By Richie Unterberger

Before Hamilton Camp issued his debut solo album, Paths of Victory, he was already well known as both a folk singer and an actor. The record, however, marked the unveiling of a new persona for the performer, in more ways than one. Previously Camp had been half of a folk duo with top folk artist Bob Gibson, in which his contributions were limited to vocals. Paths of Victoryshowcased him as a soloist, playing and singing his own harmonica and guitar. And the singer, previously known as Bob Camp when teamed with Gibson, was now Hamilton Camp, the name under which he's been known ever since.

     Issued around the tail end of 1964 or the very beginning of 1965, Paths of Victory is an overlooked highlight of the tail end of the folk boom itself. Traditional acoustic folk would soon largely give way to electric folk-rock and singer-songwriters. Within the limitations of the solo guitar-and-harmonica format, though, the record is quite progressive for its era. The punch is  fattened with bass (by Red Mitchell) and double-tracked voices on some cuts, and the repertoire is largely selected from contemporary writers rather than traditional tunes. Although just one of the compositions was wholly written by Camp, it's his engaging, sometimes soaring vocals and forceful playing that puts the material over, avoiding the mannered, reverential delivery that dates so many '60s folk boom LPs to the historical dustbin.

    The source for much of the material, however, was both a cause of dissatisfaction to Camp itself, and a reason the album continues to generate interest today. For Paths of Victory may well have been subtitled Hamilton Camp Sings the Songs of Bob Dylan , as no less than seven of the record's thirteen songs were written by Dylan. Though Dylan was already the hottest singer-songwriter in folk, and generating numerous cover versions, it was still a novel idea to stuff an album full of Dylan interpretations. And not just any interpretations: six of the seven Dylan compositions on Paths of Victory had yet to be released on Dylan's own Columbia albums when Camp put them out, and a couple of them have stillnot been released on Dylan's official albums.

    According to Camp, the idea to fill the LP with unfamiliar Dylan songs was Elektra president Jac Holzman's. At the time Dylan was writing far more songs than he could put onto his own releases, and recording numerous demos that were circulated to other artists and labels hungry for a shot at his material. "Dylan was hot, so Jac thought it was very smart to put more Dylan tunes on there, much to my regret. I originally had done a kind of very eclectic collection. I don't think any tunes [that didn't make the final LP] were original, but there were different interpretations of a lot of kinds [of] folk songs, [like] 'Railroad Bill.' I liked the album that way.

    "But he didn't like that. He said he wanted more Dylan tunes. So they sent me a tape out of Dylan's, it was reel-to-reel. I learned three or four tunes, and slapped them on, much to my regret. Because I really got hit for it, in especially the Minnesota folk scene. A magazine called The Little Sandy Review that came out of Minneapolis -- it was all Dylan cronies -- they just hated it!"

    Camp does admit fondness, however, for a couple of his Dylan makeovers, "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" and "Girl from the North Country." "Tomorrow Is a Long Time," possibly the best early Dylan song not to appear on Dylan's own pre-1965 releases, was already making the rounds via the famous cover version by Ian & Sylvia on their second LP. "Girl from the North Country" was the sole Dylan tune on Paths of Victory that had already been issued by the composer, as a highlight of his second album, 1963's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.

    Camp hardly disgraced himself on the other Dylan covers, however, which were something of a feast for those on the lookout for obscurities by the songwriter. "Guess I'm Doin' Fine" has rarely been recorded by anyone to this day, though Dylan's own January 1964 demo for his publishing company, Witmark, is available on bootleg. The on-the-road ode "Long Time Gone" was the other Dylan number that remains unreleased by Dylan himself, though Odetta and the Silkie would record it shortly after Camp's version appeared. "Only a Hobo" had been cut by Dylan under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt for the 1963 compilation LP Broadside Ballads Vol. 1, though Rod Stewart would record the most famous version on his second album, 1970's Gasoline Alley. "Paths of Victory" itself, an outtake from Dylan's third album The Times They Are A-Changin', would also be recorded in the mid-1960s by Pete Seeger and Odetta, and in 1990 by a reunited version of the Byrds. Finally, "Walkin' Down the Line" was also recorded around the same time by the Dillards, then still a bluegrass band, and like Camp on the Elektra roster; in 1963, it had appeared on Jackie DeShannon's self-titled LP.

    The Dillards, interestingly, were like Camp produced by Jim Dickson. It would be Dickson, as the manager of the Byrds, who would be primarily responsible for getting that band to cover "Mr. Tambourine Man" and sparking the folk-rock explosion of 1965. The Byrds, indeed, would on their second album record the country song "Satisfied Mind," popularized by Porter Wagoner, but done prior to the Byrds by Camp on Paths of Victory. Yet Dickson, according to Camp, was not pushing Dylan songs on him as Holzman was. "He was a great producer. We didn't get to finish the record, me and Jimmy. Paul Rothchild [the most noted Elektra producer, uncredited on the LP] came in and finished, making sure that I got all those Dylan tunes on correctly. It was a much better album when Jimmy and I put it together."

    As can be gathered, Camp was happiest with the non-Dylan tracks, including an early version of "Get Together," a classic (later a folk-rock hit for the Youngbloods) by Dino Valenti, yet another Jim Dickson client. Camp also set poems to music on "The Rubaiyat," "Irish Poems," and William Butler Yeats' "Innisfree." It's ironic that the track for which the album is most remembered, however, is the sole song for which Camp wrote both words and music: the classic "Pride of Man," with its compelling brooding melody and Biblically-inspired tale of mankind's fatal flaws. It was, however, destined to be remembered mostly via its covers by Gordon Lightfoot and particularly Quicksilver Messenger Service, who gave it a great rock treatment on their first album. Oddly, David Freiberg of Quicksilver, who introduced the composition to the band, doesn't even remember hearing Camp's recording of the song, and thinks he learned it from a publisher's lead sheet that had been given to his friend (and eventual Quicksilver member) Dino Valenti.

    Camp never recorded another album for Elektra in the 1960s, focusing on his acting as part of the theatrical group The Committee in San Francisco, and making recordings with full pop-rock arrangements later in the decade for Warner Brothers. He has continued to perform and record music on and off until the present, though he is better known as an actor, particularly for his appearances on numerous television shows. Paths of Victory, despite his reservations about some of the content, remains his best and most accomplished work as a recording artist. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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