The Sam Crain Story
Part 1. Early Days
I was born August 10, 1954, Springfield, Illinois, USA at 8:37pm. Some years back I had an ‘astrological profile’ done and I am a Leo with Pisces rising and the moon in Capricorn. I read somewhere that Hitler had his moon in Capricorn, which explains these occasional urges I get to annihilate whole races of people and comb my hair at a downward diagonal slant.
Anyway, yeah, born August 10, ‘54, grew up with a Mom and a Dad and a younger brother-by 4 years, also a creative guy, into photography and writing. Typical postwar nuclear family: June, Ward, Wally and "the beav".
As far as getting into music, I did the obligatory piano lessons at 7, but was apparently ‘into it’ at an even earlier age. My Dad used to tell a story about him writing an arrangement at the piano and coming to a diminished chord and me (age 3 or so) bugging him to show me how to play it, then having to listen to me play that chord over and over, all afternoon, and no doubt just as LOUD as I could play it! And both parents related the story, of me, same age, ‘writing’ and performing, in our backyard, my own composition. It was called,"The Chich", and was I guess a kind of Recitative. To my mind now, "The Chich" sounds like either a dance performed with clenched teeth, or a kind of skin irritation.
Tried piano lessons age 7-11, just wasn’t ready for it, played violin for a school year, cornet for a summer,then took up guitar, just shy of my 12th birthday-1966, the year before Jimi Hendrix came out with ‘Are You Experienced’. My first guitar was a $50 Shelley folk guitar. My friend Ray used to make fun of it-after all, he had a Teisco del Rey guitar-and a "green stamp" amp (an amplifier purchased by saving books of green stamps--a long since archaic ‘coupon’ variant). The whole concept of a ‘green stamp amp’ was one which became funnier as years passed. Maybe not to Ray but at least to me...
About six months later a different friend-Chuck-approached me about starting a band. And he, like Ray, already had an electric guitar. (I felt like I was yet to reach musical puberty, me with my folk guitar and them with their electrics). "You’ll have to play bass", he said. "I already have a guitar". And so I went out and got a cheapo Danelectro bass, and an amp that looked like a clarinet case, and that’s how I got into bass.
So we added in a drummer and had ourselves a little power trio. Originally it was called ‘the Atheists’ (Chuck’s idea, none of us really knew what it meant) but our drummer’s Mom made us change it. To what I don’t remember. Very short-lived band, but my first.
Since then, I’ve played in a LOT of bands-an estimated 469 (Okay, that was my estimate-once I actually sat down and figured it out the number was more like 74- but that’s still a lot! ) and they’re listed here on the site.
I first got into jazz when I was about 14, my freshman yr of high school. Playing mainly bass then, in the High School Jazz Band and in The Bob Graham Quartet (tenor player, huge Stan Getz fan) I’d been taking guitar lessons for about 2 yrs, and my teacher-Ben Drake-who himself played guitar, bass and piano and was the pianist in the group, recruited me as their bass player.
It was a GREAT learning experience. We had a regular Friday-Saturday gig at a local supper club, from which I made a whopping $50 a week (remember this is 1968), most of which I spent on jazz albums, all kinds of stuff. I feel like I’ll always be learning how to play, but this is where I got started, between the weekly gigs, lessons, and much listening to all kinds of folks. Seems like it was about a two-year stretch with this group. Fun time. I have a group portrait somewhere, and if I find it, will put it on the site.
Part 2. Middle Daze
My first ‘urban adventure’ was leaving the nest at age 20 to go to school in Boston- Berklee School of Music. Actually 5 of us from Springfield all sorta went together, Messrs Crain, Piper, Gibson, Singleton and Meyers. I guess we were sorta the "brat pack" of that time: Dino, Frank, Sammy, Peter and Joey.
Boston in 1974 was a great city, as far as culture, and I’m sure it still is. We got to hear some great players: Pat Martino, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, Gary Burton . Met Emily Remler, who would go on to be quite well-known, and heard Mike Stern in a ‘neighborhood dive’, who is now a pretty good name in jazz guitar as well.
This move to Boston was a point of departure for us guys-from-Spfld, whereupon everybody kinda went their own ways from here- which is really as it should be. Berklee wasn’t what I wanted to do musically at that time, so I dropped out after a semester and studied (composition, counterpoint, that kinda stuff) privately with a guy at Boston Conservatory. He was an Englishman (after the lesson, he’d usually ask if I fancied a pizza) and getting a Master’s there at BC-wrote fairly bizarre modern stuff.
One thing about big cities I learned as a 10-miles-from-cowshit 20 year old was that besides there just being collections of smaller areas (Boston, for instance, was actually Brookline, Back Bay, Southy, Roxbury, etc), there were a hell of a lot more crazy people!
They pretty much lined the streets of Back Bay in my days there, but one I remember in particular was on the subway.
He was doing stand-up comedy. Yes, actual lines (except that they made absolutely no sense!!) and delivered with pauses, at which point three fairly matronly women would titter at his ‘jokes’. (actual quote: "yeah, my nephew murdered King Feisal! Hell, they’re all crazy on my mother’s side!") I only wish I remembered more of his lines, but this gives you an idea of the spirit of the moment. This is a gentleman my Dad would have described as stone crazy- but he did have great comedic timing.
Seated next to me during all this was a rather persimmon-faced fellow in maybe his 60’s or 70’s, who was definitely not enjoying the show. He turned to me at one point, his face stern with disapproval. "Some people should be put in a mental institution!" he said. Which only added to my enjoyment.
