“There was no thought of tomorrow,
a minstrel from the North...”
(c) Chris Jagger 2008
Text & interviews with Carol Grimes, Steve York, Ulli Pouliquen, Homesick Mac, Dana Gillespie, Chris Jagger and Jens Elbøl
(c) T.P. Keating 2008.
Text & interview with Ole Wennike (c) T.P. Keating 2011.
Text & interview with Annick & Paul Taylor (c) T.P. Keating 2015.
Text & interview with Julian (Gig) McSweeney (c) T.P. Keating 2016.
Text & interview with John Altman (c) T.P. Keating 2016.
Email: [email protected]
Sammy's imaginative slide playing has appeared on works by an incredible range of artists, including Jim Capaldi, Rod Stewart, Uncle Dog (featuring Carol Grimes) and The Who (the full list is much more extensive), while in his lifetime he was called the UK's finest slide guitarist.
Born April 21 1950 in
His slide style reached an international audience with appearances on Rod Stewart's albums “Gasoline Alley” (1970) and “Every Picture Tells A Story” (1971). A foreshortened live set by The Sam Mitchell Blues Band featured in BBC TV's “Sight and Sound in Concert”:
In the early '80s, I knew Sammy socially, and attended numerous packed gigs in
From the mid-'80s a member of Denmark's popular The Sandmen, other notable collaborations produced several albums with Dana Gillespie (Ambassador of the Risqué Blues), a joint album with Serbia's Homesick Mac, and a long association with Chris Jagger.
Sammy had returned to live in Liverpool, and he died there in 2006, aged 56, having been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease a few years earlier. John Conroy, his friend and fellow musician, was the only non-family member to attend the funeral.
With original release dates.
“Bottleneck/Slide Guitar” (1976)
Kicking Mule KM 129
= Sonet SNKF 121
“Follow Me Down” (1978)
Kicking Mule KM 306
= Sonet SNKF 147 (GB)
Taxim CD TX 1045-2 TA
http://taxim.com/items/tx1045.htm (with song extracts)
Sam Mitchell playing a rag, backstage on a Sandmen tour:
Live performances with The Sandmen are available on YouTube. Thanks are due to Ole Wennike of The Sandmen for putting these clips online.
Detailed discography by Stefan Wirz:
Excellent photos from an appearance on a German TV show, Rockpalast, along with a set list:
A brief, superb solo on "It's a sin to Tell a Lie", with Diz and the Doormen:
Serious thanks are due to Paul Randle for this link.
PERSONAL MEMORIES OF SAMMY
The multitalented Carol is a singer, performance poet, songwriter and vocal animateur.
TPK: What is your recollection of Sammy?
Carol: Sammy lived with me for a while 1973-ish! In 8A All
“I HAVE FUN RECALLING THOSE DAYS!”
Steve has worked with Chuck Berry, Graham Bond,
TPK: As bassist with The Sam Mitchell Blues Band, could you provide an insight into Sammy's style?
Steve: Sammy and I wanted to take the old blues material we knew so well and play it with non-traditional grooves. This was understood between us but never discussed. We recorded 'Hell Hound on My Trail' with a rock grove, and 'Baby Let Me Follow You Down' as a reggae.
Regarding drummers. George Butler played on “The Art of Bottleneck Guitar” album. I don't recall doing any trio gigs with Sammy prior to this recording. It was just a studio session.
Most of the trio gigs were with Mick Waller on drums - something like a Blues rock Elvin Jones! Then Jeff Rich, a great rock drummer, who went on to play with Status Quo.
While Jeff was with us producer Stefan Grossman asked us to play on Charlie Musselwhite's “The Harmonica According To” album. I don't think he intended to record Sammy at the time. Charlie's album was recorded really fast, with one run through followed by one take. Stefan had some studio time left over and used it to record the “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” album. The trio with Jeff had been gigging and we were able to record the trio tracks quickly. Jeff Rich did a great job, but unfortunately, if you listen closely, the hi-hat mic is distorting in both albums!
