Commentary-Music is the Center of My LifeCommentary — By Buddy Sampson on March 28, 2013 at 10:25 pm
By Buddy Sampson
Whew! It’s been quite some time that I’ve written a Commentary and I apologize that it’s been so long. My last column was after President Obama got elected, yikes! But as you may have gathered, there have been several developments and some challenges.
Many of you may know that I’m a musician. I’ve known all my life that music is the center of my life, besides God. I’ve always wanted to do events where I can perform, but also help others and hopefully, make some kind of difference. I set out to do that on March 2, 2013 for an event introducing my band “Buddy Sampson and Friends,” to benefit Children’s Hospital Los Angeles at a local restaurant in the Silverlake section of Los Angeles, along with a wonderful lady, Arsineh Alenkin, who owns AB Weddings and Special Events. I recruited some fantastic musicians for my band, headed by superb violinist Rachel Grace. I met Rachel at a fashion event a few years ago. She performed on the show and completely captivated everyone in the audience, including me. She plays with incredible passion and she seems to never be able to keep still, a consummate show lady, and fun to watch. I spoke to her on the phone a couple of times, and I’m sure she thought I was a crackpot, especially since she had never heard me play. But she agreed to do the show. And I was very excited at the prospect of playing with someone that I plan on letting everyone I know how awesome she is. I plan on approaching her for a future article in The Scoop LA.
For the rehearsal prior to the show date, Rachel had flew in from performing in Mexico, and drove straight from the airport to the studio. She had to have been tired, but she was energetic and super funny. We began to prepare a show planning to tear the house down, with plenty of musical duets, duels and surprises. Along with super drummer Curtis Sanford, who plays with The Deele (and has graced the stage with the super funk group Lakeside), Joseph John on keyboards (who was a member of the group The Swinging Deacons) Lamar Webster on additional bass and Jeorge Taylor (Tina Turner) on saxophone, I planned on having those extraordinary musicians soloing to a very funky backdrop of funk meets smooth jazz.
Unfortunately, my effort fell short, as there was a snafu, through no fault of our own, with the restaurant’s management. We had to cancel the show and it was one of the most disappointing experiences of my life. The only hurt that went deeper, was the loss of my parents or loss of a relationship that I thought would work out. However, I came out of the experience stronger and more knowledgeable. And I learned, truly, how much music really means to me and how badly I want to perform. We will be rescheduling the show and look forward to entertaining you and I think you’ll be very surprised. However, I want to apologize to all of our sponsors and ticket holders. We will reschedule the show soon, and thank you very much for your patience. You will enjoy the talents of Rachel Grace, I and the other outstanding musicians.
Music and I
You may have read in a previous column that I am originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I started playing music seriously when I was thirteen, after hearing an amazing group that rehearsed down the street from me, a group called The Natural Soul Brothers. They had this fantastic singer called “Poet,” who later formed a band called The Thomas Bucknasty Band and were signed to RCA. But these guys were incredible. And Thomas, to this day, looks the same as he did then, and that was many moons ago. He still performs, mostly in Europe. When I heard the Natural Soul Brothers, I was playing the organ, a Thomas organ I loved that my Dad bought for the family. My mother said to me once that she thought I was a good songwriter. I would play the organ for her sometimes and she would listen intently and when I played ballads, she would go to sleep. I was taking lessons and getting better. However, shortly after my parents separated, the organ got damaged in a fire and my Dad bought a guitar, which I attempted to learn. But when I heard the bassist of the Natural Soul Brothers, Larry Pankey, I was hooked. He played a blond fretless Precision electric bass and he was just awesome. From what I understand, he’s still awesome.
The group I was forming needed a bass player, so I switched to bass and I’ve been in love with the bass ever since. As a bass player, I’ve played with the Marvelettes, Ben Vereen, a short stint with the gospel version of New Birth and many other groups, including a band that had the amazing former American Idol singer Adam Lambert in the band. In Philadelphia, I formed a group called The Underfunk and wrote a lot of the material for the band. It was my first band as musical director and leader. I learned very quickly about Philadelphia music lovers. Those of you that know sports know that Philly fans are the toughest in the country. In music, Philly fans are brutal. I’ve seen friends’ bands get rocks thrown at them for them to leave the stage. If they don’t like you, they will boo you off the stage.
I’ve never been booed.
