Steve Nixon's Interview With Marty Sammon (Keyboardist For Buddy Guy)

I'm excited to share with you my recent interview with good friend Marty Sammon. If you don't know of Marty yet you need to!

Marty is truly a phenomenal blues keyboardist. He has toured the world many times over as the current keyboard player for blues superstar Buddy Guy.   He's also worked with a plethora of famous names in both blues and the rock world appearing with such artists as Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana (just to name a few).

It is to be note that you don't get opportunities like this by luck and Marty is an extremely skilled keyboard player and an all around great guy.

Even though Marty and I only live a few miles from each other we both were in the middle of a heavy gigging period so we did the interview over email. Time is precious and technology is a beautiful thing!

This is my first interview in my "Artists Interviewing Artists" series. I know you'll enjoy and learn quite a bit. Enjoy!



Steve Nixon
: Can you tell us how the circumstances came about that you started working with Buddy Guy?

Marty Sammon: I played with Buddy's brother Phil Guy since 1996. One Monday night in 2004 about 10:30pm I get a call and I didn't know the number on the ID. My brother was with me and said "That could be the call of a lifetime! You better answer it!" So the voice on the other line was Phil saying "Buddy wants you to work for him and y'all leave Thursday!" I showed up for rehearsal with my bags packed ready to go. We didn't leave right away like Phil said but Buddy handed me a schedule with a full year's work. Needless to say, I was thrilled!


SN: What do you think are the main ingredients that are important to building your career as a musician and getting your name out there?

MS: Lately I'm starting to think that reliability is the most important thing. If you develop a reputation of someone who shows up on time, looks clean, and is courteous and professional, you get more calls. I used to hate hanging out at jam nights over and over but it really is a good way to network. Any chance you have to play with different players of any style, take it. The best advertising for a musician is their live performance. If someone is trying to start a career I'd tell them to take any gig just to keep working and show that you're willing to work in any situation.



SN: I know you got an opportunity to play with Carlos Santana. Can you tell the readers a little bit about that experience?


MS
: Carlos is a super cool individual. I first played with him in Montreaux, Switzerland. Carlos hung out at sound check like one of the guys. Then we get on stage and he comes out, walks up to me and shakes my hand saying "You're the real deal, Man!" I'm playing there thinking of how I'm gonna take the DVD, blow up that scene and hang it over my piano at home. Of coarse they had no cameras on me at that particular moment. Carlos shows a lot of respect for all the music he plays and the people he's playing with


SN: How do you handle life on the road as a touring musician and being gone from home so often?

MS: I try my best to keep in touch with my daughter Katie. But really, touring as a musician has been my dream since I was about 7. My dream home was always a tour bus! I didn't know at the time what really went into it all. There's a lot of compromise and patience involved. You're basically living on a bus with a group of people that you have no affiliation with until you have the gig. If you keep in mind what you're there for it makes it easier. Maybe we're all crazy but home is really where you lay your head!



SN: I know that you when you're not touring you gig fairly consistently in your home market (Chicago). How do you keep your "home" gigs and connections intact while being regularly away from "home"?

MS: I'm very lucky to have some venues that understand my inconsistent schedule. I work a lot in Chicago but if you tell a club owner "I can commit to this gig until something else comes up" they tell you buzz off. But if I say " I'm there till Buddy Guy comes up with a gig" they're usually okay with it. There's enough musicians to fill any gig in town. However, I've gotten good at knowing when something will happen and when it won't. The hardest part is keeping the players I want in my band. Everyone has to work for a living so sometimes I use different players for my own gig. On the bright side, it keeps me versatile even as a bandleader!


SN
: Did you grow up in a musical household? How did you learn how to play?

MS
: Neither of my parents played instruments but they both encouraged it. I'm from an Irish-American household and traditional Irish music was always around. My grandmother on the Sammon side played concertina by ear and it's rumoured that that's where I got my skills from. I remember singing "Danny Boy" on the radio for my Grandma Griffin when I was a child. But later on my father paid for piano lessons and bought me an upright piano. Lessons paid off but the real education was when my father came home after having a few drinks and played his record player. He'd sit and watch me learn (by ear) all these popular songs from his era. He'd come to gigs and clap loudly if I was playing well but turn his head if I sucked! I never took it personally because I figured he had heard more music in his long life than I had so I paid close attention to his reaction. He's long gone now but I still see him turn his head nowadays when I'm not on my A game! I still say that I learn more from listening that I ever did reading!



SN: In addition to being an in demand sidesman, I know that you also lead your own groups as well. How do you shift your mindset and/or playing when you are a frontman and leading your group?

