The story and analysis behind 'Champagne and Whiskey' by The Cameron Tabor Band
Updated: Dec 22, 2022
I'm glad to have had the pleasure of speaking with Matthew Smith of The Cameron Tabor Band. I was inquiring about some details to include of my upcoming review of the 'Champagne & Whiskey' song and music video, and Matthew graciously went above and beyond with providing me with all the context, details, information, and stories behind the writing and recording process that I could ever want.
Without further ado, the full story from Matthew himself:
The Cameron Tabor Band first formed in 2018, and like the most beautiful creations, this was formed in the midst of my own personal tragedy. You see, I was married to this girl, and she had a really negative spiritual energy around her, but that was part of what drew me in. You know, like a siren’s voice? Intoxicating to the point where you ignore all the red flags and throw caution to the wind and then you find yourself clinging to a demon like Sid did to Nancy? Yeah, it was a lot like that. SO needless to say that after a criminal defense where I was given a two year diversion for wanton endangerment and a traditional divorce proceeding, I was released from a horribly abusive relationship and found myself not only single, but having dodged a felony with a maximum sentence of five years in the state penitentiary. I decided to go out for a drink.
There was a live Facebook feed from The Crowded House in Madisonville KY, and Cameron Tabor was playing acoustic guitar with a fella that I had never met before. I decided to head that way and check it out.
When I got down there, they were taking a break. Young people were standing out on the sidewalk, and Cameron was smoking cigarettes and entertaining them with stories in his easy rural manner. We exchanged a fist bump and I went inside, not knowing a soul. Having suffered in toxic relationships for over a decade, I was very isolated and didn’t know a anyone down there except for Cameron (whom I had know since he was 6. Trust me, it’s a long story, but at one point in my life I was his Uncle.) I sat uncomfortably with my beer while they finished the bummed cigarettes and returned to the stage.
The two young men sat on stools and cradled acoustic guitars, both young, blond and athletic. They started to not only play and sing, but to cut up and laugh. The whole room enjoyed their unforced smile and playful energy. I knew I was looking at what could be a successful national touring act. The 19 year old kid accompanying Cameron was Grant Carter, and how they met is really their story to tell, but I’ll say it was a chance encounter.
The rest of the show was great, The Crowded House sang along to the old favorites, listened enthusiastically to the originals and laughed at the jokes and stories. They wrapped it up and went to the bar across the street. The location has changed hands several times over the years, and at that time it was named Center Street Bar and Grill. The owner, David Wood was outside socializing (his finest skill) and as we stood out on the side walk he said to Cam “hey man, I play drums, and Matt here plays the bass, we aught to jam sometime!”
Now at that time, I hadn’t picked up a bass in a few years, and I wasn’t about to act like I had already planned a world tour in my head with Cameron and Grant. So I curbed my enthusiasm a bit and gave a vague response, something to the effect of “ yeah, one of these days we will jam”.
David never jammed with us, but about two weeks later, Cam, Grant Alex Sorrels (19, phenom drummer, raised by a pro drummer), Chris Combs (singer/songwriter) and myself gathered 3rd hand amps and vintage drums into Cameron’s garage and made the first awkward sounds that would start us down a path to where we are today. Members have come and gone, Cameron and I remain. The connections we have formed over these 4 years can only be described as Devine. The Cameron Tabor Band is on a mission from God.
Champagne and Whiskey took 2 years to release from the time it was written to the time we finished the music video. It was inspired by a story Grant Carter told us, about going into a bar and having a drink with a girl from Champaign Illinois, and they parted ways having never exchanged last names. About a week after hearing that story, Cameron came back with the entire song written. Cam, Grant, Eric Brown (drums) and myself hammered it out quickly, and we knew immediately that it was a song to be released as a single. The recording process was sporadic and spread across two locations as we transitioned from tracking one part at a time in my rehearsal space to recording as a live band in Doctor McFarland’s studios in Nashville. And it almost didn’t happen at all.
