Dave Gunning | a Tribute to John Allan Cameron

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a Tribute to John Allan Cameron

by Dave Gunning

Multiple award-winning singer-songwriter Dave Gunning celebrates the release of his newest recording project …. a tribute to John Allan Cameron, an inspiring, heartfelt and uplifting dedication to Canada's Godfather of Celtic Music. Featuring 17 traditional and original arrangements, Gunning's interpretation is sincere and deeply moving, toe tapping and entertaining
Genre: World: Celtic
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Sound The Pibroch
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2. Banks of Sicily
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3:20 $0.99
3. Tie Me Down
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2:22 $0.99
4. Elizabeth Lindsay
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5. Butterfingers Medley
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6. Fisherman's Song
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7. Broom o' the Cowdenknowes
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4:19 $0.99
8. Freeborn Man
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9. King George V's Army
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10. And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda
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7:09 $0.99
11. Birds of Joy
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3:19 $0.99
12. Here She Comes A Running
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4:08 $0.99
13. Farewell To Nova Scotia
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3:41 $0.99
14. The Mingulay Boat Song
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15. Lord of The Dance
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16. The Four Marys
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17. We Remember You Well
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Available as MP3, MP3 320, and FLAC files.


Album Notes
Between the years 1977 and 2003, I had the privilege of playing bass and/or guitar for John Allan Cameron for most of his live performances and recordings. My participation in this recording project has been an emotional journey, revisiting some of the original arrangements as well as enjoying the new ones Dave has created. My heartfelt thanks to Dave for taking the initiative to create this project and for pouring his heart and soul into every track. I know John Allan would be very proud.

-Allie Bennett

Hello and welcome to my tribute to John Allan.

First of all I want to send love and thanks to Angela and Stuart Cameron for supporting this project.

It was 2005 and I was returning home from Ontario after being part of a great tribute show for Gordon Lightfoot. While I was out on that run, I got word that John Allan was sick. He had been showing signs of his illness for quite some time so it wasn't a total surprise, yet it still hit me hard. Being fresh off the Lightfoot shows, which Gord himself came out to see, it struck me that too often these tribute shows happen after someone's death and I thought that it was cool to be paying homage to the living. So on that drive returning to Pictou Co., I phoned home to my good friend John Meir and asked him if we could organize a tribute show for John Allan. I wanted him to be able to come out and see his own tribute show. We decided that the Rebecca Cohn in Halifax would be the place and phoned Brookes Diamond who immediately jumped on board. We also wanted to raise some money for the family to help lighten the financial strain caused from this ordeal. The three of us got to work and secured a date and programmed the show.

Stuart Cameron kicked off the evening and played his father's 12 string guitar. Artist after artist followed, hitting the stage to play for the sold out and emotional crowd. It was a magic night and fortunately John Allan was there. The footage of him standing up and yelling "Yes!" from that night was later shown repeatedly on several TV channels.

This recording is a project that I've wanted to do for quite some time. It was important to me to try to make this a real tribute to John Allan. That's why some of these tracks are very close to the original versions and it's also why I chose to interpret some of them quite differently. I tried to select a cross section of material that reflects his catalog and the variety of music that he touched over the years.

There were several moments throughout the making of this CD where I second-guessed myself. Much of the process was technically difficult. I think that John Allan was underrated as a rhythm player. Obviously he was well known for picking bagpipe tunes on a 12 string guitar using his thumb pick and also for being a great entertainer, but after really studying his recordings I now have a deeper understanding and appreciation for his rhythm guitar style. He had such a unique and interesting strumming technique. He would strike accents on the guitar at very interesting moments creating excitement and dynamics in the music. Trying to capture his feel on the 12 string was certainly a challenge. I used a thumb pick on the 12 string tracks to try to come closer to his unique sound.

John Allan is still one of my favourite singers. His voice was unlike anyone else's. There is only one John Allan. Listening to the records today still brings me back to the many times when I saw him live. Mom and Dad would take us to see him, every time that he came to Pictou County. His show at the West Pictou High School in 1981 was the first live concert that I ever saw. We lucked out that night because Stan Rogers was the opening act. Watching that concert from our front row seats changed my life. I would not be playing the style of music that I play today if it wasn't for that night. In fact, I might not be playing music at all. I'd like to mention as an interesting side note that Allie Bennett who worked on this project with me was the bass player for that 1981 cross-Canada tour with Stan and John Allan.

