Joe Sample
by on September 13, 2014 in Miscellaneous

I’m writing this on September 13, 2014.

After I got done with my concert last night I got on the bus and Wally Reyes said, “Joe Sample died”.  I saw in Wally’s face how deeply hurt he was.  He worked a lot with Joe.  So did Lou… so our bus had a very somber tone to it all of a sudden.  It made me go back to my interaction with Joe, what he had said to me, the impact it made, (and still does on me), and I wanted to share it.

My mother was my manager when I joined the musician’s union in 1976.  I was 14 years old and I joined my mother’s band, “The Roberts Connection” and we played all kinds of gigs around the San Diego area… as well as traveling to faraway lands like Camp Pendleton… that was really going on the road for me!

The day came when she got a gig REALLY far from home in Twin Falls, Idaho at the “Blue Lakes Inn”.  I’ll write about that another time because that experience was life changing for me.  Let me just say that at 14 years old to travel to another state to do a gig in a nightclub let me know where I was going to go in life and I’ll never be able to thank my mother enough for having the courage to take me out of school to go on that trip.  I guess you could call it a bit of an exchange student, of sorts?

Well, cut to a few years later.  (Amazing how at the time is seems like such big gaps in time but we’re talking 3 years later.)

My mother comes to me, (she was always looking for opportunities for me… beating the bushes looking for who was *looking* for bass players), and says, “The Crusaders are looking for a bass player so I got you an audition”.  MAN, was I excited!  I had been playing songs like “Street Life” in the band I was in back in San Diego, “The People Movers” and I was a HUGE fan of Joe Sample’s incredible solo album “Carmel”.  DEVOURED that record, along with everybody else I knew.

So I made the trip up north to Los Angeles and I showed up at a recording studio on Ventura Blvd.  I think it was Brittania studios?

I found myself standing on Ventura Blvd., at night, with another bass player or 2.  So yes, it was a cattle call.  I immediately thought I had no chance.

I introduced myself to one guy who was standing next to me and he said his name was Tom Fowler.  I knew I was dead in the water!  I knew this guy’s name… and his brothers… “The Fowler Brothers”.

One of those times where you just KNOW you’re outclassed… but I went in anyway.

Suddenly it was my turn and I walk into the studio and the whole band was set up… there they were!  The Crusaders…

Joe Sample was at a grand piano… (what a sound), Stix Hooper was in a booth playing drums and Wilton Felder was sitting in the middle of the room… he might have had a sax sitting close to him but he wasn’t playing it during the audition…

So they’re smiling at me and welcome me into the room… I think they were probably a bit surprised to see this obvious *kid* in the room and might have been thinking “Let’s get this over with so we can get back to the *real* adult bass players…” or at least I thought that’s what they were probably thinking… it’s it amazing the conversations we have with ourselves?

Next, they show me where to plug in, I see a music stand with a music chart on it… (ooooops… BUSTED… I’m not much of a reader), and they count the song off…

It’s kind of a latin groove, (which is NOT my specialty… love the music but it just wasn’t what I had taken to and played much of), and we start playing…

Guess what?  It’s kind of going ok!  I didn’t really look up because I had my eyes glued to the chart trying not to lose my place… and we play through this song…

All of a sudden it gets to the part where I take a bass solo and that’s where I expose my youth… or shall I say lack of experience and ability… now don’t get me wrong… at my ripe age of 17 having played bass SERIOUSLY, PROFESSIONALLY for a full 3 years, I loved to take bass solos… it’s just that they weren’t up to snuff to play with a band like The Crusaders…

We finish the audition and their manager, Sid, told my mother, “We REALLY LIKED HIM!  He’s just not completely ready but we want to stay in touch with you.  We believe he will be ready so let’s stay in touch.”

I’ll tell you what, that was almost as good as getting the gig.  It was a HUGE boost to my confidence I was onto something.  I felt like I ALMOST got the gig.  It was my soloing they pointed out.  Just wasn’t ready… but the rest of the audition?  Apparently went very well!

So I went on my way and then one day… we got the 2nd call.