August 2019, we were scheduled to open for Grand Funk Railroad. Champagne and Whiskey was a brand new song, and we were scheduled to record it, Happy Being Me, Night Like Tonight and Little at a Time at my house, with Doctor McFarland coming to my place the same weekend as the Grand Funk show for a recording marathon in our basement. The band was rehearsing steadily for both the show and the recording session, and while we were as tight as a drum, Cameron begin to confess that he wasn’t feeling all that well. We hoped it was a passing stomach bug and continued to press forward.
The day of the show arrived, and Cam was as white as a sheet. We gathered downtown where we were to perform and the city crew loaded our equipment onto the stage. It was hot. David Wood invited us up to his apartment above Center Street Bar and Grill, half a block from the stage to avoid the heat and the crowd. The band sipped beers as Cam laid back on the couch with his eyes closed. He didn’t have a string for his acoustic guitar strap. I took a lace from my new shoes and tied it up. On our way out the door, Cam ducked into the bathroom to be sick. He emerged, and I asked if he was ok. Yes, was the reply. “This is your flu game”, I told him, in reference to Michael Jordan’s game winning performance when he was so very sick. Cam nodded and we headed to the stage.
His shirt was soaked with sweat as soon as we set foot on the Grand Funk stage. For the next hour, we absolutely slayed the crowd. Grant and I ran through the crowd, balloons and smoke danced over outstretched hands as we thoroughly administered the Southern Rock and Outlaw Country to the good people of Madisonville Ky. And Cam gave one of his greatest performances. No one in the crowd knew he was sick. Our set ended, and people came to us with arms outstretched, wanting autographs and to hear our story. Cam was gone. About 15 minutes later he called, saying he was sick at home. The next morning he would go into the hospital with what was eventually diagnosed as chemical pneumonia, and would not come out for over two weeks. And that same morning, we begin to record our next four singles.
To say it was surreal is an understatement. We had just opened for an iconic “American Band” and were recording songs that we all were staking our musical future on, and our lead man was literally facing death in the hospital. Medical negligence was a factor, at one location a nurse turned his oxygen off in the middle of the night, and after it was reported the oxygen was turned off, did so again. Cam was moved from one hospital to another in search of better care. Dr. McFarland, Grant, Eric and myself hammered out the songs, with McFarland coaching, leading and provoking the guitar parts that would make up the split guitar solos of Little At A Time. We would occasionally text Cam to keep him informed as he recovered from a real brush with death. One can only imagine what would have happened had he not been able to go to the hospital. Our recording session ended successfully with no vocals, to be added when Cam was recovered.
Grant and I visited Cam a few times during those days. Grant would approach a nurse there who he would eventually marry. Cameron made a full recovery. The band scheduled another recording date with Doctor McFarland in Nashville and made the trip. This time instead of tracking each part separately, we recorded “live” as a group. The four of us were on fire that day, and we blistered through our next releases. And then Covid.
'Happy Being Me' was our next release, and we anticipated rapid growth and high performance, but Facebook suppression hit us hard. Our YouTube link post was not visible for three weeks on FB until I paid to boost that post. Still struggling to get traction, I uploaded the video file to FB directly where it immediately wracked up 2k views in a week. The world was shut down. We waited. Stresses at home took Cameron out, and we couldn’t rehearse even if we wanted to. A year went by.
Cameron called me one cold Saturday morning and said, “Brother, I’ve been trying to live without music in my life for a year and I just can’t figure out how to do it”. We made plans to get everyone together to rehearse and just as Covid was starting to lift began sharpening our axes. Eric Brown (drums) had left before Covid too, as his career was pulling him in another direction. Grant Carter played several practices with us, and then dropped out due to starting a business and coaching football. For a few weeks, Cam and I sat in my basement going over originals and wondering what our next moves would be.
