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Magic Sam

No blues guitarist better represented the adventurous modern sound of Chicago's West side more proudly than Sam Maghett. He died tragically young (at age 32 of a heart attack), just as he was on the brink of climbing the ladder to legitimate stardom, but Magic Sam left behind a thick legacy of bone-cutting blues that remains eminently influential around his old stomping grounds to this day.

Maghett (one of his childhood pals was towering guitarist Morris Holt, who received his Magic Slim handle from Sam) was born in the Mississippi Delta. In 1950, he arrived in Chicago, picking up a few blues guitar pointers from his new neighbor, Syl Johnson (whose brother, Mack Thompson, served as Sam's loyal bassist for much of his professional career). Harpist Shakey Jake Harris, sometimes referred to as the guitarist's uncle, encouraged Sam's blues progress and gigged with him later on, when both were Westside institutions.

Sam's tremolo-rich staccato fingerpicking was an entirely fresh phenomenon when he premiered it on Eli Toscano's Cobra label in 1957. Prior to his Cobra date, the guitarist had been gigging as Good Rocking Sam, but Toscano wanted to change his nickname to something old-timey like Sad Sam or Singing Sam. No dice, said the newly christened Magic Sam (apparently Mack Thompson's brainstorm). His Cobra debut single, "All Your Love," was an immediate local sensation; its unusual structure would be recycled time and again by Sam throughout his tragically truncated career. Sam's Cobra encores "Everything Gonna Be Alright" and "Easy Baby" borrowed much the same melody but were no less powerful; the emerging Westside sound was now officially committed to vinyl. Not everything Sam cut utilized the tune; "21 Days in Jail" was a pseudo-rockabilly smoker with hellacious lead guitar from Sam and thundering slap bass from the ubiquitous Willie Dixon. Sam also backed Shakey Jake Harris on his lone 45 for Cobra's Artistic subsidiary, "Call Me If You Need Me."

After Cobra folded, Sam didn't follow labelmates Otis Rush and Magic Slim over to Chess. Instead, after enduring an unpleasant Army experience that apparently landed him in jail for desertion, Sam opted to go with Mel London's Chief logo in 1960. His raw-boned Westside adaptation of Fats Domino's mournful "Every Night About This Time" was the unalloyed highlight of his stay at Chief; some other Chief offerings were less compelling.

Gigs on the Westside remained plentiful for the charismatic guitarist, but recording opportunities proved sparse until 1966, when Sam made a 45 for Crash Records. "Out of Bad Luck" brought back that trademark melody again, but it remained as shattering as ever. Another notable 1966 side, the plaintive "That's Why I'm Crying," wound up on Delmark's Sweet Home Chicago anthology, along with Sam's stunning clippity-clop boogie instrumental "Riding High" (aided by the muscular tenor sax of Eddie Shaw).

Delmark Records was the conduit for Magic Sam's two seminal albums, 1967's West Side Soul and the following year's Black Magic. Both LPs showcased the entire breadth of Sam's Westside attack: the first ranged from the soul-laced "That's All I Need" and a searing "I Feel So Good" to the blistering instrumental "Lookin' Good" and definitive remakes of "Mama Talk to Your Daughter" and "Sweet Home Chicago," while Black Magic benefitted from Shaw's jabbing, raspy sax as Sam blasted through the funky "You Belong to Me," an impassioned "What Have I Done Wrong," and a personalized treatment of Freddy King's "San-Ho-Zay."

Sam's reputation was growing exponentially. He wowed an overflow throng at the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival, and Stax was reportedly primed to sign him when his Delmark commitment was over. However, heart problems were fast taking their toll on Sam's health. On the first morning of December of 1969, he complained of heartburn, collapsed, and died.

Even now, more than a quarter-century after his passing, Magic Sam remains the king of Westside blues. That's unlikely to change as long as the subgenre is alive and kicking. ~ Bill Dahl, Rovi
full bio

Comments

One of the most tasteful guitarists I have ever listened to. And as everyone notes , one of the most under appreciated. What a voice.
Buddy Guy is great but Sam would burn him alive Jack!
Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest Friday by the love of your life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However if you don't post this you will die in 2 days. Now you started reading this so don't stop. This is so scary put this on at least 5 songs in the next 143 minutes. When done press f6 and your lovers name will appear on the screen in big letters this is so scary because it actually works.
damit music fans robed again of precious great blues. something of excellence lost forever
dlambert489
April 10 2013 will go down in history as the day I discovered Magic Sam's music!!! Wow!
Jan is right - Sam was much better live. Check out All Your Love and Sam's Boogie on YouTube. I don't believe anything any better has been captured.
floor-works
thanks pandora for turning me on to great music,Magic Sam is excellent
Real Blues from a true Blues-man. Mr. Gilbert - thanks for sharing your story. I can't speak for anyone other than myself but I think it's safe to say that you have our respect as does Sam. Wish I could have heard you guys tear it up back in the day.
Jan Christopher Gilbert you're somebody I'd like to hang out with. It sounds like you've got some great stories. Anyhow peace to you, brother.
dshearer2001 u s
Great sound from southside Chicago....w h e r e not many white boys like me dared to venture. I only wish I could have seen him perform, along with Jimmy Reed....now there's a pair of greats!
abaptist6
Real bad a** blues my friends...
swbowie
Amazingly like B. B. King
matt bowie
jgrambau1
Mr. Jan Christopher Gilbert, wow, thanks for your very interesting stuff. Those of us who love the blues of most types get off on somebody who has been in there. Thanks, JG
darryn_kelly
Dude (below- Jan), that's super cool and must have been an awesome experience to play w/ Magic Sam. He's a better singer than almost any other bluesman I've ever heard and he can shred too. Sam DID rock!
I was Sam's friend. His recordings failed miserably in capturing his outstanding guitar playing and unique wailing voice. His showmanship was pure excitement and he had a wicked quick sense of humor. I was very proud to have known him and I often sat in on piano at Alex's Club. What a thrill! Sam ROCKED! jcgilbert44@ c o m c a s t . n e t
ONE OF THE MOST UNAPRECIATED RAW TALENTS THATS EVER BEEN HEARD, THIS IS TRULY OUR LOSS. LET US NOT FORGET. TRENDS WILL COME AND GO BUT, THE BLUES WILL NEVER DIE(-:OR IS THAT)-:?
this is the real deal ;buddy guy style and sound

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