Magic Sam: Remembering Blues Hall of Famer

On Sunday February 14th 2016, Magic Sam would have been 79 years old… The following article was originally written in 2008, and is my memory of this amazing blues legend.

FLASHBACK TO THE LATE SIXTIES

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for music. There was always something playing in our house. In my sister’s room you could hear The Beatles, Rolling Stones, or The Monkees. My father would be listening to Gene Krupa, Bennie Goodman or Frank Sinatra in the family room. For me, the blues would be the first audible sounds that I recall.

I shared a bedroom with my brother who was an aspiring musician. He would continuously practice on his unplugged baby blue Fender all night long, far into the wee hours of the morning. Blistering blues and classic rock guitar licks were embedded into my young mind. And as a result, I developed an appreciation and love for music well beyond my years. All I talked about was music, and my friends thought that was rather strange. Perhaps it was, after-all I was only six years old at the time.

magic-sam-guitar-pic-2.jpg

My brother, eight years older and an early teen at the time, was in a blues band. He and his friends would rehearse in our basement, often leaving behind some of their equipment for the next get together. I loved hanging out during rehearsals, but what I enjoyed even more (when no one was around) was fooling around with some of the gear. I also liked listening to my brother’s 33 & 1/3rds that were stacked by his Champ Amp. Records like East West from Paul Butterfield, A Hard Road by John Mayall and The Blues Breakers, Truth by The Jeff Beck Group, Wheels of Fire by Cream, and A Man and the Blues by Buddy Guy – just to name a few.

Of course, touching the LP’s, or any of the instruments was strictly forbidden. However, I had trouble understanding this notion. One of the songs in my brother’s collection caught my attention. The album was entitled West Side Soul and the song (originally released on Cobra in 1957) was called “All Your Love.” There was something about the tune that struck a chord.

All Your Love

So I queued the song on our Admiral wooden console stereo system, grabbed my brother’s axe, plugged in his amp, and pretended to play along…

Samuel Maghett (Magic Sam)

Magic Sam

was born in Grenada, Mississippi, on February 14, 1937 into a sharecropping household. Even though his family had no musical background, the youthful Sam was intrigued by the sounds he heard playing at local parties and picnics. He would create his own makeshift guitars from cigar boxes, and by the time his family relocated to Chicago in 1950, Sam was already quite proficient playing the guitar. Soon he began to play professionally, first with the gospel group The Morning View Special and then with the popular Homesick James Band.

Sam’s tone and finger picking style was an entirely original concept when he premiered it on Eli Toscano’s Cobra label in 1957. The guitarist had been gigging as Good Rocking Sam, but Toscano wanted to change his nickname. Eventually he would become known as Magic Sam; a play on words based on his real last name.

His Cobra debut single, “All Your Love,” was an instant local hit. “Everything Gonna Be Alright” and “Easy Baby” borrowed much the same melody but still remained powerful.

Cobra achieved local success, but they didn’t find much recognition outside of Chicago, and by 1960 the company closed its doors. After Cobra folded, Magic Sam didn’t follow his label mates Otis Rush and Magic Slim over to Chess. Sam’s life took a different turn as he was drafted into the Army. Several weeks after being drafted, he deserted and returned to Chicago and recorded some tunes for the Chief label. The Army would eventually catch up with Magic Sam and sentenced him to a military prison. Six months later he received a dishonorable discharge in 1961.

Magic Sam Live

Returning again to Chicago, he renewed his work with Willie Dixon and recorded a cover of “Hi Heel Sneakers” for CBS and a few selections for Crash Records. Sam grew tired of just releasing singles and wanted to do a full-length album.

In 1967 he finally caught the attention of Bob Koester, owner of Delmark Records. Koester was enjoying the success he obtained with Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues and signed Magic Sam to a contract, giving him the opportunity to do his first album.

Magic Sam created two landmark albums for Delmark Records; 1967’s West Side Soul and then Black Magic the following year. Both of these LP’s showcased Sam’s immense talent and will go down as some of the finest blues ever recorded.

Back In The House I Grew Up

I believe in my mind I came pretty close to nailing the song. It really didn’t matter. I wasn’t playing for anyone but my own imagination. It wasn’t the technique of playing the guitar that excited me. It was the expressive tone of the strings as they resonated from the amp…

At that moment, although not interested in being a musician, something inside of me knew music was going to be a big part of my life one day…

Back in the late sixties, Sam’s reputation was sky rocketing, and at the height of his career he would amaze an overflowed crowd at the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival. As he headed for international stardom, heart problems took their toll on Sam’s health. On the morning of December 1st of 1969, he complained of heartburn, collapsed, and passed away of a heart attack. He was only 32 years old …

An awesome talent and major inspiration was lost.

West Side Soul is an absolute must own for anyone interested in the blues. Magic Sam knew how to blend all the right ingredients into one tasty soulful package.