It was 2 years later, I was 19 and they were looking for a bass player again and Sid called my mother… I was actually living in L.A. by that time so it wasn’t that far of a drive to go audition…

This time, it was in a rehearsal room and it was just Joe on a Fender Rhodes keyboard and Wilton was sitting on a stool in the middle of the room.

We all said hello and then Joe puts a chart in front of me… and yes, it’s a Latin feel again… we start the song and it’s just me and Joe… no drums, no nothing… Rhodes and me…

We get through about 8 bars and Joe stops and says in a very aggressive tone, “NO!  That’s not feeling good… let’s try again!” and we start over… I’m IMMEDIATELY tight as a drum… NOT relaxed at all…

We play another 8 bars and he stops again and glares at me and says, “What HAPPENED to you!  You used to PLAY!  You have a TIME PROBLEM!”

I’m absolutely CRUMBLING inside and scanning my brain for an excuse and I whimper, “Well, I’ve been singing and writing a lot more since we last played…” and he jumps in, “LOOK!  I know many cats how have GREAT careers as singers and then at 50 years old they can’t BUY THEMSELVES a gig because they DON’T HAVE THE MUSIC!

Let me tell you what to do… go get a metronome, a tape recorder, start practicing, AND DON’T LIE TO YOURSELF… get to WORK!” and I left the audition… deflated, defeated and feeling like I’d blown it.

What if that’s my one and only opportunity to make it into the big leagues…

And I’ll tell you something… I was SOOOOOO angry with him.  A fire started brewing… one where I wanted to show this guy, one day… I didn’t know how I’d do it… I certainly wasn’t thinking big enough of what eventually happened for me… but there was that thing that was brewing inside… HOWEVER… and I’ve spoken about this with people who worked with Joe A LOT, and know how he could be… but really know how deep this guy is musically… HE WAS RIGHT… and ultimately, I took his advice to heart… and I’ve seen MANY people get great gigs, become successful, etc. and suddenly not care about the musicality any more… they just want to be famous, a singer, whatever… but I’m a BASS PLAYER, FIRST.  And Joe Sample reminded me to NEVER LET THAT GO.

I have to say, I hadn’t at the time… I hadn’t let it go… I was playing as much as ever and the thing that revealed me was I was playing a style I was HORRIBLE in… Latin…

OH!  I have to add one more funny part of the story at the 2nd audition, (although it wasn’t funny at the time)…

But when he stopped me the 2nd time and told me I had a *time problem*, I looked across the room and said, “It would be so much easier if we had a time keeping source, like that TR-808 sitting in the corner!”  (a TR-808 was that Roland drum machine that you heard on COUNTLESS records), and Joe snapped at me…”We shouldn’t NEED that!”  Ahhhhhhh, I was crumbling!

So cut to 4 or 5 years later… I was in the band Chicago as the tenor lead vocalist and bass player… and truthfully, I wasn’t sitting around thinking about the day I’d run into Joe and give him an “Oh really?  Look at me NOW!” vibe, but of course it was probably back in my mind somewhere…

But the day came… I ran into him and it all came rushing back in… and Joe sees me, he stops dead in his tracks… he points me to… there’s this long pause and he says, “We always KNEW YOU WERE BAD!”

And there was the moment… did I say, “No you didn’t!  You CRUSHED ME!  You gave UP on me!”… I paused and realized 2 things… ONE, he was right… don’t EVER forsake the music… your bass… the thing that brought you to this dance… the thing that was the most natural for you… that took you to Twin Falls, Idaho with your mother that gave you the picture of what your life was going to be… and I never have… it is my original love and will always be there… never to take 2nd place…

And the 2nd thing I realized, was I was now in the club… I went up, threw my arms around him and said, “Thank you.”

I ran into Joe a few times over the years after that and after hearing the stories of Wally Reyes telling me about his times with Joe, they were very similar to me in that Joe would get VERY vocal when he wasn’t happy and it was a LESSON… I mean, hey, if you’re in this guy’s presence, you’re there for a reason… listen, learn.

Thank you for the brief times we had together Joe, thank you for one of my first great lessons in the music business and I hope you are resting in peace… my heart goes out to you and your family on the day after you passed into the next chapter and I PROMISE you, I will never forsake the music, which means my instrument… the original one… the one that got me to meet you… my bass.

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