The only tune written in the studio on this album is the instrumental 'Lumbar Puncture'. Stefan needed one more instrumental and I started playing a bass line and chord progression I had been working on, and Sammy improvised over it. We shared writing credits. Just about everything we ever played together was not really discussed or worked out. This bemused Stefan, who had a very meticulous approach to music. I recall him saying to Sammy during these sessions, “Sammy, your playing sounds great, but I don't know how we're going to write it out in tablature for the booklet!”
I have fun recalling those days! Thanks for your interest!
SAMMY'S GIRLFRIEND DURING THE '80S.
TPK: What won't Sammy’s sleeve notes tell us?
Ulli: Sammy's mum was a dancer originally and ran a pub in
Photos (c) Ulli Pouliquen Collection 2008: Sammy live in the early '80s.
THE EUROPEAN BLUESMAN RECALLS SAMMY.
Mac and Sammy released the CD “Two Long From Home” (1996) on Mafioso/WOLF Records. Mac has a distinctive baritone voice and Blues fingerpicking and slide playing, and he conducts acoustic guitar workshops - recently at the Blues Week and through the European Blues Association (GB).
TPK: How did your collaboration with Sammy come about?
Mac: A mutual friend (Bo Wilson from
He asked me if I'd come down to the MOJO next time when he was booked and play a few songs with him. We played and people really loved it. I returned the invitation when I had my own gig at MOJO and so we did back 'n' forth a couple of times. The people at the club suggested that we do a duo gig one evening. Now *that* went great and that's how everything actually kicked off. Then the people from my record company heard rumours about the two of us playing together and they suggested that we record something.
TPK: What was Sammy like as a person?
A 10 year older colleague, Sammy had a very easy going style on the road - confident, kind and supportive to everybody involved - agents, sound engineers, bartenders, cleaning staff...
During gigs he always worked hard within the song. If I played a solo, I could be darned sure he'd be playing a hell of a good backup to push me “over the edge”.
He was also a very funny person. He used to say (after the gigs), “It was a business doing pleasure with you!” On the phone he would throw in, “How's your wife and my kids?”, and similar stuff.
TPK: I hear the CD was recorded quickly.
Our CD was recorded during only 9.5 hours (including the mixing). WOLF Records ensured good distribution throughout Europe and the
TPK: Any particularly memorable moments during your gigs with Sammy?
Then he said, “Oh, why don't you play a slide solo?” He made it all sound so easy and I felt confident again. Sammy believed that I could do it and I let it happen.
The sign came after he played a second verse, he let the chord ring and “hang” in the air. I played my first note and Sammy went on picking the next chord smoothly and supportively first, and then he looked at me.
I felt very humbled and honoured.
“SAMMY STORIES?” I ASKED. “NATCH!” HE REPLIED.
Lead singer with the eclectic and respected Atcha!, Chris Jagger had known and worked with Sammy for many years.
TPK: Thanks for letting me hear (off the board and unmixed) the track you have written about Sammy. Could you describe one of the incidents behind the incredibly heartfelt and personal lyrics?
Chris: I was playing at the Neptune Theatre in
He came to the theatre and had a beer with us, can't remember if he actually jammed on stage with the two of us. I took a cab out to see him the following day and he was living in a seedy house right opposite the footer ground, and it was damp like Victorian times. He had no money and it was a sad scene. In fact I was keen on having a benefit gig for him and talked about it to Dana (Gillespie) and Paul Jones who both said they would like to help out, but I never got around to it.
Sammy and I head out to the pub and he brings his National Steel guitar... I didn't know why, maybe it was too valuable to leave in the house. The pub is empty apart from hundreds of footer pics and pennants on the wall. We have a drink, then the door opens and ten blokes enter the empty pub and sit around us and shoot their mouth off. Fairly abusive Scouser chat which Sam gives back. But he is pretty sick... as he said... “I'm falling apart Chris, but I've had a great time falling apart.” Meanwhile they're telling us we can't play the guitar - we're just a bunch of posers.
