Sam Kelly – 20 Questions

A few years ago, I raced down to the Bishopstock Festival in England West Country to front a pickup band to feature a young aspiring guitar player attempting to get into the the Best Act Final. Having found a fine local bass player I really needed a drummer who could hold the set together with no rehearsal. Fortune smiled when I ran into the versatile drum star Sam Kelly. Two numbers into the set, punters were running towards the tent as the six-string star in the making blazed away – Kelly just smiled at me and all was well. The lad came second in the overall contest and has gigged ever since. There follows Sam’s responses to my set of customised questions – do enjoy this piece and if you ever run into Sam do ask him about his brothers Matthew and Dave…

  • The radio is playing…what song would you cross the room to turn UP and what song would you cross the room to turn OFF?

UP: Stevie Wonder – Big Brother from Talking Book (I like it because it is making a political statement and it very much reflects my view on politicians)

DOWN: Any tracks by Otis Grand

  • The third track on an album is often a gem – can you think of any? (artist/title/source album) – as many as you like !!!

Cymande/Crazy Games/A Simple Act of Faith (off the new album)

Keb Mo/More than one way home/Just Like You

Francesco Boldini/Born under a bad sign/Plus 42

Giles Hedley & The Aviators/Little Geneva/So Glad I’m Living

Errol Linton/Gotta Blow/Errol Linton’s Blues Vibe

T.W.Henderson/Shooter (Billy’s just a kid/The Wilderness Years)

  • Name a song or instrumental that fades too early, for you (artist /title)

Herbie Hancock/ Watermelon Man/Head Hunters

  • Your set at Skegness with Station House was rootsy but adventurous…is it the personnel that gives you such scope? Tell us about your crew

Yes – in a nutshell. I work with some great, natural musicians – every one of them could run a band in the own right (some of them do). We have been together for 8 years now. They all have their own ideas which they bring to the performance and as Band Leader I rely on them to do that to keep the shows and music fresh. My Musical Director is Paul Jobson (keys/lead vocals), Tony Qunta (guitar/lead vocals), Spy Austin (bass/lead vocals) and Jerome Marcus (percussion/bvs). I worked for many years with a specific lead vocalist and the other musicians became more like his backing band as time went on. Once we parted company I specifically formed the band around the concept of having three lead singers.

  • Which song – any artist, any title – would have made a fine single release? IF it had been a SINGLE! – why do you think this?

T.W.Henderson/Black and White/The Wilderness Years – I find this song very moving. It has something deep and meaningful to it which, I think, would reach out to anyone who listens to it.

  • Suggest two or three great drum intro’s to songs or instrumentals (any genre) (song/artist/source album)

Phil Collins/In the Air Tonight/Face Value

T.W.Henderson/Take a Turn for the Nurse/The Wilderness Years

  • A favourite bassline on a Cymande recording? I think of Cymande as I do of War…somewhat ahead of their time?

“Getting It Back” off Cymande’s first album

  • Name a great recording including in the title 1/ Why 2/ When 3/ How (artist/title/source album) and explain why chosen

Geoff Achison/When you’ve got a good friend/Mystery Train – good blues number which I also play with Giles Hedley & The Aviators

Roger Chapman/How How How/The Shadow Knows – This has a great powerful rock-feel track. Very proud to have played on this album. My first venture into playing with a rock artist in 1984

Gordon Haskell/How wonderful you are/Look Out – this was a big hit reaching no.2 in the British charts and the nearest I got to a number 1 hit!!

  • A recording that makes you laugh ….intentionally or otherwise! (artist / track / source album)

Roger Chapman/Mango Crazy/Mango Crazy album – there’s a line in there about a flock of wild birds overhead in a bunch and it’s not mayo in your lunch.

  • Name an album or a couple of albums where the cover or artwork could have been better, in your humble opinion….give any thoughts around this

Tim Jones Band/Home Again – album cover shows Tim Jones standing next to a bus stop with fields behind him. It is in black & white with yellow writing. Nothing there to inspire you to buy the album or make you want to pick it up in a record store. All very grey.

  • Best 2nd or follow up album of all time and why? ( I love The Doors ‘Strange Days’)

Not necessarily of “all time” but very proud of this just the same: Sam Kelly’s Station House/Live at Crawley. The first album was a studio album. This second album, with a change in personnel, brought the studio album to life. “Live at Crawley” was recorded at Crawley Blues Festival at The Hawth.

  • Where are you planning to tour next?

With my Station House Band in mainland Europe – December 2015 – finishing the tour in Rouen, France to record our new album.

  • Where in the world in your opinion is live music best received? What venues appeal?

Mainland Europe. If you still love playing as a musician, all venues appeal – large or small!!

  • Two tickets suddenly arrive for a live performance, they are for someone you have always wanted to see…….which act or artist ? and which numbers will be hoping to hear?

Little Feat – New Delhi Freight Train & Old Folks Boogie

Tower of Power – We Came To Play

  • Has a radio DJ anywhere (and any era) ever impressed you and if so why?

John Peel because he seemed to have so much independence on the BBC as a DJ. He played what he liked. He was also instrumental in bringing Cymande into the recording studios at the BBC. Also Tony Blackburn who, in the 1970s was a big fan of Cymande – he made Cymande “record of the week”.

  • Name a recording (an album maybe) that really ‘grew’ on you and has ended up as essential listening? What is it about this recording that you value?

Joan Armatrading/Love and Affection – I had not heard anything about this artist and as soon as I heard it I was struck by the lyrics, the musicianship and her vocals. I still listen to the album now.

  • Suggest a song that reminds you of your childhood – and why might this be?

In the late 1960s/early 1970s there was a record label called “Marble Arch” who would put blues artist compilations together. My brother used to buy these and he would play them at home – artists like Sonnyboy Williamson I and II, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf. Also an album by John Coltrane called Love Supreme. These were the two albums that really made an impact on me as music styles before I even started playing drums.

  • Please give three tips for an aspiring drummer, thinking of stage work mainly

1) Have the best equipment you can afford

2) Be professional – do your homework – be prepared

3) Remember you are more than just a time-keeper

  • Is there a book or novel that you would like to create songs or the score for? Why is this?

Malcolm X’s autobiography. It made me very aware of being black, what it meant to be black and how to be proud of being black. The contents were so important to me that I named my second son after this man.

  • Bonnie Raitt and Paul Rodgers record a song together and you are on the recording session – suggest a song and who would be in the band

Ry Cooder “How Can a Poor Man Spend Such Time and Live”

Band (my band): Sam Kelly, Paul Jobson, Spy Austin, Tony Qunta, Jerome Marcus with Jimmy Lindsay (2nd percussion) and Ray Carless (sax)

This line up has already formed the house band for some great musicians: Imelda May, Robben Ford, Chris Barber, Paul Jones and Andy Fairweather Low.

Pete Sargeant

For more information on Sam Kelly visit:

(Thanks to Sam Kelly for taking part in the ’20 Questions With…’ Series and Diane Tuppen for help with this article)