Labor of love

Guitar in hand, Sammy Blue is 'just trying to go to work'

All Sammy Blue wants is to make a living playing the music that inspired his name.

"My goal is to play as many different styles of the blues as I can and still allow it to be cohesive, he says. "A lot of people taught me, from Big Joe Williams to Lightnin' Hopkins to Freddie King, so basically I play across the board. It depends on what the crowd is and what the place is, but we play Chicago-style blues, Freddie King songs, Albert Collins, Gatemouth Brown, T-Bone Walker ... not any one kind or style.

But crowds at Blue's shows can expect more than just blues, he adds. "I'm 50 years old; I met Jimi Hendrix, too. So there's a little rock feel to what we do, and a little funk feel, he says. "A lot of our original material will have a blues structure with a funk feel.

Vocalist/guitarist Blue (real name Sammy Favers) is no blues purist, and he chafes at the stylistic restraints the media and industry often place on the modern blues musician. "I'm listening for what my generation of blues player would be playing, he says. "I don't hate purists — I learned from Muddy Waters and all those other people — but I don't necessarily believe that I have to do that for the rest of my life.

Unlike some critics, audiences enjoy a diverse mix of material. And Blue's ability to deliver — even if it leads him astray from the blues — has been essential to his ability to survive as a musician. "We play straight blues in a blues joint, but when we're not in a blues joint, we play blues, R&B and funk, dance music, he says. "I've enjoyed learning different material, because I'm going back to playing hit songs that I always liked. So it's not really killing me to do it.

But Blue isn't kidding himself. "It's not blues. It's sort of a Catch-22, he admits. "If I don't play something else besides blues, I don't work enough. And I'm not working enough anyway.

These days, the Sammy Blue Band — with Ken Keeling on drums, Kerry Kreese on bass and Steve Childers on keyboards — performs locally at Zoo Tavern in Lilburn, Comeaux's Louisiana Bar & Grill in Alpharetta, the Northside Tavern in Atlanta, Popper's and Players Live in Marietta, and Jake's Roadhouse in Decatur. And he's opened for Koko Taylor at EarthLink Live and old friend Taj Mahal (Blue was his road manager in the late '70s) at the Variety Playhouse. He also has a regular monthly gig at Sassy Ann's in Knoxville, Tenn.

Blue is planning to record a double-disc release live at Sassy Ann's by year's end, just as soon as his trombone player, "Little Joe Burton, returns from Chicago, where he's tending to family matters. The release will complement his July 2000 release, Everythang & Mo', on the local Hottrax label. Blue hopes the new CD, and its accompanying CD-ROM featuring video clips of the band, will help him reach a larger audience.

"My main objective right now is [getting] this record done so I can ... get on the road and make a living, Blue says. "That's all I'm trying to do. I ain't trying to be Michael Jackson. I'm just trying to go to work. I'm not trying to be Buddy Guy. If I'm blessed with money, then that's fine. But if I could just be blessed with doing what I want to do all the time, I'd be happy.

The Sammy Blue Band performs Fri., Sept. 21, at the Zoo Tavern, 900 Indian Trail Road, Lilburn (770-925-2214) and Sat., Sept. 22, at Comeaux's Louisiana Bar & Grill, 9925 Haynes Bridge Road, Alpharetta (770-442-2524).

This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville.