Mighty Sam McClain
Mighty Sam McClain
Sam McClain was born in Louisiana in 1943. As a five year old, he began singing in his mother's Gospel Church. He left home when he was thirteen to escape an abusive stepfather and followed local R & B guitarist Little Melvin Underwood through the Chitlin Circuit. First as his valet and then as lead vocalist himself. While he was singing at the 506 Club in Pensacola, Florida he was introduced to Producer / DJ, "Papa Don" Schroeder. In 1966, Sam recorded Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams", his first real success. Several recording sessions at Muscle Shoals produced singles, "Fannie-Mae" and "In the Same Old Way", but his career never really took off. For fifteen years, first in Nashville, then in New Orleans Sam worked menial jobs and was forced to sell his plasma while he was homeless. Sam was offered a chance to tour and record in Japan in 1989. "Live In Japan", featuring legendary Wayne Bennett is a truly fine recording, much sought after by fans worldwide. By the early 1990's Sam networked his way to New England by way of his association with the Hubert Sumlin's Blues Party project (produced by Hammond Scott on Black Top). These friends provided encouragement and collaborations, which led to Joe Harley and AudioQuest Music. The results were these successful releases, "Give It Up To Love", "Keep On Movin", "Sledgehammer Soul and Down Home Blues", "Journey". ("New Man In Town" was used in the TV show Ally McBeal on FOX-TV). Sam signed on with the Telarc Blues label in 1999 and released two records before starting his own label in 2003, Mighty Music, and released, "One More Bridge To Cross" .
"Live In Japan" (Orleans 1988)
1 Every Day I Have The
*** The first step in his dramatic comeback, this live set contains a mix of classic covers ("A Change is Gonna Come", "This Time I'm Gone For Good", "The Blues is Alright") and songs he scored with during his 1964-1968 period with Amy Records ("Sweet Dreams", "In The Same Old Way"). Of interest too is the presence of newer songs McClain would soon record ("Pray", "Dancing To The Music Of Love") for Audio Quest..
"Give It Up To Love" (Audioquest 1992)
1. Give It up to Love
***1/2 As soon as Mighty Sam starts to sing the gospel-breathed soul of the title track you are gonna wonder "Where has this guy been for so long?". McClain either wrote or co-wrote 9 of the 11 cuts here, like the melodious acoustic guitar gem "Here I Go Falling In Love Again" and the gritty blues shuffle "What You Want Me To Do" that features a great Booker T & The MG's-styled organ lick (Bruce Katz) and heavy guitar soloing (Kevin Barry). Another highlight is his moody reading of Carlene Carter's "Too Proud".
"Keep On Movin'" (Audioquest 1995)
1. Can You Stand the Test of Love
**** Second Audioquest disc opens with a fine McClain original called "Can You Stand The Test Of Love", a breezy horn-blessed number with a confident vocal from the mighty one. He also had a role in the impressive horn arrangements here along with trumpeter Walter Platt. Real soul music is suppose to have horns and this album doesn't disappoint. The brooding "I'm So Lonely" features an especially noteworthy arrangement and the swingin' title track has some powerful blasts. Though this is mostly bluesy soul McClain doesn't shy away from his gospel roots on this album, covering the popular traditional "Lord Will Make A Way" and stamping each vocal performance with that deep tension between sacred/profane all great soul singers possess. Listen to how he reaches in and wrings the emotion out of "A Soul That's Been Abused" or the Bobby Bland-like "Don't Worry About Me". Very few singers today compare to Mighty Sam McClain.
"Your Perfect Companion" (Orleans 1995)
*** Somewhat frustrating EP-length disc released as McClain's star began to arise. Set includes the 5 tracks from the vinyl version released in 1986 plus the 1984 single "Pray". Although stingy, the music here is terrific, like the churning cover of "Walking The Backstreets & Crying" (simply called "Backstreets" here). "Miss Bea" and "Your Perfect Companion" are updates of songs he cut in the 60s. There's also a superior pre-Audioquest take on "Pray" and "A Change Is Gonna Come". McClain collectors really should have this (but perhaps it could been added to Orleans' McClain "Live In Japan" album and all released on cd).
