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).

The Mark Cameron Band recently 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 Cameron continues his mission to hone his skills as a blues storyteller on his latest release “On A Roll” (2019). Meticulously recorded over the span of a year at Bathtub Shrine studios in Minneapolis, the 14 new original tracks are a true collaboration between Cameron and his band mates.

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."

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.

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.

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."

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.

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