Then Sammy says, “Turn off the disco music...” which they do, and he gets out the shiny guitar and shakes likes a leaf trying to play it as they pour scorn on him. I honestly thought they might snatch the guitar away and disappear, which they could have done, and the thing is worth thousands. So I tell Sammy to play Crossroads, as I have found the harp in the case, and I sing and he gets it together to play it and they all applaud and we are OK guys... it's like the Blues Bros. We get out of jail.
That was the last time I saw him and I wrote the tune not too long after, apart from the last verse... many years before he died, but I knew and he knew he wasn't going to last. But he moved and I couldn't get his number.
TPK: Who's playing on the track?
We recorded it here in my barn in
“HE ROCKED AND MOVED SUPERBLY ON STAGE WITH HIS GUITAR…”
Prior to her distinguished music career, Dana was once British junior water-skiing champion (she was forced to retire due to a knee injury sustained in an avalanche), and has also worked in radio, theatre and film.
TPK: Could you tell us about Sammy’s approach to life and music?
Dana: I met Sammy in the early '70s, through a mutual friend, when he was with Carol Grimes and Uncle Dog.
The moment he played, he played like no-one else. He used to call his National Steel guitar the Tin Machine. He lost it at a gig and, against all the odds, managed to track it down in a second-hand shop. I often wondered what happened to that wonderfully battered guitar after he died.
He blew me away with his playing, dedication, fabulous bottleneck style and a technique which completely captured the Delta Blues. He rocked and moved superbly on stage with his guitar, as he swayed and bounced about to the music. Check out his guitar intro on ‘Amazing Grace’ from “Every Picture Tells A Story” (1971).
He shared a room with pianist Ian Armitt while on tour with Long John Baldry, and Sammy tasted the good life.
He joined my band at the time of “Below the Belt” (1984), and his playing on the title track showcases the Sammy sound. He possessed a great sense of humour, and we were laughing while we recorded the track ‘Joe’s Joint’. He was the first person I ever knew who referred to the harmonica as the “Gob Iron”!
TPK: I understand that you remained in contact with Sammy?
Sammy got fed up with not being acknowledged and left
But when he returned to England due to ill health, he discovered that he could not fit straight back into the music scene here – even though he’d written and demoed a couple of really good numbers. He had arthritis, which affected his hip.
His father, who played Hawaiian guitar professionally, refused to teach Sammy how to play the guitar, and told him that he must get a job. So Sammy taught himself. He had a sharp brain, but his childhood was tough, and I feel that his hard living was a reaction to his formative years.
When I think of Sammy I see snakehips, tight trousers and a guy whose full on lifestyle meant that he never gained weight.
“TAKE NO PRISONERS, AS SAMMY USED TO SAY!”
The Danish bass player and his time with Sammy.
TPK: When did you start working with Sammy?
Jens: I worked with Sammy from 1986, when he came to
TPK: Could you talk us through his line-ups?
I played bass with Sammy in different line-ups, mostly three-piece, and we have done hundreds of gigs together. “Take no prisoners,” as Sammy used to say! He was a very nice and clever man and a fantastic blues-player and singer. He wrote some of the more “rockier” tunes that we did. We recorded an album in 1987 - “Mitchell, Elbøl and Uglebjerg” [TPK's note: This was very well received in the press etc]. Sammy and I also played together in Dana Gillespie's band. Our drummer from
TPK: I believe he had quite some work ethic!
In 1988 Sammy started working with the Danish rockband The Sandmen and they were very successful. Sammy left the band in 1995. All the while we had our bluesband going, when we had the time, occasionally with a second guitar player. In addition Sammy had his regular Monday-night solo gig at the Mojo bluesbar in
TPK: Then Sammy passed away...
When Sammy died his brother Roy came to
Sammy's page on Steve York's site (where you can listen to "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" and "Hellhound On My Trail")
Info on Jens Elbøl
"The Mother Of All Blueslinks Collections"
Info on John Altman
MAC: In answer to Dana Gillespie’s query, where she wondered about whatever happened to Sammy's resophonic guitar. *If* it's the 1935 National she's referring to (which appears in the pictures above), well, Sammy never decided about that. His brother gave it to Kim Gutman from
Later on, Sammy decided to stay in
Producer of “Resonating” (Taxim).
