The Joy and Pain of MIGHTY SAM McLAIN
An Interview with Mighty Sam McClain
Originally published on Soul Express 3/1998
Samuel McClain if any, is a creditable artist. The
authenticity of his music comes from the troubled life and many struggles he
has gone through, and if ever this deeply religious man - "God is first in
my life" - is going to carry through one of his plans and write an
autobiography, it should make interesting reading about a growing and testing
period of one man from the lowest of lows to the level of being a highly
respected musician today. Sam's fine performance at Rauma Blues Festival in Finland this summer proved that musically he still keeps getting better and his voice just
keeps growing stronger.
Sam was born on 15.4.1943 in Monroe, Louisiana, to the
family of altogether thirteen children. "Monroe is a small, typical Louisiana town. We raised chicken, a lot of farm work - pretty much a farm community. I've
got probably eight or nine brothers that are at home now. They've moved back to
Monroe. Couple have gone to meet God. One of my brothers is a minister, and
he plays piano in church."
When only two, Sam's father, Jim Earl McClain -
"never saw him, and haven't heard from him since" - and mother,
Emily, separated. "My mother was born Smith. She's been married four
times. Robert Cherry was her last husband, my step-father. Now mom's
seventy-six years old. As a matter of fact I'm ready to go to Monroe in
September. I left home when I was thirteen, and I've never played there. My vow
was to go back there one day and bring my music. I'm kinda proud of it, but
I've got some mixed emotions about it, cause I didn't really wanna leave home,
when I was thirteen. I was forced to. But finally, after all these years, I
must say it is gratifying to be invited back to Monroe to play by the mayor of
At five Sam took his first groping steps in music by singing
in his mother's gospel group in church. "The first song I sang was `On The
Battlefield Working For My Lord'. Back in those days a whole lot of families
would sit around the table and do doowop songs. I'm the only one in our family
that later pursued it professionally. When I was in elementary school, that was
the first time I got paid.
Back then I was always chasing the blues. I never was into
gospel. I'm more into gospel now than I was then. Then my mother forced us. We
had to do church music. Mama didn't allow any other kind of music around, so I
was sneaking around my mama's back and singing the blues. But it's strange how
life leads you in a cycle. Now I'm kinda incorporating gospel into my music
As Sam mentioned, at thirteen he left school and home,
driven away by his step-father's violence. "It would have been easy to
kill him. He had guns all around the house. I didn't want to be hit any more
and didn't want to kill him, so I had to leave. My first stop was to my aunt
and my cousin in Monroe. I went over there, because that was the closest to me.
Later on I moved to my grandmother to Winnsboro, Louisiana. I never really
left, because Monroe and Winnsboro are about twenty-nine miles apart. So I was
back and forth to Monroe all the time. I really started living in Monroe, when I was fifteen. That's when I got my first room and made my home in Monroe.
I started working as Little Melvin Underwood's valet. My
friend, Sonny Green, who I went to school with, sang in Melvin's band and he introduced
me to Melvin. First I was a valet, then I moved up to backup singing, then
after Robert (Sonny) left I took his place."
As a solo artist Little Sonny had recordings out on Duke
and J-V-B in the 50s, on Excello, Revilot and Wheelsville in the 60s and still
on Enterprise in the 70s. When Sam took Little Sonny's place in (guitarist)
Little Melvin's band - tagged as Good Rockin' Sam - they used to accompany
artists like Rosco(e) Gordon, Roscoe Shelton, Larry Birdsong, Miss Lavelle and
many others. In the early 60s Sam left Melvin for awhile to work in a group
called Elgie Brown & the Soul Brothers.
"When I became eighteen, I had to go register for the
army, and that was in Shreveport, Louisiana, where Elgie Brown & the Soul
Brothers were from. We were together for a couple of years. We played with
people like Little Willie John, Freddy King and Johnnie Taylor. After I did a
stint with Elgie Brown & the Soul Brothers in Las Vegas, I came back.
Somehow I got back with Melvin, and that's when we went to Florida. So Melvin
came first, then Elgie Brown, then back to Melvin."
Those days Sam also got married for the first time.
"That happened in Little Rock, Arkansas. I just turned eighteen. Right
after that marriage I went to Las Vegas with Elgie Brown. That marriage lasted
about six months. She was one of the prettiest women I've ever seen. I think I
fell in love with her beauty. I was a kid. I didn't know what I was doing.
