New Jersey Cat, , Sam Cooper, has been busy criss-crossing Nashville, splitting time producing, co-writing, hosting or playing songwriter rounds at The Bluebird Cafe, Commodore Grill and Douglas Corner, where he gets nuttin’ but the best entertaining songwriters on his tilt-a-whirl sets as well as gigging with Mary Hartman and The Mistakes.

Sam with Jamey Johnson on "Orange Man" Set

Things are getting interesting on this side of The Cumberland River, Sam may get his first official Nashville cut with his co-writing partners-in-crime Chris Gantry, Alex King, Brenda Enderson and Kate McCoy’s Dark Horse Hip Hop Country flavored “Orange Man” which features cameos by Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson and others may see the light of day with recording artist, Alex King.

Getting a significant cut in four years is a big accomplishment, but, the coffee percolates when he talks about playing with Mary Hartman and The Mistakes. “Billy Block posted a mention on his Facebook page to play drums. I called him up and he didn‘t hesitate to join. We are really excited to work with Billy. He does so much for musicians with The Billy Block Show and he was Lucinda Williams’ (Back in her Nashville days) drummer”. “I can’t say enough about Mary Hartman she oozes personality and sexuality, she is magnetic, a great performer.”

Billy Block

Being a performer comes from what he learned watching acts like The Bruce Springsteen Band opening for Cactus before they became The E Street Band. “One of the things missing here sometimes is presentation. I’m use to a song being a performance. A lot of songwriters just sit and play and could use some vocal coaching but they don’t bother.” Performance of the song is as integral as the lyrics to Sam. 

In fact, Sam comes with a background touring that includes the Northeast chitlin’ circuit soon after he and his father had an argument.  Dad told him to pack his bags back in 1971. He left Virginia not long after starting his sophomore year of college in Richmond with nothing but the clothes on his back and headed to New Jersey where he found a room to rent with some friends for $100 a month.  He eventually settled near the ocean in the Asbury Park area where he remained until 2006, when he discovered “home”–Nashville.

Sam had a background as a radio DJ, concert security, announcing bands and even started playing guitar and trumpet in the fourth grade but he never thought about actually being in the music business professionally and writing songs regularly until that move to New Jersey. He joined a bar band and hit the road. He got the bug performing many genres, but especially “soul” music.  “The Beatles were a huge influence on me especially when “A Hard Day’s Night” came out, but soul music is something that you just can’t fake.  My biggest influences are Ray Charles, Delbert McClinton, Stevie Wonder, Dan Penn, Isaac Hayes and a lot of horn-flavored desert island soul. I was really upset when I heard that Solomon Burke had died”.

Sam brings his own Jersey Shore rock and soul roots to songs like “East Nashville Girls”. Many of his songs are a celebration, a party; in fact he has a song called “Time to Party”. He has a wide palette that comes from his formative radio listening days. “The first three songs that I got hooked on were Ray Stevens’ “Ahab the Arab”, “Speedy Gonzalez” by Pat Boone and Bobby Darin singing “Dream Lover”. Anybody who has worked with Sam can’t help but laugh about that.

It makes sense since Sam can go from the romantic cinema “You Bring the Sunshine”, where one can envision sharing smiles and kisses with a sun tanned babe in the Florida Keys and then turns around and writes “Lee Ann Womack Truck” which he affectionately calls his “Bless your little heart” song to Music Row.

In a town where you get what you bring to the table; Sam is a Muscle Shoals laden Beatle beat master. One of his strongest songs “Red Bulls and Caffeine Pills”, an ode to the modern trucker or just commentary on a late night ride back to see his wife, Dawn,  in New Jersey veers with bounce- in- your- car seat rhythm ala “Get Back” to Preston Starr-ing in a McCartney Bass boogie thriller of a hook.

When Sam works, which is almost all the time, it’s like he is running his own club house, signing up memberships on his mailing list and getting friends out to shows like it was Madison Square Garden or at least CBGB’s when Blondie, The Ramones and The Talking Heads were breaking and making new rules. He always thinks about presentation whether it is a song sampler or sitting on a stool playing at The Bluebird Café. 

Sam not only thinks of himself, but those he admires, keeping everybody in touch with up and coming news through his website and social networking pages.  The most important thing is he can sing his songs breaking bread with an Eddie Hinton– Dan Penn- Donnie Fritts kind of gravel and whiskey excess and turn around and deliver what the song asks for, whether it is Tom Waits or Peter Tosh.

This year seems to be playing out like so many well-placed notes in a melody, a culmination of years of bar band covers and the last few putting pen to paper where songwriting and publishing are an art. If there have been any setbacks for Sam in his Nashville life, he has taken them like the Pinball Wizard getting a match for an extra game on a Kiss Pinball Machine.

Mary Hartman

Sam has a couple of upcoming gigs; John Carter Cash will warm up for Mary Hartman and The Mistakes at The Rutledge on Oct. 26th, followed by a show at Douglas Corner Cafe on November 20th.

– Brad Hardisty, Nashville,  TN     thenashvillebridge@hotmail.com

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