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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Saturday, March 20, 2010


The man who played drums on Dylan's electric début performance at Newport in 1965 turns 75 today. He's been a key figure for other artists too - not least for the great Howlin Wolf - but here's his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Lay, Sam [1935 - ]
Samuel Lay was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on March 20, 1935 and took up drumming at age 14. He moved to Cleveland, Ohio and joined his first band in 1956, moved over to The Thunderbirds in 1957, moved to Chicago, played in Little Walter’s band in 1959 and the following year joined HOWLIN WOLF’s. At one point he was shot, sustaining a bullet wound that continued to give him problems. He remained with Wolf until 1963, when he and bassist JEROME ARNOLD were lured away by the promise of better pay to become founder members of the PAUL BUTTERFIELD Blues Band.

Fond of garish clothes and extraordinary shoes, he wore a towering pompadour above his handsome face, and in the words of Charles Sawyer in a potted online biography of the Butterfield Band, Lay ‘played drums with weight-lifter’s arms’. When ALBERT GROSSMAN had a physical fight with ALAN LOMAX after Lomax had given the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s own set at the 1965 NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL some patronising introduction that no-one can quite remember but was along the lines of ‘let’s see if these white boys can play the blues’, Sam Lay pitched in to separate them.

Like Jerome Arnold, he is a member of the group Dylan chose to back him at his début electric gig at the festival that July 25; unlike Arnold, he was also in the studios in New York on the August 2 session for the Highway 61 Revisited album. Many takes of the title track, ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’, ‘Queen Jane Approximately’, ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ and ‘Desolation Row’ were attempted that day, including the take of each issued on the album, but what Sam Lay played on is doubtful; he is uncredited on the album and the official Dylan website listing for the album, and BOBBY GREGG was also in the studio that day and is credited.

Sam Lay was in poor health by this point, despite his robust appearance and his youth (he only turned 30 that year), and had to leave the Paul Butterfield Blues Band before they recorded their second album.

He recovered, however, was the original drummer for the James Cotton Blues Band and in 1969 played on MUDDY WATERS’ Fathers and Sons album (along with Butterfield and Bloomfield). Later he formed the Sam Lay Blues Revival Band, and subsequently the Sam Lay Blues Band. He has released albums like Shuffle Master, Sam Lay Live, Stone Blues and Rush Hour Blues, and Live on Beale Street in 2000 and I Get Evil in 2003. That year he also appeared as himself in the movie The Howlin Wolf Story, in which his silent home movies were a highlight, showing Wolf and the great Hubert Sumlin on stage and Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter in the audience.

[Bob Dylan with Sam Lay et al: ‘Maggie’s Farm’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ & ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’, Newport RI, 25 Jul 1965. Charles Sawyer quote from ‘Blues With A Feeling: A Biography of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’, 1994, online Jul 2 2005 at]


Anonymous Jack Evans said...

I had the pleasure of seeing Sam Lay play a gig with The Siegel-Schwall band at a neighborhood tavern here in Madison, Wisconsin a couple of years ago. He's still a very fancy dresser and a great drummer. We talked about Bob Dylan and the Highway 61 record. Sam is true gentleman and a very cool guy.

4:51 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Dear Jack
I'm very pleased to hear this very positive report - thank you for sending it in.

10:56 am  

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