Hi, Modern Drummer readers. My name is Sammy Baker. Thanks for reading my blog entry. I hope it gives a little insight.
I have played professionally for over thirty years. Being conversant in many different styles of music has helped to keep me playing, and I’ve always had more than one project going at the same time. I love all styles of music. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found merits in musical styles that I couldn’t see as a youngster.
My philosophy of performance is a little hippy-dippy sounding, but I actually do see it as a semi-meditative state. I am channeling my spiritual energy when I play. It’s a bit embarrassing to say, but it’s what I do. Being mostly self-taught, that concept was never taken away from me.
My cousin was a professional drummer in the ’60s and by the age of eight I had worn out the toy drumset my parents had given me for Christmas playing along with 45s. So for my tenth birthday, he sold them a late-’60s Ludwig set with a Black Pearl finish, like Ringo. Letting go of that kit is one of the few regrets I have in life.
I grew up playing music rather than sports. By the age of ten (1977) I was making money playing in cover bands at parties and local bars. I played in local bands, touring regionally, and in 1984 I moved to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The college there (Middle Tennessee State University) has a world-class Recording Industry Management program. As a result of MTSU, Murfreesboro has a dense and unique local music scene. I spent a lot of time at MTSU not as a student but rather as a recording artist and working at The Center for Popular Music, a music research archive. I learned so much there. I also did a lot of session work at a local singer-songwriter demo studio called Aural Canvas owned by Forest York.
In the mid-’90s I was in a band on a label called Spongebath Records. One day I went to hang out at the label office and everyone was saying, “Sammy, Sammy, you’ve got to come talk to this guy,” who I thought was a reporter for a Nashville paper. He asked about the local scene and clubs and which was my favorite to play. I told him about a place called The Boro and said, “It was a good place where you could experiment with new material and new ideas and if it sounded like dog s*@# nobody cared.” As it turned out, he was from Billboard magazine and in the article, when he referred to me, he used the dog s*@# quote. I’ve often referred to that as the pinnacle of my music career.
In the late-’90s Lorie Meacham and Roger Spencer opened the Nashville Jazz Workshop, where I took classes and made many music contacts. For the next five years I made my living playing jazz five or six days a week in local venues with, among others, Roland Gresham Sr. and Annie Sellick. I played weekly three-plus-hour sets with a host of great jazz artists such as Charles Dungee and Bee Gee Adair. During one of these shows I was approached by Nashville music producer, Marky Nevers, who asked if I would be interested in touring internationally with the band Lambchop.
I toured with Lambchop for over five years, performing everywhere from Auckland to Zagreb and playing some of the greatest venues of Europe, such as the Vienna Opera House and The Royal Albert Hall.
After marrying my wife in 2006, I moved to NYC, where I toured briefly with Brooklyn psych-popsters the Essex Green and then with Carrie Rodriguez.
Through the years I’ve picked up a handful of other instruments, which I believe have, in addition to expanding my musical vocabulary, helped me become a better drummer. Playing other instruments in bands has given me a better understanding of what the other guys on the bandstand need from me when I’m drumming.
In 2007 I joined composer Christina Campanella to work on an original theatrical/multimedia piece called Red Fly/Blue Bottle, in which I played many instruments, including drums, guitar, upright bass, ukulele, kalimba, and style-o-phone. Out of that project came the band Kill Dull Cares, who are currently working on new music and imagery. The filmmaker, Peter Norrman, is actually part of the group and has as much influence on the material as any other member of the group.
Through Christina I met Matt Verta-Ray, a co-owner of NY HED, a recording studio on the Lower East Side with strong roots in the NYC punk and indie music scene. I did session work with Matt that ultimately led to my meeting Jon Spencer and playing on the Heavy Trash album Midnight Soul Serenade. Currently I’m recording and touring with Heavy Trash and picking up gigs with bands such as surf rock icons the Supertones.
In short, I play hard when that’s what is called for and quietly when that’s appropriate. I eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m sleepy. Thanks for reading. Cheers.