KITCHENER – James Scott Cameron, a popular country music artist, died Sunday aged 26.
Cameron, who started his own band while still in high school, performed in Nashville, made recordings and was a frequent draw at area festivals, bars and other local venues.
As lead singer of the Hamilton Bareback Riders, he helped this group modernize their music and attract young fans.
But his father, Ken Cameron, said James was frustrated that he couldn’t take his career to the next level.
“He kind of lived two lives. When you put him on stage, in the spotlight, he was a machine.
“But in his private life he was in pain.”
Ken shared his story in the hope that more people will focus on mental health.
He noted that Wednesday is Bell Let’s Talk Day, which encourages people to break down the stigma surrounding mental health by talking about it.
James lived at home with his parents. They saw him play at the Whale & Ale pub in Kitchener on Friday night.
“He was awesome,” smiling and engaging with the audience, Ken said.
But a little over a day later, James committed suicide.
He didn’t leave a note.
Ken said his pain as a father was “unimaginable”.
James was a hockey player who served as a goaltender for the Kitchener Rangers Jr. A team for 10 years as a child.
He launched his musical career when he was still a teenager.
He sang with the Bareback Riders and also started his own band while attending St. Mary’s High School in Kitchener.
Among the performers of the James Cameron Band was James’ sister Britanie Hagen.
Ken said the family took road trips to Florida and Oklahoma when the kids were young, and played songs including country, pop and Broadway tunes on the road.
“The three of them (James, Britanie and another sister, Jennifer) sang every song at the top of their lungs. It was crazy,” he said.
They also turned to country music by singing along to the karaoke system in the basement of the family home.
“I’ve always lived in the city but it’s just the music that I listen to and love,” James told this newspaper in 2013, just before opening for Blue Rodeo at a festival. in Lucknow.
Ken said James was delighted to take a trip to Nashville with the group, where they were well received and invited to return.
Andrew Mackay, majority owner of Stampede Ranch in Guelph (and Stampede Corral in Kitchener before it closed in 2018), said James was “a big part of the local country scene.”
“There will be a significant void without James,” Mackay said.
Mackay said it is extremely difficult to enter the national scene in country music, and even more difficult to become a “known product” in Nashville.
“But James actually had a chance – he was so good and he had a great attitude,” Mackay said.
Bareback Riders drummer Colin Connors said James started out as lead singer when he was 18.
He was much younger than the rest of the band and led the band through a “significant change of direction” that allowed them to appeal to a much younger audience.
“He kept us relevant” with more hip-hop influenced country songs, Connors said.
“People like James Cameron are making country cool again.”
At the same time, Connors said, they knew that James would eventually want to part ways with the group so that he could focus on his own career, including writing and performing his own work. The Bareback Riders are strictly a cover band.
About two years ago, James stopped working with the band regularly, although he continued to appear with them as lead vocalist on occasion.
Connors said members of the group were shocked to learn that James had taken his own life.
“We are still outside of ourselves and cannot understand what happened,” he said.
He said that young artists are under a lot of pressure to achieve their dreams. It’s different from his own situation as a middle-aged man who runs a business and plays music at the same time.
Connors and Ken Cameron, James’ father, said there is a mental health clinic specifically designed for musicians, accessible at www.musiciansclinics.com
Ken Cameron said he wanted James to ask for help.
James had wanted to work more in Nashville and perform in bigger venues.
“He wanted it so badly, and he couldn’t find the right door that would open for him.”
Ken thought James was happy when he was younger and playing hockey.
Later, living the life of a musician with many late nights and sleeping most mornings, “the light wasn’t so much there,” and he seemed more withdrawn, Ken said.
“We could tell his personality had changed and he was in trouble.”
A musical celebration of James’ life will take place Saturday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Schwaben Club in Kitchener. Everyone is welcome.
Donations will be received for KidsAbility “in honor of James’ niece, Zofia,” the obituary reads.
How to get help
Here 24-7: 1-844-437-3247
Distress Line: 519-745-1166
Youth line: 519 745-9909
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
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