written quite recently. Because of this the mood is a little more focused than other albums I have released that may contain songs that were originally conceived years before they were recorded.

What I remember most from the recording sessions is how relaxed they were. Many times we did not know exactly what we would work on in a given session and we flexed into whatever we were inspired to work on that day. Once we entered the studio we remained there for extended periods and had food left on the front step for us. There was very little coming-and-going because we were all trying to respect each other and avoid exposure to anything that might knock us out of action.

"Music teaches patience but it also demands reckless abandon at times too. I love that music has pushed me to be very focused at times and at other times it requires that I shut my mind down and just play what I feel. They say the Blues is easy to play but impossible to master. I think it’s because you are constantly trying to reach your head, your heart, and your soul in the hopes of reaching others on those same levels." (Photo: Mark Cameron)

What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?

I very much want people to find their own message in our songs. I love having people approach me at concerts and tell me what they think a particular song is about. It doesn’t matter if it matches what I was thinking the song meant when I wrote it. To me good songs inspire different meanings to different listeners.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Music teaches patience but it also demands reckless abandon at times too. I love that music has pushed me to be very focused at times and at other times it requires that I shut my mind down and just play what I feel. They say the Blues is easy to play but impossible to master. I think it’s because you are constantly trying to reach your head, your heart, and your soul in the hopes of reaching others on those same levels.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Early in my playing days I was hung up in the mechanics of being “good” at my craft and I often asked other players what I needed to do to perform as they did. One told me to “just do it” and that has stayed with me. Once I quit focusing on what was right or wrong in a given performance, I was free to be myself. Blues audiences in particular can spot insincerity a mile away. They want “real” over all else. I love that.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

There isn’t any question that people’s attention span for live experiences is tailored by their use of technology. I do miss the patience that past audiences once had to see where you might be going during a set or even during a single song. I also miss the intimacy that is lost when live music is shared beyond those who invested the time, money and patience to actually attend the event. Those special moments between those on stage and those in the crowd should belong to them alone I believe. To broadcast them to others dilutes the experience in some way.

"The impact is simple in my view: If you love the music than nothing else matters. Nobody cares about that other stuff if we have a love for this music in common. The Blues has a way of cutting through all the labels and barriers people put up around each other and shows us that we are more alike than we give ourselves credit for." (Photo: Mark Cameron)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

What I will remember most about our current album is how satisfying it was to debut this basket of songs to a live audience. The feedback is immediate and unmistakable. By the time we got to the studio to record we had been playing these songs for some time. I think that comes through in this record.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

If they could find a way to fit a five-piece blues band and all their gear into a regular minivan that would be excellent. Perhaps inflatable drum kits or something to make a guitar amp fit into a suitcase and weigh two pounds would definitely make life better.

What touched (emotionally) you and what characterize the sound of Minnesota blues scene?

The depth of the talent in Minnesota is inspiring. I never felt any sense of “family” in the other music genres I have worked in the way I do with the Blues. This is especially true in Minnesota. Everyone helps each other and supports the scene any way they can.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications? 

The impact is simple in my view: If you love the music than nothing else matters. Nobody cares about that other stuff if we have a love for this music in common. The Blues has a way of cutting through all the labels and barriers people put up around each other and shows us that we are more alike than we give ourselves credit for.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Woodstock: summer 1969. Every festival we play is trying to live up to this one seminal event. It would have been great to soak up that vibe from the source.

Mark Cameron - Home

(Photo: Mark Cameron)

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