Angie I married in Pensacola, Florida. That marriage
lasted off and on about ten years. We must have broken up about hundred times -
make up to break up. I divorced her in '86.
Then I met my next wife, Laura, who was an attorney. As a
matter of fact, she got the divorce from Angie for me. We were married almost
five years. With Sandra I've been married now for almost four years."
In '63 Sam went with Melvin to Pensacola, Florida, for
what was supposed to be a two-day visit, but resulted in Sam staying there for
the next ten years, as he left Melvin and joined as a lead singer the Dothan
Sextet, which included a guitarist named Robert Lee Dickey - who was to become
Bobby Purify - and later his cousin, James Purify. "The Dothan Sextet
would back up Otis Redding and Rufus Thomas sometimes. We were working with the
same booking agency out of Macon, Georgia - Phil and Alan Walden, two brothers.
˙I introduced James Purify to the band, when I left to
record Sweet Dreams. He took my spot in the band. When I came from recording
Sweet Dreams, I brought my producer, Papa Don Schroeder, over to meet James. He
saw the combination. He put James and Robert Lee Dickey together, and that's
what created James & Bobby Purify. After James left the Sextet, that was
very much the end of it. They were going downhill." The Purifies, of
course, went on to have a big hit with I'm Your Puppet (soul-5, pop-6) on Bell
by the end of '66, under the production of Papa Don.
"I discovered James Purify, and Oscar Toney Jr. is
also one of my discoveries, but I didn't make any money on them. I knew Oscar from
Columbus, Georgia. I introduced him to Papa Don as well. Oscar was a good
man, very easy guy. Oscar didn't fool around with any drugs or alcohol. He was
always clean. He didn't smoke, didn't drink. Back in the old days we all did
something, but Oscar didn't do anything. A special kind of guy." With Papa
Don, Oscar had his biggest hit with For Your Precious Love (soul-4, pop-23) on Bell in the summer of '67.
After Sam left the Dothan Sextet he - now known as Mighty
Sam - went to work with a group called the Rounders in early '66. "I went
to the 506 Club (in Pensacola). I was offered a better job there. It was a
steady job, four days a week, from Thursday through Sunday. Next I went to Mobile, Alabama, which is about sixty miles north from Pensacola, Florida. That's where
Ben Moore and the Rounders were living. I went and got them, brought them to Pensacola and we started playing at the 506 Club.
Papa Don came over to the 506 Club. He was a promoter and
also a radio disc jockey in Pensacola. He asked me, if I was interested in
recording, and of course I said 'yes'. After that I was threatened by the club
owner - who also was trying to manage me at that time - that if I leave to
record, then I wouldn't have a job, when I come back. I had to quit my job to
do my first record. When I went to cut Sweet Dreams, I lost my job in the
Papa Don Schroeder was instrumental in introducing some
fine soul music to the world, but as a human being he was controversial, to put
it mildly. "He was a crook. He was very bad. He had a great eyesight for
talent, but he wasn't an honest man and, sorry to say, he took advantage of a
lot of real love. I have learned a lot what not to do and how not to be as a
human being from that man. I gave him a piece of my heart and I thought he
loved me. I really trusted Papa Don.
We went to cut `Georgia Pines, Fannie Mae' etc. to Muscle
Shoals. `Sweet Dreams' got pitched to me by Dan Penn, `here's a good tune, why
don't you do it'. We listened to it, I liked it and we recorded it. Right after
we recorded it, somebody came into the studio with the Billboard magazine with
the record already on the charts by a guy named Tommy McLain, who was from Alexandria, Louisiana, which is about eighty miles from my home, Monroe, Louisiana. I freaked
out. This is my first record, my first chance. We're in the south, Alabama. I'm a black boy, he's a white boy."
Don Gibson's pretty country song was first recorded by its
writer in '56 and again in '60. Faron Young (in '56) and - by far, as the most
famous one - Patsy Cline (in '63) had also their versions released, but Tommy
McLain got away with the biggest pop hit (# 15) in the summer of '66. Sam with
his surprisingly ripe baritone for a boy of twenty-three delivered a wonderful,
emotion-laden country & soul interpretation of the song, which, when
released in June '66, however failed to appear on national charts. "We
took what we did to Nashville, Tennessee, where Russell Cason introduced us to
Larry Utall of Bell Records. Larry released my record anyway, although Tommy's
record was already climbing the charts. Those days it was more segregated than
it is now. Larry took my record and basically promoted mostly in the black
community. It got a lot of airplay. I think if it wasn't for Tommy, I would have
crossed over then. Looking back at it, I think that's the way it was supposed
to be. I don't think I was ready for anything else. I don't think I was
prepared to deal with the success. I wasn't ready. I'm still getting ready
today." Sweet Dreams was especially popular in the New York area, which
earned Sam some Apollo Theater gigs.
