We had the good fortune of connecting with Sammy Burke and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sammy, why did you pursue a creative career?
I started playing music in high school. It was mostly straight ahead jazz. Bebop music from Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and the big bands like Count Basie, Buddy Rich, and Louis Bellson. We had a trio (piano, bass, and drums) that was really good. We actually were winning festival awards and I quickly became addicted to the stage.
When it came time to go to college though, the jazz took a back seat to more commercial music as I needed to earn money, and people weren’t paying for jazz bass players unless you were another Jaco or John Patitucci (who ironically was my college classmate). I kept playing some original music but found out that playing covers would help pay the bills. So, for the next 30 years I would play in sports bars, small clubs, and occasional private events.
About 10 years ago, I got the itch to get back on bigger stages. So i worked hard at three things; making myself more versatile as a musician, use social media as a vehicle to re-brand myself as a working musician, and building a new network of contacts that would help me build my brand.
To be more versatile as a musician would require me to get back to basics – practice songs I don’t usually play in cover bands, and develop my skills as a vocalist, guitarist, and whatever else a job may require – even keyboards. And then find the bands that would help me take those first steps away from the comfortable weekend warrior gigs. That’s when I found the tribute scene. Bands that would play an entire library of one artist. I found the task compelling and rewarding, as I did my best to emulate my idols; Roger Waters, Tom Petersson, and yes – Gene Simmons.
I can’t begin to tell others how important – and fragile social media can be. It can be used to build a network of thousands of followers, and dozens of close contacts to help create roots in the music business. It is also very fickle; negative posts can be very detrimental and can set you back on your brand for weeks. I always tell people this one rule of thumb: Never post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.
Finally, the network. If there’s one thing this pandemic has shown us, it’s how fragile your network can actually be. That is why it is so very important to maintain physical face-to-face interactions with the people that can help you build as a musician – or whatever artistic field you choose.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I think as a bassist, I see myself as part foundation of a group and part psychologist. Musically, I’m always looking for that tone that sits perfectly in a mix with drums, guitars, and vocals. A sound that compliments everyone and yet is completely unnoticeable in its own right. But, if it was removed, the silence would be deafening. That is the psychological part of my work; to build the self-esteem of my fellow musicians without them realizing that I’m even there to support them.
I still think the biggest challenge for me is balancing the music with ‘the hang’. I find myself over-reaching and not properly reading the room – especially when I find myself in the presence of some great artists. There are times when I geek out and start talking about gear and that’s not the ‘appropriate’ conversation for the moment. Other times I find myself shying away too much when I actually have a valid point of view and should speak up.
One takeaway I want to leave with others is that while I may be goofy and silly, I’m still always going to be a dedicated artist.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
While I love our music spots like The Whisky, Viper Room, Troubadour, and The Mint, it’s our food that makes this city so good. I love Village Pizzeria in Larchmont Village – Steve Cohen is as authentic New York Jew as it gets, and his pizza is da bomb. I would have to take a road trip through Mulholland and up to Neptunes Net for some chowder. For the best meat, you gotta get to Hae Jang Jong in Koreatown for some Korean BBQ. Need a mid-day snack? Skip Phillippe (unless you really want French Dip on a stale roll) and head two blocks north to Won Kok Dim Sum on Alpine. Order your take out from the side window, and walk over to Elysian Park for the best lunch ever. Oh – for Mexican food, there’s not a bad place around – at least none that I’ve found. Tacos Villa Corona on Glendale is legendary, even Anthony Bourdain raved about it. Personally, I like the Ceviche tostadas at La Estrella in East LA a little more.
Finally, a good LA trip without listening to music under the stars at either the Hollywood Bowl, or even better – the Ford – would just be a wasted trip. I’d suggest heading to Los Feliz first, and grabbing a traditional Italian meal at Palermo on Vermont. Finally, I’ve been digging this little dessert joint on La Brea called Mashti Malone’s. They’ve got a Persian Saffron ice cream that’s heavenly.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My story wouldn’t be my story if it wasn’t for the greatest musical influences in my life. Ron Kobayashi, who took a Ted Nugent album and smashed it against the wall, and then handed me a Count Basie album instead. Mark Manchester, the man who told me to “never not sing”, Mark Cardinal and Chad Patchen (from my cover band Echo Love Chamber), who’ve been more like brothers to me than they’ll ever know. Roger Capps (original bassist for Pat Benatar), who has led me on a wild ride of escapades. John McCloy, who has inspired me more than ever now to get back into playing original music. And then there’s Dave Schulz, my partner in Sam & Dave Productions. This guy actually believes in me! Finally, the folks from the Hollywood music scene including Steve Ferlazzo, Erik Himel, Paulie Z. and Chuck Wright – thanks so much for letting me share the stage with so many of my idols… and one last shoutout to Annette and Derek Frank; these two wonderful people have reminded me time and time again that it’s okay to step out of my comfort zone and reach for something bigger.
Sal Gomez, Rose Guerrerd, Nanci Sauder Ruest, William Greenberg