Rockin’ the region with The Samples
The Samples play Friday Night Live, July 26 at 8 p.m. I had the pleasure of interviewing lead guitarist and singer, Sean Kelly, to learn about the past, present and future of the band.
My favorite music is music that moves you, and Kelly’s voice does just that. He said to expect powerful melodic music that appeals to people now, just as it did back then. It’s soulful and hasn’t been through any filters. Kelly said, “I like to use the Vermont analogy that it takes 36 gallons of sugar maple [sap] to make one gallon of syrup. It’s taken 33 years of hard work to make one gallon of pure, grade A The Samples. When you hear it, it’s a taste that’s not been watered down. There’s no artificial flavors or colors.”
Kelly grew up in Vermont and has a lot of local memories. He said he was just in Chittenden at Teenie’s Tiny Poultry Farm, where he used to go as a kid to see the geese. Kelly went to Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester for one year, then moved to Grand Isle and to Milton where he dropped out of high school. It was then that he got his GED and learned guitar. He said, “So many places are home. I was born at Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut, lived in Rowayton, moved in the ‘70s to Manchester, then to Northern Vermont in the ’80s and then from there I took off to Colorado and I’d never been west of Albany.”
That is where The Samples began. He added, “Thirty-three years – boom – went by in two seconds.”
In 1987, Kelly’s friend Charles Hambleton (guitar), whom he met at open mic, told him to quit his job and that they are going to Colorado to start a band. Kelly said, “He asked me to go during a blizzard here, but it was 70 degrees out there. I didn’t know where Colorado was. I had less than 24 hours. I left my crappy Datsun car behind. I’ll never forget: I got pulled over in that thing before I left, but the officer ran out of tickets. That was a sure sign that I needed to get out of here.”
Out in Colorado, Kelly met up with Andy Sheldon (bass) with whom he’d gone to Burr and Burton. Kelly said, “We happened to be in a band together in Londonderry – The Last Straw. We somehow found him in town and asked him to join.” They found Jeep MacNichol (drums) from an ad they put up at Colorado University, and Al Laughlin (keyboard) saw them at a party. Kelly added, “We didn’t care who we played with, as long as they wanted to play.”
Kelly said the band worked, which was bizarre. He had done some prep work in Vermont with open mics and the two little bands he was in. He said, “I was primed and ready. I took a trip that most people would come back from in a week. It was destiny. You know that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Kelly described the decision on the band name. “When we moved out there, we didn’t think about anything but playing music. We were starving to death. We would go from supermarket to supermarket and get the samples of food. Then we discovered happy hours and bizarre stuff like the Hare Krishna House. They tried to convert us, but all we wanted was their food.” When name time came, Hambleton said “The Samples” because that’s what they were eating.
Ninety-nine percent of the music is written by Kelly. He already had a bunch of material when he moved to Colorado. He’s welcome to others’ input, but said he’s really prolific and was comfortable knocking out the songs. He’s a big fan of melodic musicians like Neil Young and Bruce Hornsby. His background is classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.
The Samples have a new album due out shortly, “Indian Summer,” which is its 24th CD. Kelly said, “It’s really cool. I think it’s going to be a powerful CD. It’s very nostalgic. There’s a song on there from when I was nine and living in Manchester. I used to walk on the train tracks for three miles to this giant silo to catch pigeons and bring them home to raise them.” There’s another song about his grandma and one about his failed marriage. “It’s very colorful with very strong material,” he added. Kelly said it’s tough to recreate the magic of a first CD, but this one has some elements of that with the same emotion to it. “It’s a very honest CD,” he said.
It’s hard for Kelly to pick a favorite song with so many, but he really loves “Water Under The Bridge,” which he wrote for his mother. It makes him think of her and it’s about her passing. It’s a very relatable song about the helplessness of life.
Kelly loves The Samples and the guys he plays with. He also loves the connection he makes with the audience. “It’s as if you become one. You’re doing something that’s pleasing to people and that’s really cool. It’s a tough business and you can’t just go to school to learn something that people like you to do and get something from it. It takes them on an adventure in their mind. That connection is the best for me. I love that.”