Talented Young Texas Singer/Songwriter
From Concan Has Performed Since Age 9
Published January 2014
At just 17, country music performer and songwriter Camille Sanders is already a veteran of the music world, if you count the years she’s been singing and playing the fiddle, since age 9. Camille’s most recent performances include acoustic sets with Ace in the Hole Band leader Ronnie Huckaby. Yes, that Ace in the Hole Band, George Strait’s backing group. She released her second CD in April 2013, “Smile.” Her first, a self-titled CD of cover and orginal songs, came out in 2011. The Camille Sanders Band performed a set at the 2011 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo and has opened for several big acts.
Though Camille has yet to garner the kind of huge attention that mean’s a performer has “arrived” in Texas and across the country, she has already charted hits in Europe, where, by the way, many people love American country music. And, recently, Camille made her acting debut in a made-for-TV movie starring Dolly Parton.
It was Camille’s maternal grandfather, Howard Yeargan, who spurred her early interest in music, she said. “I started learning how to play the fiddle when I was 9, and we would go from church to church and play gospel shows together and I’d play the fiddle and my grandpa would play the piano.” Her fiddle playing then was a little rough compared to now, she said. “It was a little squeaky.”
Her fiddle skills improved, and at the same time her grandfather taught her to play the piano. “My grandpa passed away,” she said. “I thought, well, I’m going to continue what we started together, so I learned how to play the guitar.” She had the music basics down, she said, but she needed some polish. “I needed real good training and stuff so I started training with my fiddle teacher, Dick Walker. And we would work together all throughout the summers trying to get theory and stuff, and I learned how to play the guitar and I started covering songs and writing my own music to play at a show in Concan.”
Camille’s parents, Paul and Beth Sanders, support her musical career from their home in Concan in Southwest Texas. Beth home schools Camille, who will be graduating high school very soon. Camille’s older sister Caitlynn, who works as a radiology technician, supports Camille’s career as well and is a fan and trusted critic, Camille said. “I’m so thankful to have her be so supportive of me.”
Before she took up the guitar, Camille, at 13, had played at a “song swap” at the House Pasture Cattle Company in Concan, a restaurant and live music venue. “I only knew two songs on the mandolin and I got up there and I did my two songs, and it was with, like—Kyle Park and Cory Morrow were there and Emory Quinn and Luke Olson; they were all on stage and then there was me on the mandolin in the corner.” The restaurant owner at the time liked what she heard and asked Camille to come back and perform Memorial Day weekend, only a month away.
“I didn’t know any songs on the guitar . . . so I got a guitar really fast and I just kind of locked myself in my bedroom and I practiced, oh, so gruelingly, until it was time for the show. And, I got my hour of music down and I was ready to go, man, and it was terrifying, because I’d never done anything like that before.”
On stage at the House Pasture, Camille performed the songs she’d learned. “I remember at the time the Hannah Montana movie was out and I played ‘The Climb’ from that . . . and just a ton of Taylor Swift songs, and originals,” she said. “I had two originals at the time so I did those too, and, oh yeah, some George Strait. Had to get George Strait in there! I do remember “The Climb” was one of them. Oh man, I loved that Hannah Montana movie!”
Camille has been writing songs since age 13 when she wrote her first one about a crush she had on a boy in her church youth group. “The song, I remember, was called ‘Don’t Look Back,’ and it’s not on any CD or anything,” she said. “It’s probably not my very best written song but I was so happy; I had a song of my own and I had written it.” She runs a lot of her cover song choices and original songs by her friend Molly to see if she likes them. Camille trusts Molly’s opinion. “She’s been there to tell me, ‘Oh, Camille, that’s song’s terrible; do not cover that one.’ I even wrote a song in her bedroom one time at a sleepover we had. So, she’s been very supportive and she’s one of my best critics, along with my sister Caitlynn.”
After her Memorial Day weekend engagement at the House Pasture she was hired on as the “unofficial dinner music” every Thursday night for the big acts that would play there. She would play her fiddle and sing, sometimes going from table to table. Eventually, the management asked her to play on Saturday nights. “Oh my gosh, I thought the world was just so bright and shiny when that happened! That was cool!” Camille said. “Because, oh gosh, getting to go play on a Saturday night . . . there’s actually people there!”
She would open for the big Texas music acts such as Kyle Park. “The House Pasture would be packed, so then here’s this little girl, standing on stage,” she said. “A lot of times I would get good a reception because it was when I would take my fiddle and go walk around and meet everybody there.”
Until that point Camille had performed alone or had sat in with various bands or performers. But while performing at the House Pasture she’d been noticed and about New Year’s of 2011 she received a call and was invited to perform a one-hour set at the 2011 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, set for just a month away. The short notice sent Camille and her parents scrambling to put together a band. Through her experiences performing she’d already made a lot of musician friends. One was guitarist Mark Buchanan, who delivered propane to the Sanders home.
“He was the one who taught me how to change my guitar strings and was there for me for my first show,” Camille said. “He always supported me, and when I started in this business he would say, ‘Hey, come sit in with me and my band at this Saturday night gig,’ and so I would learn songs I knew his band would cover. So, whenever it came time when I was really needing to grow and have something more than just an acoustic act, he was our first call.”
