8 tracks / 37:51
For every big-name blues artist with a record deal there are thousands of blues bands out there, playing their own style of music and grinding out gigs at bars and clubs around the world. One of these is Sam-One, a singer and guitarist from Pittsburg, California who is carving out his own niche.
Though he now lives in this San Francisco Bay Area town, Sam Wesley Jr. (his birth name) hails from Memphis where he started playing guitar when he was eight. 55 year later he is still at it, and he has certainly learned a few thing over the years, including singing, songwriting and arranging. Sam cut his first album, You Ain’t Right, in 2009 and this southern soul disc got him in the door of a few radio stations and some hard-earned airplay.
Bad Boy of the Blues is Sam-One’s self-released sophomore effort and this time he has gone for more blues and less soul, which really works for him as his guitar chops are wonderful. It is a fairly short disc, coming in at 37 minutes, but all eight tracks were written and produced by Wesley. Sam takes on the guitar and vocal duties, and he is joined by a solid band that includes Niklas Nordstrom on bass, Twist Turner on drums and the horn section of Gino Archimede, Adrian Justice and Mark Sullivan.
“Somebody Lied” is the first song in the set and it might not be what you expect from the title. This is not a song about infidelity, but is instead a rebuttal those that say the blues genre is dead. As he calls out the familiar blues heroes in his weathered voice Sam is backed by the simple yet spot-on foundation of bass and drum and a brief but smooth guitar solo.
Things get fun quickly with the next track as “My Baby” is a catchy tune with plenty of funk that lets Nordstrom step out on bass as the horn trio pecks out their staccato accents. There is a similar vibe to “You Ain’t Feelin Me” which artfully uses the counterpoint of Sam-One’s reverb-soaked guitar and a brief solo interlude.
There is also a smooth love song, “Forever & Beyond,” which has a funky jazz feel thanks to Mark Sullivan’s flute parts. Wesley shows versatility in his vocals and his guitar playing, which adapts well to this lighter and slower pace. The time that he spent playing southern soul appears to have paid off in allowing him to change his sound up as needed.
After a passel of three-minute songs, the album finishes up with a couple of double-length tunes that give Sam-One a chance to cut loose on his guitar and he really can play! His feel, bends, and timing are terrific, and his work is as clean as a whistle. There is a smoky feel to “You Think You Fooling Me” which features fine clean guitar leads, and poignant lyrics about the darker side of relationships. For the closer, Sam picked “Do You Want Me Baby” with its classic blues structure with a slow-grinding beat. The horns go a bit crazy in this one, and there is one last chance to squeeze in a couple of tasty guitar solos. This may be the best track on the record!
One thing to keep in mind that this a self-released album and it did not have the benefit of a big record company budget, so there are a few production issues. Post-production engineering is uneven in spots, particularly with the horns, which are generally too far forward in the mix. That being said, this disc is still an enjoyable listen – it is just that at times it sounds more like a live album than a studio recording.
Sam-One’s Bad Boy of the Blues is a fun straight-up blues album and a strong reminder that there are countless souls out their spreading the gospel of the blues everyday. There are many clubs in the Bay Area that support the genre, and if you are in the area you might just run into Sam. If you do, be sure to pick up a copy of his CD!