I received some bad news today that Sam Carr died. Sam was a legendary blues drummer – he was also one of the sweetest people that I came to know. I interviewed and photographed Sam in 2001 at his home in Lula, Mississippi – the heart of the Mississippi Delta.
I was working on my first really ambitious documentary after getting into video the year before. It was a personal project that had I tried to get funding for but then 9/11 happened and money dried up over night. But for me this was a story that I needed to tell and now because these musicians were in their 70’s and 80’s. I wanted to tell the story of these musicians apart from their music. I was interested in their cultural stories – about the area they grew up in. the Delta and how that gave birth to their music – the blues.
My first trip to Mississippi was on a shoestring budget with my heart in the right place and open to whatever I may find. My husband, my 14 year old daughter and I hit to road for the Mississippi Delta the summer of 2001. To be honest I didn’t have much in the way of a planned itinerary. I had tried to line up interviews with some of the musicians but the cultural divide between us made it difficult to pin down a schedule. So I was open to letting serendipity happen and it did.
I had spoken with Sam Carr and his wife Doris who had been with Sam since she was 13 years old until she passed away last year. Sam was very cordial and kind and was quite willing to be interviewed. I had pinned him down with a date in a vague sort of way and we all – my husband, my daughter and I – showed up at the proper time. It was a typical August day in the South – hot and humid. So we sat on a bunch of mismatched chairs underneath a big old shade tree. Sam literally talked for hours and I was drawn into his stories about his childhood, his father, Robert Nighthawk a legendary guitarist who didn’t raise Sam, his music, his regrets and his life now during his older years. At times it was difficult to understand him because of his dialect but I listened carefully and his words made permanent marks on my soul. We talked until evening and it will be an afternoon that I will never forget.
Sam’s words became a big part of my film. That first interview also convinced me that these stories needed to be told – and by the musicians themselves. I went on to photograph and interview – Little Milton and Robert Lockwood Jr. – who have also left this earth since my interviews. We still have Pinetop Perkins – 96 years old, Big Jack Johnson, who played with Sam in the band Jelly Roll Kings, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Magic Slim. The outcome of my efforts was a 26 minute film and a still photographic essay about The Delta Blues Musicians that has become a traveling multimedia exhibition. View the trailor.
I heard this sad news from Pinetop’s manager who I’ve become friends with over the years. She told me that Sam died quietly with his family and friends around. She also told me that his family was grateful that I had captured Sam and his stories that day. And she told me that his epitaph may be “I lived a rich man’s life in a poor man’s shoes” – the last thing that Sam told me that glorious August day.
5 Replies to “Sam Carr (1926-2009) Legendary Blues Drummer”
Awesome story Gail. Loved it. Makes me sad to lose someone like that too.
As Gail mentioned, I too shared in this experience of interviewing Sam Carr. Our 14 year old (at the time) daughter Erin, was there too. (Later, Erin went on to transcribe these interviews listening through head phones and typing on a laptop. Quite an experience for a young teen). We all sat in fascination that day, listening to Sam’s story, letting the video camera roll. I was delighted with another of his memorable quotes from that day, describing his experiences with his band… “weez hav’in a good time ya know, that’s all that was in it for me. I didn’t care too much about the money… I was glad to be surrounded by people, liken’s what I was doin’n… which made me as big as the President, ha… that’s the way I feel!” Sorry to see you go Sam, you were a gentle man.
Gail, thank you so much for your work. Unfortunately for me, I never once got to see/hear the Jelly Roll Kings, with Sam and Frank, “live.” It’s odd, because I am one of the founding editors of Living Blues Magazine, and got to see/meet the majority of the blues “heavies” over many, many years.
I deeply regret this! (I did interview and photograph Frank Frost way before the Jelly Roll Kings were formed. I just can’t remember which issue of LB the story ran in! Senility strikes again.
Michael Frank and I have been buddies since he showed in Chicago … I hope to meet you one day. Keep those documentaries coming.
Highest regards from
Thanks so much for commenting. I’d love the opportunity to meet you. Where are you located? If you’re still in Chicago – my daughter lives there and I’m there frequently.
I will keep my documentaries coming. They most always comes from the heart.
Love Sam Carr’s drumming and have watched as many clips of him as I can. Sent a card when he was ill and got a nice note back w/his program from his funeral . I was stunned to see it when I pulled it out of the envelope .. Those kind words about how Sam liking my card I sent and just the pure kindness for them sending it! A sticker was over the address and I didn’t get to send them A THANK YOU FOR THE NOTE AND HOW SAM FELT about it. R.I.P> SAM, and to whom send that NOTE & Program THANK YOU!