"Sledgehammer Soul & Downhome Blues" (Audioquest 1996)
1. Sledgehammer Soul and Down Home
**** Certainly no false advertising here as the contents fit the clever title of this third Audioquest release. This could be viewed as boastful- especially since he has a track called "They Call Me Mighty" with the line: "They call me mighty mighty/And that ain't even my name". But, Sam McClain is one of the mightiest soul/blues singers alive today and he equally excels on Bobby Bland-like blues ("Where You Been So Long", "When The Hurt Is Over") ,classic soul ,("Trying To Find Myself"), funky modern R & B ("Dancin' To The Music Of Love") and of course gospel ("Bridge Of Faith"). There's even the reggae-fied "Pray". The pinnacle here is the hard soul-blues of the title cut featuring a throaty McClain vocal and some ice cold guitar licks from either Peter Giftos or Kevin Barry (both are simply listed as "guitar"). Even though McClain would sound good with a drum machine and a toy Casio keyboard, acclaim must be given to the personnel involved in his air tight Audioquest albums. Joe Harley has produced all three and the band features (in addition to Barry, Giftos): Ted Bukowsky in bass, Zac Casher on drums, Bruce Katz on piano and organ, George PapaGeorge on Hammond organ, Walter Platt on trumpet and horn arrangements, Jeff Galindo on trombone and Ted Decalo on sax.
"Journey" (Audioquest 1998)
1. I'm a Man
*** McClain's biggest seller is another solid collection of soul, blues, gospel and R & B including his most famous song, "New Man In Town". Mighty got a big payday when the TV series "Ally Mcbeal" featured this strutting track on the show. McClain's raw chops are especially effective on the original, "No More Tears", likely a personal affirmation of survival from a man who's seen a lot. Another highlight is the slow blues "The Other Side Of The Tracks" and the uptempo R & B "Mr. So & So". McClain is also one of few singers who has the right to do Sam Cooke's "Change Gonna Come" as he does here.
"Joy And Pain" (Ruf 1998)
1. Gone for Good
*** A soulfully sweaty show from McClain recorded in 1997 at a blues festival in Detmold, Germany. The set is mostly comprised of rousing versions of song from his Audioquest years ("Sledgehammer Soul & Downhome Blues", "A Soul That's Been Abused", "Where You Been So Long") but also includes a simmering 11-minute version of Bobby Bland's "This Time I'm Gone For Good". The band consists of the same players that helped make his previous four discs so wonderful (George PapaGeorge, Zac Casher, Peter Giftos, Walter Platt et al).
"Soul Survivor: The Best Of" (Audioquest 1999)
1. Too Proud
***1/2 Good but not great compilation of McClain's 1992-1998 years contains climactic moments like "Sledgehammer Soul", "A Soul That's Been Abused" & "Give It Up To Love" but also excludes must-haves like "I'm So Lonely", "No More Tears". That quibble aside (as very few "best ofs" are perfect) this is a terrific introduction to why people call Sam McClain "mighty mighty".
"Papa True Love: The Army Sessions" (Sundazed 2000)
1. Fannie Mae
**** This 18-song compilation has both sides of his eight 1966-1968 Amy singles ("Fannie Mae", "Your Perfect Companion", "Sweet Dreams", "Papa True Love", etc..), plus "Nothing But The Truth" and a previously unreleased 1966 cover of Don Gibson's "A Stranger to Me." Backed by the famed Muscle Shoals band this is some truly underrated soul music that was overshadowed by Atlantic Records' big names Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, etc.. These songs for the most part can stand up to those classic hits...even if there were no bona fide hits here. "Sweet Dreams" made some noise, however. In his earlier days he sounded quite similar to Solomon Burke.
