Sammy Blue

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Sammy BlueSammy Blue’s approach to Blues music has been formed by a combination of cultural heritage, early access to country blues, and a relentless search for the true innovators of the Blues. This intentional search exposed Sammy to the greatest Bluesmen, Jazzmen and R & B artists of the past thirty-five years. To Sammy’s surprise, he was immediately accepted and mentored by these stellar artists.

The following is a chronological account of Sammy’s many encounters with these artists. The list clearly defines the influences which combined to shape this artist of unquestionable quality and genuine talent, who has clearly paid his dues. We have included pertinent information that has not previously been published, as well as information that had previously been reported incorrectly. We believe that these accounts prove that there continue to be genuine Blues artists who come from the Black American experience.

"The Crown Prince of the Blues"

I was born at 4:00 a.m. April 22, 1951 in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in Decatur, Georgia. I was an only child. Sammy tells us, “My first memory of live music (at age 5) is of hearing the singing, bass drums and piano sounds of my mom’s church in Decatur. I was first exposed to the Blues at age 6. My uncle Willie Webb was a bootlegger who sold beer and liquor to his many customers, including judges, cops, and just regular people. Every summer, Uncle Willie would have a big 4th of July party at his house in the country. It was a big deal, with several families coming together to barbeque, drink and party. I was one of many kids at these parties. I remember the sounds of acoustic guitars and men singing into the night. I heard Buddy Moss and Curly Weaver at that time. As fate would have it, when I was in high school Buddy became my first guitar teacher. I was also taught by Atlanta Guitarists Foots Corell and Robert Fulton.

When I was 10, my uncle took me to the 81 Theater, Black Atlanta’s equivalent to the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. That night at the 81 Theater, I saw my first true stage show. The line-up was: T-Bone Walker, Gatemouth Brown, and comedians Moms Mabley and Pig Meat Markham.

The next year, when I was eleven, Uncle Willie took me to Ponce de Leon Ball Park to see the “Blind Show.” This show featured Ray Charles, Clarence Carter and 11 year old Stevie Wonder. Stevie’s hit song at the time was “Fingertips, Parts 1 and 2". When I saw a kid my age on stage, I knew that I could do it too. From then on, I was hooked but I didn’t know it at the time. Soon after that, I began playing drums and percussion in the school band. I also became a radio addict. Atlanta had great radio stations then. WAOK and WIGO were my stations. I heard Hank Ballard, Archie Bell, Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler, Jackie Wilson, Esther Phillips, Johnnie Taylor, and others. On Television, Ed Sullivan, American Bandstand, and Hullabaloo aired Bands regularly.

When I was 14, Motown and Southern roots artists were a huge influence on me. I really enjoyed the Motown acts. I had a lot of 45s back then and a small record player. That was all a person needed to have a dance party. Those Motown years were the greatest dance years of my life. As much as I liked Motown music, I felt naturally connected to the more raw sounds of James Brown, Otis Redding, B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Wilson Pickett.

At age 15, I found that I could get into concerts for free at the Atlanta City Auditorium. All I had to do was show up at the Stage door and volunteer to usher. I was a big guy, so sometimes I worked Security. This experience would change my life in almost every way. I was introduced to Rock music and I saw many acts live at the Auditorium: Isaac Hayes with The Bar-Kays, Alice Cooper, Jeff Beck, Big Mama Thornton, T-Bone Walker, Rod Stewart, Steppenwolf, and many others. I also saw acts at other venues in Atlanta. Here are a few of them: Steve Miller, Captain Beefheart, The Groundhogs, John Mayall - at the Atlanta Sports Arena, The Beatles –at the Atlanta Stadium, The Doors -at Emory University.

The Hippie movement also opened different avenues of music and crossed racial barriers. I enjoyed seeing Frank Zappa the original Little Feat, Mountain, Fleetwood Mac, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Spirit, Rod Stewart and many more. Midtown Atlanta between 10th Street and 14th was the Hippie gathering place in town. The Twelfth Gate, the coffee-house located on 10th Street was where I met Big Mama Thornton, and George Harmonica Smith. The Twelfth Gate was the coolest place in town. Much of the sixties stuff happened around Piedmont Park and Chastain Park. Music was everywhere. For Hippies, it was the “Summer of Love” and Woodstock was about to happen. For African-Americans, it was the time of Black Pride & Civil Rights. For me, it was both.