Sweet Dreams was coupled with Russell Cason's thumpy
stomper, Good Humour Man, which we also know by Clifford Curry. The single was
released on Bell's subsidiary Amy (out of New York), as were Sam's seven
ensuing singles during the next two-and-a-half-year period.
On his second release Sam did a driving and rousing cover
of Buster Brown's a.k.a. Wayman Glasco's # 1 r&b hit (in '59), Fannie Mae,
which at first look seems a strange choice after a magnificent ballad. "I
do a variety of styles, all kinds of music. We wanted to do some slow music as
well as fast music, to keep the balance." The b-side, a bluesy and churchy
ballad called Badmouthin', was again written by Russell Cason.
The last '66 release was a solid, southern soul ballad,
I'm A Man (written by Oldham-Penn-Hinton), backed with a kicking country song,
Georgia Pines, which was meant to be Sam's first single instead of Sweet
Dreams. A tight and gravelly reading of Joe Seneca's often-covered Talk To Me,
Talk To Me (a hit for Little Willie John in '58) followed, coupled with a cover
of Wilson Pickett's dancer, I Need A Lot Of Lovin' (by Oldham-Penn).
A captivating ballad, In The Same Old Way, which Arthur
Conley had done a year earlier, came out in June '67, together with an
effective jogger called Silent Tears and written by Schroeder and Toney.
"That's a lie. It should read only Toney. It ain't supposed to be
Schroeder. He took that, that wasn't his song.
Papa Don's probably sixty now. Right now he is in a bad
shape. He's got money, but he hasn't got anything else. His health is bad, he
can hardly walk. He's by himself, wife is gone, his children don't like him any
more. His oldest son was in an accident few years back and lost half of his
head. He's a vegetable. I hope Papa Don's thinking about some of the things
he's done in the past."
The final '67 single was an impressive version of Carolyn
Varga's song, When She Touches Me, which we also know by Rodge Martin, Solomon
Burke (both from '66) and Percy Sledge. The b-side, Just Like Old Times, was a
good, basic southern soul ballad.
A fully souled interpretation of a traditional country
song, I Just Came To Get My Baby (Out Of Jail), was recorded the same night
Martin Luther King was killed, which gives it an extra touch of emotiveness. A
poor pre-funk, Baby Come On Home, was written and arranged by Travis Wammack.
The final Amy single, released in December '68, was a
dramatic but slightly pompous cover of Ben E. King's '63 hit, I (Who Have
Nothing). "I'm pretty much sure I chose that one. At that time I was
somewhat bouncing around with maybe being in love or not being in love."
The b-side offered a beater called Papa True Love. "That was written by
Jessie Boss. Bell Records gave Papa Don a recording studio in Pensacola after
he had done so great with the Purifies and Oscar Toney Jr. That's where I
recorded `I (Who Have Nothing)'. We had Moses Dillard, Jessie Boss, people like
that, who became the house band. We could go into the studio and work any time
we wanted. We were doing `Papa True Love', and Papa Don came in and said 'no,
no, do it like this, won't you try it like this'. We tried it like that and it
didn't work, so we went back to the original way, but he took credit for being
a part of it, anyway."
Although there were eight singles and sixteen sides (plus
one unreleased, Nothing But The Truth) on Amy - surprisingly no album in sight.
"At that time they based the sales on singles. I think my singles just
didn't sell enough to be worthy of an album." However, in later years two
compilations emerged, Mighty Soul on Soul City already in '69 and Nothing But
The Truth on Charly in '88, which hopefully made Sam some money, as from Amy/ Bell/ Papa Don he didn't see any royalties coming.
MR. AND MRS. UNTRUE
Next stop was at Atlantic, where Sam had two singles
released in '70. A fine ballad, I've Got Enough Heartaches, was backed by
Johnnie Taylor's '69 hit, Love Bones, and the uptempo Evil Woman had the
touching and oft-recorded Robert Ward song, Your Love Is Amazing, on the flip.