Zach Groves tends bar downtown, in what used to be Center Street Bar and Grill, now Duggars. I had always heard he was a good guitar player, I went down for a drink and asked him if he’d like to jam. “Bet” was the simple response, and with a few texts from Cam the three of us met up to jam. It was GOOD. We set about finding a drummer. In the meantime, Koty Crook made contact. He had done a stint as guitarist with us in the past, and left to pursue his metal project, which was his brainchild. Having had his fill of that whole scene, Koty sought to rejoin. At first I was very hesitant, as we had always been a 4 piece band and I thought bringing on another man would make it harder to book bar shows and would change our overall look. Koty came in with an inspiring attitude and complimented Zach’s tone and playing style. We settled on a drummer and begin to book shows. And with that, I turned my attention to Champagne and Whiskey once again.
From the moment I heard that song come out of Cameron Tabor’s mouth, I saw Old Shawneetown Illinois in my mind, and you can’t think about Old Towne without thinking about HogDaddy’s. HogDaddy’s, even though it has been closed for eleven years, remains an icon in the southern Illinois region. A biker’s Mecca, a single woman’s playground and a farm-hand’s wet dream. If Porky’s and Roadhouse had a baby, it would be HogDaddy’s. So how to get us in there? I didn’t know who owned it, and had no Southern Illinois connections. I started making phone calls with no luck. I began looking for alternate locations to film. And then one day, Koty Crook said “Hey, I know the guy that owns that place, I've got his phone number in my wallet”. My excitement grew as I sent the song, text and voicemail to the owner, tempering my expectations and continuing to look for another location. To my surprise, the owner called me, and we talked for well over an hour. He was willing to open up the bar for us, the first time it had been unlocked in over a decade. We had one day. One single day when he and our video director Lark Stevens would be available to work together. We booked the date.
The next two months were a blur. The plot of the video had to be further fleshed out, and the video storyboard completed. There were problems to be addressed at the bar (power, water). There were extras to recruit, lighting to be acquired, and a skeptical director to convince. I tried in vain to get an exotic animal for the closing scene with countless phone calls and emails. Previous videos had taught me hard lessons about understudies and the level of commitment people actually had, so I worked making sure the main characters were three people deep before the day of the shoot. We needed a drone pilot with bridge experience, and I also had to feed 50 people.
The owner of HogDaddy’s came through like a champ. He supplied three generators and worked with us all day cleaning up the building before hand. Extras came from KY, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana to take part in the video. The last remaining bar in town took care of food for 50 people like a boss, and our director plowed through the day like a string of Mike Tyson knockouts on YouTube. Everyone brought their positivity and we came out with gold. Most of the extras are artists, models and musicians as well, so everyone you see in the video is working towards a creative goal both singularly and collectively.
Cameron said that it wasn’t until he saw the bridge appear in front of him as he was driving to Old Shawneetown that it hit him: two years of song development, tracking, recording live, layering, mastering, plot revisions and networking were coming together, and the video shoot was actually taking place. And as always, he brought his A game. Putting aside grief, he was on point with our director Lark Stevens ALL DAY LONG, occasionally breaking from his role to jump on stage and give our extras a boost of positivity with amazing performances of Whipping Post, and of course, Champagne and Whiskey. We wrapped that night, after all the extras had gone home. The band, the owner of HogDaddy’s who at 71 had just relived a very special era of his life, one of my best friends holding his war bonnet and my stepdad who was lighting crew and crowd control all day. All of us tired, smiling, knowing we had just been a part of something special. For a moment, every one of us got to let go of 2021 for just a second, and be carefree in a bar where nothing from the outside could hurt us. Real friendships formed and deepened from it. Drinks were thrown back, people danced and talked freely, we left our cares at the door of HogDaddy’s for 12 hours. That’s the real take away. Music is the escape pod, the time machine, the uniter. For us performers, it is the reason we dig beyond what we thought we were capable of, to achieve things we never even imagined before.
From now on, when I hear Champagne and Whiskey I will get to unplug from this harsh world for just a minute, and go to a place where the beer is cold, the whiskey is smooth, and the reason we are celebrating is simply because we have music and each other. Love to all, may your life give you all the right reasons to have Champagne and Whiskey.
