Joe Sample: One of the Coolest Guys in Music

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 9/16/2014, 8:02 p.m. | Updated on 9/16/2014, 8:02 p.m.
Though he rose to fame some 50 years ago Joe Sample was still one of the coolest guys in music ...

Though he rose to fame some 50 years ago Joe Sample was still one of the coolest guys in music because he loved all genres of music. That love of music allowed him to effortlessly blend funk, blues, jazz, gospel, Latin and Zydeco. On Friday, September 12th the man known to electrify music passed from this world to the next. Joe Sample died at the age of 75 in Houston.

Born Joseph Leslie Sample on February 1, 1939, in Houston. Joe was one of five children. It was as a child when Joe fell in love with music. One of his favorites was Ray Charles on the electric piano, which would be a great inspiration later in Joe’s life. Traveling musicians were always in his home since his other brother played in the Navy band and musicians would stop by his house to get some of his mom’s good Creole cooking. A young Joe also started his love affair with the piano at 5 years old as a student of organist and pianist Curtis Mayo.

While at Phills Wheatley High School Joe’s musical talent really blossomed when he hooked up with Wilton Felder and Nesbert “Stix” Hooper. With their piano, saxophone and drum the three established the group called the Swingsters. Wayne Henderson, Henry Wilson, and Hubert Laws would join the trio after meeting Joe on the campus of Texas Southern University when he studied music. New members meant a new name so the group became the Modern Jazz Sextet. The six friends had quite a following in Houston but it was just the beginning until they made the big move.

Following their dreams, the Modern Jazz Sextet became the Jazz Crusaders as four of them moved from Houston to Los Angeles. Finding success quickly Joe, Wilton, Stix, and Wayne recorded their first recording, “Freedom Sounds,” in 1961. Each man talented in their own way and it was their unique sounds and styles combined that capture the sound of the of the day, hard pop, which is an infusion in jazz music of rhythm and blues, gospel music, and blues.

Although the group found great success they wanted to test the waters as solo artists. Joe grabbed his opportunity in 1969 on the recording of “Fancy Dance,” where he was the featured pianist. As the time and musical interest of the public change the Jazz Crusaders adapted by dropping jazz from their group name and modernizing their sound. Sample also was gaining greater success as a solo artist as a studio musician. If you love Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer,” or Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” then you are a fan of Joe. His days as a studio musician allowed him to work with B. B. King, Steely Dan, Anita Baker, Lalah Hathaway, and many more. But Joe’s music wasn’t just in the realm of jazz it crossed over to hip-hop. The piano accompanied in Tupac Shakur’s “Dear Mama” really makes that track amazing and yes, that’s Joe’s music.