The great Rock Music I heard at the time influenced me significantly and was as valuable to me as Blues, Jazz and R & B. The most influential of all the Rock artists was Jimi Hendrix. I met Jimi and I was able to hang out with him. He told me, “Don’t let anyone fool you. All modern music comes from The Blues.” Jimi honestly considered himself a Blues musician with a Rock persona. He was miserable because he was opening for The Monkees. (That remains the worst pairing of acts I’ve ever seen.) Meeting Jimi made me remember the Bluesmen I had seen as a child and I realized that I wanted to play Blues guitar. It was 1968 and I had people to meet and music to learn. (I saw Jimi again at The Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969- the year he died.)

From that point on, I began to seek out Black Blues musicians. I felt I had to learn from the real artists; nothing less would do. My encounter with Jimi showed me that I could approach, learn from and hang out with Black artists. I also found out that these musicians loved having a young Black man around to who wanted to learn the business and the music. So, I had it made, where teachers were concerned.

It was also a great time in Atlanta for music of all kinds. All the greats toured through Atlanta. There were many clubs – Black and White – where you could see just about anyone. For the next 6 years, I spent every night at concerts and clubs. I also spent a lot of time with the artists on and off the shows. There were four major clubs that booked a variety of acts: Richard’s, The Electric Ballroom, The Sans Souci and The Great Southeastern Music Hall; all four clubs were located on the North side of the city. On the west side, were: The Bird Cage, Paschal’s and The Carousel Bar. In earlier days, the Royal Peacock on Auburn Avenue was the premiere Black club in town. I remember my uncle telling me about Sam Cooke performing there. All these clubs became my classrooms. The year was 1969. I was 18 and just out of high school. I had survived desegregation of southern schools, Martin Luther King’s death, and the shifting racial tensions. (At least, I thought I had.) It was a time of change and turbulence. All the music reflected the times.

The following is a list of artists that I worked with, hung out with, and learned guitar and performing from in the years 1969 to 1974. I have tried to make this list chronological. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Willie Dixon, Taj Mahal, Robert Jr. Lockwood, John Hammond Jr., Richie Havens, Albert King, Doc & Merle Watson, Big Mama Thornton, Gatemouth Brown, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, Sugarcane Harris, Papa John Creach, Hot Tuna, Roosevelt Sykes, Little Richard, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Shines, Mighty Joe Young, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Johnny Guitar Watson, Wah Wah Watson, George Benson, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and many others.

In 1970, I had begun to perform professionally, but I felt that something was missing. I moved to Alabama to learn some Robert Johnson from guitar great Johnny Shines. I drove for Johnny and he taught me. (I also met Fred McDowell while I was at Johnny’s.) However, this would not last long. Johnny’s wife had a young granddaughter who was reaching womanhood. I had to leave.

When I returned to Atlanta, Muddy Waters was playing at The Great Southeast Music Hall. I met Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records and he offered me a job in Chicago. I jumped on it. Muddy offered me a ride to Chicago. Once again, I was on the Blues Highway. It was on this trip that Muddy told me about the old days in Atlanta. He talked about Billy Wright (who had been known as “The Prince of the Blues.”) Muddy Waters said that “Prince of the Blues” was a title that belonged to Atlanta and that I was the one who should inherit this title. This idea sounded good to me. It made perfect sense.

When I arrived in Chicago, the city was still filled with many legendary Blues artists. I went out every night all night to see these guys, even while I was supposed to be working. This caused problems at Alligator. I couldn’t concentrate on the job. I guess Bruce understood, but he had to let me go. Still, I will always be grateful to him. After I left Alligator, I worked for Delmark Records for a short time, but it was not much fun; at Alligator, I had hung out with Hound Dog Taylor, Son Seals and many other Bluesmen. I also worked in the Alligator studio, assisting on a Koko Taylor record. While in Chicago, I met many more great musicians -– some well known and some not so well known. The following is a list of those musicians I met there and spent time with while I was living in Chicago: Johnny Littlejohn, Jimmy Johnson, John Brim, John Brim Jr., Big Joe Williams, Son Seals, Eddie Clearwater, Homesick James, Honeyboy Edwards, Dave Meyers, Louis Meyers, Jimmy Reed, Luther Allison, Hound Dog Taylor, Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine, Otis Rush, Lefty Dizz, Detroit Jr., Billy Branch, Lucille Spann and many others. I met Bob Marley at the Quiet Night. I never met anyone more genuine than Bob Marley. I stayed in Chicago until I couldn’t take the winters anymore.

