With the wild, platinum-selling commercial success of Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark in 1974, Joe Sample's studio-session career went into warp drive. Throughout the remainder of the decade, he would sprint from one important project to the next.
Sample's Crusaders dropped Those Southern Nights in early 1975 and Chain Reaction later in the year; before the year was over, they would open for the Rolling Stones. But in between Crusaders gigs and tours, Sample stayed busy with a broad array of sessions with other artists. His part in the success of Mitchell's Court and Spark and its megahit "Help Me" did not go unnoticed by other producers and artists. Following is only a partial list of the credits Sample, who passed away last Friday night at age 75, racked up during 1975 alone.
The Three While Sample was becoming one of the leading proponents of the expressive but difficult to tame Rhodes electric piano, he was still a virtuoso acoustic jazz pianist. On this historic recording where the trio is simply billed as The Three, Sample went into the studio with world-renowned bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne and cut five jazz standards, plus a version of his own down-and-dirty "Funky Blues," in a straight style. No big Spector-ish production here, as the album was cut direct-to-disc, meaning that each side was recorded in a single take. The results are impeccable and jaw-dropping.
Henry Mancini, Symphonic Soul Conductor Henry Mancini, composer of the TV theme instrumental pop hit "Peter Gunn," chose Sample to play all the keyboards on this attempt to interpret soul and funk via a symphonic ensemble and somehow keep himself viable in the rapidly changing field of pop music. The album only made it to No. 159 on the Billboard 200, but Sample's talent as an organist is on display front and center. Guitarist David T. Walker, a frequent Crusaders collaborator, also appears.
Joni Mitchell, The Hissing of Summer Lawns With the success of Court and Spark, her label rushed to get another Joni Mitchell album out to a waiting public. Sample was an obvious choice as pianist for this project, but with his busy schedule he was only able to record on two tracks, "Edith and the Kingpin" and "Harry's House/Centerpiece." Mitchell was again nominated for a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Jimmy Witherspoon, Spoonful In another album where an artist tries to change with the times, blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon retools a handful of blues standards like Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" and Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man" with a funked-up, heavily syncopated sound that (not surprisingly) seems to be emulating the Crusaders.
It is mostly notable for the players; in addition to Sample on clavichord and clavinet, personnel also included Dallas guitar ace Cornell Dupree (Aretha Franklin, King Curtis & the Kingpins), guitarist Robben Ford, ace of bass Chuck Rainey and trumpeter Blue Mitchell, who also used Sample on his albums.
Ronnie Laws, Pressure Sensitive Fifth-Warder sax man and pre-fame member of Earth, Wind and Fire Ronnie Laws enlisted fellow Fifth Warders Sample, Wilton Felder and Wayne Henderson on his first solo effort for then-fading label Blue Note.
Critics were not impressed by its mix of funk and easy-listening jazz, although the album did yield "Always There," which has become a much-covered jazz-funk item. That Crusaders/Houston funk sound is all over this one.
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Joan Baez, Diamonds & Rust For Baez's return to commercial recordings after her trips to Hanoi and the winding down of the Vietnam War, the core band was Sample, Felder and sometime Crusader guitarist Larry Carlton. The album is divided equally between new Baez material and covers of artists such as Bob Dylan ("Simple Twist of Fate"), Jackson Browne ("Fountain of Sorrow"), Dickie Betts ("Blue Sky") and John Prine ("Hello In There"). But it was the title track, commenting on her relationship with Dylan, that became the biggest hit.
Nancy Wilson, Come Get to This Straight-up contemporary pop singer Nancy Wilson enlisted Sample and sometime Crusader Ray Parker Jr. to infuse her classic sound with a bit of grease and muscle that was very appealing. The album is entirely covers, with highlights being Wilson's take on James Taylor's ""Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" and Harlan Howard's Patsy Cline classic "He Called Me Baby."
Dion, Born to Be With You Sample was one of five pianists in Phil Spector's massive over-the-top session group put together with the idea of reviving both Dion's and Spector's careers but the effort resulted in an extremely dark, depressing album. Dion's management balked at releasing it, while Spector got his feelings hurt. Born to Be With You was eventually released only in the UK to very little fanfare, yet is often name-checked by British pop artists as a favorite.
Minnie Riperton, Adventures In Paradise Sample closed out the year working with operatic singer Minnie Riperton, the former vocalist for Chicago psychedelic band Rotary Connection. Sample co-wrote the title track with Riperton and Richard Rudolph, perhaps known to younger readers as former SNL actress Maya Rudolph's parents. Sample and Larry Carlton formed the core band for the project, which went nowhere with radio and was considered a flop due to poor sales. However, the album stands up very well now that we have some distance from it.
There will be a wake and viewing for Joe Sample from 6-9 p.m. this Friday (September 19) at Our Mother of Mercy Church, 4000 Sumpter, in Fifth Ward. Funeral services will be private; in lieu of flowers, etc., Sample's family asks donations be made to the Joe Sample Youth Organization, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit. Contributions can be made via Paypal or credit card using this link or via check to Joe Sample Youth Organization, P.O. Box 590254, Houston, TX 77259.
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