The great Cape Breton troubadour, John Allan Cameron (1938-2006), once told me he never wanted to be called a legend because people would no longer want to pay him to perform. He said this with a large John Allan smile but as I later came to discover, he was already somewhat of a victim to this scenario. He was doing dozens of benefit concerts across the country every year, often paying his own expenses.
The first time I really got to meet John Allan was in the early 1990s when he invited the cast of the Cape Breton Summertime Revue to his home for an after show party. We were touring across the country and played that night in Markham, Ontario where John Allan lived with his wife, Angela, and son, Stuart.
Up to this point, I had shared a few stages with John Allan at festivals and fund raisers but really only knew him by reputation and had only spoken to him in passing.
John Allan was a unique performer who played bagpipe tunes on a twelve string guitar and proudly wore Cape Breton Island on his sleeve for all to see. He took Cape Breton traditional music out of the kitchen and onto Las Vegas stages… literally! His back story of study for the priesthood before following his heart to folk music only made him more interesting, authentic and larger than life.
What I had missed in my peripheral knowledge of John Allan was his kindness and support of East Coast artists. His generosity was so real and on display that night in Markham as the guitar, stories, songs, food and drink were shared by all.
I saw that generosity on display years later when he was very ill and there had been a tribute show at the Savoy Theatre that night in his honour. The great Newfoundland singer/songwriter Ron Hynes performed that night but had never met John Allan. When I introduced them, John Allan fingered his Order of Canada pin with a shaky hand and said, “You should have one of these!”
Yesssss…. That was the real John Allan Cameron!
P.S. I don’t have time here to tell you about the time my dog ate John Allan’s guitar case or being in Scotland with him and many other stories but hope to find space in future blogs.