Friday, February 23, 2018

Saturday Afternoons with Blues Legend, Sam Chatmon

January 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Random Notes

There are several events that are engrained into the memory of most performers.  There is the time that you step onto a real stage with real spotlights the first time and realize you can’t see beyond the first row.  There is the time you forgot the words of a familiar tune and don’t know where you are, who you are or what you are doing.  And there are times you wish you could view the video tape over and over.

A few of the times I wish I had recorded were spent with Sam Chapmon (sometimes listed as Sam Chatman).  I don’t even have a still photo with Sam.  I met Sam at an entertainer’s conference in Washington D.C. in 1975.   Another entertainer told me he had just met an old man in the lobby of the hotel / convention center.  He said the man was from the Mississippi Delta.  He thought that since I was from Greenville, I may know him.  His name was Sam Chatmon.  I was 19.  Sam was 78.  Nevertheless we became fast friends.  The convention schedule did not allow us to talk much or play together, so we agreed to meet back in the Delta.  Sam had experienced a colorful career.  He worked as a carpenter and played music with his brothers.  His music appears on 43 albums.  Some are solo works.  Some are the Mississippi Sheiks and some are collaborative works.  In his later years he gained notoriety touring with such popular groups as Loggins & Messina.

Sam never flew.  He toured all over the USA, but was a committed bus traveler.  A couple of weeks passed and I called Sam at his home in Hollendale, Mississippi.  It was Saturday morning and he asked me to bring my guitar and we’d play a bit.  Sam was a very soft-spoken man of few words.  My girlfriend, Teresa, and I made the first of three visits to Sam’s home.  Sam’s home was a typical “shotgun” three-room house that was so typical in the Delta.  The front room was the living room.  The middle room as the bedroom and the back room was the kitchen.  Often the bathroom was built onto the back porch.  Sam’s home appears in the album cover of the Mississippi Sheik album.  It was immediately clear that at 77 years old, Sam Chatmon had all the right licks.  He had lived the blues, played the blues and earned the right to sing the blues.  He taught me a lot in those three afternoons.  Mainly not to try to keep-up with my elders.

I was attending college in Louisiana at the time, so my trips to the Mississippi Delta were limited.  On one return visit I called Sam on Saturday morning and asked if we could “play”.  Sam’s voice was a little weaker that morning.  He told me sadly that he had buried his wife earlier in the week.  I felt awkward and was trying to find the reverse switch when Sam suggested, “Why don’t you bring your guitar and Ms. Teresa over this afternoon.  I could use the diversion.”  Sam delivered a thick layer of blues that Saturday afternoon that can only come from personal experience.  Sam passed away in 1983 at the age of 86.

I treasure those moments with Sam.  Neither Teresa nor I took a photo of the Saturday afternoon blues sessions, but every time we see the iconic pictures of Sam with his long flowing white beard, his vintage Gibson with that artificial rose around the headstock, the memories come back.

Sam’s Discography

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9 Responses to “Saturday Afternoons with Blues Legend, Sam Chatmon”
  1. Myrdis M. Nichols says:

    This is the highlight of my day looking at my uncle Sam’s picture. I am his niece and I was born and raised in Hollandale Ms. My uncle Sam lived on Sherman Street in Hollandale and he was a pistol(southern word for a an old person with spunk). I would sit with him on his porch and listen to him play the banjo as well as the guitar. I was 12 years old and those were some of the most memorable moments of my life. Thanks for the memories this day.

  2. John Blackie says:

    Damn Dave, that sure was a nice story.



  3. You are 19 at the time you met Sam. I think knowing someone who have lot of experience is a huge privilege. So sad you did not have the chance to take some videos or photos.

  4. I knew Sam and visited him as often as I could. I learned life lessons from being around him. He was much bigger than just his music. A true Gentleman.
    I was honored when his son, Sam,Jr., asked me to sing at his funeral. I miss him still. This Oct. 2, 2009, they will dedicate a Blues Trail Marker to Sam in Hollandale. I’ll be there with bells on! I miss him still.

  5. Dave Sherman says:

    Link to the Blues Trail Dedication

  6. Daryl says:


    I was perusing some Sam Chapmon material online, and came across your column about him. I enjoyed reading about those memories of yours, and it’s interesting that you and I are about the same age, and met Sam around the same time!

    I live in the DC area, but grew up in Mississippi and attended Millsaps College in Jackson, MS…graduating in ’77.

    My daughter is now a college student up in Massachusetts, and I just sent her this email message below…thought you’d enjoy it! She’s a big classic rock fan.

    Daryl Plunk

    letter to my daughter follows:

    Sam Chapmon was one of the original black bluesman who performed beginning in the 1920s and, as such, was a direct influence upon ALL of rock and roll…the Stones, the Beatles…you name it!

    Sam passed away in 1983, at the age of 86. And…back around 1977, when your mom and I were in college together, he traveled from his rural Mississippi town to perform….AT SEVERAL OF OUR COLLEGE PARTIES!

    How’d that happen? Well, a college buddy of mine was from Sam’s hometown, and he arranged it. Sam would take the bus to Jackson, come to the run-down student’s apartment where the party was, and he’d play while we all partied and listened. At the end of the evening, we’d pay him by “passing the hat”.

    Those are great college memories…

    See this YouTube, that has both music and interview footage with him…


  7. Tamsin Bomar says:

    Hi Dave,

    I found this site through a Daryl Plunk search…trying to find Millsaps alumni after 30 years. I also remember those Sam Chatmon parties…I hung out with “older boys” like Daryl’s crowd and that’s how I got to hear Sam. I miss the blues from Miss!

  8. Maxine Henderson says:

    Hey family,

    I am Sam’s great great niece. I was searching up the tree to discover more about this grand Chatmon family. We have sooo! many relatives, I wish we could’ve been at the “Grammy Hall of Fame” to meet one another. Maybe one day!


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  1. […] festival by being mentored by Mr Chatmon when I was 19 years old.  Sam was 78.  You can find the details here.  I frequently reflect on those lessons I learned from Sam.  Being asked to play the festival was […]

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