Both of them were once again recorded in Muscle Shoals and produced by Charlie
"Charlie Capri, who's dead now, was basically an
engineer. In fact Charlie did a lot the setup for Papa Don's control room.
Charlie worked for Papa Don. After I left Papa Don, Charlie asked `hey man, let
me try to produce you'. He got the connection with Atlantic, so that's how that
Neither single charted, so in '71 Charlie took Sam to
Malaco, where they released an impressive country & soul song, Mr. And Mrs.
Untrue (b/w Never Too Busy), roughly the same time as Candi Staton on Fame, but
only Candi made it to the charts (soul-20). "Nothing was happening. Malaco
just didn't invest except for that one single, so I had no choice but to go
looking for something else."
After one Malaco single, nothing was heard of Sam. Only
later we learned that in '75 he had moved to Nashville. "I fell out the
face of earth. In '75 I met Angie and got married in Pensacola. After that she
and I decided to move to Nashville. From that point on that was really the
beginning of my real test of true determination of how much I really want this
music, this career. At that time I was starting to learn. I started trying to
write. I started coming more business-wise. Nashville was to me like going to
college. I had things I had to learn. It wasn't time to record. Not that I
didn't want to record, it just didn't happen. In retrospect I'm kinda glad it
didn't happen, because I had things I had to learn - also how to get my money.
Before I didn't get paid.
I did many things from cleaning toilets. Boy, that was
hard for me. That was another beginning of God humbling me down, because - hey,
somebody used to clean yours. Also washing dishes, painting houses, cashier
work - but I was always focused on my music. When the bell rang for music, I
After seven years in Nashville, Sam moved on. "When I
left Nashville, I decided to go to New Orleans, but I was going to stop by my
home town and visit my folks for awhile and, hopefully, to get a little rest,
but that didn't happen, because my people didn't know me - they still don't.
And I don't really know them. I'd been gone since I was thirteen years old.
New Orleans was pretty much the same like it was in Nashville. I was still going through some very hard times. I even had to sell my plasma
out of my blood - two hours to draw my blood out of my body, take my plasma out
of my blood, then put the blood back in, and I'd get ten dollars. I was
sleeping on the streets at that time, nowhere to stay. It was tough.
I was walking the streets in New Orleans, and the
harmonica player with Leon Russell saw me, 'Sam, what you're doing here, what's
going on'. Last time he saw me I was on stage with my band, and the next time
he sees me - I'm on the street, broke and hungry. He knew the guy that was
playing at the 544 Club in New Orleans, a guy named Mason Ruffne. So he took me
in, introduced me to Mason, Mason called me up on the stage, and his drummer,
whose name is Kerry Brown, loved what he heard, 'hey man, let's do something'.
He even built a band around me called Brownsville. Kerry Brown and Carlo Ditta
were good friends. They were raised up together. So Kerry introduced me to
Carlo Ditta, and that's how that relationship got started."
Carlo Ditta and A.J. Loria were the owners of a local
label called simply Orleans. "Me and Carlo got together, and Carlo wanted
me to do his song, `Pray'. When that came about, I got a grant from the New
Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival - they gave me a couple of thousand dollars
- and that's how we cut `Pray'. I was the first one Carlo recorded. He has
recorded a lot of people since then, Guitar Slim Jr and others.
Carlo's O.K, but he hurt my heart, too. He's not the
person I love. Me and Carlo haven't spoken probably for two years. I think he
owes me some money. I wrote him a nice letter and told him to forget about it.
It's not the money, it's the principle. But he was instrumental at some point
of my life. He helped me to get from one point to the next."
Pray, a reggae-rhythmed light jogger with a message, was
released in April '84 and backed with a mover, Dancin' To The Music Of Love (by
Sam and the late Moses Dillard). During his Orleans years Sam visited Pensacola
and even stayed for awhile, back in New Orleans he also got to know the Neville
Brothers closely - first Cyril and then lived with Art in his house for awhile
- but he never formed a band called Soul Purpose with Brownsville's guitarist,
Dirk Billy - as stated somewhere - neither did he do any demos (for other
artists) for Carlo Ditta, only genuine records such as his EP or mini-LP from
'86 called Your Perfect Companion, which recently has been reissued in a CD
format together with Pray.
