Magic Sam. Period. End of Story.

Oh, you don’t know who he is? I’m not shocked. He’s not named Muddy, or Jimi, or Jimmy, or B.B., or Keith. But none of that matters. His name is Magic and prepare to have your ears blown off.

His real name is Samuel Maghett. Born in Mississippi in 1937, Sam ventured to Chicago to join the West Side blues scene. In the late 19050s he recorded for Cobra Records and gained a reasonably sizable fan base before being drafted into the Army.

Magic Sam playing Earl Hooker’s guitar on Magic Sam’s Boogie — 1969.

He served 6 months in prison after a conviction for desertion, and he was dishonorably discharged. Following his troubles, in 1963, a single called “We’re Feelin’ Good (We’re Gonna Boogie)” gained him a small dose of national attention. He signed with Delmark Records in 1967 and recorded “West Side Soul” and “Black Magic”.

1969 became the turning point in his career. He played the Ann Arbor Blues festival and his electric performance earned him a multitude of bookings around the U.S. and in Europe. His playing style was unique — a rare composite of that brown sound from the Mississippi delta, and the electric intensity of Chicago. The performance that every guitarist needs to see is “Magic Sam’s Boogie — 1969”.

Everything about this performance is plainly insane. Magic Sam has a groove working with his right hand that even accomplished players cannot figure out. Gary Clark, Jr. offers his own twist on Magic Sam in his song “Don’t Owe You a Thang” from his “Gary Clark, Jr. Live” album. Gary noted in a recent interview with Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast, “Yeah, Magic Sam kills it…on Earl Hooker’s guitar, with the flowers. It’s not even his own guitar. Oh, man, (laughs) I love showing people that video.” When asked if he ever figured out Sam’s Boogie, Clark said, “Nah, man. I do one that’s close, but only because I couldn’t figure it out. So I had to settle for what I could do.”

Perhaps not being able to figure out a particular riff and being forced to re-make or re-imagine it in a way that fit your own ability is what has advanced guitar style through the decades. Clark went on to say, “yeah — I like to call that interpretation.”

“Magic Sam had a different guitar sound,” said his record producer, Willie Dixon. “Most of the guys were playing the straight 12-bar blues thing, but the harmonies that he carried with the chords was a different thing altogether. This tune “All Your Love”, he expressed with such an inspirational feeling with his high voice. You could always tell him, even from his introduction to the music.”

Magic Sam never became a household name in the pantheon of blues guitar greats because his life was tragically cut short when he died of a heart attack in December 1969. He leaves us wondering “what could have been”? The sheer force of his potential was on display up until the end of his life.

Enjoy Magic Sam’s Boogie from 1969. Pay close attention and you will notice the wallet sitting on top of the snare drum. Learn more about Magic Sam here.

Now, check out the modernized interpretation from Gary Clark, Jr.

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Entrepreneur, Marketing, and Business Strategy Professional. Adjunct Professor of Business and Entrepreneurship.

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Will Brown

Will Brown

Entrepreneur, Marketing, and Business Strategy Professional. Adjunct Professor of Business and Entrepreneurship.