Now I will have to tell you, I’ve came close. Once we played at a place called the Germantown Social Club and we had a terrific singer named Barbara “Beanie” Brown, who could kill a Chaka Khan song. We knew that our strongest songs were our original songs, but we also knew that we had to play songs that people knew or we can get, well, you guessed it, booed off the stage. We practiced a week on cover songs, on popular songs, but the songs weren’t tight. We played our first set and it was all cover songs. We got spotty applause throughout the first set and we knew we were tanking. On the break, Beanie was so upset, she was in tears. So I made a decision. We were not going to play any more cover tunes. If we were going to bomb, we were going to bomb with our original songs.
Unbelievably, in the second set, we tore the house down. And we played nothing but original songs after that and we began to do well on the club scene-with compositions that I created, along with others in the band, Kevin Scott, Steve Watts, Linwood Gray and Corny Downes. During that time, some of the best musicians graced the stages in Philly, like Kevin Eubanks.
You probably know Kevin from The Tonight Show. Kevin never played on The Tonight Show like he did in Philly. He was an absolute monster on guitar. He was in a group called Pitch Black and was amazing. He and a guitarist named Mike Davis, who is still my friend to this day, were among the baddest guys on guitar in the city. But my favorite was Linwood Gray, who never got the fanfare he deserved. He played with The Underfunk and was in my first band. He doesn’t play much live anymore, but he should. I still think he is one of the best guitarists in the world.
I decided, after a visit to California, that I really wanted to move to Los Angeles. I was introduced to Tina Turner and she heard my music and recommended I move to Los Angeles. That was many, many years ago and I wonder if she remembers that. Anyway, I didn’t move to Los Angeles until four years later, after losing my mother, the most tragic thing, to this day, that ever happened to me. It devastated me.
I finally moved to Los Angeles in the 80s, danced on the TV show Soul Train, and met a great singer/songwriter named Larry Woodley. Larry, from Boston, MA, was one of the most daring people I’ve ever met. He will now be known forever to me as “Daring Larry.” He introduced me to all kinds of people, which led to a brief gig with The Marvelettes. But Larry was the first person that I ever did live duets with. He is a good singer and very good at getting an audience involved and definitely one of the most fun people I’ve ever played with. We had unbelievable chemistry on stage and we played to the audience. I often went in the audience during our performances. We played for a very flamboyant guy named Skip E. Lowe at the Hollywood Roosevelt for Lowe’s talent showcase. Now Skip was (and still is) an interesting character who calls men “darling,” and is a Hollywood legend. We were the house act to start the show, just Larry singing and playing the guitar and myself on bass. The first time we did the show, I was positively terrified. I had never played in front of an audience without a full band. It felt like we were naked in front of a lot of people. But people loved us. I think they mostly loved Larry, but I tried to chime in and got my share of attention.
I felt we were like a Black Smothers Brothers, because Larry and I had a good rapport on stage. He would tell jokes and I was kind of the straight man, with banter in between songs. Later, he moved to Zurich, Switzerland in Europe and gave me a standing invitation to come there. I took a class in Music A&R at UCLA and my teacher there pulled me to the side after I turned in my term paper and said to me that he thought I’d have a great career as a journalist. Inspired, from that, I happened on The Scoop Newspaper, which was owned by a former pilot, Jim Shields, also from Philadelphia, and asked if I can write for him to get experience. I started the column “People You Should Know,” for the newspaper, and wrote for several publications, including The LA Watts Times, The Sentinel, RapPages, Essence Magazine and many others.
However, after getting my heart broken by a lady, I decided to take Larry up on his offer and visited Europe. It was the time of my life. I performed with Larry for the Montreux Jazz Festival. We were the house band at the Royal Intercontinental Hotel (The Dukes Café) and we were called the “One O’Clock Jump,” because we went on at 1am and played from 1am to 6am. As part of our deal to perform there, we were scheduled to play one day on the main stage of the Festival. I had never played in front of so many people, 8,000 or more, and the stage was elevated and seemed quite flimsy to me. There wasn’t much jumping around on stage for me that day. I saw myself like Icarus falling to my death. No thank you. But “Daring Larry” was in full force. He was climbing up the bars on the side of the stage. I think I closed my eyes at one point, because I was scared he was going to fall and that would have been a long fall to the ground. But he survived and we were the talk of Montreux that day.
The One O’Clock Jump was a full band, with drums and keyboards and at The Dukes Café, Larry and I put on shows that you wouldn’t believe. We played to a packed house most every night. After the Festival each night, a lot of the entertainers on the Festival would come and jam with us, like Jonny Lang, Edgar Winter and Steve Cropper. Winter had a waitress send for me after he jammed with us and asked me to audition for his band. It never worked out, but boy was I flattered!! I love performing, so I’d jump in the audience and dance with them while I was playing. I found myself getting a reputation there.
