Interview with Cameron Wallace, Actor, Radio & TV Host, Music Business Entrepreneur
Think Country originated and is based in in the UK, so I thought it appropriate to begin our interview talking about Cameron’s (aka Camo) time living over there.
TC: You did live in the UK. How did you end up there? Tell us what you were doing there?
CW: It kind of goes before that. I had worked on air in radio for a bunch of years, and I think when I turned 30, I had just got married for the first time and I got tired of the goofy shifts in country radio. You know, when you’re on air, you have to work holidays and I just got tired of it, so I moved over to the creative department, so I was writing and producing radio commercials and promos. Then I started freelancing and writing TV scripts and doing simple stick figure storyboards and doing outdoor stuff, but I wanted to make a jump to the ad agency level. Ad agencies at the time kind of looked at you like, “Well, you’re a good radio writer, but you guys can’t do anything else.” I thought to myself, “Oh really?”, so I moved to England and immediately I was working as Creative Director at a radio-only ad agency south of London. Then I moved down to Suffolk and I was freelancing, and then I got hired in the Peterborough, Cambridge area and I was Brand Strategist/Copywriter.
CW: I worked at Betfair in London. The office was in Hammersmith at the time and I really liked it, but the commute from Peterborough, and everybody in the UK will know what that’s about, was a lot. It was a 90 minute train ride from Peterborough to London, then a half hour on The Tube, a 15 minute walk to the office, and that was great, IF everything ran on time. Sometimes it took me four hours to get home at night. So, when you’re leaving at 6:30 in the morning and normally not getting home until 8 or 8:30 at night, then you add more time with delays, and as everybody in the UK knows, leaves will cause train delays, or the wrong kind of snow will cause train delays, so I did two years of that and that was enough. All the while though, I was still freelancing at different radio stations. I was on the air at a radio station in Peterborough.
TC: So, overall, did you like it? It was just the hassles of the commute?
CW: Yeah. There’s a saying, “When a man is tired of London, he’s tired of life.” It’s actually a quote. It was a blast, and coming from a small town and going to a big city like that, I mean, I’d worked in big cities before, but I was never prepared for the sheer volume of people going through the train station in London every morning, but it was great. I was there for ten years and it was a great experience. I learned a lot. Working at Betfair, which is like a bookie company, and it’s legal there, was great for me, because I met people from Sweden, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, all over the world, it was amazing.
TC: That’s a good transition to what you’re doing now with Nashville Access. You’re dealing with people all over the world with that, right?
CW: Yes. I learned then that people all over the world really dig country music.
TC: Who knew, right?
CW: Right. After I left Betfair, I started my own company, which was in international radio promotions. For independent artists in the United States and Canada to try and get on the radio, it’s really expensive. So, I was helping artists get on radio stations in the UK, all across Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and because I was working with stations all over the world, I could see directly how much they were starving for this kind of music. It’s been just over two years now that Dallas and I got together and started Nashville Access, with the primary focus being international, and we also have stations in the US and we’re going to grow that market this year, but we’re on the air on 65 radio stations in 18 countries around the world.
TC: I remember you telling me a while back that people in South American countries listen to country music and that’s just amazing to me.
CW: I was just in San Pedro, which is about two hours outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was completely unprepared, as it was my first trip to that side of the equator and I didn’t know what to expect. It was the San Pedro Country Music Festival. It ran for three days. It was free to get in, in this tiny little town called San Pedro and they had 60,000 people.
TC: Now, when they listen to country music, what type of country music are they listening to?
CW: They listen to everything. A lot of the bands are singing in English, the hit songs that we do, but some of them are doing them in Spanish. It’s great to see. It’s going to take a while to get their country music to what we expect here in North America, but they’re getting there. There were a couple of bands that absolutely blew me away with how good they were, the level of musicianship, because it’s not a natural part of the culture down there, it’s just in its infancy, but a lot of bands would just do cover songs. They’re covering stuff like Johnny Cash.
TC: Let’s say we went there and threw on a Jason Aldean song, would they know who that is?
CW: I think that’s growing. The problem is, country artists from here don’t get down there.
TC: They’re thinking more the classics? Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings?
