Originally from New England, Sean Kelly has been the frontman for the Samples since the band first gained attention in the late 1980s in Boulder, Colorado. The Samples, a name derived from when the band members would take care of their nutritional needs by eating the free food offerings handed out at local supermarkets, have a new CD out titled America. Kelly talks about what it’s like to still be steering the Samples bus and how his drive to keep the music going is as strong as ever.
How would you describe the sound of the Samples these days?
That’s difficult. Our new album, America, includes blues, reggae, country and other styles. It’s not so much about a sound. It’s more of a concept. I was watching a Saturday Night Live documentary on TV the other day and it made me think that the Samples is kind of like SNL. There have been good and bad years and changing casts. I’ve been the person guiding it, but the sound reflects a whole package of time and people. The new sound is a little different. Every tune is strong on its own. Each song it true to the genre that it covers. It touches on different genres including blues, rock and reggae. It’s been getting good reviews from the people who are buying it.
You’re from Vermont, how did you end up in Colorado?
I was born in Connecticut, but I grew up in Vermont. I moved to Colorado in 1987. At that time I had been dealing with brutal winters in Vermont. You don’t get the sun there and out here it was so mild in comparison. That did it for me.
What’s your favorite venue in the Denver area?
That would have to be Red Rocks. The history of it is incredible. Check out the museum there. The place hasn’t changed that much from before it was a performance venue. It comes with this amazing geological history. There’s a feeling that you can’t get anywhere. They have been very good about working around the natural setting. My memories of all the shows I’ve seen there are amazing. I remember sneaking into the venue in someone’s trunk to see the Grateful Dead in the ’80s. I heard them play “Terrapin Station” from on top of the hill behind the venue.
Who are some of your favorite artists these days?
I don’t know as many as I should, but I like Highway 50, which is a band that my friend James Hambleton is in and which is led by Al Laughlin, who was the original keyboardist of the Samples. James and his brother Charles (original member of the Samples) were the reason I moved to Colorado.
When is the last time you got together with the original members of the Samples and are those reunions fun?
It was about four years ago for the Mile High Music Festival in Denver (at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park). It was cool enough to see everyone, but I really wanted to play with the guys who I had been playing with more recently. The promoters were adamant that it had to be the original members, so that’s what we did. For all of us it was kind of like having to hang around with an old girlfriend for a few days. It was kind of awkward. We did it, but it wasn’t necessarily fun. It was a toxic blend back then and it’s still toxic.
What do you think about the legalization of marijuana in Colorado?
I think it’s fantastic. I’ve seen the bad end of alcohol for too long now. To think that alcohol has been legal for so long is crazy. I’m not an anti-alcohol person. I still like to have a drink now and then, but to me pot is a better option. Whereas drinking can lead to Jekyll and Hyde behavior. For me pot opens up creativity and nurtures the more childlike side of my personality.
Where does the reggae and ska influence that can be heard in your music come from?
Interestingly, it’s not from me. I did play some reggae oriented stuff in a few bands I was in leading up to the Samples. I used to cover some Bob Marley and Burning Spear songs when I was playing in Vermont. But the reggae influence amplified when we brought on our drummer Jeep and also from our original keyboardist Al Laughlin.
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