Upon the news of his sudden death on Thursday, tributes to Canadian music titan Deane Cameron flooded social-media platforms. From rock bands Nickelback and Rush, from Alberta-raised country artist Terri Clark and from longtime friend and former bandmate Tom Cochrane, testimonials were made on behalf of the former president of EMI Music Canada and a determined, effective and cheerful champion of his country’s homegrown music scene.
“My heart is truly broken,” said Canadian Music Hall of Famer Cochrane, in a statement posted on Twitter. "We travelled such a long road together, he was my brother.”
Cameron’s road in the music business began as a teen warehouse clerk at EMI and as a drummer in the band Harvest, with Cochrane. He went on to become, in 1988, the youngest Canadian president of a major music label. He held that top position at EMI until he resigned in 2012.
Since 2015, Cameron had served as president and CEO of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall. He attended a performance by British comedian John Cleese at Roy Thomson Hall on Monday, before suffering a heart attack three days later while walking in the woods near his cottage at Eagle Lake in Northern Ontario. He was 65.
Cameron will be remembered as an enthusiastic believer in Canadian musicians. “He supported my career and saw potential before even I did,” tweeted Juno-winning singer-songwriter Donovan Woods.
“He was a champion of ours when we had few,” echoed Nickelback, in a similar statement.
Under his watch, EMI signed Nickelback, as well as Serena Ryder, The Rankin Family, k-os and Johnny Reid. He persuaded Stompin’ Tom Connors to come out of retirement, and kept a taxidermist-treated beaver on his desk. Cameron was called “Captain Canada” sincerely.
“He was a true believer in the potential of Canadian music and its artists,” tweeted singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith. “Big shoes to fill.”
For his contributions to arts and music, Cameron was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2010. He served on the board of directors of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) for over 14 years, and was honoured with the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at the Junos in 2011.
As an advocate of the arts and culture of Indigenous communities, Cameron’s support of such artists as Buffy Sainte-Marie and Susan Aglukark predated by decades the current Indigenous music renaissance.
As noted by the band Rush, at the time of his death Cameron was overseeing the renovation of one of Canada’s most historic music venues. “He was a tremendous and long-time supporter of Canadian musicians,” the illustrious rock trio tweeted, "and a driving force behind the Massey Hall revitalization project.”
Noted for his work on behalf of pop and rock acts, Cameron also served on the board of the Canadian Country Music Association. “Thank you, Deane Cameron," wrote country music’s Terri Clark, “for everything you did for me, and so many others.”
Further online eulogies came from Glass Tiger, Kim Mitchell, True North Music label founder Bernie Finkelstein, The Tragically Hip’s Paul Langlois and the singer of Sugar, Sugar. “What happens to your body and soul," asked Andy Kim, “when your friend calls you and sets a time to meet next week, only to find out today he’s passed on without warning?”
Cameron was instrumental in helping Canadian artists such as Corey Hart and April Wine break big in the United States, but his career-defining mission was to develop his own country’s music infrastructure. “In the long run, we’d like to be able to break all acts out of Canada,” Cameron told The Globe and Mail in 1989. “I hope it’s not too idealistic to think so, but I hope that one day, none of those people will have to go to the U.S. to get a record deal.”