CW: Yes, country artists here will sometimes tour down into Mexico or Brazil, but that’s about as far as it usually goes. Peru, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, those places, we’re on the air in Caracas, Venezuela!
TC: And they listen?
CW: They listen, and they LOVE it! Our show is in English, so we don’t know how much they’re understanding Dallas and me, but the music, they love. It’s opened up the world to me. On Facebook, I’ve become friends with artists from Chile and Peru, all over the world.
TC: This is such big news. Is this also good for up and coming artists in Nashville to get connected with Nashville Access so people all over can find out about them?
CW: The structure of our show is primarily chart driven because hits are what people want, but we have two features on the show which focus on independent artists. We have our Texas Turnaround, that focuses on artists on the Texas Regional Radio chart. A lot of those have a good following. People like Aaron Watson we were already playing on our show before he hit the mainstream charts.
TC: And look how he shot up!
CW: See, he already had a good following in the UK and Australia. They already knew who he was. We took an artist like that and helped him grow internationally and now he’s charting. We’ve featured really good Texas artists like Cody Johnson, Kyle Park and Cody Jinks, who’s a real outlaw guy, and exposed them, because outside of the US and Canada, country music tends to skew a little more traditional, so that stuff really does well.
CW: Then we have our Nashville Access Super Pick. That’s specifically to highlight an independent artist that when we listen to their music, and think, “These guys could be big.” So, we’re trying to pick a hit with that one, and we actually have. We’ve picked a few songs that we’ve played before anyone else. Morgan Wallen was one. We played Morgan Wallen before anyone did, and now he’s got a song with Florida Georgia Line. We played Tucker Beathard before anybody did.
TC: Both such great artists for sure, and you’re so in touch with music, you’re so well-schooled in it. What are YOUR genres? What do you like?
CW: Well, I got into country music when I was seven years old. I started playing pedal steel.
TC: Yes, and I had that down as a question. I need to know the pedal steel story.
CW: I kind of had two teachers. At the time, the local conservatory of music was going door to door trying to sell piano and guitar lessons. I wanted to play guitar, but a friend of the family who was a steel player told my parents to get me into steel and I’d always have a job. One teacher taught me to read music and theory, and the guy that got me into it, Bob Wingrove, who was a legend, he taught me to play by ear, just by listening. I had a great mix. We used to go to the Steel Guitar Conventions in St. Louis on Labor Day weekend every year and hear the greats, Buddy Evans and Curly Chalker. I also always rode horses and was taught to shoot when I was about eight years old, so country music was just…
TC: You just kind of had a country thing going on in your blood then?
CW: Yeah, and then as part of learning to read music, my steel guitar teacher was teaching me to play things outside of the realm of country music. Things like The Eagles, Chicago, jazz and classical stuff on steel guitar, and classic rock, which wasn’t classic rock at the time.
TC: No. It was just rock back then. I think it turned into classic rock somewhere in the late 80’s. That’s when I knew I must be getting old.
CW: I’m about 85% country listening all the time and 15% classic rock.
TC: Now tell me about the Nashville Access podcasts.
CW: The podcasts came as a spinoff of the radio show because we do two things outside of the radio show. Every Thursday I do Facebook Live interviews and mostly they’re independent artists, but the Facebook Live interviews are really showing people what Nashville is about. Sometimes it’s artists, sometimes it’s places, it’s just anything that’s about Nashville. If it’s going to a landmark restaurant and going into the kitchen to see how they prepare stuff, or taking a tour of a hotel, that’s what I want to do. So, we do Facebook Lives every Thursday about two artists, plus doing other interviews over the year with bigger artists. Last year I think we did between 250 and 300 interviews, mostly with indie artists. I want to help indies succeed. I had all these interviews we did on Facebook Live and we put them up on our YouTube channel as well, but that was kind of it. Then I thought we should podcast it. With the radio show, Dallas and I are really locked in, and we’re really music driven. We can be radio personalities, but we have to be cheerleaders for country music. He’s a little more contemporary, I’m more traditional. It’s good to have that balance from a programming standpoint because we have stations that run the gamut. We started doing the podcast. We do a couple news stories and goof around with those and then we’ll pick a topic to rant on. A recent one was “How Does Hollywood Still View Country Music?”, and they still paint it really hokey. Even on “The Voice”, they had Blake (Shelton) doing a song with a sunset and split rail fencing backdrop that looked like a Hee Haw set from 1974.