In 1978, I moved back to Atlanta for a short time. Again, I felt something was still missing from my experience. I realized that I had never felt comfortable growing up in the South –- racism and all that. I hitched a ride with a friendly truck driver and headed for California. We arrived in North Hollywood in the summer of 1978. From there, we drove to Sacramento. From Sacramento, I hitched a ride to San Francisco. A new Blues chapter had begun. Once again, I was in a new and exciting city with a whole new group of Blues musicians. I got to know many of them: Sonny Rhodes, Roy Rogers, Ron Thompson, Elvin Bishop, Boz Scaggs and more. Taj Mahal was in Berkley and Brownie McGhee was in Oakland. I ran into Jerry Garcia, Van Morrison, Mimi & Richard Farina, Joan Baez, Pee Wee Crayton and Lowell Fulson.

Soon after I arrived in San Francisco, Taj Mahal hired me as stage manager and roadie. We hit the road. Once again, I was blessed to be accepted by one of the greats. I loved San Francisco and California. Clearly, this place was not like the South or the Midwest. I felt very comfortable in California. When I toured with Taj, I realized that I had never seen a Black male entertainer treated with as much respect as Taj was given. No Bluesman was doing as well as Taj Mahal, with the possible exceptions of B.B. King and John Lee Hooker. I learned a lot from Taj about the music industry and about presentation of live performances. He approached the music from a broad cultural perspective. Taj was and still is a giant creative force in contemporary and traditional American and World music.

After touring with Taj, I wanted to perform. As fate would have it, I fell in love and moved to Houston Texas. My new band opened for Muddy Waters and George Thorogood at Liberty Hall within two weeks of my arrival. The band was up and rolling immediately. We opened for Taj, The Dixie Dregs, Gatemouth Brown, and others at The Texas Opry House. Lightin’ Hopkins was living in Houston and I already knew him. I hung out with Lightnin’ and I went on to meet other Bluesmen there: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sherman Robertson, Juke Boy Bonner, Peppermint Harris, Kim Wilson and many others. My band played the Juneteenth Festival every year and the club scene year round. While in Houston, I recorded the LP, Sam Blue Delta for the Lunar II label. I enjoyed my life in Houston, but eventually, I returned to San Francisco.

While I was living in San Francisco, I met another great Bluesman, Albert Collins. We became fast friends; Albert was like a brother to me, just as Taj was. Albert’s music was different; he had a unique sound and technique. He was as powerful a player as Jimi Hendrix and Freddie King (the two most powerful guitar players I had seen.) He was a warm and friendly person.

I played the Bay area with my 3 piece band for three years. My last California performance was at the 1984 Sacramento Blues Festival. Soon after that, I moved back to Atlanta. The music scene was booming in Atlanta. There were good clubs and concert halls. Musicians could make a living without leaving town. My band opened for many national acts: Robert Cray, Delbert McClinton, Buddy Guy, The Chi-Lites, Albert Collins, Queen Ida, Taj Mahal, Buckwheat Zydeco, Gatemouth Brown, Albert King and others.

Later, in the 90’s, I worked as technical advisor and for NBC/Lorimar’s I’ll Fly Away. I also did background guitar work and appeared in several episodes, including the pilot. I appeared as an actor in Mama Flora’s Family, Paramount’s made for T.V. miniseries. In 1991, we took a job as house band at Atlantis Night Life, a multimillion dollar nightclub in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We were originally booked for two nights. We stayed for five months, performing cover material five nights a week. While in Myrtle Beach, we opened for The Wailers, Chick Corea and Robin Trower. The band was also featured in the documentary film, Mending Hearts, which was nominated for a Cannes Film Award.

In 1998, I was invited to Singapore to play an extended engagement at Fat Daddy’s. I also played in Europe for a while. Later on, I went to Portland, Maine to play the part of Blues Guitar Man in The Portland Stage Company’s production of Spunk written by Zora Neale Hurston and adapted by George Wolfe. My being a part of Spunk was a wonderful experience and a great acting lesson.

In 2000, Hottrax Records released my first CD in 20 years, "Everythang and Mo”. The recording showed great promise, but like so many Indy CDs, it lacked promotional backing. Still, it received great reviews from all the trade magazines and reached the number 1 and 2 spots on Spanish radio stations.

In 2003 and 2004, I participated as a performer in The Taj Mahal Fishing Tournament in Zancudo, Costa Rica. In 2003, I was featured in the book, "Portraits and Songs From the Roots of America". It’s now 2006 and the Blues lives on. I will continue to have a never-ending love for and obligation to Blues and Roots music. There are still African-Americans creating and redefining The Blues. The struggle to attain recognition and respect for ethnic blues and roots artists continues. Meanwhile, the real Bluesmen and Blues women are playing, singing and living The Blues.

Source: http://www.sammyblue.com/


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