As part of the 7-year college plan, spent a year at a small University near Detroit. Got to know the jazz guys (good guitarist, tenor player, bassist and drummer, and a jazz Tuba player) and did some playing with them on guitar and some duo stuff with the other guitarist. At that time (1975-76) ’the cat’ on guitar was Pat Martino. My playing was pretty heavily influenced, as was the other guitar guy.
Made a couple trips into Detroit with these guys. Got to meet Marcus Belgrave, a terrific trumpet player, kind of a mentor to many of the younger players- at a jam session. Real nice guy and encouraging to me as well.
Detroit was (and likely still is) a rough, dangerous place, but according to the musicians I knew, being a musician gave you ‘diplomatic immunity’-they told me the story of being stopped in one of the ‘hoods, and being told that they were musicians going to a session, were suddenly free from being mugged: "sure, no problem, why didn’tcha say so?" The hoods figured musicians don’t have any money either, so they leave ‘em alone..
So much for Detroit.
The next 4 yrs were spent at Peabody Conservatory, in scenic Baltimore Maryland. Baltimore at that time (‘76-80) had about a million people to its name, and though not without the negative sides to really most cities (more crazies, more crime), was a fairly friendly place. As a matter of fact, the whole ‘friendly TV weatherman’ concept was supposed to have originated in Baltimore. Edgar Allan Poe lived there for a time, in the Fells Point area, and had a somewhat different slant on the place, however. "It’s always Thursday and it’s always raining", he said.
As well as being a fairly friendly big city, Baltimore had what was described as a ‘special tolerance for eccentrics’. As part of a thing called the Friday Night Sleaze Series one summer, at Baltimore’s Center Stage, I saw John Waters’ "Pink Flamingoes" for the first time. (Waters, as you may know, is from Baltimore and does much of his filming right there).
There was another act I liked, who performed in a cabaret-type club near the Peabody campus. Called himself, "Don the Human Blockhead" and would drive actual nails into his head (okay, not really, but therein lay his art I guess), and told the worst imaginable jokes. Example: yeah I useta like huggin’ blondes, but now I just like squeezin’ blackheads!
Anyway, Peabody was a good school. I wrote a lot of music and learned a few things along the way. We had quite a crop of visiting artists--Aaron Copland, Gunther Schuller, Milton Babbitt, George Crumb were a few people I got to meet while a student there. As far as fellow students, Michael Hedges was a classmate-didn’t know him well, but being a fellow composition major, we had composers’ forum together, and both squeaked through French class, and on one occasion had a couple beers in a strip club. Also knew, and played jazz with Philip Bush, who was a fine pianist and I know has recorded some things since Peabody days.
After school, I came back to Spfld to ‘re-group’. Fell back into the local music scene, playing mostly bass gigs (as that’s always the in-demand instrument) but a few things on guitar. ( Years later I would found a Support Group for people-mainly guitarists-who double on bass and then never get called for their ‘main’ instruments. More info in this elsewhere on this site.)
‘81-83 were nebulous years, but ‘84 was much more purposeful. In ‘84 I stopped smoking cigarettes (2/16-and haven’t had one since!), finally moved out of the parents’ house-at 29-to my own ‘swinging bachelor pad’, my paternal Grandmother passed away, and just after Christmas I went on the road-as in playing.
The band was called Gina, Dean and Scoundrel, a 7-piece group where 5 of the members (at that time) played horns. As well as guitar, I played a few bass numbers and keyboard tunes, and even sang background stuff here and there. I got the job through a referral service offered by the Int’l Musicians Union.
Met them in Boston, 1st gig is in Nashua, NH, 2nd in St Louis, 3rd in Dallas. After that it settled down as far as proximity. During my stint with the band we played in New Hampshire (Nashua), Missouri (St. Louis), Texas (Corpus Christi, Dallas, Houston, Beaumont, Brownsville), New Mexico (Hobbs), Nevada (Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Elko, Wendover, Reno, Laughlin), California (Ventura), Utah (Ogden), Wyoming (Rock Springs), Louisiana (Shreveport) and Canada- province of Alberta (Calgary & Edmonton). Lotsa travelling.
The band just kind of disintegrated in March of 1986. I took the train home (again, back to Springfield to re-group) from I think Fort Worth TX. The following July I met a nice gal, whom I married the March after that, and again in June. We had a civil ceremony and then a church wedding.
Part 3 '87 to the present
("I'm a Lumberjack and I'm OK. I work all night and I sleep all day")
‘87 to ‘93 were involved/married years, with wife Judy and her kids Todd and Erica. Everybody got songs written for them, maybe 5 or 6 for Judy and a couple apiece for Todd and Erica. I wrote Todd some Godzilla music--all synthesizer stuff--when he was maybe 8 or 9. This I later found consoling. So maybe I wasn’t much of a handyman, a Mr-Fixit as far as my domestic thing. How many Dads (or stepdads, whatever) can give their kid Godzilla music?
Since ‘93 I’ve been laid-off and rehired on my daygig, been involved with a couple more women, bought a house, been to LA, Seattle, Japan (Ashikaga & Tokyo), and New York City, played maybe 492 gigs, drank 20,000 Coronas, etc...
Which finally brings us up to the present. ‘01 seems to be a creative year, lotsa recording and writing. In many ways, I feel like I’m just getting started.
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