The title track is a thrilling soul ballad, whereas
Backstreets offers blues, Why has a touch of gospel and Miss Bea can only be
described as poor funk. For me the highlight of the record is Sam Cooke's
ever-wonderful A Change Is Gonna Come. "I believe in it. It's almost like
an inspiration. That version was cut in the basement of one of my friends in New Orleans, and it wasn't supposed to be on the record. That was cut to use as a demo to
get me work. But Carlo Ditta put it on CD, anyway. If you listen real close,
you can hear feedback from the microphone."
THIS TIME I'M GONE FOR GOOD
Next in '86 Sam was approached by a promoter out of Japan, Fumio Nagano. "During that time I was living with Art Neville, and Fumio sent
me a letter to New Orleans 'would you like to come to Japan'. He also asked, if I knew how to contact Wayne Bennett. He'd like to bring Wayne with me. I called up Wayne, who was living in Chicago at the time. I brought him
down to New Orleans and we went to Japan. Wayne was with me for a long time
after that, when I had my own band. I first saw him in my home town when I was
a child, with Bobby Bland."
One of the owners or Orleans Records, A.J. Loria, was also
a participant in this trip. He was even credited to be a co-producer of the
live album that surfaced (alongside Fumio Nagano), even though - according to
Sam - he wasn't a part of that. "A.J. is a musician, plays keyboards. He's
also a songwriter (co-wrote Your Perfect Companion) and somewhat a producer.
Carlo introduced me to A.J. Carlo and A.J. were raised up together. A.J. and I
became room mates. I took A.J. with me, when I went To Japan in '86. He was somebody that I knew was qualified to act as a representative of me on
the road. He also dealt with Japanese better than I did. He was quicker in
learning their language."
The resulting record, Live In Japan - featuring the late
Wayne Bennett - was first released as a nine-tracker on Dead Ball and Vivid in
'86, but later reissued as a fifteen-tracker, with over seventy minutes of
music on it, on Orleans in '88. The set was recorded in Tokyo on 29.4.86, and
Sam was backed by a local six-piece band, the Backbeats. The opener and the
closer (Everyday I Have The Blues, The Blues Is Alright) is straight blues, but
in between Sam offers some of his Amy (Sweet Dreams, Talk To Me Talk To Me,
Fannie Mae, In The Same Old Way, I Just Came To Get My Baby Out Of Jail) and
some of his Orleans sides (Why, Your Perfect Companion, Pray, A Change Is Gonna
Come, Dancin' To The Music Of Love). Whatever It Takes - one of Sam's
favourites - is a touching and thrilling ballad, and equally as good as the
agonized version of This Time I'm Gone For Good, done earlier by O.V. Wright
and Sam's number one man, Bobby Bland.
A driving dancer called Forgive And Forget was written by
Sam and Scott Coffey, an acquaintance from the late 60s. "First time I met
Scott Coffey was when I went back to Pensacola, and I hooked up with Papa Don
again. He said he had gotten saved by the Lord, Jesus Christ, and he was very
Christian, had his bible with him etc. I wanted to believe that with all my
heart, but I knew better, because I knew old Papa Don and I could see some of
the old tricks. Number one, he had his secretary with him, brought from Nashville to Pensacola - just him and her. I knew he had a wife and I knew this is not
Anyway, I took a chance. I went back to Nashville, 'I want
to record with you, but this time I want to take the paperwork to my lawyer'.
That freaked him out, cause he wasn't used to be approached by me like that.
After that he got really frustrated and got very angry. I said 'hey man, we
can't work together', so I walked out the studio.
I have two one-dollar bills in my pocket. I'm broke. My
wife's in the motel, hoping that I'm gonna cut a record and coming back with
some money. In that session Tommy Cogbill - a bass player, a great man and an
easy spirit, who had gold records under his couch and who gave me his apartment
- walks up to me and puts two hundred-dollar bills in my shirt pocket. Next
Scott Coffey came in. He knew Papa Don. He lived in Mississippi. He gave me a
ride home, and that's how he and I met."
The new-born interest in Sam's music led to other
recording opportunities. Sam visited on four tracks on Hubert Sumlin's Blues
Party (on Black Top in '87). Hubert, a guitarist in the Chicago scene, has
recorded since the late 50s and is best know for his work with Howlin' Wolf.
Sam was persuaded to be a part of the project by Hammond Scott, one of the owners
of Black Top. Three tracks are uptempo (Hidden Charms, Can't Call You No More
and Down In The Bottom), but the highlight is a seven-minute lament by Ronnie
Earl, A Soul That's Been Abused, which Sam re-recorded later. Those days there
was also talk about Sam doing a whole album for Rounder, but the company didn't
move fast enough for him.