I asked Matthew about the inspiration and story behind the video, as well as an explanation for the video, and was impressed with his storytelling and analysis of the video's narrative:
The creation of this video is a manifest of this band’s destiny and direction. We are all blessed with the power to create and make worlds, just as we were created, and there is also a natural flow for our lives. When we are swimming up stream against that flow, we encounter chaos and destruction. When we are swimming with the flow, we rapidly pick up momentum. The victories that we have experienced with this band are both divine and also created as we exercise our power of creativity. Every line Cameron wrote inspired a creation in my mind, and I knew that the simplicity of the lyrics gave a listener a broad palette to create from. The mark of a great song is when it resonates with a person to inspire a feeling in the most easily digestible way, and Cameron Tabor is a master of it. I wanted to give the deepest visual interpretation of what he had written in a way that was also the easiest to enjoy and accept.
The vision I was given as Cam rolled the verses off his tongue and strummed on the acoustic gave birth to this, and that sums up the creative relationship that he and I share. Cameron Tabor as a song writer does very well on his own, “Happy Being Me” came to him in the shower, “Champagne and Whiskey” is 100 percent his creative work. On the rare occasion when a song is trying to manifest and life distracts from being the vessel in which the song is traveling through, we will sit together, sometimes with another guitarist too and we will message the lyrics until they all present themselves in the best possible way. We are inspired singularly and also as a writing team, with Cameron being more gifted in melody and hooks, and my literary skills compliment with verse or prose that can easily be made to fit a modern song.
Cameron arrives in Old Shawneetown tired of radio country, “running 90 from what’s behind” and looking for something he can’t find”. When he wrote the song, his life was fairly calm, and I didn’t think too much about what that lyric meant to him in a factual way, I thought about my own life and journey. I had previously been in destructive relationships, and was raised in them as a child as well. It meant leaving all that behind to me, and looking for an illusive peace. As we are making our way in this world, we look to many things for that peace and comfort, be it relationships, money, possessions, etc. That peace comes from within, and some of us find it earlier in life than others. Personally, I am a late bloomer, and still have days when I struggle being comfortable in my own skin, but they are few and far between. So, what are we all running from? The last two years have been the worst for our nation in a generation, from the insurrection at the Capitol to Covid, I could go on ad nauseam. And our personal lives? I think most of us will agree that we would like to put the chaos of the past behind, and that peace can be allusive if we continue to live in the trappings of toxic behaviors and environments.
You will see Cameron encounter a farm hand at the gas station when he pulls into town. There is a subtle exchange, and he is directed towards HogDaddy’s. Do you see the farm hand again in the video?
Cameron makes his way into the bar, and no one acknowledges him outside, nor do they acknowledge him inside the bar. It’s almost as if he is invisible, or an outcast being overlooked. Inside the bar, all manner of things are happening. There is a fortune teller reading the palm of a woman wearing a white hat, gamblers, a mysterious bartender and do you see the farm hand? How did he get there, he was just down the street a second ago.
“In that bar I found that angel, she was just the drinkin’ kind”.
Cameron encounters a beautiful young woman, dressed all in black. They have a drink at the bar, and the bartender is played by JT Oglesby, a nationally ranked thumb picker who has played and knows everyone in the music industry from Chris Knight to The Everly Brothers. Cameron enjoys the company of the woman all in black until he is distracted by another woman wearing a lot of white. He rises to meet her and she leads him to the floor.
The guitar solo gives us a chance to show the energy of HogDaddy’s and to showcase the talent that was on set that day. We had a turntablist, musicians, models, singers, writers, theater kids, YouTubers and actors come together from four states to bring the energy to HogDaddy’s. As the solo concludes, we see the woman in mostly white bring Cameron face to face with himself as Rockstar Cameron gives a passionate performance.
It is that moment when Cameron is confronted with seeing himself on a different life path. Carpenter Cameron stares down Rock Star Cameron, and you can see a range of emotions cross his face. Mild shock, like when you are expecting a step down and there is none, realization of what he is seeing, and to a degree acceptance as he starts to sing a long.
