Camp Sampy

Gordie Sampson is the first to admit that he lives the ideal life for his temperament. He spends the lion’s share of the year collaborating with some of the world’s best musicians and songwriters in Nashville and beyond. And the balance is spent back home enjoying summer in the Maritimes and recharging his batteries with a relatively relaxed schedule.

But Sampson has paid his dues and earned his musical chops, from his time with the pop band Realworld in the early 1990s to his role as a touring musician to his work as a musical director for stage and television productions to his incarnation as a solo musician.

And that was all before he won a Grammy Award in 2007 for best country song of the year for Carrie Underwood’s smash hit “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” which Sampson wrote with Brett James and Hillary Lindsey. Not to mention all of Sampson’s other hit songs.

He’s also been given a leg up, and he acknowledges that.

When fellow Big Pond native Rita MacNeil died earlier this year, Sampson discussed how his neighbour had helped him by showcasing Realworld on her TV show “Rita and Friends” and later hiring Sampson as a musician in her band for about three years.

“She was just incredibly supportive and always had time to talk and I learned to have such a great appreciation for her songwriting style,” Sampson told the Post in April. “There’s so many sides to what Rita does that deserve so much attention — her vocals, her story, her spirit — but it’s her songwriting style that to me was the purest I’ve ever seen.”

It’s obvious that Sampson, who earned an honourary doctor of letters degree from Cape Breton University earlier this year, hasn’t forgotten where he comes from, either culturally or musically.

He’s not only continuing that legacy of strong, sophisticated songwriting perpetuated by Cape Bretoners such as Rita MacNeil, Allister MacGillivray and Jimmy Rankin, he’s found a unique way to nurture it in a younger generation of multi-genre musicians with the annual four-day Gordie Sampson Songcamp in Ingonish.

Sampson and company have found a winning formula. They screen participants to ensure they’re getting those with the most potential and desire. They attempt a balance between providing direction and allowing the up-and-coming songwriters to be themselves. And the camp is structured so that each participant will co-write at least eight songs over four days, not to mention develop musical relationships that continue after the camp is over.

This year’s version of the camp culminates today with a public concert at the Keltic Lodge starting at 7:30 p.m., during which the songwriters will showcase their brand-spanking new musical creations.

With the perfect storm of songwriting that’s hit Ingonish this week, it’s quite conceivable that attendees could hear a future Grammy-Award-winning musician and/or song.

by Cape Breton Post