Midnight At St. Jude's is a live session from '87 -
released on Orleans in '93 - which was recorded in a church in New Orleans. "That was the place, where A.J. went to mass all the time. There was also
Father Franko, a groovy guy. This was a quiet Catholic church, and then we
(Sam, Aaron Neville and some others) come in and do a loud jam. But it was
great. Carlo came in, next he brought the truck and recorded us." Sam does
Pray and Tom Dorsey's The Lord Will Make A Way. "My mother was singing it.
Every time I sing it, I dedicate it to my mother."
GIVE IT UP TO LOVE
Next five years was another musically quiet period for
Sam. "I moved to Houston in '88. I went into the real estate business,
because music wasn't happening. I was married to my lawyer, Laura, at the time,
and she was financially ok. She was in better shape than I was. She had been
practicing law for seventeen years. To supplement my income, we were trying to
think of something else for me to do. I thought about opening a retail liquor
store, but I realized that was gonna kill me, if I'd do that. I was doing a lot
of drinking those days. Then we decided we would try real estate. It was very
easy to get into, because the oil boom had fell through, people were leaving
and we were having just millions of houses there empty. She and I bought three
houses together. When we got the divorce, she got all three of them. I got
Music-wise Sam's Houston period was eventless with the
exception of one 'Sam stole the show' performance with Harry Connick, Jr., who
- the last time Sam saw him - was riding a bicycle, but was now on the road
with five buses and an eighteen-piece orchestra.
In '92 Sam moved to Boston and hooked up with a band
called Uptown Revival. "They were a horn band. Walter Platt (trumpet) is
in my band today, and Bruce Katz (keyboards) played in that band, as well.
Kevin Berry was a guitar player. When I came back to Boston to form my own
band, I took some of those guys - Bruce, Kevin and Lorne Entress - from Uptown,
because I didn't have horns at that time. My guitar player today is a very dear
friend of Kevin Berry, and also his name is Kevin, Kevin Beltz."
The drummer, Lorne Entress, helped Sam in sending demos to
the AudioQuest producer, Joe Harley. The very label is located in California. "When I moved up there, my money was very slim. I came out of the divorce
with Laura. Lorne said 'why don't you come up and stay with me and my wife. I
got eight rooms. I'll lend you the money, until we get things going'. Later I
gave Lorne a little percentage of `Give It Up To Love'. That was my payment to
Sam's first AudioQuest CD, Give It Up To Love ('93), was
recorded in Hollywood in November '92. Sam is backed by Bruce Katz, Kevin
Berry, Lorne Entress, Michael Rivard on bass (and Bennie Wallace on tenor sax
on one track). Kevin and Lorne have also lent a hand in penning, but the main
writer is Sam himself. There are two outside tunes, Carlene Carter's (out of
country circles) rather bluesy ballad, Too Proud, and Al Green's rejoicing
thumper, I Feel Good ('78). In addition to three funky throbbers and three
blues ballads there are three highly-recommended hurting ballads, the plain and
slow Don't Turn Back Now, a beautiful serenade Here I Go Falling In Love Again
and the title tune, a fine, slightly countrified deepie.
Producer credits go to Joe Harley with Sam and Lorne
credited as co-producers. "I'm thankful to AudioQuest. It's been a chance
for me to grow in terms of my writing skills and producing skills. I produced
this music. When I walk into the studio, I'm ready. I write my song, my trumpet
player, Walter Platt, writes the charts and we practice. When we get ready to
go to the studio, we're ready.
˙Joe Harley is an AudioQuest producer, so he oversees the
session. Joe and I have become great friends, and I have learned a great deal
from him. We just do it 'one record at a time' basis. I have artistical freedom
on AudioQuest. And there's no contract. I'm not contracted to anybody right
now. This is the best position I've ever been in my life in. I'm totally
Give It Up To Love so far is Sam's biggest seller.
"It's still selling. Last time I heard it was close to hundred thousand.
Now it's got reissued by JVC (in '97), so now I'm getting paid by two record
companies, which is totally different from what it used to be, when I didn't
get paid by any company. Actually I'm getting paid by three companies, because
I just did a record with CrossCut."
