Born: March 20, 1935 Primary Instrument: Drums
Sam Lay drums
If one had to choose a prominent drummer in the blues genre, whose style and approach to the music would define the beat of the Chicago Blues, it would be Sam Lay. While many blues players today have changed their styles to appeal to more listeners, Sam Lay remains true to the old school. The most visible drummer to ever come out of the Chicago scene, Lay’s famous shuffles and grooves are still the envy of any would-be blues drummer.
Sam Lay was born in Birmingham, Alabama on March 20, 1935. Lay began playing drums at 14 and joined his first band, the Moon Dog Combo, in 1956. The following year he joined the Thunderbirds, before spending 1959 in Little Walter’s band. He then became the backbone of Howlin’ Wolf’s band, where he played from 1960-1966. He joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, played on the groups first two influential albums, “Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” and “East-West,” he also backed Bob Dylan on his controversial electric debut at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. He was the drummer on Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.”
In the ensuing years, he worked with most of the best-known names in the blues world, having a particular regard for his work on Muddy Waters’ “Father’s & Sons” album.
Mr. Lay's unique style of drumming can be heard on over 40 recordings for the famed Chess Records label with the most prominent names in the world of blues. He has recently toured the major Blues festivals around the US and Europe with the Chess Records All-Stars.
In the late 1980's Sam Lay was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis. He was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in Los Angeles, and the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. He was nominated eight times for the coveted W. C. Handy Award for Best Instrumentalist including a recent 2005 nomination.
Lay has two very recent recordings with his own band on Appaloosa Records, Evidence Records, and a recording on Alligator Records with the Siegel-Schwall Band and was nominated in 2000 for a Grammy Award for his performances on the Howlin' Wolf Tribute CD and was honored by the Recording Academy January 2002 for the Legends and Hero's Award for his significant musical contributions. In 2000 he released Rush Hour Blues, on Telarc.
Lay was prominently featured on a PBS-TV broadcast of 7 episodes on the History of the Blues produced by Academy Award winning director, Martin Scorsese.