Throughout my career I've had the opportunity to work with some of my heroes. Almost twenty years after seeing him for the first time I had the great pleasure of working with John Allan. Between 2000 and 2002 I played bass and acoustic guitar for him for many shows throughout the Maritimes and Ontario. He was an extremely generous artist to work for. He'd always get me to sing a couple of my songs half way through his show to feature me. "Folks, I've got a young singer songwriter here with me tonight and I want you to hear him". Talking with him backstage was always interesting and fun and he truly had a genuine interest in helping young up-and-coming musicians. I don't know if he ever knew how much he really helped me. He was my first major music influence and not only was he my hero, he was my friend.

I hope that you enjoy the music and please do yourself a favour - if you don't already own the original John Allan recordings, buy them.

For some great insight read and enjoy the forward written by my good friend and a close friend of John Allan's, Larry LeBlanc.

Thanks so much,


John Allan Cameron changed the world that he was born into.

He made an inspirational and, in many respects, a practical difference to thousands of people's lives.

To meet John Allan was to be struck by the power of gentleness, and exuberance that radiated from this legendary Cape Breton figure.

At the same time, John Allan was so full of life, and full of malarkey. His wry observations were often outrageous, clever, and on the mark.

Onstage, he’d make a sharp comment of the purist’s struggle for authenticity. “I learned this from my father,” he’d say as he introduced a song, “who learned it from his grandmother, who learned it from her second cousin who learned it from an old tobacco picker in Virginia, who learned it from an old Connie Francis album.”

As a musician John Allan was the consummate Everyman. He was naturally innovative. He was given to striking out in new directions. With his 11 albums, and trademark concert cry —"Are you with me?”—he was very much a groundbreaking vocalist, and guitarist.

And, he loved to perform more than any other performer I’ve ever met.

In his lifetime, John Allan captured the imagination, and the admiration of Canadians and others with his dedication to the Cape Breton musical style that draws on a Highland Scotland fiddling repertoire of airs, strathspeys, marches, jigs, reels, and hornpipes from the 18th and 19th centuries.

In conversation, John Allan would affirm his love for Cape Breton music, and its pioneers including Winston "Scotty" Fitzgerald (when he was a boy John Allan hiked 20 miles to see Fitzgerald perform), Buddy MacMaster, Angus Chisholm, Donald Angus Beaton, Donald MacLellan, Dan J. Campbell, and, of course, his uncle Dan Rory MacDonald, one of the finest fiddlers in Cape Breton history.

John Allan would put into effect many of the changes that Cape Breton music called for. Cape Breton players, he would say, just didn’t know they had something unique to offer the rest of the world. Much of the music had previously been recorded in the worst circumstances, and presented poorly to the public.

John Allan was thorough in researching his music. He collected songs from traditional informants, listened to recordings of traditional singers and searched through folk collections. He also made annual pilgrimages to Scotland to learn more about the history of the country and its music.

Top-rated Cape Breton players such as John Morris Rankin, Jerry Holland, Sandy MacIntyre, and Dave MacIsaac appeared with John Allan on his tours, TV shows, and recordings.

Today, Cape Breton’s musical aristocracy—the Rankin Family, the Barra MacNeils, Natalie MacMaster, the Cottars, Rita MacNeil, Ashley MacIsaac, Gordie Sampson, Bruce Guthro, and J.P. Cormier—acknowledge John Allan as the leading figure in the revitalization of traditional Cape Breton music.

While best known for his vast Celtic repertoire, John Allan was also quick to pick up songs by emerging contemporary songwriters, including Stan Rogers, John Prine, Eric Bogle, Steve Goodman, Bruce Cockburn, Ron Hynes, Gary Fjellgaard, and Allister MacGillivray.

John Allan was no musical country bumpkin.

In an interview in the ‘70s, he offered up a wide-ranging list of artists he was listening to: Muddy Waters, "Big Mama" Thornton, Pete Seeger, John Hartford, Kris Kristofferson, David Bromberg, and Sleepy John Estes. Soon afterwards, I met him on his way to see shock rocker Alice Cooper perform at Maple Leaf Gardens.

“My intellect and mind is wide open to accept any type of music that strikes the right chord,” John Allan told me in our interview. “There’s so much to be learned from so many people.” John Allan grew up in Glencoe Station, a speck of a place located in Inverness County on Cape Breton Island. The Cameron family was made up of 7 children in all, five boys and two girls (he was the second oldest). Their father Daniel was a CNR engineer for several years, and later he worked as a caretaker at a mental institution.

