Many moons ago, I discovered The Crusaders, a groundbreaking jazz-funk fusion band that featured Joe Sample and other great jazz musicians. Their name evolved from The Jazz Crusaders. One of their signature tunes was an upbeat, swingin’ song called “Young Rabbits”. Way cute.
The discovery happened one morning as I got to my workplace and a cassette tape entitled “The Best of the Crusaders” had been carefully placed front and center on my desk. I had only one suspect… Chuck.
Chuck was my boss and a bit of a rebel despite his prestigious managerial position. He sported long, white hair in a conservative defense industry environment and was quick to call out bullsh** when he saw it. He knew that I loved music and shared with me that he used to hang around with Joe Sample, a Crusaders’ founding member and one of the most influential pianists of a generation. Chuck correctly guessed that I was pretty much limited to rock n’ roll, so occasionally he would hand me one of his favorite jazz tapes like Miles Davis as his way of contributing to my personal musical evolution.
Chuck is now long deceased, but I am so grateful for his great spirit and his coolness. (Rest In Peace, Chuck. I love you!) He was responsible for the launch of a whole new musical era for this rock n’ roll snootster that cherished The Who, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles & so on. (Still do, by the way.) Anyhoo, I purchased the Crusaders’ jazz-funk fusion tape and played it over and over and over again. I couldn’t get enough, especially while driving. 😉 I was inspired to cultivate a whole new genre as part of my music collection. Yes, I had now wandered into the “let your brain spaz on jazz” territory of Miles Davis, Larry Carlton, David Brubeck, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones and, of course, Joe Sample’s solo work. There was no turning back.
In the late ’90’s, I had the honor of seeing Joe Sample play at a cozy music venue in Nashville owned by Gibson Guitars called Cafe Milano. I reveled in scoring the primo seat at the bar and sipping a glass of wine to a musical vibe that was pretty much a dream come true. I was amazed at the musical magic this man created with his piano.
My favorite song of the evening was “Hippies on A Corner.” Joe introduced it by telling the story of the event that inspired the song. He was on his way to a gig and was standing on a corner all dressed up in a suit that cost $1 at the Salvation Army store. Some hippies started yelling at him for being part of the “establishment” and for being responsible for all that was wrong in the world today. He didn’t have a nickel in his pocket and was simply on his way to make a bit of money at a gig. Joe’s notes for that song on the CD read, “It was 1964. Standing at Haight & Ashbury, watching the hippies stroll by, proved to be very enlightening. I left that corner with a new vision of myself and how some of the world related to me. ” Interesting story… and the Killer Groove doesn’t hurt 😉
The cover art of “Old Places, Old Faces”, the CD that includes this song, paints the humorous side of a young, innocent Joe taking some abuse from the ticked off ladies that inspired the song. To this day, this CD still ranks as one of my favorite dinner music selections. Talk about setting the perfect background vibe for a romantic dinner…magnifico!
Joe signed autographs after the show and I had a chance to meet him briefly. He was very gracious and kind. I showed him a picture of his old pal Chuck, and Joe asked how he was doing. Joe had the essence of a fine man with class & wisdom. It’s hard to believe I had the chance to experience a legendary player sharing his magic in such a small and cool venue.
Joe died recently at the age of 75. He will go down in history as one of the greats that played with the likes of Miles Davis, Steely Dan, B.B. King, George Benson, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye and many more. Joe has transitioned to a musical venue on the spiritual plateau, but his music will always remain here as testimony to his musical genius. ~Rest In Peace, Joe Sample~