Last week an old friend reposted a call for a keyboard player on facebook to me and said “have you seen this?” In recent months I’ve been scaling back and trying to simplify: as a full time family doctor with a loving family, I’ve learned that I can’t spend a ton of time gallivanting around the country (or even the state) playing music with a bunch of bands and still have time to come up with the next great American solo album and sleep all at the same time. But this was different, it was Sean Kelly, looking for someone to play some Samples shows.
I first saw the Samples at the Garden State Arts Center in the summer of ’93. It was my second H.O.R.D.E. tour – undistilled, pure 90’s granolapalooza. These shows introduced me to Colonel Bruce, Big Head Todd, Widespread Panic, and Phish – having been conceived by Jersey’s own John Popper and headlined by Blues Traveler, heralding the second coming of the now-ubiquitous jam band. In the early nineties, improvisation-heavy rock bands were hardly everywhere; the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead had been pulling a reliable throng of sun-bleached, tie-dyed music lovers around the country with the promise that no two performances of a given song would ever be alike, but this had been a far cry from my experience of live music – dominated in the late eighties by glam bands, new wave, and synth pop. I wanted in!
I knew there had to be a way to combine stretched out arrangements of great songs with synthesizers – and then along came the Samples, and I began devouring their albums, special ordering their eponymous fIrst EP from a CD store in south jersey for a $32.99 and wearing it out with a cigarette dangling from the open window on several six hour commutes to and from the University of Rochester. I studied Al Laughlin’s keyboard playing with more fervor than I brought to any classes I took that year. When they came to the Horizontal Boogie Bar in 1994 I dragged 20 friends down there and went nuts in the front row for the whole set. I shouted all the lyrics and hung around afterwards to get autographs and gush at the band.
After graduation I moved to Boulder with my own group, because this was where the Samples were from, so it seemed like a good place to take a crack at the music business. 1996 was an awesome year to be a musician in Boulder – within weeks my little black book was full of phone numbers organized by the instrument the person played and I was experiencing live music nearly every day. I eventually got to meet all the guys in the band – at bars, at shows (it’s a small town); they’re great people. Sean’s the only remaining original Sample.
Then yada yada yada fatherhood, yada yada yada med school, yada yada yada starting a blog and writing in it 4 times in the first year.
Last night I drove to Denver to play two sets with the Samples at the Breckenridge Brewery after saying “yes please” to a facebook post. They had texted me a list of songs and half of them were on mixtapes I made in the nineties. The drummer’s parents are the same age as my parents and live about a mile away from them in south jersey. The bassist owns the Oriental Theater – and in 1993, the same year I first saw the Samples, my Korean girlfriend told me to stop calling referring to myself as “oriental,” the proper term, she said, was “asian.” Coincidence?
It was surreal playing tunes that I’ve listened to for so long but then realizing that the keyboard player is me. Then going one step further to be realizing that for the most part the band likes what I’m doing and I get to stretch out and do my own thing with it. Then I take a selfie with Sean who tells me “you’re hired!”
So 25 years after that time in Rochester when I got the Samples to sign a bumper sticker, I found myself signing someone’s Samples t-shirt and saying “you know it’s only my first day right?”
So this was a win for the optimism and the internet – social media, apparently, isn’t all about making us hate each other, toppling governments, and the the deregulation of youth. Sometimes it brings a lifelong love of music full circle:)
Forgive the audio quality – it’s the best my phone can do. But the document exists and must not be contained!
For the nerds:
Roland System 8
Native Instruments S61 M2
Yamaha CP 300
Leslie Studio 12