In Memoriam: Mighty Sam McClain (1943-2015)
Our hearts go out to Sam McClain’s family and friends. The world has lost a man that used his mighty voice to touch the hearts of fans around the world for nearly 60 years.
His family asks that condolence cards be sent to PO Box 322, Newmarket, NH 03857.
Mighty Sam McClain was born on April 15, 1943 in the Ouachita Parish seat of Monroe, Louisiana. He began his lifelong love affair with music at the age of five, singing in his mother’s Gospel Church. At thirteen, seeking to escape an abusive stepfather, Sam left home and began his life on the road. Following local guitarist "Little Melvin" Underwood through the Chitlin Circuit, the name given to the Southern venues friendly to black performers during segregation, he started as a valet but worked his way up to his rightful home as a lead vocalist.
By 1963 Sam had become a regular at Abe’s 506 Club in Pensacola, Florida. It was there he met DJ Papa Don Schroeder who would produce Mighty Sam’s first hit in 1966 with Amy Records - “Sweet Dreams (of You)”.
Later recordings at the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama, would produce popular singles including “Fannie Mae” and “In the Same Old Way”. Sam would go on to perform at the Apollo Theater, but his success proved to be short-lived.
The 1970s were some troubled times for Sam as he moved from Nashville to New Orleans. He battled alcoholism and found himself homeless. He lived on park benches, worked menial jobs, and even sold his plasma to get by. Though this rough patch lasted the better part of fifteen years, Sam never did stop singing.
Opportunity knocked when his friends in The Neville Brothers offered him the chance to go on tour. In 1986 with a renewed career, Sam recorded an EP, “Your Perfect Companion”, for Orleans Records and was invited to perform and record a live album in Japan. The new attention attracted Hammond Scott, who brought the now northeast-based McClain to Black Top Records for “Hubert Sumlin’s Blues Party”. The record, which featured him on four songs with Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player, was produced by guitarist and future AudioQuest Music label-mate Ronnie Earl.
McClain moved to Boston in 1992 and began playing with Uptown Revival. The band included a core that he would later go on to record with - Bruce Katz (keyboards), Kevin Berry (guitar) and Lorne Entress (drums). Entress helped Sam to send a demo to Joe Harley, founder of AudioQuest Music. Mighty Sam inked a deal that would result in a series of his most popular albums including “Give It Up To Love” and “Sledgehammer Soul & Down Home Blues”. The latter would be nominated for a W.C. Handy Award. "New Man in Town", from his 1998 release “Journey” would go on to be prominently featured on Fox TV’s Ally McBeal. Sam would next release albums on both CrossCut Records (“Joy and Pain: Live in Europe”) and Telarc (“Blues for the Soul” and “Sweet Dreams” – both Handy nominated). Sam released three new recordings throughout the 2000s under Mighty Music, a label of his own. Drawing great praise was 2003’s “One More Bridge to Cross” where McClain leaned more heavily on the soul side of his musical tastes.
Sam recorded a duet with an unexpected partner for 2007’s “Give US Your Poor”. The record, a benefit for a cause very close to McClain – the homeless, included “Show Me the Way” with New Jersey rock star Jon Bon Jovi. This would only be the start to Sam’s cross-genre exchange.
Following the sale of AudioQuest Music, and subsequent renaming to Sledgehammer Blues – a name in honor of one of Sam’s songs, to New York’s Valley Entertainment, Sam was asked to record an album of duets with Iranian folk singer Mahsa Vahdat. As a co-release in 2010 with the prestigious Norwegian label Kirkelig Kulturverksted, “Scent of Reunion: Love Duets Across Civilizations” brought together the international community through themes of love and freedom.
The success of the collaboration sparked a vintage feeling soul-blues record with Norwegian blues guitarist Knut Reiersrud (“One Drop Is Plenty”) and a reprise with Vahdat (“A Deeper Tone of Longing: Love Duets Across Civilizations”).
Nicknamed “The Soul of America” to his fans in Europe, McClain was nominated for 23 W.C. Handy Awards/Blues Music Awards throughout his incredible career.
After facing health issues throughout the spring of 2015, his family confirmed his passing on June 16, 2015 via his official Facebook page.