TC: That’s really not how it is either. You’d have to go out to the middle of nowhere to find that most of the time.
CW: I mean, just because we’re country, we’re not idiots. That’s the way places try to portray country that don’t know anything about it, so we get on a rant about that and then anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes is our artist interview. If they play live songs, they we have them live. Recently, we got to interview Bob Harris from the BBC and that was really cool. People in the UK, and even here, particularly American artists, they really know who Bob Harris is, because he’s been around for so long. Country artists are learning the importance of getting on his show. I communicated with him a few times when I lived in the UK, but this was the first time I got to really sit down and talk to him, so one of our podcasts was with Bob Harris.
TC: How did that go? What is his feeling on how country music is evolving?
CW: He had an interesting view. Here in the US, there are really two factions. Pop country and traditional.
TC: There are people like myself that like both. Many others, however, draw a very strong line between the two and will not cross it.
CW: There are pop country songs that I don’t mind listening to, and I don’t want to single him out, because he’s a great artist, but Sam Hunt, and he’s written some really country songs, but as an artist he’s doing nice music, but please don’t call him country. I mean, I get where he’s coming from. I’m not criticizing him at all. He grew up with a bunch of guys. Some guys were listening to hip hop, some listening to rock, some to metal, he was listening to country and they’d switch CDs, and they had all these influences, and I get that. Like I said, he’s written some really, really great country songs.
TC: He wrote “I Met a Girl”.
CW: Right, and “Body Like a Back Road”. If you listen to it acoustically, it’s a real country song, but when he comes out with it, there’s all this urban R&B influence, and that’s not country to me, and that’s just me.
TC: It’s all up to one’s own interpretation these days I guess.
CW: True. When I was coming up in radio in the mid-80’s into the 90’s, there was pop country. There’s always been an element of pop country. Sawyer Brown, if you listen to it now, it sounds country, but back at that time, they were really on the cutting edge of pop and country, but you could listen to country radio and hear Sawyer Brown, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Sylvia, Judy Rodman and the more pop sounding country acts and you had a variety. Now country radio seems to be focused more on pop country and I think I’d like to get back to that mix.
TC: I think slowly, it’s starting to trickle back to some more traditional sounding country artists.
CW: It is. Country music always goes through cycles. In the late 70’s, early 80’s, it was “Urban Cowboy” and we were all criticizing it and calling it pop country. People thought it was going to ruin country music, even though it rose really high, but off the back of that we got Randy Travis, George Strait, Reba McEntire and Alan Jackson. It’s really interesting when you talk to people and ask them to name a traditional country artist, they almost always say, “Johnny Cash”. Oh really? Well, when Johnny first came to Nashville, he was viewed as a rock guy, an outsider. They didn’t like him.
TC: Yes, and if you listen to Johnny Cash, he was almost a really old school rapper.
CW: Yes, and that brings me to something else, but when Johnny Cash put the mariachi horns in “Ring of Fire” people were offended. “How dare he do that?!” Then when you talk about rap or spoken word, I talked to Colt Ford, and radio stations don’t play Colt Ford because they say he’s not country.
TC: Because he raps.
CW: Colt said, “Spoken word. Go back to Johnny Cash. Go back to Lorne Greene. It doesn’t get much more country than Lorne Greene, the star of ‘Bonanza’. They did spoken word. Other artists at the time did spoken word, but they don’t want my spoken word.” I get it.
TC: But he has a fan base.
CW: Oh yeah. He’s selling a lot of records and he’s selling out shows.
TC: Since we’re talking about podcasts, while I was “stalking” you (researching you) online to prepare for this interview, I came across this and I need to know. It said you were the co-host of Hamstercast. What is that?
CW: Oh! Hamstercast! There’s a group of kids out of Idaho called The Runaway Hamsters, and we were talking with their publicity agent and to the family about how we could break them a little bit bigger, so we started a podcast with them. I was kind of the interviewer and we just talked, me and the four kids. Three of them are triplets, and it was only about 10 or 15 minutes long because it was by kids, for kids. Kids would listen to it, and we would talk about what they would do on vacation or how often they should go to the dentist. It was four kids who were artists giving advice to kids.
