Golden Clef - the ultimate for a musician
Forty six years in showbiz as an active singer/saxophonist and Sam the man has no regrets he chose music for his career and not an academic one. Music had an unexplainable fascination for Sam, the chords coloured his life. No sooner he left college he grabbed the first opportunity that came his way to play sax in the popular swing and dance band of that era- The Manhattans.
"My first booking was with Leonard Franke's band The Manhattans takes me back to 1957 and if I remember right the date was August 2. I was just after college and I had to play the sax, no vocals.
Dougie Meerwald was the vocalist with the band' says Sam as he spooled back to his career beginnings. But through his colourful years he was popular for his characteristic and legendary Sam the Man vocals - sax sounds of his dance band, the Jam-with-Sam series at the Lotus Room Taprobane and now the 'Sing-a-long' sessions which have turned out to be a must for music lovers.
An admirable senior crusader in the music industry, Sam the Man was recognised for his valuable contribution, by the Sunday Observer honouring him with the Golden Clef Award 2002. How does he feel about it?
"Reviving the Golden Clef Award is the greatest impetus for the industry. I'm happy that I was recognised. It is true that when you are an award winner you are giving a push to the music scene, you are spreading the know-how. It is the ultimate. What is more important is that people recognise you as belonging to the cream of the industry.
So it is up to you to deliver the goods especially the young musicians who won awards. The success of singers and musicians depends on the ability to asess your audience, and to play your music so that they can enjoy it and not to get their ears blasted. Are we importing the correct equipment for our indoor stages I wonder?"
Sam the Man who works a regular band gig at the Terrace, Mount Lavinia on Sundays and on the other days at Bentota at the Taj Exotica comments that the music scene is good today provided you are prepared to work.
"Today's young musicians need a commitment and a dedication especially where rehearsals are concerned. I have often disciplined and penalised my musicians if they don't come on time. Then on the other side of the coin, hotels must bear in mind that musicians are trying to earn a living and the hotel must pay the boys a fee or salary to lead a comfortable life." Sam speaks aloud.
When did it all begin to happen for this crusader who is still active on the scene? "In 1961 I led the band Escorts a five piece band with saxophonist Saybhan Samat, and we played regularly at the then happening places the halls at Siri Kotha, Girls Friendly Society, Women's International and at the popular Railway officers hall at Mount Mary.
It was a different scene then. Our repertoire was dance music - only instrumentals - like the cha-cha, samba, waltz, rock'n roll etc. Tony Fernando in 1964, requested me to play for the Jetliners which I did for about an year, keeping the Escorts going. Here I must say that from Tony I learnt all the business acumen of leading a band."
What burst on to the scene subsequently in '66 was the band 'Sam the Man' with a compelling sound of two saxes from Sam and Saybhan, two trumpets - from Neville Peiris and Denzil Lazaraus. Others in the band were Jimmy Peck piano, the Schwalie brothers, Dicky- bass, Errol - lead guitar, Maithri Mervyn de Zilwa - drums, the female glitz Esme de Silva - vocals and Maurice Balasingham - male vocalist. For extra colour the go go girls - in vogue then - Sandra Barrington, Sherine Peck and Asuntha Herft.
They all made up 'Sam the Man' the band that found swift success. Competition was high, it was a common thing for members to move from one band to another. Personnel changed and so Gabo Pieris joined Sam the Man as drummer and Priyanthi Manamperi as vocalist and in the following years by Noeline Mendis (Honter).
Sam is proud of the fact that he drew his influences from leading Sri Lankan musicians. "Clem Croner selected my E flat alto sax and taught me to blow the instrument, Papa Menezes instructed me on tonal control, Edgar Hebber taught me technique and I gathered a general education in music from maestros like pianist Gerry Crake and Jimmy Manuel and saxophonist Mario Manricks. Most of all I learnt the importance of singing the lyrics of songs clearly so that the song could be understood."
Your band members are young musicians and your repertoire is from the '40s to the '80s how do they fit in?
"Young musicians are aware of my repertoire and young musicians have great talent which they are not aware of. Prior to their joining my band I check out their aptitude to handle vocals and the instruments. It is left to a band leader to bring out the talent in the young musicians. After I complete one of my sets, I leave the bandstand and let them handle their sets and make them feel that they are part and parcel of the band.
This is a good training ground for them to become future leaders. It is wrong to think that when we seniors are no longer there - there won't be anybody. There will be musicians to pick up from where we left off."
The 'Sing-a-long with Sam' series which kicked off in September 1998 at the Galle Face Hotel organised by the Y's Men International of Sri Lanka and was a capacity packed event has grown in popularity in our music scene. On Saturday June 7 Sam the Man will be in action reviving nostalgic memories at the BMICH, the event organised by Musaeus College. You have another date on Saturday July 5 at the Holy Family Convent, Dehiwala with Sam and his distinctive Sing-a-long session. So be sure you catch him!
Sunday Observer May 25 2003