Chicago blues has been dissected in endless ways through the years. The South Side, the West Side, even different labels have been associated with having a particular, personalized “sound.” Some Blues fans buy into this, some don’t. But, by coincidence or not, Chicago’s West side certainly has played host to some of the most iconic performers to ever play the Blues. Freddy King, Otis Rush, Luther Allison, Buddy Guy, the list is pretty impressive. Sadly, one name on that list never lived long enough to see how far his amazing talents would take him. Magic Sam’s life ended way too soon, but his legacy is still influencing artists today.
Samuel Maghett was born February 14, 1937 in Grenada, Mississippi. His first exposure to the Blues was through local Blues men playing at parties and fish fries. Before long, records by B.B. King, Little Walter and Muddy Waters found their way into his hands, and the young Sam was hooked! His family moved to Chicago in 1950, and Sam soon started making some noise on the cities West Side under the name of “Good Rockin’ Sam.” Along with Harmonica man Shaky Jake, it didn’t take long for the word to spread that Sam was a serious player in every sense of the word.
In 1957 he signed with Eli Toscano’s Cobra Records label. At his first session for Cobra, Sam’s Bassist, Mack Thompson suggested he use a play on words, and take “Maghett Sam” and turn it into “Magic Sam.” And so it came to be! Sam cut the classics “All Your Love” and “Easy Baby” on the Cobra label, which are still considered classic Chicago Blues to this day. Sam’s Cobra sessions have long been one of the bench marks for true Electric Blues.
Once Cobra folded, Sam ended up with the Chief label for a brief time. Although the Chief recordings failed to match the height of greatness he had waxed with his Cobra offerings, they still packed a punch. This writer believes certain artists have a knack for putting magic into everything they touch- and Magic Sam was one of those artists. Check out the Chief era recording of Sam’s version of the Fat’s Domino classic “Every Night About This Time.” A classic indeed.
In 1966, a 45 single was cut on the Crash Label, “Out of Bad Luck.” The song brought back the sound of Sam’s Cobra days, and hinted of things to come. And indeed, there were very big things to come! In 1967 Magic Sam released the masterpiece, West Side Soul on Chicago’s Delmark Records. West Side Soul has it all- from the soulful Blues of tunes like “That’s All I Need”, to the grit of “I Need You So Bad.” With Sam’s Voice and Guitar driving the LP from start to finish, West Side Soul is a classic in every sense of the word. Every artist has their “home run” moment, that one song or album that basically defines what the artist is about. For Magic Sam, that piece of work is West Side Soul. It should be in every music fan’s collection. If you don’t have it, or even if you already do, do yourself a favor and pick up the remastered, 2011 Edition. Your life will then be complete!
1968 saw Sam hit another one out of the park with Black Magic. Once again on the Delmark label, Sam was on fire! “Just Want A Little Bit” shows his soulful side, and tracks like “I Have The Same Old Blues” carry the torch of the Blues front and center. Black Magic is another must have album. Check out the great Eddie Shaw’s always amazing Sax work on Black Magic too! If there really is “West Side Blues”, then this is it at it’s finest!
Artists have “home run” moments when they make defining, landmark recordings. But many are also lucky to have that “home run” moment at a live performance as well. In 1969, Magic Sam played the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, and blazed through a show that people are still talking about today. Sam brought the house down, and left everyone in attendance talking about the man called Magic Sam! Everyone, everywhere was talking about Sam, and everyone knew he had the ability and the potential to keep on growing. His music and his presence demanded it! Stax Records in Memphis was said to have been very interested in signing Sam. The world was ready for him to take that next big step in his career. So when he died from a sudden heart attack on Dec. 1, 1969, the Blues Community and the music world in general was shocked. He was only 32 years old. There seemed to be so much more for Sam to say, so much more music to be played. To lose anyone at any time is tragic. To lose any great artist at any time is always a sad loss. But to lose an artist when they are on the rise, when the world can feel they are on their way to bigger and better things due to their hard work and talent is a terrible, sad loss beyond belief. Magic Sam had alot left to say
Even though he left us so young, Sam’s legacy was forever set in stone with those 2 classic Delmark Recordings. West Side Soul and Black Magic will forever be benchmarks for anyone wanting to learn how to play true, Electric Chicago Blues. And if anyone wants to pick a direction for the Blues, and is curious what people mean when they say “the West Side Sound”, these 2 albums tell the story from start to finish. Any of his recordings are definitely worth having and his legacy lives on along side any great Chicago Blues artist. When anyone new to the Blues wants to learn and study the greats, they’ll dig into Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Elmore James, Buddy Guy, and will inevitably hear the name Magic Sam. That name begs to be heard, because Sam was indeed Magic, and his music and legacy will live forever. RIP Magic Sam. February 14, 1937 – December 1, 1969.