In 1982, Magic Sam was inducted into The Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame posthumously. In 1984, his album West Side Soul was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame as a classic blues recording.

Do you have a favorite Magic Sam moment or song you love or remember? If you do, please feel free to comment in the area below.

The Blues Blogger

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12 Responses to “Magic Sam: Remembering Blues Hall of Famer”

  1. marcel lemieux April 26, 2009 at 3:59 am #

    A man that pursued his dream..a rare breed..and an excellent musician..din,t know about him…1969 ,i was 17 years old..gee…
    a very good article here…thanks

  2. Howard April 26, 2009 at 4:41 am #

    Thanks again for a good review, a combination of autobiographical information as well as solid artist information.
    For me Chicago Urban Blues is perhaps my first love, it takes me back to my first memories of blues music. The Chess label had such an influence on my music collection too and Magic Sam was just one of those. A great performer, thanks for bring back those early memories too..

    A Blues Blogger Fan, Howard.

  3. jeff vaness April 26, 2009 at 8:47 am #

    What can I say Magic Sam is a true bluesman, guitar player,and one of my favs. I hitchhiked to Chicago in 1968 for the sole purpose of wanting to hear some blues from masters.It was a hectic time I was 19 years old and from a place with a population of 2500 in Canada.Blues was not common. A friend came home with a blues album it was Lightnin Hopkins and I was hooked.Chicago was heaven for me,Blues everywhere anytime and I discovered Chicago Blues. My education began and I am still being educated.I have returned to Canada and still live in a small place where Blues are still not that common but sites like this are fantastic.Like an oasis of blues. Love all your reviews, I am familiar with 99% of the blues people.I would love to see a thing on Lightnin Hopkins just for old times sake.He was my first introduction to the blues, I have all his albums and covet them dearly. Keep up the awesome tunes. Have a good day!

  4. MacDaddy April 26, 2009 at 8:00 pm #

    I intend to write about him at my blog daddyBstrong.blogspot.com

    When I was in my teens, I used to come up from Atlanta, Georgia to Chicago to stay with Aunt, who lived on the South side, about 2 blocks from Theresas, a blues bar where I would see Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, and Sammy Lawhorn all the time. But sometimes I would slip into other blues bars like Sylvia’s and The Checkerboard Lounger and see people like Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Jimmie Dawkins.

    To me, Magic Sam was the best. While most of the others played with a pick, Magic Sam finger picked and could make the beautiful runs on the guitar. Amazing…

    The crazy thing about him is that, during his show, he also carried on conversations with people in the audience. That’s why I thought all of these guys were just local musicians. I wasn’t until Magic Sam died that I found out how good these guys were. That’s why I’m not impressed with a lot of loud playing rock musicians now. I saw Magic Sam and Buddy Guy play some serious blues every summer.

  5. Gaben May 7, 2009 at 7:14 am #

    This guy’s distortion reminds me of the song, money for nothing (Dire Straits). Never heard of Magic Sam before, but i’m really impressed now… Thx for the post.

  6. Susan July 12, 2009 at 6:31 pm #

    I hit this website and started playing Magic Sam and my husband and a couple of kids came over to the computer to listen. None of us had ever heard of him before, but you sure did a good job of resurrecting him. Especially with your very personal notes to go along with it.

    Thanks, this one was great.

  7. Dale December 1, 2009 at 6:43 pm #

    Wow Brother! I’m glad that you sent this. I knew that he had passed but knew little else of this great talented gifted man. My oldest brother still has has his LP’s and he knew a lot of the bio. that is in your article. I was taken back in time last summer while on a trip to visit my brother in Sacramento. One evening we listened to the late hours of the night to many of the blues greatest. Two of the albums we listened to were Magic Sam’s. Thanks again for all your hard work BluesBlogger. BLESSING TO YOU & YOURS;

  8. jeff December 2, 2009 at 8:45 am #

    Beautiful,very good,flashback heaven love it.Thanks again for the awesome blog

  9. Susan February 14, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    So that’s where that style of R&R comes from! I’ve heard that riff over and over in a lot of more modern songs.

    Not only did he have amazing guitar skills, but his voice sounds like the voice of an angel. He could have been great singing any kind of music.

    Thanks for enlightening to one of the all-time greats.

  10. Alan Eisenberg February 14, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    Some of the best music ever. BB your memories are great for us. Thanks.

  11. ProFuzz February 15, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    I listened to the “West Side Soul” album for the first time in my life when I was 14 years old… since, Magic Sam’s music became a part of me and my music education… really great songs! …. it’s for the first time I visited your blog… very and very impressive…. thanks!

  12. Hermitbiker April 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

    …. another great review with that personal touch only the Blues Blogger can give…. sorry I haven’t been around…. my laptop slows way down when I come here now and my audio card doesn’t cut it anymore…. but I will return one day with a brand new computer so I can properly hear your audio again !! 🙂 Thanks for being here BluesBlogger !! 🙂

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