Sam Myers

Sam Myers: The Blues Is My Story

SAM MYERS
JEFF HORTON
Copyright Date: 2006
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tv9cd
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    Sam Myers
    Book Description:

    Sam Myers: The Blues Is My Storyrecounts the life of bluesman Sam Myers (1936-2006), as told in his own words to author Jeff Horton. Myers grew up visually handicapped in the Jim Crow South and left home to attend the state school for the blind at Piney Woods. Myers's intense desire to become a musician and a scholarship from the American Conservatory School of Music called him to Chicago. There in 1952 he joined Elmore James's band as a drummer and was featured on some of James's best-known recordings. Following the elder bluesman's death in 1963, Myers fronted bands of his own and recorded many well-received singles and albums. In 1986, Myers became the W. C. Handy Award-winning front man, vocalist, and harmonica player for Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets.

    Throughout the book, Myers provides a historical context to a bygone era of the blues and reveals his own thoughts and feelings about the musicians with whom he played. And they are a list of who's who in the blues-Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Hound Dog Taylor, and Robert Lockwood Junior in addition to Elmore James. In one chapter Myers describes a personalized deeper meaning to the blues. And in another he relates a series of anecdotes about the lighter side of life on the road.

    Contributions from Myers's father and stories from a boyhood friend round out the narrative. Dallas musician Brian "Hash Brown" Calway dissects the more technical aspects of Myers's harmonica style. Long-time friend and bandmate, Anson Funderburgh, weighs in with a chapter about their songwriting methods and offers some of his own recollections on their twenty years together.

    An award-winning and prolific musician and singer Sam Myers wrote and recorded what was to be his most famous single, "Sleeping in the Ground," in 1956. He toured all over the U.S. and around the world with Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets. Jeff Horton is a blues musician and journalist active in the Texas blues scene. His work has been published inSouthwest Bluesmagazine.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-145-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xi-2)
    JEFF HORTON

    The idea of writing Sam Myers’s life story came to me because of bowling. People who know Sam are aware that he is legally blind and somewhat infirm due to diabetes and gout. But as it turns out, Sam loves to go bowling with his friends. Somehow, he can see just enough, in the right kind of way, to be able to bowl a pretty fair game. I’ve seen him throw three strikes in a row.

    One night in early 2002 I drove Sam to the local bowling alley to meet up with our friends. On the way over, he...

  5. CHAPTER 1 EARLY YEARS
    (pp. 3-13)

    Samuel Joseph Myers was born in Laurel, Mississippi, on February 19, 1936. He is the oldest child of Ollie and Celeste Myers. Until recently, both resided in Jackson, Mississippi; Celeste passed away during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. Sam was followed by Mary Nell and Wardell (both deceased) and Ollie, Jr., who now lives in Rose Hill, Mississippi.

    Located in Jones County in the southeast region of Mississippi known as the Piney Woods, the city of Laurel was founded in 1882. At the turn of the century, the railroads opened the region for large-scale timber production, and...

  6. CHAPTER 2 COTTON FIELDS, RAILROADS, AND SAWMILLS
    (pp. 14-22)

    While conditions in pre–World War II Jones County, Mississippi, were marginally better for much of the rural black population than in other places in the region, life for many of Sam’s contemporaries was nevertheless filled with long, hard work. Compared to the number of workers in the more agricultural areas of the state, fewer people toiled in the fields surrounding Sam’s hometown of Laurel. But the tradeoff for the somewhat better pay and working conditions in the mills and on the railroads was frequently injury and sometimes death.

    It wasn’t always fun then, but after I grew up I thought...

  7. CHAPTER 3 PINEY WOODS
    (pp. 23-33)

    In 1909 educator Dr. Laurence C. Jones founded the Piney Woods School in rural Rankin County, Mississippi, a few miles south of Jackson. He began the school with a handful of children and held his first classes in an old split-log sheep shed. The shed remains preserved on the campus as a historical exhibit and still contains the ancient piano that was used to teach music. Today the nationally recognized school occupies over two thousand wooded acres that includes a five-hundred-acre working farm and a campus of classroom buildings, dormitories, and activity centers. Piney Woods graduates small classes of about...

  8. CHAPTER 4 GOING TO CHICAGO
    (pp. 34-40)

    The lure of playing music soon called to Sam from the big city of Chicago, as it had called to so many black musicians from Mississippi. But by 1951, when Sam was ready to move north to attend the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, the scene had changed, and new opportunities abounded for the postwar generation of southern blacks. Unlike his elder relatives, Sam wasn’t looking for work to escape from the plantations and mills of the Deep South. Instead he planned to further his music education in two ways: by studying in the classroom and by going to...

  9. CHAPTER 5 CHICAGO AND JACKSON FAMILIES
    (pp. 41-50)

    Sam’s career as an itinerant bluesman didn’t lend itself to much of a “normal” family life. But he still found time to fall in love once or twice and even fathered four children. Unfortunately, he has not kept in contact with most for them; he has even lost touch with his son Willie Earl, who lived in Mobile, Alabama, with Sam’s father, Ollie, until Ollie had a stroke in 2003. Willie Earl has had some problems with the law, and Sam has lost track of him.

    There’s a girl who lives in Chicago who I know cared more for me...