You can see Sam Mitchell at the special features on the new concert DVD from Rob Orlemans & Half Past Midnight, “Open the Cage”. This contains footage from live shows and shots from the recording sessions of “Resonating” (Taxim). It's a documentary of the band history.
I still have a lot of Sam Mitchell handy cam concert videos and recordings in my studio in the
Sam stayed in my hometown when he left
Sam also played on an album with Jan Akkerman and Curtis Knight
around 1998, called “Blues Root” (UPCD 98136).
“He had these 'sayings/proverbs' that to this day are one of mine and drummer Michael Rasmussen's fondest ways to remember Sammy, they still crack us up!”
The bass player from The Sandmen, Ole currently works in DR (Danish Broadcasting Corp). Regretfully his music career is on hold, due to tinnitus.
TPK: I’m sure you can guess my first question – how did you get to know Sammy?
Ole: The Sandmen were in Stockholm in 1987, recording our second album “Western Blood”, and we soon realized that we needed some good strong guitar solos on the album. Richard Lloyd of Television was mentioned as a possibility, as he was living in Sweden at that time. However, I had about 6 month earlier, at home in Copenhagen, seen Sammy play a set with his trio, and he blew me away, never seen or heard of him before. Now we did not particularly need a blues guitarist in The Sandmen, but judging from what I had heard that night, Sammy could just as easy switch to Rock’n’Roll if that was needed. A very strong Hendrix influence shone through his playing, which of course is always a big plus…
Sammy came up to Stockholm and finished the album with us, and I believe he enjoyed the company within the band. Mind you, he was very much a part (guest star) of the Danish blues scene, and we were not a steady income at that time, as you might say. Sammy was left in a bit of a spot, wanting to be loyal to his blues friends, but also curious about the buzz that was going on around The Sandmen. He started off as a freelance member and eventually becoming a permanent member in late 1988, or somewhere close to that time. It was never our intention to “steal” Sammy away from his blues community, we simply worked hard and everything got bigger and bigger, until Sammy’s blues career became a sort of side project for him, influenced by what was happening with The Sandmen.
By 1989 we were on our way to the US for a one month tour, promoting a new version of “Western Blood”, with Sammy as co-composer on some of the songs. I think that Sammy’s first tour of the US was back in 1971 at the tender age of 21, as a member of Long John Baldry’s band.
TPK: Where you knew Sammy as both a band mate and a friend, could you give us an idea of what he was like as a person?
Well Sammy had been around, you know. He had been literally living out of a guitar case most of his life, so to speak.
The music business is tough, and Sammy had been a professional since his late teens. Being noticed at an early age, for his great skills as a musician, had put him in bands and projects that maybe also left him with a few bad habits early on in life. I don't think I offend any of his friends in saying that Sammy did not live a particularly healthy existence. In Denmark it was down to beer and booze. Now The Sandmen where by no means a band of saints, so we understood each other, but as the band got bigger we all had to shape up. And so did Sammy!
We had to deliver on a very high level every time, and I believe we achieved that. The Sandmen meant a lot to Sam, he was incredibly proud of being a part of the band. And we were good mates, you know. Sammy had a great sense of humor, loved to laugh and enjoy himself.
And he had these 'sayings/proverbs' that to this day are one of mine and drummer Michael Rasmussen's fondest ways to remember Sammy, they still crack us up!
Here are some of Sammy's best sayings:
“Couldn't swing if you hung him”
“Life is stranger than shit”
“Just because I'm paranoid, it doesn't mean that nobody is following me”
“Seen one tree, seen ‘em all”
“I'm sick and tired of waking up sick and tired”
They do encapsulate very much how Sammy was, and after his death, even more so… And he told little stories, true or not didn't really matter, they were always extremely funny...
TPK: Well, you have piqued my curiosity by mentioning Sammy’s “funny little stories”. If I insist, could you perhaps mention a bit more?