John Allan was barely 13 when his father went to Port Hawkesbury and bought him a guitar—a F-hole Kamico. John Allan taught himself to play, and developed his own thumbpick, downstroke style. While he soon was performing at community concerts, he never sang. He was too shy.

John Allan’s childhood pointed him toward the priesthood (“The Bobby Orrs in Cape Breton in those days were the priests and the fiddlers,” he later explained). He spent nearly 7 years studying to become a priest. At 22, just six months from ordination, John Allan took his final vows. However, he soon told Father Robert McGrath—the Father Superior at the Oblate Fathers’ Holy Rosary Scholasticate in Ottawa—that he was having doubts. He left the seminary not long after the Christmas of 1963.

John Allan later got his bachelor of arts from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, then took a year at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and got his bachelor of education. He taught for a year at Central High School in London, Ontario.In the summer of 1968, John Allan returned to performing, appearing at lobster carnivals, strawberry festivals, and fishermen’s parties throughout Atlantic Canada. With the release of two albums, “Here Comes John Allan Cameron” which sold a whopping 35,000 copies, and “The Minstrel of Cranberry Lane” on MCA Canada-owned Apex Records, he was able to perform on such CBC-TV national shows as “Don Messer's Jubilee,” “Singalong Jubilee,” and “The Tommy Hunter Show.”

While he played in those days in such grimy Canadian clubs as J.R.’s Prince Edward Lounge in Charlottetown; the Colonial Inn in Amherst; the Monterey Lounge in Halifax; the Starlight Lounge in Moncton’s Brunswick Hotel; and the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, John Allan also appeared on bigger stages, including at the Newport Folk Festival, the Mariposa Folk Festival, and Expo ’70 in Japan.

When John Allan performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 1970, he opened with a full minute of bagpipe music on his guitar. Then he went into a country ballad called “Anne.” The Opry audience gave him a two minute standing ovation. In 1974, opening for Anne Murray at Massey Hall in Toronto, he brought out a piper for a duet.

In the ‘70s, John Allan’s reputation was solidly established by working throughout North America with Murray—Canada’s biggest star of the era. This included several tours in the U.S. where John Allan played to crowds in Las Vegas wearing his kilt.

The exposure with Murray, coupled with his own sizable touring, resulted in John Allan, in effect, becoming a national star in Canada. He hosted his own series on CTV 1975-76, and on CBC from 1979-81; hosted the Juno Awards in 1976; and toured extensively as a headliner for the next two decades.

For his efforts in promoting Canadian folk music, John Allan was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2003. He passed away in 2006.

Those of us who knew John Allan recall that he loved sports, both playing them and watching them. He’d also play pickup hockey and baseball with friends. Believe me, he was a ferocious, no-holds barred competitor.

Still afterwards, when he’d leave, and would start to walk away, he was apt to turn back, and say softly, “See you in confession.”

Larry LeBlanc

Produced by Dave Gunning with assistant production work by Allie Bennett and John Meir

Recorded and mixed by Dave Gunning at Wee House of Music in Pictou County, Nova Scotia
Additional mixing assistance by Miles Gallagher of Fortress Studios and Allie Bennett.

Stephen Muise's piano and accordion tracks were recorded at Lakewind Sound in Point Aconi, Cape Breton and engineered by Sheppy
Ian McKinnon's highland pipes were recorded at John Parker's studio in Halifax
George Canyon's harmony vocals were recorded at Reiny Dawg Studios in Alberta

Mastering was done by J. LaPointe at Archive Mastering in Halifax

The photography and artwork was done by Mat Dunlap

Dave played his Stonebridge guitars and used Elixir Strings on this recording
Management: Shelley Nordstrom, snordstrom@ns.sympatico.ca

John Meir - my first stop for great advice. Thanks for being a part of this project.

Allie Bennett - for your dedication, heart, musicianship, and ears. I would not have done this recording without you being involved. Thanks also for the details and help with the liner notes.

A big thanks to all of the musicians who played on this recording and to Mat Dunlap for amazing photos and artwork.

A very special thanks to my beautiful wife Sara for your true love and understanding and for raising our little guys when I'm often not around. And to those little guys - Jud, Will, Gus and our dog, Chester.