“This was, I mean, right into the new year. So we called Mark and said, man, we need to get a band together and it was for the Disney day at the stock show and we said we’ve got to get a band together that’s willing to play Hannah Montana and Taylor Swift, because it’s for kids and he was like, ‘Ok, lets get a band!’” Camille knew a bass player in Sabinal named Joe Villasana, and through him they added a drummer, John Michael Bird, and a lead guitar, Roy Pivoda. “We just practiced so much throughout that time—that month—and we got our hour down.”
What they thought was just going to be a one-time gig turned into more. “We really loved playing together, so we continued playing together, and it ws just a really cool opportunity that opened up just from that one show,” Camille said. “We started playing together all over Texas, going from here to Austin to San Saba to everywhere, and it was cool. I was so thankful for the opportunity that those men brought into my life just by being a band and teaching me so much. They taught me so much performance wise.” The Camille Sanders Band has opened for performers including Joe Nichols and Tanya Tucker.
During the holiday season especially and at various times throughout the year, Camille said, she does acoustic gigs. “I will call Mark in and we’ll go and do a duo show together and that’s always fun because he’s a great guy.”
She’s also been performing duet acoustic shows with Ace in the Hole Band leader Ronnie Huckaby. “In the duo show we just play the music that everybody knows and loves, mixed in with some originals from the CDs that he’s co-produced with me and Tommy Detamore out of Floresville, Texas,” Camille said. “I just love Ronnie. You’ll have to stop me ‘cause I’ll talk about him for pages!” Camille said she first met Huckaby when her grandfather, Caddo Sanders, brought him to Concan from San Marcos. “He’s been so good to me and he’s taught me so much. And he’s such a good friend to me, most importantly, that we were able to have a good musical relationship.” Camille’s albums were recorded by Tommy Detamore at his Cherry Ridge Recording Studio in Floresville, Texas.
Though Camille’s songs get some airplay on independent radio stations in the United States, a big part of the fan feedback that she’s gotten is from France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. “This album (“Smile”) and the last album (“Camille Sanders”) have both had songs that were in the top 20 on the independent charts in Europe. And that was so cool!” she said. “The other day I got a message on my Facebook from a man in France that said . . . ‘Hello from France. France loves country music. Love your music. Thank you.’” She said she was looking forward to being invited to travel to Europe and perform. “Oh gosh, I’m hoping! That would be incredible.”
A second career path that Camille is considering involves acting. A recent series of events led to a role for her in a Lifetime movie starring Dolly Parton, “A Country Christmas Story,” that was broadcast this past November. Camille had auditioned for and been accepted to a summer acting camp in Los Angeles. At the end of the acting camp the organizers presented talent showcase of the campers for L.A. agents. “I got an agent out of that, and he’s so nice and ever since then we’ve always had a word agreement, like a handshake, that he would submit me for roles that he thought were worth me coming out there,” she said. She’s had a few auditions that didn’t go anywhere, but then last year her agent called with a role just right for her. “He called and said, ‘I’ve got the part for you. It’s a fiddle player and it’s just right down your alley.’” To audition, she recorded a video of herself, including some fiddle playing and singing, and sent it back to Los Angeles. The production company liked what they saw and asked for a second audition tape. After waiting for a week and thinking she wouldn’t get this role just as she’d not gotten previous roles, the family got a call saying she’d gotten the part. “We all just freaked out! But then it was like, well gosh, I got a part; now what do I do with it?” she said.
For her movie role, Camille portrayed a young fiddle playing country music performer named Mary Lou Memphis, a bit of a mean girl, the opposite of Camille’s exuberant and positive personality. And as Mary Lou she had to perform a song that Dolly Parton had written for the part. Camille enlisted the help of Tommy Detamore at Cherry Ridge Studio to lay down tracks for the song. She and her mother then spent a week filming in Los Angeles and another week filming with Dolly at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Camille discovered that for the scene where she sang the song she would sing along to her already recorded tracks for a studio audience of extras and for Dolly Parton. “I had never performed it, period. I had practiced it, and I had recorded the vocals for it here in Texas with Tommy Detamore. . . They said, don’t worry, you’ve just got to play along and sing along with your audio so we can match your audio and your fiddle playing together for the movie, so, whew!, that was a relief!” she said. But Dolly seemed to have enjoyed her performance.
“She liked it, and she asked me if I was really a singer or if I was really an actor. And I told her I had mainly only ever done music,” Camille said. “And she said, ‘Oh, that’s wonderful sweetheart, do you have a CD?’ And I said, oh, yes ma’am I do, I have like an independent one . . . And, she was like, ‘Can I have one?’. . . What!? Wait a minute, you want my CD? She said, ‘Of course I do!’” When Camille gave Dolly a copy of her “Smile” CD, Dolly asked her to autograph it. “I was like, oh man, our roles are really reversed here right now. She said, ‘No you’re fine, just sign it.’ And I was thinking, what do you sign to Dolly Parton? ‘I will always love you?’ I just wrote something silly because I was so nervous, like ‘Thank you so much. Camille Sanders.’”
As she graduates high school, Camille said she will be pursuing both her career paths, singing and acting, and will put off going to college for now.