Sam's second AudioQuest set, Keep On Movin' ('95), was
this time recorded in Woodstock, NY, and it features nine backup musicians -
mostly new - but Bruce, Kevin and Walter are still there. Sam re-does Lord Will Make A Way and Ronnie Earl's A Soul That's Been Abused, but all the other tunes
are out of his pen, with a little help from Kevin. "I write from personal
experience. I gotta be moved. To write, it has to be something to move me. In
the sixties I did nothing. In Nashville from '75 I wrote about two-hundred
songs, of which maybe five were heard. Now I write almost all my
material." Perhaps one of the reasons, why Sam's tunes are not widely
covered yet - Rufus Thomas did What You Want Me To Do from Sam's first AQ set -
is that first and foremost he writes for himself and, as he said, from his
Keep On Movin' again offers a mixture of straight blues,
funky items but also some bittersweet ballads like Who Made You Cry and a
country-tinged, This Is All I Have To Say.
The third AQ set, Sledgehammer Soul & Down Home Blues
('96), got its name from a South African critic, who described Sam's music as a
sledgehammer. The running time once again exceeds seventy minutes, and the
lyrics are very honest and autobiographical. There are three covers of his
earlier recordings - Pray, Dancin' To The Music Of Love and Hey Miss Bea -
other uptempo r&b cuts and many long, agonized blues slowies. The cream cut
for me is Sam's pleading serenade to his "fourth and last wife, Sandra"
called Don't Write Me Off.
One of Sam's songs, They Call Me Mighty Mighty, was
originally named They Call Me Weeping Willie. "I've formed my own
production company. I have my own publishing company, and now I'm also my
manager, I'm booking up myself. And I just formed a record company called
Mighty Music (registered in July). I'm getting ready to produce a guy that's
seventy-three years old, a singer called Weeping Willie, who's never had a cd
in his life. He has approached me twice, 'Sam, I gotta get a cd out before I
die'. He's doing blues and soul. He's from Boston, Massachusetts. I also told
Joe Harley about Weeping Willie. Right now they are giving it some
consideration, but if they don't, I'm fixed to produce Willie on my own label.
I and my band are gonna be on Willie's record" Sam, however, at that time
(in '96) decided to keep the song for himself.
˙Journey, released on AudioQuest this year, is Sam's
favourite of the four, and here I must agree. The uptempo tracks have more
drive to them and slowies are more thrilling and not necessarily too prolonged.
"I'm very proud to be a part of this last record. There's one song I'm
especially proud called Thank You. Of course, I dedicate that to the Mighty
Man. In Epping, where I'm living, I woke up one morning about five o'clock, the
sun was coming up on trees, and I just couldn't stop crying - thank you! When
living in garbage can I promised God that one day, if I ever get a chance to
sing, I'm not gonna forget, where I came from and I'm not gonna forget your
For the cd Sam also re-recorded A Change Is Gonna Come,
and covered with a different arrangement Hanging On The Cross, which he had
done earlier - together with I'm Gonna Love You - for Bruce Katz' '97
AudioQuest CD, Mississippi Moan. The closing track of Journey is a beautiful,
simple and touching plea called Somebody Help Me.
As Sam already mentioned, he has a new 'live in Europe'
concert CD, Joy And Pain, released in spring this year on CrossCut Records out
of Germany, a notable and technically perfect recording, which is selling quite
good - also highly recommended. It was recorded in Germany in October last
year, and the repertoire (Gone For Good /Sledgehammer Soul & Down Home
Blues /What You Want Me To Do? /Where You Been So Long /I'm So Lonely /Forgive
And Forget /Lord Will Make The Way /Long Train Runnin' /A Soul That's Been
Abused) pretty much covers Sam's concert program today, although - by frequent
requests - he is planning to add also some old Amy stuff to his repertoire.
Today Sam is living in a small community with a population
of about 3,000 called Epping in New Hampshire with his Sandra (her hometown),
seven cats and one dog. Music-wise, in the near future, besides Weeping Willie,
Sam is considering making a guest appearance on Joe Louis Walker's next record,
but Ronnie Earl for the time being is out of the question, as the gentleman
hasn't bothered to answer Sam's calls. "Right now AudioQuest and I have
agreed to do a compilation record, like Mighty's Best. I did two new tunes on
my last session to put on the compilation set. Then I think I'm gonna produce
my own thing and put it out on my label and then maybe try to lease it. But I'm
gonna have control."
- Heikki Suosalo
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