One problem: "The label said it didn't sound like the latest hit," Camp says. "They wanted me to change everything. Told me to take all the fiddles and dobros off and put electric guitars on. I got crossways and never did it."
Curtains closed. Camp forever locked away the album. Artistic integrity tossed the key.
Cue serendipity. Warner Music Nashville President/CEO John Esposito happens into an impromptu guitar pull with Camp at last year's Leadership Music opening retreat. Esposito is "mesmerized by Shawn's singing and finger-picking."
Esposito swiftly unfastens the label's vaults. Brushes neglect off his kindred spirit's 16-year-old dusty diamond. "This stuff is magic," Esposito says of first hearing the album. "There's this sly, underlying sexiness to Shawn's songwriting that I dig. I was trained to sign people who are magnificent and then to allow them show their magnificence. It shouldn't be about trying to change what they do." Voila: Witness the rebirth of Shawn Camp's lost album, now simply titled 1994.
"This is an unchanged snapshot of that moment 16 years ago," Camp says. "At least it's getting out there for the folks to hear. It's kind of a shock, but I'm awfully thrilled."
Listeners will be, too. As a younger songwriter, the now 44-year-old had already crafted songs with a jeweler's eye and they shine on 1994. Camp's trademark lyrical fluidity ("Little Bitty Crack in Her Heart") and buoyant melodies ("Clear As a Bell") dot the album's vibrant bluegrass-infused landscape.
Camp's impact on modern country music already has been significant. While 1994 (produced by Emory Gordy, Jr.) remained shelved and Camp left Reprise Records, his songs were snapped up by other artists and Camp grew into a top-tier songwriter behind No. 1 Billboard hits for Garth Brooks ("Two Pina Coladas"), George Strait ("River of Love"), Josh Turner ("Would You Go With Me") and Brooks & Dunn ("How Long Gone"). His boundless skill earned good company: Today, Camp splits pages with Americana songwriting legends including Guy Clark ("Sis Draper," "Magnolia Wind") and Jim Lauderdale ("Forever Ain't No Trouble Now").
It is no stretch to say that Shawn Camp is respected by the best in Music City. "Shawn sings, plays and writes up there in the fine, rarified air where very few can breathe," Guy Clark says. "It's a joy to behold." Echoes legendary producer and songwriter Cowboy Jack Clement: "I have always thought Shawn should be a star. He's got the talent, the voice and the looks to do it."
Independently, Camp released four critically-acclaimed CDs: 2001's Lucky Silver Dollar, Live At The Station Inn in 2004, Fireball in 2006 and The Bluegrass Elvises with Billy Burnette in 2007. Camp is also a member of The World Famous Headliners, a band he formed with fellow songwriters Al Anderson and Pat McLaughlin. When Warner Music Nashville releases 1994 on September 28, they will also reissue Camp's 1993 debut eponymous CD, which has been out of print since the mid 1990s.
1994 is a history lesson. Camp's A-list collaborators include bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe ("Worn Through Stone"), Jerry Douglas ("Little Bitty Crack in Her Heart") and Patty Loveless ("In Harm's Way"). The earliest Camp and Clark collaboration "Stop, Look And Listen (Cow Catcher Blues)" whistles and snaps with predictably vivid imagery as engines groan and steel rails "pop like a broken heart." "Writing with Guy Clark is a lesson in honesty," Camp says. "Every line cuts to the bone. He's not afraid of truth. It's a good lesson to soak up."
Clearly, Camp has. Pay particular attention to "The Grandpa That I Know," a strikingly raw and intimate portrait of his grandfather's passing. "Brand-new shoes, they hurt my feet/This necktie is choking me," the story begins. "Cutting off my air supply/When I hang my head to cry." Secure a chair and discover the rest yourself. 1994 is as timeless as Shawn Camp.