The woman in black remains. The woman dressed innocently in the white pants and blue shirt remain. He is in a place with so many characters that to see them all you have to watch at a reduced speed. A business man, bikers, young beautiful people dancing, everything is available to Cameron in this carefree place. The farm hand from the very beginning is there, looking over the scene. The owner of the building is wearing a red t shirt also on the balcony watching.
The song concludes, and we hear just an acoustic guitar, and the innocently dressed woman makes eye contact and then her exit. Cam attempts to follow, but is detained by the beautiful bar patrons.
Once outside, our presumably innocent woman is gone. Night has fallen in just a matter of minutes. How long was Cameron in there? He turns to look behind him to find a single light and a boarded up door. The once crowded sidewalk is deserted. Looking back to the street he is confronted by a black Native American. Doesn’t he look familiar? Was he the farmhand? Was he on the mezzanine looking down… did we see feathers just to the right of the woman in black at the bar?
To the casual viewer, we get a quick trip into a dark bar for dancing and drinks. But the more you look, the more you will find. Is this just a bar, or is it a symbol of the world? Are our patrons just a reminder of a simpler time in American culture, or do they represent all the opportunities and trappings the world has to offer? Our farmhand directs Cameron to the bar, and is watching over the scene as it unfolds, finally confronting Cameron in native form. What does he represent? And Cameron, having been presented with a clear visual of where one life path could lead him is left with these words, “Far Enough”.
Like any good book or movie, not all questions should be answered. As our viewers watch the video repeatedly, they will find more and more reoccurring characters. That is a challenge in itself, and watching at a reduced speed can be helpful. What they represent is up to interpretation, but the clues given can get the viewer moving in the right direction.
Ultimately, Cameron is every man or woman. We all get to create a life with the power we are born with. Challenges to that creation will present themselves always, nothing is achieved with a wish. It starts with a vision, or a dream if you will. In “Champagne and Whiskey”, Cameron gets to opportunity to see a glimpse of what COULD be, much like in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. In our short time in Old Shawneetown, we do not get to see if Zuzu’s petals are in his pocket. As the story of The Cameron Tabor Band continues to unfold as we write it daily, we will find out if the next steps will lead to bigger stages, peace and prosperity, or if our choices and chances leave us as empty as HogDaddy’s was when it was unlocked for the first time in eleven years. Champagne for the celebrations, whiskey for heartaches and fellowship. It’s a full life, let’s raise a glass of each from time to time.
When asked if there was anyone in particular that helped make the vision happen, Matthew Smith made sure to mention the owner of the venue as well as the music video director:
Mr. York, owner of HogDaddy’s, made this happen. He worked tirelessly at the mature age of 71 to help clean the long-closed venue, brought three generators and porta-potties to the set. He immediately understood the vision and was able to expound upon it in the same direction. He is a creative force and a genuinely free man.
Also, director Lark Stevens’ critical eye and cinematic flair shines through in a way that makes a movie out of controlled chaos. We put a bunch of models, actors, musicians and artists into an abandoned bar, gave them drinks and kicked out the jams, and he not only put the story together exactly as it was written but he made us all look like rockstars throughout. His sense of timing is impeccable and knows what the youth of our demographic are hungry for.
Needless to say, 'Champagne and Whiskey' has a deep, rich, and inspiring story behind all aspects of the song and video from the band member's history to the recording process of the song and video. A special thanks to Matthew Smith for taking the time and making the effort to answer each and every one of my questions about the song and video in such great detail.
The follow up video and single to Champagne and Whiskey, 'Far Enough' is set to be released this year, as well as a few other singles. The band plans to return to the studio mid summer as well as booking some performances including HogRock and The Bus Bar in June, 4th Fest in Madisonville KY in July. They are also planning a music video reunion show in Old Shawneetown on April 2nd at Layton’s Old Town Bar and Grill!