TC: Thanks for clearing that up for me. It sounds cool. I have to say, I wondered, was he actually talking to HAMSTERS? That would have been rather odd. I didn’t know, maybe it was a comedy thing.
CW: Nope. These kids were great.
TC: Your favorite country artists, and I know you probably have a list longer than all of our arms put together, but give it a shot.
CW: Two right off the top, George Strait and Alan Jackson. My favorite band growing up will probably surprise you, Asleep At The Wheel. Bob Wills, I love Texas Swing. Texas artists tend to be my favorite. Cody Johnson, Aaron Watson, Cody Jinks. James Lann, a guy who has become a real friend. Deryl Dodd, the traditional Texas guys. I love that Texas sound because it’s honest. I think Texas artists learned way back to connect with audiences as a whole. There are exceptions of course, but overall, Texas artists came up, and still come up through the dancehalls. They have two jobs. Play music that packs the dance floors and sell beer. That’s what Texas artists have to do, so they learn faster how to play to crowds and learn patience for crowds, and especially today, when so many artists are kind of breaking on social media and developing a fan base that has never even seen them in a bar or club, has never seen a live show, or only seen videos or heard the music. Those artists don’t have that concept of what it’s like to not just get up and play the music, but play the music to fill two things, and that’s pack the dance floor and sell beer.
TC: Songwriters? Do you have any favorites?
CW: First is always my wife, Jo-Leah, and she’s a Texas songwriter. Then there’s Dean Dillon. I’m generally in awe of songwriters. I mean, how many ways can there be to say, “I love you”, and you think, they find ways. I love being around songwriters. This is going to sound goofy, but being around songwriters as much as I am, makes me a better person.
TC: I love songwriters too. I have a list of reasons why I would never want to move out of Nashville and songwriter rounds are right at the top of that list. For me, there’s nothing like a good songwriter round, and it’s very rare to find them outside of Nashville, at least really good ones.
CW: Right, and going back to Sam Hunt, I really respect him as a songwriter. Seeing how a song like “Body Like a Back Road” lyrically and played acoustically is pure country, I’m amazed at how he can turn it around into an R&B sound. It’s not my thing, but seeing how he makes that transition is cool.
TC: People are eating it up too, so you have to respect it whether it’s your thing or not.
CW: Then there are people getting into this thing, saying more pop-leaning country artists suck. Well, they don’t suck. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. Buy the stuff you do like. Support those guys.
TC: I think there are plenty of people supporting Sam Hunt. I don’t think he’s too worried about me or you not buying his music if it isn’t our thing.
CW: Like Taylor Swift. I never liked Taylor Swift, but I wasn’t supposed to. I’m a middle-aged guy, I’m not her audience, but look what she did. She brought in young girls. If you asked young girls to listen to country music they would have said no, but they dug Taylor Swift! Taylor Swift was a gateway drug to country music. You’ve got to respect that she brought new fans into country music who will then dig deeper into the genre. They’ll move on to Luke Bryan or Thomas Rhett. Then guess what? They’ll listen to Blake Shelton or Justin Moore and then more traditional stuff.
TC: Eventually, they may even move further backward. Once they hear someone like Justin Moore say he was influenced by someone even more traditional like Merle Haggard, maybe they’ll think they need to hear who Merle Haggard is.
CW: A great example is Tracy Lawrences’s new album. He does his hits as duets with a lot of today’s artists. He was telling stories about it, like the one with Luke Bryan. Luke Bryan always admired Tracy Lawrence. Tracy Lawrence asked Luke Bryan if he wanted to do the song in Luke’s style and Luke refused and said no way, they were doing it traditional. People slam Luke for being pop country and he’s saying no, this is traditional country, why would I want to change that. Same thing with Jason Aldean. He could have come in and brought that progressive sound to the song, but the same thing, they kept it traditional.
Here marks the end of Part I of our Think Country interview with Cameron Wallace. Part II will be coming your way shortly. Until then, you can find Cameron (or “Camo” as he’s also known as) in the following places:
Facebook: Fan page – Cameron Wallace
Facebook: Nashville Access