Thanks to my manager Shelley Nordstrom for believing in what I do and moving it forward, Jamie Robinson for friendship and unwavering honesty, Julie Gunning, John Parker, Mom and Dad, my brother Matthew, Nanny Gunning, Christine Buiteman, Fred Lavery, Steve Butler at Paquin, Bob Bale, Christopher Coote, Val Steeves, Wendy Gilmour, Jim Dorie, Al Gunn, Cathy Porter, Scott Long, Larry LeBlanc, Anya Wilson, Joella Foulds, Eric MacEwen, CBC, SOCAN, Fontana North Distribution, Robert Buck, Darlene MacDonald, Brookes Diamond, Hilda MacDonald, Ed Buffett, Suzy Miller, Wayne O’Connor, Sheri Jones, Guido Kerpel, Dr. Dan MacDonald, Dan MacDonald, Troy and Jennie Greencorn.

Thanks so much to those who have played my music on radio and internet programs, to those who’ve hired me and last but not least, to all of you who’ve come out to see the shows.

Sound The Pibroch
- Traditional

The original John Allan version of this song was on his "Free Born Man" recording which was produced by Paul Mills. This version is very close to the original. The melody for Sound The Pibroch was adapted from a Victorian Jacobite song and the words were written by Mrs. Norman MacLeod. Tha Tighin Fodham, pronounced Ha Cheen Foam, means 'it comes upon me' or, ' I have the wish' (to rise and follow Charlie).

Dave - 12 string and 6 string acoustic guitars, percussion and vocals
Allie Bennett - bass, acoustic guitar and fiddle melody in chorus
JP Cormier - fiddle
Troy MacGillivray - fiddle

Banks of Sicily
- Hamish Henderson

Dave - 12 string and 6 string guitars, percussion and vocals
Allie Bennett - bass
JP Cormier - fiddle

Tie Me Down
- Allister MacGillivray (Oak Island Music)

This version of the song is very close to the John Allan version that was originally on a record called "Weddings, Wakes and other Things", produced by Robbie MacNeil. It was also on his "Song For The Mira" record which my parents bought for us at the 1981 concert and John Allan signed 'er.

Dave - 12 string and 6 string guitars, and vocals
Allie Bennett - bass
Randy MacDonald - drums
JP Cormier - banjo
Stephen Muise - piano
Pee Wee Charles - pedal steel

Elizabeth Lindsay
- Traditional / arrangement Dave Gunning

Dave - acoustic and electric guitars, upright bass, percussion and vocals
Christina Martin - vocals
Randy MacDonald - drums
Stephen Muise - piano

Butterfingers Medley
- Butter Fingers - jig - Pipe Major Donald MacLeod
- Pipe Major Donald MacLean Of Lewis - jig - Pipe Major Donald MacLead
- Marchioness Of Tullybardine - reel - traditional

This set of tunes was arranged by John Allan and Dave MacIsaac when they were on the road together. I bought a 12 string guitar and a thumb pick and started learning how to play this. Allie spent some time teaching me and getting me on the right track. Thanks to JP as well for some pointers and insight into how John Allan pulled this off.

Dave - 12 string
Allie Bennett - bass and 6 string acoustic guitar
Randy MacDonald - bodhran

Fisherman's Song
- Fred Lavery (Old Shore Road Music)

This song was written by my good friend Fred Lavery. Fred recorded this song on his solo recording "First Impressions" released in 1981. There were guest appearances on the recording by John Allan and Stan Rogers and the guys from Gordon Lightfoot's band. It's cool to have Lightfoot's steel player Pee Wee Charles on this version. He played on many of the Anne Murray records and also on the original John Allan versions of some of these songs. He's now on the road with my brother George Canyon. We're not really brothers although I know we look a lot alike.
The tune that occurs twice in this song was written by Pipe Major James Robertson.

Dave - 12 string and 6 string guitar and vocals
Sara DeLong Gunning - harmony vocals
Allie Bennett - bass
Randy MacDonald - drums
Jay Andrews - marching snare
Stephen Muise - accordion
Pee Wee Charles - pedal steel

Broom 'o the Cowdenknowes
- Traditional / arrangement Dave Gunning (Wee House of Music) and JP Cormier (Flash Publishing)

This version has been slightly modified from the version on my "two-bit world" recording which was produced by Jamie Robinson. Additions to the track include JP's vocal and fiddle. The fiddle tune at the end is a JP original - one of those things that he created on the spot. Classic JP. I've always wanted to release this song as a duet with him so here it is.

