The music industry places great importance on a product it calls a singer-songwriter. To be classified in this category, an artist must be able to both write and perform their own original material, including lyrics and melodies. Recording houses can contract with a singer-songwriter without becoming a slave to publishing houses as the sole source of quality songs.
Chris Samson is a Petaluma talent that fits this definition, fusing his writing and musical creation talents. Samson, who retired in 2012 after spending nearly four decades as a local reporter and editor at the Petaluma Argus-Courier, has also been writing songs regularly since his early twenties. He said the two efforts had long been “parallel tracks” for him.
I spoke to Samson, who also plays rhythm guitar in the local “Los Gu’achis” quintet, about his career and the art of songwriting. Here are some of the “best of” questions and answers:
Sheldon Bermont: Describe your first crowd reaction.
Chris Samson: “It was positive. I was performing at a cafe in Falmouth, Mass. called the Jolly Roger. It was the really warm welcome that allowed me to overcome the jitters. “
SB: How do you define a well-written song?
CS: “I’ve always been told that every good song needs a hook (Almighty Wikipedia defines a hook as a musical idea, often a short riff, passage or phrase, which is used in music. popular to make a song appealing and to ‘catch the listener’s ear.’) I believe that any good song needs a memorable melody and well-crafted lyrics that have a message and can speak to the listener. In direct opposition to this mandate, much of what you currently hear on the radio is made, instead of being made with the heart. “
SB: What types of guitars do you use live?
CS: “I have two guitars that I use. I was playing on my Carvin acoustic which has a mic system mounted inside. But lately I took out my 1968 Martin. It has such a deep and rich tone; and with a microphone mounted on a sound hole … it sounds good.
SB: Can you give me a sample of your song lyrics writing style?
CS: “This is from a song on my ‘In My Own Time’ CD called Salvation Train.
‘Fly me away from this overwhelming decay
Give me something to believe in again
My guardian angel is taking me home
By the fire of the salvation train ‘”
SB: Here’s a trick question: do you think a song lyric is just a poem set to music?
CS: “In my mind, lyrics and poems are separate genres. Yes, any poem can be turned into words; but the best songs, to me, seem to be crafted with the melody and lyrics created simultaneously.
SB: What’s the shortest time you’ve ever taken to finish a song?
CS: “I’m not a prolific writer, but last May I attended a singer-songwriter retreat in Idaho. I wrote three songs in one week and one in one day. But it’s in a perfect setting, with no outside distractions, which is certainly not the case in my normal day here in Petaluma.
SB: Can you describe your music to us?
CS: “I would say my songs are deeply rooted in American folk and traditional music.
SB: Can you list some of your influences in songwriting?
CS: “Of course… John Prine, Tom Waits, Merle Haggard, Guy Clark, Joni Mitchell and Rodney Crowell.”
Samson spent nearly five years on his latest album, and he doesn’t hesitate to credit his accompanying group of musicians, including guitarist Keith Allen of the Steve Miller Band, violinist Al Gerth of the Eagles and harmonica player Bruce. Kurnow by Mason Poffit, among others. Cold Blood trumpeter Peter Welker took care of the song arrangements.
For more details, visit www.chrissamsonmusic.com; his CD, “In My Own Time”, is available from The Mail Depot and Copperfield’s Books; and online at cdbaby.com/cd/chrissamson.
(Sheldon Bermont is a longtime Petaluma musician. Contact him at [email protected])