For the past year, singer-songwriter-guitarist Lewis Ray Cammarata has been playing solo acoustic shows all over Arizona. Performing a mixture of original songs—some taken from his Lemme Outa Here album on Tucson-based Funzalo Records—and adaptations of other people’s material, he’s developed a touring circuit of more than a dozen venues, including several weekly residencies. He also hosts a pair of weekly open-mike nights.
“Last week in Scottsdale, “ says Cammarata, “this woman came up to me after a set and said, ‘My husband and I really like you because you play stuff we don’t know, but we feel like we do after you’re done.’
“That sums up why I’ve been playing 100 to 500-seat venues—everything from restaurants, pubs, and college bars to nightclubs, showcases, and festivals—trying to create a niche for myself by appealing to people who get what I’m trying to do.”
Like many people, Cammarata began playing guitar after he saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s TV show. Two years later, the Baltimore native joined the Oxfords, a local soul band whose biggest claim to fame was opening for Archie Bell & the Drells at a Ft. Mead army base.
Cammarata made his recording debut at age 17 with Nicky C. & the Chateaux, who cut a single (“Try Some Soul” b/w “Good Times”)—engineered by future audio legend George Massenburg—for the local Bay Sound Records label. During his time with this outfit, he learned to read and write charts for their four-piece horn section.
In 1970, Cammarata formed his own band, Crystal, which recorded another single for Bay Sound (a cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” b/w the original “Funky Finger”). The band spent a year on the road, opening for the Edgar Winter Group, the Grass Roots, the Association, and the Guess Who, among others.
When Crystal broke up, Cammarata took a gig playing in a strip club on Baltimore Street, before spending two years with Jeremiah, a cover band that played everywhere east of the Mississippi River.
Searching for greater creative opportunity, Cammarata moved to Los Angeles and joined the Zippers, a turbocharged Anglo-influenced pop group, who recorded a 1978 single for local indie Back Door Man Records (the original “You’re So Strange” b/w a cover of “He’s a Rebel”) and a 1981 six-song EP of all-original material that was produced by former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek for the Rhino Records label.
For nearly six years, the Zippers were the toast of the West Coast, opening for Patti Smith, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, John Cale, and the Buzzcocks before imploding in 1982.
Cammarata then became a studio musician, adding guitar, bass, pedal steel, and background vocals as well as doing arrangements for anyone who could pay for his services. Along the way, he worked with saxophonist Cornelius Bumphus, pianist Mike Garson, bassist Glenn Cornick, vocalist Bonnie Bramlett, and guitarist Jesse Ed Davis.
Eventually, the mercenary nature of the work got to him and Cammarata left L.A. to raise his son in a more child-friendly environment. He sold all his equipment and didn’t play a note for 10 years.
In 2003, Cammarata moved to Phoenix, picked up a 1947 Supro lap steel, and began writing songs. He also built a home studio, so he could record his compositions. Seven years later, he started performing live again, playing at blues jams and with various groups of local musicians, which lead to his decision to concentrate on his solo acoustic efforts.
Encouraged by the response to his leathery vocals, subtle guitarwork, and songs inspired by the seven deadly sins, Cammarata is now ready to take his talents to a wider audience.