There’s just one thing Preston Camp Jr. has loved longer than the Texas-style country music he self-releases on Red Note Records: his favorite college football team. As the son of former UGA wrestler and high-school football coach Preston Camp Sr., the younger Camp wanted nothing more than a chance to play for the Dawgs upon his high-school graduation.
“I got a couple of scholarship offers to smaller schools, including Gordon Military [College], but all I knew was I wanted to be a Bulldog,” Camp says.
Student athletes dead set on wearing red and black on fall Saturdays get a small window to succeed at college football. That was especially true for Camp when he arrived on campus in 1969: Until 1972, freshmen were ineligible to play on the varsity team. A separate all-freshman squad featuring Mac McWhorter, later a position coach at both UGA and Georgia Tech, and Lynn Hunnicutt, later a state-champion head coach for Pepperell High School in Floyd County, offered Camp a chance to prove his value as a safety to then-coach Vince Dooley.
Soon after, Camp was presented with a chance to transfer to Troy State alongside another player, Terry Peeples. “They offered me and Terry a full scholarship to transfer from Georgia,” Camp says. “To me, the most important thing was being part of the Georgia Bulldogs system, more than the opportunity to be able to play on a starting team. Terry took it, but I didn’t.”
Although a hamstring injury kept him off the field, Camp’s loyalty to UGA paid off. Dooley offered him a football manager scholarship for the 1971 season, creating a one-of-a-kind chance to travel with the 11-1 Gator Bowl champions. Camp’s later behind-the-scenes contribution to Georgia football came as a scout team kicker.
In hindsight, Camp says it’s a blessing that he never realized his dream as a starter. Decades later, a doctor informed him of a broken neck suffered way back in high school that could’ve made the SEC grind way too dangerous for the future singer-songwriter. Indeed, after Camp’s time at UGA and a stint in the Alabama National Guard, a hidden talent got his full attention.
“When I was in grammar school, I was writing poetry, and I guess I wrote my first country song when I was in junior high school,” he says. “I was always writing. It was a natural-born gift I had. I kept writing in college and wrote a lot of songs, but I never did anything with them.”
With a guitar he bought for 75 cents off a soldier in search of cigarette money, Camp started playing clubs around Georgia and Alabama. Eventually, his writing talents brought him to Nashville, TN, where he befriended fellow Georgian Jerry Reed and started cutting demos.
Decades of songwriting culminated with Camp’s late-aughts discovery that the European market loved his music. His songs got airplay there, and journalists paid him high praise. “One of the Italian magazines over there wrote an article about me, and it called me the new Guy Clark of country music,” he says. “To me, that was a huge compliment, because I always admired Guy Clark as a songwriter.”
Growing stateside interest in Americana and traditional country helped Camp get christened an honorary Texan, but his most enthusiastic supporters still reside overseas, where he says there are open invites to play venues in Europe and a festival in Australia. Camp and his cast of veteran collaborators, including steel guitarist Tommy Dodd—who has played with names like Travis Tritt and Doug Stone—are planning the late-2018 release of a new album, She Calls Me Cowboy.
Like a good songwriter should, Camp writes about what he knows, including his lifelong devotion to Athens. In 2002, he recorded a CD called Hungry Dogs about his alma mater’s athletic squads. In the tradition of novelty songs about UGA football, the title track gained some momentum during David Greene and David Pollack’s dream season.
“A few years ago, someone told me that the Redcoat Band was playing ‘Hungry Dogs’ before the game, so it’s still alive and kicking,” Camp adds.
On 2016’s Red Texas Sun, Camp told a more tantalizing story about what could have been, had those early days in Athens gone a little different. “My freshman year, my first good friend I met was born and raised in Athens,” he says. “He introduced me to [Athens native] Kim Basinger. She might’ve been 17 years old, and I was 18 by the time I got over there.”
Years later, he says, “I was up late one night writing and had the TV on and muted. This movie came on called People I Know, with Al Pacino and Kim Basinger. I wrote a song called ‘People I Know (Me Rememberin’ Kim Basinger and 1969).’ She probably has no clue that it’s out there.
“It’s funny,” says Camp, “because I called her after he introduced me to ask her out on an official date, and she said, ‘I’d love to go, but I’m leaving to go to New York for a modeling gig.’ Of course, we know what happened after that. I don’t think she ever came back to Athens.”