Sam Lay, Drummer Who Backed Blues Greats and Bob Dylan, Dies at 86

Sam Lay, a robust and virtuosic drummer who performed and recorded with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, was a founding member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and backed Bob Dylan when he went electrical on the Newport Folks Competition in 1965, died on Jan. 29 at a nursing facility in Chicago. He was 86.

His daughter, Debbie Lay, confirmed the demise however mentioned she didn’t know the trigger.

Mr. Lay’s exuberant, idiosyncratic drumming was identified for its double-shuffle groove, which he tailored from the rhythms of the hand claps and tambourine beats he heard within the Pentecostal church he attended whereas rising up in Birmingham, Ala.

“The one method I can describe it’s, you’ve obtained three totally different drummers taking part in the identical beat however they’re not hitting it on the identical time,” Mr. Lay mentioned in “Sam Lay in Bluesland,” a 2015 documentary directed by John Anderson that took its title from an album Mr. Lay launched in 1968.

The harmonica participant Corky Siegel, a longtime collaborator, mentioned the double-shuffle groove was a part of Mr. Lay’s broader skill to do greater than hold the beat.

“He simply made you fly,” Mr. Siegel mentioned in a telephone interview. “He wasn’t held again by the idea of groove and time.” He added: “Individuals suppose he performed loud. No, he performed delicate, however he used the complete dynamic vary, and once you do this, and also you get to a crescendo, it’s highly effective, like a locomotive coming towards you. However with Sam, it was like 5 locomotives.”

After arriving in Chicago in early 1960, Mr. Lay performed in bands led by the harmonica participant and singer Little Walter and the singer Howlin’ Wolf, with whom h recorded songs that turned blues requirements like “Killing Floor,” “The Pink Rooster” and “I Ain’t Superstitious.”

As soon as, after being fined by Howlin’ Wolf for sporting pants and not using a black stripe on them, Mr. Lay argued that nobody may see his pants behind his drum equipment. When their dispute persevered, Mr. Lay pulled a Smith & Wesson gun and held it to Howlin’ Wolf’s face.

Mr. Lay left Howlin’ Wolf to affix the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1963, lured by the prospect of constructing $20 a gig, almost thrice what he had been incomes. Led by Mr. Butterfield on harmonica and vocals, the band — which additionally included the guitarists Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield, the bassist Jerome Arnold and the keyboardist Mark Naftalin — was racially built-in, a rarity on the time, and purchased the blues to a white viewers throughout an intense interval within the civil rights motion.

The band performed on the Newport Folks Competition on July 25, 1965. Hours after their set, Mr. Lay, Mr. Arnold and Mr. Bloomfield had been a part of Mr. Dylan’s backup band when he surprised the viewers by performing an electrical set, which started with a bracing model of his track “Maggie’s Farm.”

Quickly after that, Mr. Dylan requested Mr. Lay to again him on the title monitor of his album “Highway 61 Revisited.” Along with taking part in drums, Mr. Lay performed a toy whistle on the track’s memorable opening. (The organist Al Kooper has mentioned he was the one who introduced the whistle to the studio).

“I blew it and it appeared like a siren,” Mr. Lay informed The Chicago Solar-Occasions in 2004. “Bob mentioned, ‘Try this once more.’ So I did it once more.”

Later in 1965, the Butterfield band’s first album, known as merely “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” was launched. One monitor, “I Acquired My Mojo Working,” featured Mr. Lay on lead vocal.

An sickness prompted Mr. Lay to depart the band in late 1965.

Samuel Julian Lay was born on March 20, 1935, in Birmingham. His father, Foster, a Pullman prepare porter who performed banjo in a rustic band, died when Sam was 17 months outdated. His mom, Elsie (Favors) Lay, cleaned Pullman vehicles.

Rising up, he listened to nation music; as a youngster, he took drumming classes from W.C. Useful Jr., the son of the composer. He dropped out of highschool (which ended his dream of making an attempt to run sooner than the Olympic champion Jesse Owens) and in 1954 moved to Cleveland, the place he labored in a metal mill and began to find his musical path.

At some point, he stopped right into a wine bar after listening to the sound of a harmonica being performed by Little Walter, who requested him to take a seat in when he discovered that he performed drums. Within the late Nineteen Fifties Mr. Lay joined the Thunderbirds, a blues and R&B group.

When Little Walter was shot, Mr. Lay helped nurse him again to well being. As soon as in Chicago, he joined Little Walter’s band. However he didn’t keep lengthy; he was quickly employed by Howlin’ Wolf.

Mr. Lay was a slick dresser who wore elaborate capes and hats and carried a strolling stick. He styled his hair for some time after Little Richard’s. And he introduced his windup eight-millimeter digicam to golf equipment within the Nineteen Sixties. It didn’t have sound, however he captured pictures of Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Buddy Man and others onstage.

“As quickly as Howlin’ Wolf knew {that a} digicam was watching him, you’d suppose he was possessed in some form of method,” Mr. Lay mentioned in Mr. Anderson’s documentary.

Footage he shot was utilized in Mr. Anderson’s movie and in Martin Scorsese’s 2003 public tv sequence, “The Blues.”

In 1966, after he had begun to play with the harmonica participant and singer James Cotton, Mr. Lay heard from Muddy Waters that an enemy of Mr. Cotton’s, who had shot him years earlier than, had simply been launched from jail and was going after him. Mr. Lay rushed to his home, obtained his Colt .45, drove to the membership and ready to defend Mr. Cotton.

However whereas Mr. Lay waited for the gunman (who by no means got here), his gun went off, he told Phoenix New Times in 1999. He shot himself within the groin.

“I’m nonetheless recuperating,” he mentioned within the interview.

In 1969, Mr. Lay was a part of the all-star band, which additionally included Muddy Waters and Paul Butterfield, that recorded the album “Fathers and Sons.” It reached No. 70 on the Billboard chart.

Over the following 50 years, he carried out with Mr. Siegel’s ensembles the Siegel-Schwall Band, Chamber Blues and Chicago Blues Reunion, in addition to main his personal blues band.

However the blues didn’t pay all of Mr. Lay’s payments. For a few years, he moonlighted as a safety guard.

Mr. Lay was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, as a part of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and into the Blues Corridor of Fame three years later.

Along with his daughter, he’s survived by 4 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His spouse, Elizabeth (Buirts) Lay, died in 2017. His son Bobby died inn 2019, and his son Michael died final month.

Mr. Lay didn’t lack self-confidence.

“I don’t know no person on the planet who can observe a band pretty much as good as I can, particularly if it involves blues and that old-time rock ‘n’ roll,” he mentioned in Mr. Anderson’s documentary.

“The key,” he added, “is being attentive to what everybody else is taking part in and protecting your eyes open, and your thoughts.” Sam Lay, Drummer Who Backed Blues Greats and Bob Dylan, Dies at 86

Fry Electronics Team

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