"Blues For The Soul" (Telarc 2000)
1. All We Need Is Love
*** First for Telarc may feel a bit like leftovers after four well-oiled dishes of "sledgehammer soul" & "downhome blues" but it's still a keeper. Most of the cast from his past successes are on board like producer Joe Harley. The set's highlights are two horn-fueled uptempo numbers, "Battlefield Of Love" & "Dark Side Of The Street". The set stumbles a bit on the pedestrian "Going Back To New Orleans", though there's some fine piano fingerin' by Bruce Katz, and "Jesus Got The Blues" is heavy-handed lyrically. The set closes with a great McClain original, the acoustic guitar/piano blues "Not I".
"Sweet Dreams" (Telarc 2001)
1. Here I Come Again
***1/2 This 13-track disc starts with "Here I Come Again", which is a kissing cousin to his "New Man In Town" featuring sweet brass via "the Mighty Horns" (Joe Casano, Walter Platt). This set has a higher percentage of uptempo blues- Mostly McClain originals like jazzy-blues "Nothing But A Memory" and assertive "I Love Hard" & "Must Be The Music", both hard-hitting 60s soul blues shuffles. But McClain also slows it down when he revisits the past with a sterling remake of "Sweet Dreams" recorded during his mid-60s period and the country soul gem "Learn How To Love You Again". A versatile singer, McClain gets mildly funky with a passable cover of the Staple Singers' "Respect Yourself" and the self-penned "Standing In The Wings". Fans of West Coast blues may want to pick this one up first.
"One More Bridge To Cross" (Mighty Music 2003)
1. Why Do We Have to Say Goodbye
*** The man who has the confidence (and the voice to back it up) to sing a song called "They Call Me Mighty Mighty" is back with his first independently released disc and, although a bit flabby in spots, it's one of the year's bright spots. He has released music for Audioquest Music followed by Telarc Records, but now he's on his own. Released as "MightyMusic101", "One More Bridge" contains 13 new cuts, two of which (the meandering "Why Do We Have To Say Goodbye" & "Been There, Done That") were written by Joe Hardin for (but rejected) the upcoming Bobby "Blue" Bland CD. These BBB-styled songs fit just fine with Mighty Sam's husky baritone. But the A List songs are those Sam McClain wrote himself, like the driving "What's Your Name" & "Thought I Heard Your Voice". Sam's gospel side is represented by "Open Up Heaven's Door" & the funky title track. Add a couple pleasant love songs to his wife Sandra ("Most Of All", "Sweet Honey Bee") with some moody soul/blues, passionate soul, sentimental gospel and a bit of R&B/funk all wonderfully sung by Sam and played by a crack band with full horn section and you got a fine contemporary soul/blues disc. One misstep is the song sequence. The disc doesn't really begin to impress until about track 8. It was a bad choice to open with the slow paced "Why Do We Have To Say Goodbye"..it is not indicative of the CD as a whole.
"Betcha Didn't Know" (Mighty Music 2009)
1. Can't Stop the Funk
Mighty Sam McClain/Mahsa Vahdat "Scent Of Reunion: Love Duets Across Civilizations" (Valley Ent. 2010)
1. Meditating Over a Photo
Mighty Sam McClain/Knut Reiersrud "One Drop Is Plenty" (Valley Ent. 2011)
Jesus (Not Enough
Whiskey)" (Mighty Music 2012) 1. I wish You Well
"Too Much Jesus (Not Enough Whiskey)" (Mighty Music 2012)
1. I wish You Well
Mighty Sam McClain/Mahsa Vahdat "A Deeper Tone of Longing: Love Duets Across Civilizations" (Valley Ent. 2012)
1. A Deeper Tone of Longing
Mighty Sam McClain/Knut Reiersrud "Tears Of The World" (Kirkelig Kulturverksted 2015)
Tears Of The World 2:52
"Time And Change: The Last Recordings" (Kirkelig Kulturverksted 2016)
"Diamond In The Rough" (Sledgehammer Blues 2018)
1 My Everything 4:56