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by Mary Bentley

“I know I’ve been very blessed to play music and actually make a living doing what I love, and I believe that I’m here to touch others through entertainment… There are so many musicians that are equally or more talented, that have not had the same opportunities as I did, so I attribute that to having faith and expecting success.”

There is an old idiom that says cream will always rise to the top.  We’ve come to interpret that saying to mean that within a group of people, eventually the good, better, and best of those people will outshine the others.  It will not be long before they become noticed.  Relative to the music world, this means that talent stands out, and speaks for itself.  This month, Smoothviews takes you to Atlanta to meet talented bass player Sam Sims.  Sam came to our attention for the first time when we saw him playing bass as part of Boney James band, and we took note.

Sam is a southerner who originally hails from Chattanooga, TN.  His musical inspirations began at the early age of six, not with the bass, but with his own voice.  Sam studied and sang with the Chattanooga Boys Choir for six years where he toured throughout the U.S and Canada.  It was there, under the direction of teacher and choral director Steven J. Ortlip, that he developed his ear training and sight reading skills.  When he left the vocals, his first instruments were the drums and guitar.  Sam was 12 years old when he began learning to play the bass.  He was heavily influenced by the prominent bass players of the day:  Verdine White (of the legendary group Earth, Wind, & Fire,) Larry Graham, James Jamerson, and Louis Johnson.  “After listening to these great players, you can’t help but get a sense of groove and melody.”  Sam attended the McCallie School in Chattanooga, where he continued to develop his musical skills.  “Ken Cochane (teacher) introduced me to several other aspects of my developing musically such as Handball Choir and High School Jazz and Big Band.”  He continued to learn by “studying with a guy from my neighborhood named Greg Jones,” and by listening to records.  Since he came from a musical family, studying came easy to Sam.  “My grandmother played piano and organ every Sunday in Baptist church, and also taught piano lessons at one point.  My mother and sister, as well as other family members are musical in some way.”  As a result, Sam can also play keys as well. He’ll still play drums, keys, and guitars, but mostly on his own projects.   “Every now and then I’ll get a chance to play some keys live, but usually that’s on the pop gigs.” 

Sam was very much into R&B and its musicians, and he would play R&B and Rock on the weekends.  By the time he attended Morehouse College, he began getting more into the jazz genre, and people like Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, and Marcus Miller were important bass influences for him.  While attending Morehouse, he played in the jazz ensemble, as well as playing in local gigs around Atlanta.  After college was when he decided to test the waters and see if he could make a living as a professional musician.  It seemed that everything in his early years of studying and training had led him to this decision. Sam moved to L.A. and auditioned for the bass spot in drummer Ndugu Chancler’s band. This proved to be a significant step in his career.  “The musicians would come out and I was able to showcase my talent and meet some of the people I grew up admiring and listening to. I give a lot of credit to Ndugu because he always took chances with up and coming musicians in town.  From my experiences with him, my career was set in motion.  Before long, I was getting calls for pop gigs and auditions which have carried me through the years to where I am today.”  This is musical networking.

Since graduating from Morehouse, Sam has played across many genres with some of the biggest names in the music industry including Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Justin Timberlake, The Backstreet Boys, Maxwell, Patrice Rushin, Jeff Lorber, Gerald Albright, Shirley Caesar, George Howard, Joe Sample, Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, and legendary bass icon Stanley Clarke.  This is just a partial list of who Sam has played with for his nearly 20 years as a professional musician.  Not only has he played across genres, he’s played across mediums as well with tours, recordings, and television appearances to his credit including the NAACP Image Awards, American Idol- Season 8, and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Show, just to name a few.

Sam is not only a musician, but a music producer too.  He currently has some production products with some up and coming artists in the works.  These skills will come in handy as he works on his own solo project.  “I just started my own indie project that’s a mix between new and old school pop and R&B.”  We’re looking forward to hearing the finished product.  As a musician and producer, Sam is very much aware of the current state of the music business.  “This business is changing daily and I think it has become more of an indie type that is less dependent on record companies, at least initially.  I know all of us, including myself, have to keep adjusting to this changing business model of making records, but it is who I am, so I’ll keep adjusting accordingly.”  Being versatile is the key to success in this business and, with all he does, Sam seems to have a handle on that.
Despite the impressive list of musicians that Sam has played alongside, there are always some players that most musicians want to share the stage with, like Sting, Eric Clapton, and Phil Collins.  For obvious reasons, musicians want to play with them.  That comes as no surprise because talent seeks talent.  

Being an in demand musician means that Sam is away from home quite a bit.  He was on his way to London when I initially contacted him for an interview, and, between e-mails, he was off once again to play some gigs in Asia.  So, it’s no surprise that when he’s home, spending time with his family is one of his favorite things to do.  When he’s done relaxing, he likes to play basketball and golf as well. 

Sam is in the process of working with distributors to release his own Sam Sims signature bass guitar.  From a production side, Sam would like to have more control over the production and promotion of the musical product.  The idea behind that is to not rely so much on the careers of other artists to further his own.  But, first and foremost, Sam Sims is a musician and he will continue to play wherever and whenever he can.  “I’ll continue to play and tour for the duration.”

Look for Sam Sims anywhere music is played and heard.