Dave - 12 string and 6 string guitars and vocals
JP Cormier - fiddle and vocals
Jamie Robinson - mandolin and percussion
Jamie Gatti - upright bass
Daniel Maillet - dobro

Freeborn Man
- Ewan MacColl (Stormking Music)

This song was written for "The Radio Ballads" (The Traveling People) 1964

Dave - 12 string guitar, bass and vocals
JP Cormier - nylon strung guitar

King George V's Army
- G. S. MacLennan

This tune is also known as "Kitchener's Army". John Allan's original version of this tune is on his "Get There By Dawn" record. Thanks to Ian for playing on this track.
Here's some classic John Allan ...

Dave - 12 string lead and rhythm and bass
Ian McKinnon - highland pipes

And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
- Eric Bogle (Larrikin Music)

This was one of my favourite songs that John Allan recorded. It was on his "Freeborn Man" recording produced by Paul Mills. I stayed very close to the original. The amazing Cathy Porter spent some time learning and slightly modifying the harmonica part from the John Allan version and played the parts on her accordion. A toast to soldiers past and present.

Dave - 12 string and 6 string guitar, vocals
John Allan - vocals
Allie Bennett - bass
Jay Andrews - marching snare
Cathy Porter - accordion
Christina Martin - vocals

Birds of Joy
- Stu Cisco and Paul Brady (Jolly Cheeks Music)

Dave - 12 string and 6 string guitars and vocals
Allie Bennett - bass
Stephen Muise - piano
Randy MacDonald - drums
Pee Wee Charles - pedal steel
JP Cormier - banjo

Here She Comes A Running
- Dave Gunning (Wee House of Music)

Every time that I played a show with John Allan he always asked me to sing this song for his audience.
The original version of this song was on my "Caught Between Shadows" recording. Here's a modified and remixed version of the song.

Dave - acoustic guitars and vocals
Allie Bennett - bass
Dave Burton - drums
Kris MacFarlane - djembe
Jamie Robinson - bouzouki
Cathy Porter - accordion
Fleur Mainville - fiddle
Kieran O'Hare - uilleann pipes and whistle
Doris Mason, Hans Hug, Randy MacDonald - hand claps and party sounds

Farewell To Nova Scotia
- Traditional collected by Helen Creighton / arrangement Dave Gunning (Wee House of Music)

This is one of my favourite tracks on the recording. I took some liberty with the chords but kept the melody the same. There were so many magic little things that happened while working on this one. We ran JP's fiddle through an electric guitar pedal, Allie nailed the bass track, Andrew Alcorn showed up with his flugelhorn which added so much to the song and the warm percussion sound and the sound of the waves that you can hear at the end is Cathy's ocean drum.

Dave - 12 string and 6 string guitars, tambourine, and vocals
Allie Bennett - bass
Cathy Porter - ocean drum
JP Cormier - fiddle
Andrew Alcorn - flugelhorn

The Mingulay Boat Song
- Traditional / arrangement Dave Gunning (Wee House of Music)

Before moving forward with this tribute project I called Stuart and asked if he thought it was an OK thing to be doing. He said, "Yes, but on one condition ........ I want to play on it." That was my dream answer, Stuart. Thanks so much for blessing the record. I love the parts and it's very cool to have you on this.
Thanks to Jon Landry and Carlton Munroe for dropping by that evening in July to lay down some vocals. It brought the song up a few notches.
The music on this one is from a traditional Gaelic song, "Creag Ghuanac" and the words were translated by Sir Hugh S. Roberton in the 1930's.

Dave - acoustic and electric guitars, bass, percussion, and vocals
Stuart Cameron - lap steel
Jon Landry - vocals
Carlton Munroe - vocals
Randy MacDonald - drums

Lord of the Dance
- Music adapted from "Simple Gifts", a 19th century American Shaker hymn with words by Sydney Carter (1967).

Dave - 12 string and 6 string acoustic guitars, electric guitar and vocals
George Canyon - harmony vocals
Allie Bennett - bass and fiddle riff
Randy MacDonald - drums
Troy MacGillivray - fiddle part throughout song
JP Cormier - banjo
Stephen Muise - piano

The Four Marys
- Traditional

This is a John Allan classic!

Dave - acoustic guitars and vocals

We Remember You Well
- TR (Buddy) MacDonald

This track is also featured on Buddy MacDonald's great new recording titled "Myself .... My Shadow and Me".
John Allan often played this song at his shows and he was going to record it someday but never had the chance. Here's to you John Allan.

Dave - 12 string and 6 string guitars and vocals
Buddy MacDonald - vocals
Allie Bennett - bass
JP Cormier - fiddles



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