“When I was 19 and working at Jazzland Amusement Park, I got a call from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band,” said Big Sam. “They wanted me to go on tour with them, and they were leaving… the next day!” In a few short weeks, Sam was opening for Widespread Panic, among others, and he played with the Dirty Dozen for the next four years.
“When I was a kid, my mom bought me my first Jazz CD,” said Sam. “It just happened to be the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, so I like to think it was meant to be.”
Eventually, however, Sam got the itch to do his own thing. He began to work on a side project, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, before breaking off from the Dirty Dozen to focus on it full time.
“Big Sam’s Funky Nation is inspired by the sounds of the Dirty Dozen and by some artists I met on the road like Robert Randolph and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe,” Sam said. His newest album, “Evolution,” will be available at the end of next month.
“It’s more of a hard edge funk rock album that shows the way my music has changed over the years,” Sam said. “But in the end it’s really all just about having fun.”
Before his time with the Dirty Dozen, Sam played with the Lil Stooges Brass Band and the Soul Rebels. He remembers going to a birthday party at Dirty Dozen trumpeter Efrem Towns’ house when he was in high school. When he discovered he was in the home of one of his musical idols, he walked right up to Mr. Towns and said, “If you ever need a trombone player, please call me.”
Three years later, Sam got a call.
Big Sam’s birthday is coming up, and he wants to celebrate with GoNOLA readers! Join the party at his Funky Birthday Bash on February 21 at Tipitina’s!
20 Questions with Big Sam
1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?
All the members of Dirty Dozen Brass Band. They inspired me to start playing Jazz.
2. What first brought you to New Orleans?
I was born and raised here and I’m never leaving!
3. In your opinion – what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?
Uptown. That’s where I grew up.
4. City Park or Audubon Park?
Audubon Park – I used to play there with my cousins as a kid.
5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans?
It’s New Orleans, so everything is great! I always look forward to the BBQ shrimp po-boy from Boucherie.
6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?
7. What’s your favorite po-boy? Where do you go to get it?
The hot sausage po-boy with cheese from Mahony’s.
8. You’ve got friends visiting and it’s their first time in New Orleans – where are you taking them?
I’d take them to the French Market and Café du Monde during the day, and to Jacques-Imo’s for dinner – everything there is awesome, especially the alligator cheesecake! Then we’d go for a night out on Frenchmen Street, and of course check out Bourbon Street for a bit.
9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?
10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail and where do you go to get it?
I like the Margaritas from Dat Dog on Freret Street. One of the bartenders really knows how to make them right!
11. Snowball or Daiquiri? Where from and what flavor?
I love the daiquiris from Daiquiri Shack in New Orleans East. I get tropical punch and pina colada mixed together.
12. Best spot to see live music?
13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?
Right now, my favorite band is The Revivalists – they rock!
14. Favorite New Orleans Festival?
15. Favorite Mardi Gras parade?
Orpheus – I used to march in that parade with my high school marching band!
16. Where do you shop in New Orleans?
It’s pretty hard to find my size anywhere other than online. I wear a size 15 shoe!
17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?
The Louisiana Children’s Museum. I’m just a big kid at heart, so I always look forward to taking my nieces and nephews there.
18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?
19. Describe New Orleans in one word.
20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans and why?
Every single day! I travel a lot, and every time I come home, I just want to kiss the ground! This is a city that’s often imitated, never duplicated.
* Photos provided by Big Sam’s Funky Nation