Interview with Sam Myers

Anson Funderburgh was in Champaign tonight.  I had a chance to talk to his harp
player, Sam Myers, before the show and during the break.  This is a 
paraphrased summary of Sam's replies.  I'm phrasing his side of the
conversation as though this is a verbatim transcript; actually, I'm
often combining things said at different times into single questions and
answers.  He actually said everything attributed to him, though.

Q:  Most of the show, you've been using Marine Bands, but one of your harps
is a Golden Melody.  Are plastic and wooden harps all the same to you?

A:  I usually only play Marine Bands.   I like their tone.   I had to
buy a new D harp the other day, and they were out of Marine Bands, so I had
to get a Golden Melody, instead.

Q:  Besides debating plastic/wooden harmonicas, some friends of mine discuss
the merits of tongue versus lip blocking.  Which do you prefer?

A:  I tongue block exclusively, even for overblows.

Q:  On a Capricorn boxed set of Elmore James, you play drums for the most
part, but there are two cuts where you play harp.  Why didn't he have you
play harp more often?

A:  What happened was, we were recording in a small studio in New Orleans,
and James already had another drummer for the session.  I was going to leave
the studio, but Elmore said, "hey, where do you think you're going?"  So I had
a harp with me, and that's what I played on those cuts.

Q:  How did you get started playing harmonica?

A:  I played trumpet and drums in high school and college.  I taught music
for four years at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago  [I believe
this is the correct name of the school.  Can anyone confirm/correct this?--dmw]
While I was teaching, I started playing with a group I put together.  Pretty 
soon, I quit teaching and performed full time.  I picked up harmonica just as
a diversion.

Q:  How did you develop your style of playing?

A:  I never tried to sound like anyone else.  I just listened to records by
Sonny Boy Williamson and the Walters, and a lot of other kinds of music, too,
and came up with my own style.  I couldn't do like some people, who can listen
to someone's record and then, when that person dies, make a record of the guy's
songs and try to sound just like him.  I don't think someone like that has any
playing style at all; they're just a machine.  [Myers didn't specify whether he
was referring to Sonny Boy I or II, but I had already mentioned that I listen to
Rice Miller, so I assume that's who he meant.--dmw]

Q:  Did you play and record harp a lot after that?

A:  I can't even remember anymore all the times I played harp.  A lot of
my recordings are out of print now; a lot of what you can get is on imports.
I recorded a lot for Don Robey.

Q:  Robey has a pretty bad reputation as far as his treatment of his artists
goes.  Did you see any of that?

A:  Yeah, he was a pretty bad man sometimes.  [Myers went into further
detail, but I don't know what the laws are for libel or slander or whatever.
Suffice it to say that he wouldn't argue with Long John Hunter's comments on
Robey in the current issue of Living Blues.  Here's one sentence, quoted
without permission, from the magazine:  "I never actually seen him do it, but he
was noted for whuppin' his stars; if they didn't bounce by his ball, they got

Q:  But he didn't do anything like that to Big Momma Thornton?

A:  No, he left Willa Mae alone.  She didn't take any sh*t, but she didn't dish
any out, either.

[A further clarification of this last exchange:  Myers brought the subject of
Don Robey up.  I asked the next two questions because of the Living Blues
interview with Long John Hunter.  (How many _real_ journalists would fess up
to something like that?)--dmw]

Q:  When people talk about blues centers these days, they usually mention
Memphis, New Orleans, and New York.  Where does Texas fit into the current

A:  First, New York isn't really a center for blues; a lot of folks perform
there, but not many are based out of there.  As far as Texas goes, Austin is
big, but there are too many blues guys in town.  They're stacking up all over
the place.  Houston used to be big, but not so much anymore.

[At one point, Myers mentioned that he had gone home to Mississippi for a
vacation recently, and a police officer had been telling black folks on the
street to "keep walkin'."  Myers asked the officer why he would tell people
who were already walking to keep doing so; the officer left him alone and
went somewhere else.  I asked if anything like that had ever happened while he
was in Chicago; he said noone had evered bothered him like that the whole time
he was in the town.--dmw]

That's about all.  The show was OK.  Everyone played fine, but it seemed like 
a low-energy performance for the most part.  Myers was in good voice and had
fun with the audience.  His harp playing was good.  His style is pretty
straightforward, with nothing flashy but not repetitive, either-- definitely
his own style.  The Rockets have a keyboard player from England (but
currently based out of New Orleans) who was the highlight of the show, espec- 
ially his great solo boogie-woogie number that opened the second set.     

Oh yeah, and Myers' drink of choice is Jack Daniels and Coke.  [For the blues-l
listeners out there.]

Whelp, it's 3:30.  I'm outta here.  Feel free to ask any questions you have,
and I'll clarify this thing if I can.  If I remember anything more from the
conversations I'll send it in, if anyone's interested.


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