Sam Moss – Blues Approved
Schoolkids Records – 2022
14 tracks; 49 minutes
The name Sam Moss probably means little or nothing to most blues music fans, but in his home base of Winston-Salem, N.C., he was a legend. He inspired many local musicians to follow in his footsteps, yet never released a record in his lifetime. Sam became a dealer in vintage guitars but passed in 2007, with no recorded legacy. However, Sam had recorded an album’s worth of music. In 1977 he laid down eight tracks at friend Chris Stamey’s house: Sam is on guitar, bass and vocals, Mitch Easter on drums, Chris on organ. Working on the tapes, Chris felt that the music had stood the test of time and deserved to be heard but asked Crispin Cioe of The Uptown Horns to add saxes to further accentuate the soul aspects of some tracks. To supplement the 1977 sessions there are five covers recorded with Henry Heidmann on bass and keys, Jay Johnson or Ted Lyons on drums, Mike Kennedy on congas, Mike Wesolowski on harmonica and Faith Johnson on B/V’s, Chris Stamey again engineering the sessions which took place sporadically between 1989 and 1993. Finally there is one track recorded in 1967 by Sam’s first band The Clique: Sam on guitar/vocals, Dale Smith rhythm guitar, Corky McMillan bass and Jerry Lee drums.
Although the material is not arranged chronologically on the CD it makes sense to review it in order of recording. The Clique track was recorded at a rehearsal and the band enthusiastically runs through Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally”; sound quality is not great, but it is probably the only evidence of the teenage Sam still in existence.
The eight tracks that had the working title of Blues Approved sound a lot better. All the material is original, starting with “Rooster Blood” and “King Of My Hill”: the former is a shuffle with solid vocals and guitar, beefed up by the saxes; the latter is a slow soul-blues ballad, Sam sounding quite soulful as he declares that he is going to set himself up as “the king of my hill”, the saxes adding choruses that recall “You Don’t Miss Your Water”. Sam opens “Vida Blanche” with double-tracked guitar which gives the tune a Stones-like feel, especially when the saxes join in to great effect, and Sam’s quick-fingered soloing is great. Sam is “Trying To Do Better”, a song with an attractive refrain but challenges his vocal range a little before the strangely titled “To Those Still At Sea”, another rocker with added organ. “My Man Mike” takes us back to the blues with a spare, funky sound, almost acoustic in style; in contrast the instrumental “Nightflight Over Berlin” is full of overdubbed guitars, laying down a heavy backdrop over which Sam plays some screaming wah guitar. The 1977 sessions conclude with the enigmatic “PJ” which does not sound as clear as the other tracks, perhaps a legacy of the original recording?
The later tracks offer varied fare. “Ain’t That Peculiar” is well done, harp standing in for the horns of Marvin Gaye’s original. Faith Jones’ backing vocals help the song a lot and Sam does a good job on the lead vocal. “If You See My Baby” was the lead-off track on Michael Bloomfield’s debut solo album It’s Not Killing Me and Sam does another solid job on vocals and guitar while the harp adds a significant blues factor. The final three tracks on the CD are labelled as ‘bonus tracks’: all stem from the 1989-93 sessions but do not sound quite as crisp as the Gaye and Bloomfield covers. The Monkees hit “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin) works well, despite a rather distant sounding lead vocal but if you think that that song is a bit ‘pop’ for a blues album, imagine “Can’t Get Used To Losing You” (yes, the Andy Williams mega-hit), here played as a very 60’s sounding instrumental; this reviewer was somewhat surprised to discover that the song was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman! Finally, Sam returns to one of his influences, taking on the Jagger/Richards obscurity “Who’s Driving Your Plane”, the B-side of “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow”.
Clearly a labor of love for engineer and producer Chris Stamey, the disc stands as a good tribute to his lost friend, a man who probably deserved to be better known in the wider music world.