In 2007, vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Brian Cameron was enjoying a musical career in Atlanta, Ga. He had already experienced success with his brother, Mark, on bass, in Steel Horses, a regional touring band that received airplay for two of their singles and opened concerts for national acts. Cameron was working in bands and on his own, with an eye on the next step of his career. Outside of music, his passions were — and still are — horses and motorcycles.
In September of that year, Cameron was on his bike, riding with friends and wearing full protective gear, when his front tire hit grass. Knowing that the motorcycle was going to flip, he jumped and slid 150 feet. He broke his right shoulder and sustained a serious spinal cord injury. After ten hours of surgery and a week in intensive care at Grady Memorial Hospital, he was classified an L1 paraplegic and transferred to the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation facility, for five weeks. “I spent the next year working my way out of a wheelchair,” he says, “and for the past two years I’ve been without one at all.”
Cameron is nothing if not determined. Six months after his accident he was back onstage, playing gigs while in his wheelchair. “I gauged my recovery by how much help I needed to get from the car to the stage,” he says. During this time, he and Mark found the musicians to round out Reluctant Saints: guitarist Nathan Morgan and drummer Gary Chumney. They recently released their INIO Music debut, Long Drive, which combines their rock, country and blues influences into a tight sound. Not only is Cameron on his feet, he’s also back on the bike and the horses. “It’s a challenge every day,” he says. “I have a new normal.”
Your album has been out for a while and is obviously doing well. Can you do a quick walk-through of how the band came together?
Most of us met through jam sessions. You form friendships and figure out who plays best with each other. That’s how a lot of bands get formed. The technical part — you have to develop that, and you can’t rely on Pro Tools to fix it for you, either. The bottom line is great songs being played by the best musicians. Being able to get out there and sound as good onstage as you do in the studio, or preferably better, is what made bands like the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, the Allman Brothers and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They didn’t get there by going in the studio and fixing mistakes with Pro Tools. They did it by knowing their craft and making music. We strive even harder to be technically proficient outside the studio so that we give the fans what they’re used to hearing. We don’t want them to listen to the CD and say, “I love the songs, but these guys suck live.”
When did you start honing in on the vocal and songwriting style that you brought to Reluctant Saints? Is this group much different from your other projects?
I wouldn’t say so. When we play live, it tends to be more rock and less country pop. The arrangements are very similar, the way I arrange vocals, the way my brother comes in after I’ve made an arrangement and fine-tunes it. We’ve developed and realized what works best. The other guys learn our arrangements and put their spin on it and we influence each other. The bare bones of it is very similar and consistent with our recordings from the mid-’90s, but I think Reluctant Saints is the most cohesive effort, where everybody has developed on their own to bring their own thing to the table.
Music is in your family. Was it a given that this would be your path?
I think so. It’s what I always wanted to do. Whether or not it was going to happen was always the question. I was going to keep trying, but I know guys my dad played with in the ’60s and ’70s who aren’t household names but are a lot better than some of the ones who are. You always have in the back of your head that at any given moment you could plateau and be done, it could be the most success you have, the most records you sell, the most people you play for. So I don’t ever take for granted that things are happening and people are noticing and enjoying the music. Again, the bottom line is to have great songs by great players. If you have that, it’s easy for people to enjoy.
You play several instruments, but guitar is your primary one. Why the preference?
The expressiveness of it. You can’t bend a note on a piano, but you can with the guitar. You’ve got acoustic and electric and you can swap amplifiers and get different sounds. Guitar has so many possibilities that I was just drawn to it. Plus, my dad played [Note: Cameron’s father, Bruce, played guitar in a popular 1970s band called Kudzu], and when you see your parents doing something when you’re young, it’s really cool. I love playing piano, and the more I play piano, the better my guitar playing is, but if I’m playing jazz or country or a rock ballad on piano, I can only do so much with it. A piano always sounds the same in my hands, whereas a guitar can scream or cry or just whimper, and that’s a great way to elevate songs to the next level.
How does the piano improve your guitar playing?
The piano is laid out differently. Everything is linear and it’s all there in front of you. With the guitar, you’ve got four different options to play the same single note. With the piano, there’s one key that makes that note on that octave. I use the piano a lot for vocal arrangements. I do a lot of writing on piano and transfer it to guitar. It’s challenging, and that challenge keeps us going. We never stop learning. You have to find ways to challenge yourself to continue learning and further yourself as a player.
Have you always played in two-guitar bands?
As often as possible. I love being able to look across the stage at another guitar player and hear something I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. To listen to Nathan play, and get a new idea or laugh because he did something amazing — that’s what musicians do when another musician does something that is either very fast and technical or uniquely melodic or just beautiful. We’re all shooting for that moment when all the musicians turn and go, “Ah, yeah.” My brother and I played together a lot and we were in a lot of the same bands, especially when we were younger. Then we drifted into playing with different people, we’d get back together and play together for a while, and then one of us would get a call to play with someone else. We got to a point where we said, “We need to be in a band together again,” and about the time we made this decision I met Paul Kelly from INIO Music and we started talking about doing a record. The more we talked, the more I said, “I want to have the same band in the studio as I do onstage. We can get incredible studio guys, but they’re so busy doing session work and gigs here and there, and they may have a touring gig and just come in and do my record while they’re off the road.” It didn’t interest me because of the chemistry part of things, so my brother and I talked about who we could get that would be of the same mindset of wanting to have great songs and expand upon them. When we found the guys, it became Reluctant Saints, the band, instead of Brian Cameron, the solo project.
How are you and Nathan different and similar as guitar players?
We have a lot of similar influences. We both listen to blues and Southern rock, but our specifics are very different. He would cite Johnny Winter, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Stevie Ray Vaughan as influences, while I come more from the Barry Bailey, Duane Allman, Warren Haynes end of Southern rock. On the blues side, we’re both into Eric Clapton and he’s into Stevie Ray Vaughan, whereas I always gravitated to Lonnie Mack or B.B. King or Freddie King. We’re similar enough that we understand each other and different enough that when we swap a solo or go back and forth, it doesn’t sound like the same guy playing back to back.
When writing, how does the rest of the band factor into the riffs and melodies that you both come up with?
Mark is such a melodic bass player and Gary is such a good drummer that when Nathan or I play a solo, it’s not just about us and the band backing us up. If Mark plays something on the bass that leads us in a different direction, we go that direction. There’s no one person onstage that is always the guy to follow. Any member can influence the way the music goes at any time. We’re writing as a band, which is new to me. I’m used to writing a song, bringing it to the band and it changes from there, but now everyone is contributing. It’s proof of the sum being bigger than the parts.
Gibson 1999 Les Paul Classic Plus with custom pickups and electronics
Gibson 1994 Gibson Les Paul Standard Flametop with Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups and custom electronics
Fender 2000 American Deluxe Stratocaster with custom pickups and electronics
Perkins Amplification signature model LSD (Loud Special Design)
Perkins LSD modded 1969 Fender Pro Reverb,1964 Harmony H400A 2×12 cab and 4×12 cab
Korg Pitchblack Tuner
Homemade A/B box
Xotic EP Booster
Soldano GTO Supercharger Tube Overdrive (Perkins modded)
Mad Professor Sky Blue Overdrive
T-Rex Replica Delay
Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail