It is easy to see that Dr. Cam Patterson has more than enough of an identity for one life. He’s a noted cardiologist, owner of an MBA and, oh yeah, chancellor of the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences, the largest employer in Arkansas. Patterson, father of three, has been at the helm of UAMS since June of 2018. The pandemic has only made the spotlight on Patterson and UAMS that much brighter. Somewhere in this stuffed-to-the-gills life, Patterson’s not-so-secret identity as a hardcore music fanatic and music maker has emerged with clues dropped along the way, including the photo of Big Star’s “#1 Record” on his Twitter profile (@drcampatterson). We asked Patterson some questions that, blessedly, had nothing to do with the coronavirus.
When did this music interest of yours start?
I was young kid — 8 or 9 — growing up in Mobile, Alabama. I remember discovering FM radio for the first time. Suddenly I was able to hear all kinds of music that had never heard before. Like Steely Dan deep tracks. All kinds of music. I started playing guitar. I had bands all through high school. The name of my first band was Rebellion. That might have been the cheesiest band name, but it wasn’t the worst.
You played guitar?
Yes. I’ve always played stringed instruments. I tried to pretend I was Jimmy Page. The talking-guitar thing Frampton did — we built one of those for our band.
But you weren’t just into Led Zeppelin and Frampton.
I started out as a classic rock fan. But I will never forget being in my bedroom when they played on the radio “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways. I thought, “How do I find more of this stuff?” It became a passion. I had that red Rolling Stone record guide. It became my mission to find as many five-star records as I could. Then I started reading about bands that weren’t in that guide or weren’t reviewed so favorably. The one I remember is Pere Ubu. They gave “Dub Housing” one star or no stars. I thought that was insane. I needed to find other sources of information to find music I’m gonna love.
Were you in a band when you were in college?
I went to college in Vanderbilt. I was more of a music scene guy then. The first club show I went to was in October 1981. It was Jason and the Nashville Scorchers opening up for R.E.M. That really opened up a whole new world for me. I realized [that] these are real people playing this music. They aren’t up on some pedestal. Because they can’t afford a pedestal! Back then, you could find their home address and write them letters. They would respond to you.
You had a band in medical school?
The worst band name of all time happened when I was in medical school at Emory. It came out of mishearing something that was taught in class. We were Sex Hormone Bondage Puppy. Somehow, Sex Hormone Bondage Puppy did not get a record deal.
You’re also in a band right now, right?
Yes. It’s Fox Green — there are four of us. Wade Derden, Steve Kapp and Dave Hoffpauir. We have fun. Our first gig was at South on Main. That happened and the world shut down [due to the pandemic]. We are doing something I’ve never done. Fox Green is doing all original songs and we are having it professionally recorded.
Fox Green’s sound?
I would say we are just a rock band with some Americana influences. All the songs are original except one (“Cloud #9” is an unreleased song I found on a bootleg by DFX2— remember them?) Derden is our singer and writes about two-thirds of our songs, I write the other one-third. I don’t sing — I play various guitars, lap steel, mandolin.
Who recorded your record?
Jason Weinheimer did at Fellowship Hall. Adam Weiner from Low Cut Connie is on it. Lisa Walker from Wussy sings a song. The record is done and the album artwork is done. We’re probably gonna put it on Bandcamp. It’ll come out in November.
So in addition to being in all these bands while becoming a cardiologist, getting your MBA, being COO of a hospital in New York, you also have developed a relationship with the most prominent living rock critic, Robert Christgau. How did that start?
You know Bob has written about that.
Yes he has. In an NPR story about remembrances of the closing of Christgau’s former employer, New York City’s independent newspaper, The Village Voice, Christgau told the story of a young Patterson sending a dollar to the Voice asking for a photocopy of Christgau’s 1981 Dean’s List of favorite records. In the story, Christgau says Patterson is “one of the most wide-ranging music lovers I’ve ever met. When he retires, he could take up music journalism easy.”
When I met [Bob] in person for the first time, he remember that I had sent him that letter immediately. He has an amazing mind.
This summer you arranged a leg surgery for Christgau — who lives in the East Village in NYC — at UAMS.
In an email exchange, I made the bold suggestion. I had become close to Bob, his wife Carola, and his lovely daughter, Nina. Bob called me up and asked if I mean it. I said, “You should come to Little Rock. It will be safe. You can’t get that surgery in New York right now. I have a great orthopedic surgeon right here.” Bob is not that mean, gruff person I thought he was or that most people think he is. He had his surgery at UAMS and stayed with us. He’s back in New York now and doing well.
What’s in heavy rotation in Dr. Patterson’s world?
“Run the Jewels 4.” The new Fiona Apple. “The Balladeer” by Lori McKenna.