  10. CHAPTER 6 ELMORE JAMES
    (pp. 51-64)

    Sam’s long association with Elmore James was perhaps the most important collaboration of his career. As a youngster of sixteen he met the newly famous Elmore in Chicago a few months after the 1951 release of Elmore’s biggest hit, “Dust My Broom.” It was recorded at Lillian McMurry’s Trumpet Records in Jackson, a studio that in a few years would figure significantly in the life of the young Sam Myers.

    Sam was invited to join Elmore’s peripatetic group as one of a revolving cast of studio and road drummers on the “Chittlin’ Circuit.” This was the name given to the...

  11. CHAPTER 7 JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI
    (pp. 65-73)

    Jackson, Mississippi, was originally a trading post on the west bank of the Pearl River in a spot known as LeFleur’s Bluff. Named for President Andrew Jackson, the little town was designated as the state capital in 1821 due to its abundant timber, attractive countryside, and proximity to navigable waters. In 1839, the first law in the United States granting property rights to married women was passed there. Burned three times during the Civil War, Jackson had a population of only eight thousand at the turn of the century. The advent of the modern railroads after World War I fueled...

  12. CHAPTER 8 JACKSON RADIO AND RECORDING
    (pp. 74-82)

    In the mid-1950s the music scene in Jackson, Mississippi, was thriving. Black culture was centered on what is now known as the Farish Street Historical District. It took its name from a former slave, Walter Farish, who had settled at the corner of what became Farish and Davis streets. Blues music had long been an important part of Jackson’s history, beginning with furniture store owner H. C. Speir, who moved his business onto Farish Street in 1925. Speir was interested in music and scouted for local talent. In those days, furniture stores sold record players, and their owners sometimes promoted...

  13. CHAPTER 9 THE BLUES
    (pp. 83-100)

    What is the meaning of the blues? How does it feel to have the blues? What’s it like to listen to the blues? There are as many answers to questions like these as there are blues fans, scholars, and musicians. Everyone hears and understands the blues in a different way. A student of the blues could spend the rest of his or her life reading, researching, writing, and talking about the blues and barely scratch the surface of this deep subject. So, what does one do to try to gain an understanding of the blues? There is really no firm...

  14. CHAPTER 10 THE HARMONICA
    (pp. 101-107)

    Even though Sam started out playing the trumpet and the drums, he is now far better known as one of the blues world’s premier harmonica players. He received the W. C. Handy award in 1988 for Blues Instrumentalist of the Year—Other (Harmonica). The harmonica, or harp as it is more commonly known in the blues, is a deceptively simple instrument. Because of its small size and the way it is played, the observer often cannot really discern just how a harp player is applying a given technique. The observer can only rely on his or her ears to tell if...

  15. CHAPTER 11 THE MUSICIANS’ UNION
    (pp. 108-111)

    Organized labor unions for musicians have been in existence for almost a hundred years. Today’s American Federation of Musicians seems to be oriented mostly towards providing its members, especially those in symphonic orchestras, with insurance and retirement benefits. But back during World War II, James C. Petrillo ruled the union with an iron fist. Interestingly, his middle name was Caesar, and he was the undisputed emperor of the musicians’ union for decades. Petrillo was president of his Chicago local from 1918 until 1940 when he ascended to the national presidency, which he held until 1958. He was so powerful that...

  16. CHAPTER 12 THE RECORD BUSINESS
    (pp. 112-123)

    Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1876 and began selling it in 1887. It wasn’t long before the recording industry took off, and the various sharks, con men, and rip-off artists that already plagued the world of live entertainment came right along behind. History does not give us the name of the first recorded musician to be cheated out of what royalties should have accrued to him or her, but the first one started a long chain that continues unbroken to this day. This cheating takes two basic forms. One way is to persuade a musician to sign a disadvantageous...

  17. CHAPTER 13 STORIES FROM THE ROAD
    (pp. 124-136)

    Any musician who has traveled the world and played with the wide range of artists that Sam Myers has is bound to have a treasure trove of humorous anecdotes. Anson Funderburgh, Sam’s bandleader, collaborator, and friend for some twenty years, also contributes a trio of road stories. The stories that follow are not quite as colorful as some that the author has heard, but they have the virtue of being printable.

    When I was with King Mose and the Royal Rockers back in 1957, we had a real good group; we were real friendly with each other. Unlike a lot...

  18. CHAPTER 14 SAM’S BEST FRIEND, ANSON FUNDERBURGH
    (pp. 137-144)

    Anson Funderburgh, of Plano, Texas, has been a stalwart of Texas blues guitar for almost thirty years. At the age of fifteen he started playing at local parties and in clubs like the notorious Cellar in Dallas with his first band, Sound Cloud. A year after he graduated from high school in 1973, Anson headed for the blues mecca of Austin to join a newly formed house band called Blue Norther. But the group never jelled, so Anson did a few gigs with Doyle Bramhall and Marc Benno and for a while was a member of the Nightcrawlers. That band...

  19. DISCOGRAPHY
    (pp. 145-154)
  20. SONG CATALOG
    (pp. 155-156)
  21. SAM MYERS, ELMORE JAMES, AND BOBBY ROBINSON SESSIONS
    (pp. 157-160)
  22. APPEARANCES, AWARDS, AND HONORS
    (pp. 161-162)
  23. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 163-164)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 165-172)