MS: To me it's not that difficult to switch mindsets because music is music! Period. But, the most difficult part of it is doubting myself. I play sideman to the best blues leaders in the world and I compare myself to them constantly. After playing 20 Buddy Guy shows, it's hard to front the band at his club while he's there and consider yourself "one of them" but I try to remember that everyone has their sound and their thing. The thing that sells most artists is their confidence and that's what I'm trying to show each time I hit the stage. I thought years ago that my own show was so great until I shared the stage with legends like Buddy, Otis, Carlos, Eric, and so on. Then I realized I have a long way to go. Lately I feel like I'm giving a good Marty show but that's only a recent feeling!


SN
: What's your keyboard rig currently consist of?

MS: That's a sensitive topic for me because as you know, keyboard players get the least amount of endorsement attention. But if you must know, with Buddy Guy I find the NORD keyboards produce the best organ and electric sounds (HINT TO NORD!) I have a NORD electro 61 and an 88 key piano-like keyboard on the bottom. If I had my way It would be an acoustic grand probably no more than 6 feet long. On my last record and my upcoming record I used my home grand piano and that was a pleasure! Keyboard players get the shaft! When we travel and hire backline gear, we're at the mercy of the provider! Guitar players bitch about their amps but at least they have their own instrument! But when your hands hurt and your ears are ringing from bad gear who notices? Only you. So I try to make the best of what they give me cause I could be given a mop and bucket and told to clean the floor! I'd rather play bad keyboards!

SN: What 3 artists have influenced you the most as a player and can you tell us why?

MS: You ask hard questions, Steve! You'll find my answer interesting! To think of three that had the most influence is hard but I'll try! First, let me say that Professor Longhair was the first style I studied without music. I listened to recordings over and over till I could almost play it. Then I played it the way I could do it. Before that I studied Scott Joplin rags till my fingers hurt. But those, I read the music for. He was the first guy to really incorporate syncopation into piano playing. He's also considered the first American Pop Artist. On a contemporary level I have to say Bruce Hornsby because he was the first guy I heard playing major scale pop music with a piano. But you ask a hard question and I have to point out that these 3 players I mention lead me to other players that equally influenced me like : Otis Spann, Billy Joel, James Booker, Billy Powell, Chuck Leavell.


SN: What are you listening to right now?

MS: I just played on Buddy's new record and the guitar player is one of the members of Storyville so I've got that in my player. Also been listening to a lot of old Muddy recordings for some reason. I've got a great Dr. John radio show from 1974 that I can't get out of my car player! And I'm not one to listen to guys I've played with so much, but, John Primer's album entitled "Original" is in regular rotation at my house. The groove and piano on that record is what I'm hoping to capture on some tracks on my next record.


SN: In 2010, with the current skills you've already developed, how do you improve your playing? What do you practice?

MS: Nowadays, I try to expand on what I'm listening to. I listen usually to a lot or music with great rhythm sections so I try to incorporate that into what I'm doing. I still practice with a metronome. The best thing is set your metronome on the 2 and 4 and play triplet scales over that. That develops great phrasing as well as a great understanding of groove. Piano players seem to never learn groove cause they don't have to play with anyone else if they don't want to. Playing to a constant 2 and 4 will force you to define a groove! That is if you're playing most Western Music. Most blues records I hear have great rhythm players and then there's a keyboardist who's out of pocket. Get it together! 2 and 4! That's where it's at! The tension you put between those is key! Not to be dirty but it's just like making love! I guess therefore, more love = better groove!



SN: Do you have any advice for aspiring players in regards to how to improve their blues piano skills?

MS: The best advice I can give anyone who plays any instrument is the same advice my teachers gave me. Listen to music! Listen to everything that is music. Take from all of it. Don't dismiss anything because of some label that people have put on it. You can learn from every recording out there. I've had students that want to learn blues piano. I say "What player do you wish to sound like?" They say, "I don't know any blues players. I just wanna learn to play blues!" That's incredibly terrible! Listen to the things that you wanna be part of. History repeats itself and it will continue to if you only LISTEN! You wanna play blues piano, listen to blues pianists!



SN: You've had quite a bit of success so far in your career. What are your future goals going forward as a musician?

MS: My main goal is to be a "stream of consciousness" musician. Meaning, I would be able to play what I hear at the moment much like we speak our language. As far as professional goals, I wish to become the player/singer/writer that can have international success and can be called to play with many different artists as well as front my own projects. When it comes down to it, I wanna pay my bills with my hands!


SN: Thanks so much for your time Marty! It's truly been a pleasure. You're answers were really insightful and really informative. If you guys get an opportunity be sure to check out Marty playing with blues superstar Buddy Guy or solo.  Marty, Thanks again.  Lets grab a beer soon!

For more information on Marty Sammon visit him at www.martysammon.com His latest release is "190 Proof Blues" and can be purchased at Itunes.com  rhapsody.com amazon.com


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