AUSTIN DAZE: What moved you to pick up the trombone?
BIG SAM: Well, they call me Big Sam and I was always big as a kid. I was playing basketball—I thought I would be a basketball star one day, you know? But that didn’t work out because I was too big for my age group. So after playing for years and years and years my agent finally said that I was too tall to play in that league but wasn’t able to play with the older kids so I had to find something else to do and I was in middle school and I said, “Well, I’m going to join the marching band”–just to find something to do, you know? I went to the band leader and said I wanted to play and he asked me, “Well what do you want to play?” And I said, “Well, whatever you need people on.” And he said, “The trombone.” And I said, “What’s that?” Ever since that day I’ve been trying to get better and better.
AD: When did you know that this was going to be your path?
BS: I knew this was going to be my path by my junior year of high school. In tenth grade my mom bought me this CD called Ears to the Wall by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. That was the album that made me decide I wanted to play jazz. Before that, I would just do marching bands in schools and in streets and stuff like that. But my tenth grade year when I heard this band, I was like, “Man this band is killer, I want to play with this band one day in my life or have my own band that is something like this.” Three years later I was playing with them. It turned out that the trumpet player’s daughter was a friend of mine the whole time and I never knew who her father was. When I met him everything just worked out. I met him at her house for her birthday party and we started talking. I told him if he ever needed a trumpet player to give me a call and he did. And then we went on tour with Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule, Dave Matthews, Steve Winwood. The first concert I did with them I was like 18 or 19 and it was in front of 20,000 people. It was us and Widespread Panic. And I just sat there in awe because I didn’t know music could be like this. I thought you just went from club to club to club. I didn’t know it was like that. And I was like, “Man I’ve got to stick with this and if I don’t I’ve got to do my own thing.” But ever since I heard that CD I knew that was what I wanted to do for a living. And now I’m blessed enough to be doing my own thing. I started off having pretty much the same vibe as Dirty Dozen–it’s still in there somewhere because we all have the New Orleans sound. Actually, I just wrote a song called, “Dozenland”. It wasn’t on purpose, I had this song and was like, “What should I name it?” It sounded like Dirty Dozen, so I named it “Dozenland”.
Dirty Dozen taught me everything I know today. They are the main group that really pushed me.
AD: Can you compare the Austin music scene to the New Orleans music scene?
BS: Both music scenes are so strong–and I’m from New Orleans. I get the same love here that I get in New Orleans. It’s like a tie. Both music scenes are really happening and both music scenes have killer bands. You all have a lot of bands from New Orleans down here now, you know? In New Orleans you get the obvious New Orleans sound and here you might have more blues and rock bands but otherwise it’s the same. Everybody wants to have a good time, everybody wants to party. We have Bourbon Street, you have Sixth Street. It’s like the same vibe. No matter how different the music they have the same feeling. And that’s a good feeling; that’s a good thing.
AD: What makes a really great show for you?
BS: The crowd just going crazy the whole time. We’ll do some shows and…actually no, they are all pretty much crazy. Even this one show, we were playing for senior citizens and by the second song all these people were on their feet and line dancing. It was cool. We’ve never had a show where people weren’t just dancing at all.
AD: Do you ever get nervous in front of big crowds?
BS: No. I love it. That gives me a rush. I get so excited. I worry about writing new music and putting it out there. Tonight we did four new songs that I’m working on for my third album that should be coming out in March. It’s always nerve wracking to put the new stuff out there because you wonder, “Are they going to like it? I hope they respond well to it.” They are songs people never heard before. But you just put yourself out there because you are the artist. You never know. But luckily, everybody loved it. It was good.
AD: Do you write all your own music?
BS: Yeah, I write everything. I do a few covers here and there but mostly my whole show is all originals. We didn’t do any covers songs really, tonight. Even at ACL everything was mostly originals.
AD: Your audience is such an important part of the experience and the energy that you give to them is incredible. Has that been in you since you started or was it something you learned along the way?
BS: It’s just a New Orleans thing. When I was playing with Dirty Dozen, in all those shows, you aren’t actually the front man but you still had a position of a front man because you were working the mic and working the crowd. All of that comes naturally—I don’t have to think about it and I never did especially when I was playing with Dirty Dozen doing 300 dates a year. It’s non stop. Everything just rubs off on you. It’s like when you live in a certain city or a country for a long time you begin to pick up their accent and things like that. Everything just rubbed off: how to read the crowd; knowing what music to play for that crowd. A set isn’t going to be the same set every time. Depending on the crowd, I might want to do a slow set—but that’s very rare. I’ve done it maybe two times since I’ve had the band in the past six years. But it worked then and the crowd would get up and slow dance.[fa:p:id=1571527044,j=r,s=s,l=p]AD: How did it feel to be asked to play ACL?
BS: Man, it felt so good. I’ve waiting to do a big festival like ACL for awhile now. My band has been together six years now and it’s pretty hard to get the big festivals. I’ve been waiting for something like this to come through. This is the first major festival we’ve done. We do Jazz Fest and Voodoo Fest but this is the first thing outside of New Orleans that we were able to jump on. For the past six months I’ve been like, “I can’t wait, I can’t wait.” And then we got to ACL and the crowd was loud. From the stage, I don’t know how it was from the house, but from the stage the crowd was louder than us. They were just screaming out. We were like, “We have to play harder.” But I love it.
AD: What wisdom have you learned in the music business that you would pass on to other musicians?
BS: stay true to yourself. No matter what you are doing or how you are doing it. If you think that somebody else thinks it sucks, don’t worry about it. As long as you think that it is good and you feel in your heart that it is good, do what you are doing and you’ll succeed in anything. That’s pretty much all you can do. There’s no other way to do it. Do what you do and make sure you do it well.
AD: What’s next?
BS: My next show is another festival in Charleston, South Carolina and then New York City. We’ve got a bunch of stuff coming up. The band is moving; it’s happening the way that it should be, thank God.