One of my favorite stories was about the occasion when Sammy was in the States in 1971, playing with Long John Baldry at a festival (Baldry came to see us in 1989, when we played The Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles, by the way). Anyway, on this particular occasion they had just finished their set, and were on their way backstage through a narrow gangway or passage. They came upon the following act, which was Johnny Cash and his band. And so Sammy says: “And then I met and talked to Johnny Cash”… Of course we were kind of impressed and all replied together: “Wow! You talked to Johnny Cash! What did he say?” Sammy, well he said (with a southern drawl): “Get out of my way son!”
I love that one...
TPK: The English do not have a great reputation for speaking other languages. Was language ever an issue for Sammy in Denmark?
First of all, Danish people more or less have English as their second language. We would switch from Danish to English at random, as Sammys Danish was really quite good. Having an Englishman in the band obviously was a huge help when it came to writing lyrics, which was Allan, Michael and Sammy's department.
TPK: Is it possible to say how successful the Sandmen were with Sammy?
It's kind of hard to say what would have happened if Sammy had never joined the band. We had something going for us, before Sammy, something more rough and unpolished that maybe appealed to a certain type of audience, who on the other hand got turned off by the more conventional style which Sammy contributed.
But there he was, and on certain inspired days, playing absolutely world-class guitar-solos. And he was a great jammer too - together with me on bass and Michael on drums, we would fly pretty high at times. He certainly had his following of Sandmen fans, and everything grew and grew. One of our albums sold 80,000, which is a lot in a country of 5.5 million people.
Why it all ended in 1995, I don't know. But it did, and Sammy moved on to Holland and other places.
In 2003 we were ready for a reunion tour, and I talked with Sammy on the phone to get him over from Liverpool. It turned out that he was in a pretty bad state, and this was immensely sad to realize for all of us, and he never made it to Denmark.
Sammy died in 2006 and his ashes are buried on Assistens Kirkegaard in Copenhagen - come by any time, and bring some flowers!
DISCOGRAPHY: all the Sandmen albums with Sammy
Western Blood (Garden Records, 1988)
Western Blood (US version) (A&M, 1989)
Gimme Gimme (Garden Records, 1990)
Sleepyhead (EMI, 1992)
Live (EMI, 1993)
In The House Of Secrets (EMI, 1994)
Beauties and Beasts (Best of + rarities) (EMI, 2003)
Ole: I believe that “Gimme Gimme” is the bands favorite. Sammy plays great on all of the albums, and the rarities CD from “Beauties & Beasts” has some pretty amazing live stuff.
Guitarist Kim Gutman has created a channel on Youtube, containing 4 videos of Sam Mitchell’s Booze Brothers performing live. The gig took place in Copenhagen in 1985, at the Alexandra Culture Club:
Sam Mitchell - vocal and dobro guitar
Kim Gutman - dobro guitar
Knut Henriksen - bass
Micky Waller - drums
The songs, taken from the show Weekend TV, are:
Rolling and Tumbling
Little Red Rooster
Sweet Home Chicago
Here is the link:
TPK: It seems like very likely that we rubbed shoulders at some of Sammy's gigs...
Paul: A friend and I arrived at the White Lion pub in Putney one evening early 1980’s to see a Danny Adler gig, the music room being upstairs. We were too early, as I walked in to an almost empty room I saw a solo guitarist on a very small stage, in the far corner by the window overlooking Putney High Street, singing and playing a Dobro guitar with a drum machine as a backing track, doing a soundcheck. I had never seen a Dobro before, and had never heard anyone use a drum machine to blues either, it was fascinating. We sat down and chatted with Sammy after who even offered me the Dobro to play, I was 16 years old and been attempting to play blues for a few years, this was really something. Sam and I became good friends.
