Not long after neo-hippie jazz-pop band the Samples played the Sapphire Supper Club in February 1997, half of the group quit and the remaining members parted ways with its record company.
Rather than break up, the Samples morphed into a five-piece, recorded a new CD and undertook their first national tour in more than a year. "People are going, ‘Whoa, these guys have a lot of music out there,' and they're starting to recognize us for perseverance," says bandleader Sean Kelly of the reaction to the 12-year-old band's current tour.
The Boulder, Colo., band formed as a quartet in 1987, specializing in groove-heavy improvisational music with a hint of reggae influence. After releasing their eponymously titled debut album in 1989, the band toured relentlessly, selling more than 500,000 records through a small, independent label before signing with MCA Records in 1995.
While most bands fade away after losing major-label support, the Samples have garnered a large enough live following to keep doing what they do best. They went back to recording for an independent label, Boulder-based What Are Records?, and added Atlanta native Alex Matson on keyboards and acoustic guitarist Rob Somers, who lives in Hawaii. The freshest face in the lineup is drummer Sam Young, who was picked up to tour with the band after the new CD was released.
Samples concerts are more than just musical extravaganzas. The band makes video tapes of the tour's town du jour, typically shot by Kelly a few hours before the concert, then shown on a screen behind the band while it jams. "Everyone goes crazy when all of a sudden they see their town or the campus we're playing on," says Kelly.
He also shoots each night's audience. That footage, typically shown during the song "Did You Ever Look So Nice," creates a unique bond between the band and the crowd, according to Kelly. "It totally does. It brings everyone up on the stage. Everyone's equal."
Rock & roll isn't about money or hit records for Kelly. It's about the music and the road. "We're taking it the direction of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's ‘Four Way Street' -- melodic songs with a live feel, and not so hit-oriented," he says. By all indications, the Samples have a long road ahead of them.