MADISON — George Curtis “G. C.” Cameron might not be a household name, but his vocals have been heard by millions the world over. He was the lead singer for the iconic Motown group The Spinners and was lead singer for the Temptations from 2003 to 2007. He claimed fame, fortune, love and success by the time he hit his mid-20s. And, just as easily, he let it all go.
After living “everywhere on the planet,” Cameron, now 71, came home to Mississippi to be closer to his roots. Born in McCall Creek, 12 miles west of Brookhaven off Highway 84, he spent his childhood as did most other rural kids, learning to milk cows and chop cotton. One of his earliest memories was listening to the radio.
“We could get WLAC out of Nashville, and they played everything. I listened to everyone from Big Maybelle, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Muddy Waters and B.B. King to Hank Williams. Part of my brain became very receptive to melody,” he said.
At age 8, he moved with his family to Detroit. Cameron struggled in school, never wanting to learn the basics of geography and math.
“I always had music in my head. It’s all I ever cared about. I think I was probably born singing,” he said. “My first cry was a melody, I’m sure”
He sang in the church choir and did his best to make it out of school, then followed in the footsteps of his six older brothers who all served in the military. Cameron joined the Marines and served four years and three months active duty and another six years in the Marine Reserves.
The first three years in the Marines was wonderful for the boy from McCall Creek. He traveled the world on a ship and, in 1964 while in route from San Francisco to Okinawa, Japan, Cameron sang on the deck for a group of Marines. An officer heard him and asked if he’d be willing to sing to the officers’ wives. He gained quite a reputation, performing in talent shows at various bases, winning every time.
A family friend, Dennis Edward, one of the Contours (a group that helped establish Motown) called Cameron’s brother Dave and told him that Motown was looking for a lead singer for a new group called The Spinners.
“What you have to understand is that I was pretty cocky and confident. I was competitive and always liked to win. Then Harvey Fuqua and Marvin Gaye came in. I was thinking ‘Yeah, you’re big now!’ I sang only three bars and they said, ‘You’re it.’”
The group went into the studio and recorded a few songs. Cameron, who had served in Vietnam, found himself on the stage of the Apollo Theater in New York for the debut performance of The Spinners barely a month after from returning from war.
“It was on a Thursday, the day they change acts at the Apollo. We opened for Marvin Gaye, and the crowd loved us,” he said.
The Spinners went on to perform with such acts as Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips and others.
“I was so blessed to be singing with one of the biggest black groups in the world,” Cameron said.
He sang with The Spinners from 1967 to 1972, married Barry Gordy’s sister, Gwendolyn, and the couple moved into a $6 million mansion in Beverly Hills.
“I was 24 years old and lived across the street from Lucille Ball, at 1004 Benedict Canyon Drive. My other neighbors were Jack LaLanne, Rod Stewart, Elvis Presley and Dean Martin’s daughter,” he said. “I had an extended body Silver Shadow Rolls Royce, three Jaguars, one of which I bought from Hugh Hefner’s daughter, and two full rooms of pretty clothes. I got a check every two weeks whether I worked or not.”
During that time, he wrote and recorded, starting his first solo career in 1973. But, Cameron was young, and he took some wrong paths. He decided to make the move back to his roots.
“I moved from a mansion in Beverly Hills back into my parents’ trailer back in McCall Creek in 1980. I was tired,” he said. “And I had more wives chasing after me than Bonnie and Clyde had Feds!”
Not only did Cameron leave Beverly Hills, he also left Motown amid political turmoil.
“I went into the woods around McCall’s Creek. I went to the creek where I was baptized, and the church where I grew up. I became an ordained minister and became more attuned to love than anything. Money didn’t affect me. It wasn’t important to me,” he said. “I became more concerned with simple truths, and I realized how easily people could forget that the Lord is God. I realized that not enough people were taking time to pray together, and that we were in a rat race heading for disaster. I found my peace in McCall’s Creek.”
During that period, Cameron had a gospel show at WLBT, the NBC affiliate in Jackson.
“It was called Truth and Reality, and it became their No. 1 show for a time. I also put together a band called Kemistry with Deanna Hooper, and we played for a few of the Mississippi Picnics in Central Park,” he said.
After moving to St. Louis and Jacksonville, Cameron began recording in Minnesota.
“It was, I believe, my best work ever, but it’s never been released,” he said.
He moved to Myrtle Beach for a couple of years in the late 1990s before moving home again.
“I had a nice little apartment in Bude, Miss.,” he recalls.
In 2000, Cameron got a call to rejoin The Spinners, and he resumed his role as lead singer through 2003, when he left to sing lead with The Temptations from 2003 to 2007.
In 2008, Cameron retired to Mississippi, purchasing a home in Madison to be near his three children. He also has two brothers in the area, as well as a sister who splits her time between Mississippi and Detroit. While technically retired, Cameron has teamed up with Peggy Brown, president of Hit the Road Entertainment, a booking, promotion and special event company in Jackson.
“She has resurrected me,” he said. “We have some great ideas going.”
Cameron recently performed in a show in Natchez in conjunction with the Natchez Music Festival called “Motown to Mississippi” that was very well received.
“There is a revelation of meaning of Motown music and how it still inspires,” Cameron said. “Hearing the music reminds you of where you were when you first heard it. It clears out everything else. One of my philosophies is that music is the heartbeat of society. Music is what the world is crying out for. Singers are like soul physicians — we operate on the human soul. Music has all the ingredients – love, compassion, godliness, conviction and truth.”
Looking back, Cameron has no regrets.
“I really don’t remember having money. Motown or Malaco never paid me. The music business is so political. But that doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I have so many great memories and so many of the people who have traveled this same trail as me are no longer here. They are dead — either physically, spiritually or mentally. I’ve watched many people fall from great heights to great depths. In the end, it’s just a job. I’m here now and loving life.”
That’s not to say that the music isn’t still very much alive in Cameron.
“We met five years ago,” Brown said of Cameron. “I felt like I already knew him.”
Growing up outside of Jacksonville, Fla., Brown said her window to the world was her transistor radio.
“I listened to ‘the Mighty 690’ and the disc jockeys there were not biased when it came to music. I heard the Beach Boys, the Beatles and all the Motown music,” she said.
Cameron is on the Hit the Road roster of performers, and Brown books him and his Motown show, as well as working on funding for special projects.
“He still has the moves, and I’m sure he can do all that wonderful choreography in his sleep,” she said. “He can still sing, even though his voice has matured. His octaves are incredible — he’s able to hit the high notes as well as the low notes. G. C. is such a delight and there’s no doubt, he still has the music in him.”
Cameron will be inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in September, and he’s working on a memoir, From the Cotton Fields to Beverly Hills and Back Again.