Once, I met a drop dead, gorgeous lady from Brazil at a café in the afternoon. I asked her what she was doing in the evening and she said that she and her girlfriend were getting dressed to go to the Dukes Café. I asked her why she was going there and she responded that they were going there to see a bass player that they heard about. I said, “I was thinking about going there, too. How about if I meet you guys there?” When they came there, I was on stage. And I performed. And I knew that I was the bass player she heard about. Not a bad evening.
At Montreux, many of the star musicians that came there gave seminars. I took several of them, but the one that was most impressive to me was a seminar with B.B. King. King answered all kinds of questions from me and taught me the main structure of the blues. The Man himself. It doesn’t get too much better than that. I also took a seminar from Nathan East, the bassist from the jazz group Fourplay.
Larry and I, after the Festival, began performing as a duo again. And I was shocked at the reaction to us in Europe. As a duo in Los Angeles, people would react to us, but nowhere near the level as in Switzerland. We’d play at Zermatt, Bern, Grenchen, Baden, Basil and Lausanne and other cities and people would give us standing ovations as a duo! Once, when clubs were slow, Larry suggested we play on the street. I thought I was too proud to play on the street, thinking how it is in the States, with people feeling sorry for you and throwing you a coin and people thinking you are bums. In Europe, they call it “busking.” I was embarrassed to do it. We decided to play in a section of Zurich called the Niederdorf. Here we go, Daring Larry is rearing his head again. Super skeptical, I was thinking, “why did I agree to do this? That doggone Larry!” So we’re there and Larry starts singing. First, there were 5 people, then 20 people, then 100 people, then 500 people!!! I was stunned. And all you could hear was us, cheering, and the loud clicking of coins. Swiss francs were floating in the basket.
The next day I asked Larry, “When are we doing it again?”
I ended up returning to Europe for the eve of 2000 and played in Germany. Imagine playing for a crowd, playing Prince’s 1999, people jumping up and down and dancing. It was amazing. Ask any musician, actress, actor or performer what being on stage and being appreciated is like and you’ll have an understanding of the love of performing. Some people hate performing. I happen to be one of them that love it and have a void in my life when I’m not performing. So this story is a condensed version, of many things I hope to release in a book, someday, of my life.
And if I’ve disappeared somewhat, I’ve decided, that although I love interviewing stars and meeting amazing people, that music is the center of my life. I plan on returning to music soon and whenever we can get together all the details, of the “Buddy Sampson and Friends” show, Benefiting Children’s Hospital, we hope you can be there and enjoy some great music for an amazing cause.
Speaking of causes, I want to mention my good friend Maria Amor. Maria and I haven’t always seen eye to eye on everything, but she has been good to me in the past and I can’t forget it. She picked me up a couple times when I didn’t have a car and took me to perform at the House of Blues. She’s doing an event that is helping the homeless on May 11, 2013. Here is the link: http://www.facebook.com/events/167520913397779/?fref=ts
I’m hoping that events like my upcoming event (date TBD) Maria’s event and other events can help make a difference. Even if one person can be helped, we all can make a difference and help affect change with love and kindness. It’s a domino effect- we can all be examples and help our world and our society.
I’m going to make a few people angry. I think assault rifles need to be banned. Period. No more children need to die and kudos to President Obama for not letting the issue leave public consciousness. What in the world do we need assault rifles for? My God!
The Scoop LA and the upcoming event need advertisers and sponsors. Our positive message needs to reach many people. We can change the world. But we need your help. We aren’t a huge staff and we are having difficulty meeting our operating expenses. Our rates are very inexpensive and contact us if you need an article on your business or event, or want to advertise. We have approximately 200,000 readers that come to this site and think of all those eyes looking at your event, or your business. We can help. Also, we have a few outstanding stories coming up, Angie Stone and Chauncey Billips, the dynamic guard for The Clippers among them.
I want to take this time to thank you, all of our loyal readers. You seem to always be there and we love you very much. Please, take time today to tell someone you love them and take a minute out of your day to talk to someone that may be homeless. They will appreciate it. Their self-esteem is likely to be low and you speaking to them will make them feel like the human beings that they really are. They are not animals, they are people that fell on hard times. Remember, everyone is two paychecks away from homelessness and by the Grace of God, go we.
Love you all and God Bless You!