“Hillbilly Dumpling”: Ed Camp (1952-59)

Ed Camp : singer, songwriter and disc jockey, Ed Camp had a plaintive edge to his voice that fit right into the Hank Williams era of Country music, but he was adaptable too and combined the best of south-eastern and western country influences. Born Clyde Edward Camp on 16 September 1931 in Mulherburg County, Kentucky, he grew up on a dairy farm in Greenville – one of four children – before his parents, Robert Camp and Ruth Lone, moved to Biloxi, Mississipi, in 1940. Ed absorbed the music of the 1940s and his son, Eddie Jr., says « I know for sure that he liked Bluegrass. He enjoyed Bill Monroe and Jim and Jesse. Many times I heard my dad play and sing « Blue Moon of Kentucky ». He also loved playing Roy Acuff’s « Wabash Cannon Ball » on his fiddle, and he loved Bob Wills’ music too. » His younger sister Nelda recalls Ed also loved gospel music and classical violin, and taught himself to play all his instruments; he made himself a guitar and a fiddle « from some of mom’s old furniture ».He also took to sports and was the Mississipi school boxing champion. When he graduated from Biloxi High School in 1949, he went to college in Perkinston, where he played football, then to the Univeristy of Southern Mississipi where he majored in radio technology.

His exploits are recorded in the Bilowi Herald. On 27 July 1949 WLOK radio broadcast « a program presented by students…Eddie Camp sang two numbers and played his own accompaniment on the guitar ». By 7 June 1951 : « Eddie Camp, former Biloxi High School student, and a local cowboy troubadour…billed professionnaly as Smilin’ Eddie Camp, now has his daily radio show on WVMI, and has written several songs of his own. » Three weeks later reported that the AmVets club « was entertertained by Smilin’ Eddie Camp and the Magnolia State Ramblers. » Nelda said : «My brother was a disc jockey at WVMI radio station and I remember listening to that 15 minutes program. He’d close by saying « This is Smilin’ Eddie Camp saying : smile and the world smiles with you, frown and you frown all alone ; » At home, he was constantly writing songs and singing them around the house. »

Ed Camp married Ruby Samall in June 1952, moved to Gulfport and worked for radio WLOX . It proved a good base and, Nelda said, « he played in different night-clubs all along the coast with his friend Peewee Maddux and others. » On 1 Augst 1952 the local press announced that Gay’s Lounge « proudly present PeeWee Maddux and his Lazy River Boys with their latest singing sensation, Smiling Eddie Camp ». Maddux was a sonwriter, fiddle player and bandleader with considerable connections and before long Ed was booked into a popular club in Biloxi, Sie Simon’s place. There he played with the touring stars of the day including Hank Williams. On 6 December 1952, just days before Williams’ death, the Daily Herald reported : « Hank Williams To Appear in Biloxi Sunday. Stars appearing on the show include Jimmy Swan of Hattiesburg, Luke McDanels of Laurel, and Biloxi’s own stars Jim Owens, Peewee Maddux, Floyd Yarborough, Smiling Eddie Camp and Al Brit. Eddie Bishop, former Biloxi disc jockey will be the master of ceremonies. (Bishop was MC for Hank’s wedding recently).»

It may have been Bishop who connected Ed Camp with Imperial. Billboard reported on 3 February 1953 : « Imperial has annexed Joe Bill, Dallas warbler…Ed Camp of Hattiesburg, Miss. newcomer to (their) country segment. » On 4 April Billboard carried an ad for Camp’s first disc, « I’m Such A Fool About You », calling it ‘It’s a real hit’ » It was the first of nine dics by Camp on the label so he must have had a good following in the South, at least.

Billboard April 4, 1953

In April 1953 the Hattiesburg American reported his exploits on local television. « Mississipi Southern students will present the first of a serie of weekly television shows over WJTV in Jackson, Mississipi’s only television station. One of the show’s star is Eddie Camp, Western ballad singer and author of several nationnally known hit tunes. » In May 1953, Billboard’s Folk Talent and Tunes section said : « Ed Camp’s « One More Tomorrow » is getting a big area response via Ed Bishop at WXOK in Baton Rouge. » In June, they listed the release of Ed’s second disc. But within a month, Ed Camp was in the army, where he stayed from July 1953 to July 1955. This does not seem to have harmed his career : his son said : « he was able to continue his music by being assigned to entertain the troops in Korea. I have a newspaper clipping of him with Faron Young playing together there. »

While he was in the service, Imperial issued six more discs by Ed, and after he came home they issued one more, « I’m Gonna Put The Whammy On You », with an updated sound including drums. Four recordings remained unissued by Imperial. When Ed left the military he became a DJ in Newton, Mississipi, but by now the country music scene was starting to change. On November 1955 the Herald said : « Elvis Presley at Two Shows At Biloxi Sunday : Frank Barhaanovich, chairman on the Lion’s club fund raising campaign said today that he expects a large attendance. Peewee Maddux, Jim Owen, Dan Seals, Eddie Camp, Ernie Chaffin and others will be on the program. » Ed Camp apparently played upright bass as part of the pick-up band that supported Presley and, when asked later what he thought of Elvis, Ed told his family, « I thought he was nuts. »

In 1956, Ed moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ad a DJ, playing music locally, but increasingly concentrating on life outside music. In 1957 he became a National Airlines ticket agent in Gulfport, transferring to Pensacola, Florida in 1958 and then to Mobile, Alabama, in 1959. He made one disc on Big Howdy Records in 1959 {actually two discs, says Bopping’s editor}.

Ruby left him in 1959 but Ed stayed in Mobile,and in 1965 he married Avril Hayes, from the Cayman Islands. Nelda said : « His second wife refused to let him pursue his music career as it does have its pitfalls and can be a had life. With already one failed marriage from the love of his life, he agreed. Our parents were highly religious and were in agreement with him to get out of the business. » She remembered Ed continued to get small pay cheques from BMI for his songwriting. In 1962, three of his songs appeared on an Imperial LP, « Hillbilly House Party ». BMI still lists 32 titles written by him.
Ed Camp died on 20 March 2002 in Mobile, Alabama. His son said : « Members of his college and university alumni invited me to luncheon with them in the honor of my dad. They all told me how he kept them constantly entertained with his songs and guitar. »

Notes: Martin Hawkins (2012), notes to BACM 397 « Ed Camp and Associates ».-45cat, 78 worlds; Ron Keppner for rare discs.