He took me to buy my first electric guitar that I had saved up for, a cream/white Hohner Strat copy at the Albert Haul shop on Lacy Road, Putney. Sam told me, “You have to buy it, it’s a copy but made in the same factory as the Fenders, it’ll be good for you”. I can recall very clearly me attempting to play Slim Harpo’s Shake Your Hips on the guitar in the shop while Sammy sat there, smoking a cigarette, looking at me askance. He said, “You’re good man, you just need to practice.” I remember there was a sound of a band rehearsing in the downstairs studio and Jack, who ran the shop, told us that it was Peter Green, at that time not many people, including us, were aware that he was playing again. I bought the guitar and had it for the next 25 years, in fact Sam gave me a maple neck from an old Strat of his for it, unfortunately the guitar was stolen a few years ago. I was more upset that I had lost something Sam gave me than having lost a guitar I had for so long.
My very first time on stage was joining Sam on the same White Lion stage to play Shake Your Hips, I didn’t notice my lead had fallen out until I looked behind me and saw Sammy putting it back in to the amp, I felt like a right twit but I was so transfixed by being on stage playing music.
I persuaded Sam to give me guitar lessons, he said I'm not giving anyone guitar lessons but come round Friday afternoon. Every Friday afternoon there on I would visit Sam at his room on Montserrat Road off Putney High Street and he would show me loads of ways how to play blues guitar. Sam had a Fender Tweed amp I used to play through. He always cooked fried eggs on toast for us on the Belling. Sometimes Sam had to ‘go to work’ as he would say, and we would go off to one of his gigs.
One of the first things he told me was he noticed me using my slide on my third finger rather than my fourth. I changed and noticed the difference straight away. It enables you to play more freely with the other fingers. Sammy also told me to use the heavier brass slides which I did. I listened and obeyed orders!
Sam said I just needed to practice, to this day, that’s one of the things that stayed with me, it sounds simple, but I listened to all my favourite blues records and just practiced along to them, that’s what helped me become a better guitarist, he was a great help to me. Sam told me once, as I was a Stones/Faces fan, about having played with Rod Stewart and the Amazing Grace track on Every Picture Tells A Story and the fact that he never received a credit, he said the record company offices got the details wrong, I’m sure on later editions that has now been corrected.
Sam’s gigs at the Kings Head, with Steve and Steve on bass and drums, and usually Wolfie on harmonica were such good entertainment, and Mickey Waller too, all fantastic musicians. It is a failing of modern times that people now do not, as I did, have the choice to go and see a live band any night of the week at local venues as we did then during the 1970s and '80s. Sam used to play solo gigs too at the Half Moon and elsewhere, I always use to go along and watch. There were many good blues bands that played regularly at that time; it was a real good time to be had by going along to one of Sam's gigs at the weekend after working all week. Many evenings Sam and his friend Jim and I would return to my flat off the Fulham Palace Road and carry on drinking and listening to blues, much to the annoyance of everyone else in the house, but it was great fun.
Unfortunately I lost contact with Sammy after he moved abroad, I’m glad that you have put the website up in memory of Sam, God bless him.
TPK: Thanks for dropping by. Whatever stories you can share we'd be very grateful to hear.
Annick: I used to know Sammy in London. We shared a flat with a few others in Gloucester Road. When he went busking I used to bottle for him (that's a British term for the person who collects the money).
In 1969 we used to go to Les Cousins (Greek Street, Soho) every Friday night for the all-night sessions after the pub. The stars floor residents at the time were John Martyn, Al Stewart, Keith Christmas and Mike Chapman, among others. John Martyn liked to be considered the star!
When Sammy came down the first time he did a small appearance, playing a couple of numbers and of course it was instant success. He go us all on our feet.
Every time John Martyn had a gig he used to finish with a piece called Anji. It was his big number. Quiet complicated too. Sammy got a star gig very very quickly and I think that Mr Martyn took it badly. When Sammy appeared on the top of the bill the place was packed and he finished his show with an amazing rendition of... Anji!
I never heard Mr Martyn play Anji again in Les Cousins!
Take care, a bientot, Annick xx
Singer-songwriter Ralph McTell mentions Sammy's slide guitar contribution to the song "Country Boys", on his album Right Side Up: http://www.ralphmctell.co.uk/features/right-side-up/