Cameron Pierre - Guitar

David Gallant talks to the guitarist about how he got started, the instruments he has played over the years and his all time favourite choice. He also reports on the latest instrument developments and launches...
“Cameron Pierre is unique,” says his drummer Robert Fordjour. “He’s the only musician I know who turns up at a gig with a soldering iron – he’s the king of D.I.Y.!” Active Image

Pierre’s story starts on the Caribbean island of Dominica where he persuaded a friend to loan him his guitar. “I started giving him one Caribbean dollar every week to loan me the guitar”, says Pierre. “Every Friday he would turn up at my house and I would have to go and nik another dollar from my gran to give to him. We didn’t have any books or discs, so I’d just sit there trying to learn what I was hearing on the radio.”

Music however had always been a part of life in the Pierre household. Pierre’s father played a steel pan in the local steel band and his mother listened in to the sounds of ska and reggae. “Dad was a Nat King Cole fan,” says Pierre, “and he had a huge collection of his records’. I guess my very first influence must have been Nat King Cole’s guitarist John Collins.”

Pierre joined a local calypso band that had been contracted to record an album on neighbouring Martinique. “The bass player left,” says Pierre, ‘so I was asked whether I wanted to join. I had two weeks to learn 10 songs on a bass guitar that had a string missing – they couldn’t find another string on the island!”

In 1978 Pierre arrived in the UK – but without a guitar. “I asked my mother whether she would buy me a bass guitar,” says Pierre. “So she ordered one from a catalogue, but when it arrived it turned out to be a cheap plank of plywood with SIX strings. I couldn’t tell her that it was the wrong guitar!” Back on six strings, Pierre hung on to “this almost unplayable plank” for about a year before buying a Les Paul copy. “I remember it was called a Grant,” says Pierre, ‘it was another plank of plywood – but it was a lot better than that first instrument.” The ‘Grant’ lasted for another year, while more funds were raised. “Then I bought my first ‘proper’ guitar on HP – a Fender Stratocaster.”

Pierre then went through a phase where he was “never 100 per cent happy” with any of his instruments. As he says: “In the early 80s I was really into George Benson and I was looking to imitate George’s sound”. He moved to semi acoustics – 335 and 175 copies – “there were guitars… after guitars… after guitars!” But one instrument stood out. In 1987 Pierre bought an Ibanez Howard Roberts “which I regretted selling, because that was a very, very good guitar.”
1993 saw Pierre accompanying Courtney Pine on a tour of Japan. “I had an endorsement deal with Aria guitars,” says Pierre. “But I was never really happy with their guitars – something was always lacking. However, while I was over there, I decided to go to their warehouse in Tokyo and by chance picked up a copy of an L5 straight off the bench for £1.000 (I hustled the band for the cash)! It’s just the most amazing guitar,” says Pierre. “I believe that guitar was waiting for me.” Purely acoustic, Pierre fitted the guitar with a Gibson “Johnny Smith’ pickup. “You know I’ve used that guitar on all the recordings that I have made up until this year.”

So what’s the current favourite I wondered? “I have found this Ibanez and I’m kind of in love with it. You know, it’s like finding a new woman! It’s an 1978 175 ‘Artist’ which is an unbelievable guitar – I play that all the time now – I just can’t put it down’.

Finally we get around to discussing amps and strings and I get the feeling that it’s a subject that doesn’t particularly interest Pierre. “I played the Strat through a Peavey ‘Deuce’, which was actually the perfect amp for that guitar,” he says. “When I got the semi-acoustic instruments I moved onto an amp made by this American guy Dan Pearse but since I have got my Trio together, I actually bought a Roland Cube 60, which I have been using for a while and I’m quite enjoying’.
Strings? “I use D’Addario flat 12s, because I like the sound,” says Pierre. “When they get old I like them better. When they’re too new they’re too clangy and too bright.”

And what about that soldering iron? Pierre explains. “I’ve always done all the repairs on my guitars myself. I remember my mother getting very frustrated because the kitchen table was my workbench, so we could never eat a meal on it because there was always hundreds of little pieces of guitar lying around on it! And there are times when Pierre’s ingenuity and technical ‘know how’ comes in very useful. “I did a gig once with Courtney Pine at the Town and Country club” and right in the middle of a solo, the guitar went completely dead. I quickly unplugged the instrument and someone jumped in to do the soloing while I ran to the back, grabbed my soldering iron and took the guitar apart. The earth had come off the connection with the socket – I soldered the guitar and within five minutes I was back on stage continuing with my solo.” But you sense there’s more to it than that. “You see, I’m in love with my guitars,” confides Pierre. “I won’t let anyone else fool around with them.”

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