Steve Samuels influenced the way I approach and appreciate music and how I run a band and conduct myself as a band member. Though we were at odds often I always loved and respected him immensely. He often would just as soon wring my neck.

FYI Steve was born with a left arm that extended just past his elbow. Legend has it he and his brother Andy ( a very successful talented guitarist in the 70s rock group Redwing) only had one guitar growing up so Steve had to learn by turning the guitar upside down with the high strings up top a la Jimi Hendrix. Along with having one paw. He’d pick with a calloused elbow section. And very well, thank you.

Nite Owl Express

At sixteen I started a band with Steve Samuels in Sacramento called the Nite Owl Express. He was already a legend in Sacramento in 1970 but he saw something in The Kid which is what he called me. I was so stoked and honored to be in a band with him but I was not afraid of him. Maybe I should have been.

I just played harmonica then and but soon got a saxophone and Steve taught me how to play Albert King solos by the numbers. Like he would say notice how Albert bends the 3rd down and then up to the 5. Riffs. Learn riffs. It changed everything for me. How I approached music and solos.

One night he also held a switchblade knife to my throat for not helping load out the Hammond B3 organ after a gig one night. I was talking to girls and he was livid. I’ll never forget we were in the middle of the street, 3 am, yelling at each other and neither of us backing down. As he held the blade to my neck I yelled go ahead cut me and his eyes sparkled and he smiled that crooked smile that could melt ladies’ hearts and said just help out next time… ya fuck.

They broke the mold after “Lefty”. Maybe an inappropriate nickname but one he accepted and probably loved. He also was the one to tell me I’d got the call to play harmonica on my first paid recording session ever in San Francisco with David (Fraser) and the Four Skins.

It was at Funky Jack’s in the Haight Ashbury district. He looked pissed but he was proud of me. Steve always looked pissed off when anything involved me. He was a true original and a badass motherfucker WITH ONLY ONE PAW!!!

He ended up in LA too and eventually became a guitarist in the band of legendary harp player William Clark.

Steve Samuels and David Fraser
Steve Samuels and David Fraser
(circa 1971)

Steve died on June 19, 2014.

Steve Samuels Memorial
From Steve’s Memorial

I loved him and I will miss him… and never forget him. RIP Lefty.

Check out his playing and singing on the video below. It will blow your mind.

15 comments

Steve turned me on to The Fender Super Reverb and let me plsy through his Super a a Party in the holss one yeasr. He helped me get a sound with my 58 Black Stratocaster.

Hey Angel, Consider yourself very blessed and lucky. If Steve felt an honest, considerate vibe that someone was really trying and working on getting better at the blues or your axe he was very generous with his knowledge and time.

I was lucky enough to work with Steve many times in L.A. What a pleasure, what a treat. What great music. Lucky for me, we always got along great.

Hey Paul, Yeah we were all lucky and the better for hanging and playing with Steve. I’m guessing if ya always got along with Steve ya never tried to drive or take his bottle of whiskey w/o permission!! LOL!!! I’m happy for ya and thank you so much for your input. Best , Jimmy Z

Hey Paul, I just ran across Steve Samuels, checking out some videos of William Clark. What a talent, and such a unique sound! Sorry I never got to see him when I was in L.A.

First time I saw Steve was either at Crabshaw Corner or the Parpow Palace I forget. He was so fluid with his playing and singing.. I was probably 15 or 16 at the time. I thought “Wow if this guy can do it so well with his limb disability, then maybe I could be a professional player someday!” His performances really inspired me to not give up and keep practicing . RIP Steve Samuels

Hey Kenny, You and I must have been brushing shoulders without knowing it in the shadows of The Parapow Palace or Crabshaw Corner in 1970-72 which I’m sure you know was named after Elvin Bishop the Original Pigboy Crabshaw!!! hahahaha! As fate would have it I was fortunately not only schooled in the blues and being in a band by Lefty but schooled in living life on the edge. I’m so proud to be an alumni of the most incredible stable of Sacramento musicians who have left an indelible mark on the musical world stage. Your self of course included. Love ya and miss ya Kenny and I’m very proud of you. FYI I’m much improved on playing standards then our last outing!!! LOL!!! All the best, Jimmy Z

Steve enthralled me in and scared the crap out of me at the same time–especially when we were making liquor store runs w me on the back of his Triumph one-banger Motorcycle. How did he shift w one arm?
I don’t know but we both lived and made it back with the whiskey. He taught us all a lot. BB King Live at the Regal and Albert’s Born Under a Bad Sign hit me like cattle prods at the tender age of 19. RIP Lefty.

Bob!!!!! “… enthralled and scared the crap out me at the same time…” Hahahahahhaha!!! That pretty much sums it up!!! You and the rest of the Four Skins were Gods in the early 70s Sacramento music scene. To this day my first paid session and maybe my first recording session ever was with David And the Four Skins in San Francisco in 1971.Indelible memories in the Haight Ashbury district. I remember when we were just running the song down and I was blowing my ass off every take as if they were recording then hearing the engineer saying can someone tell the harp player we’re just getting sounds.I went out and bought a bottle of wine then. I have the single still on Breakaway Records and what is weird and scary is I’m not playing much different now than when I was then at 16. Ok… a little different subtle changes but you know… love ya Bob and hope to see ya in Nashville soon someday. I’ve been fortunate to have played with Dale a few times in the last few years. Best,Jimmy Z

Bob:

I was a student at UC Davis from 1966 to 1969 and I used to love to watch you and Steve play. I have fond memories of those years. You had that red SG and stood up erect with big red hair. You and Steve were an excellent contrast. I believe Ed Jones played bass at least some of the time, all 6 ft 5 inches and 125 pounds of him.

I just loved to hear Steve play, he just had “it”, the right note, it was never forced. In the ensuing 50 plus years, I have never forgotten that sound, I have tried in my own meager way to emulate it.

By the way, I am quite sure Steve’s motorcycle was an old Triumph 350 twin. We all did some crazy things back then but riding on the back of Steve…

I saw a few years ago that Steve had passed. It saddened me, I would have liked to drive up to LA and just say hi..

Today, I was looking for some links to share about Steve and I found this..

May Steve be at peace.

It was an extraordinary journey with Steve Samuels. As I’ve said before and in my blog I would not be the musician or person I am today without that journey. So y’all gotta suffer. LOL!!! I loved going to Davis and most likely sitting in with Four Skins at some college pub. I remember seeing Muddy Waters at the college auditorium in 70 or 71. Great time. Z

Last night I watched a video interview with guitarist Rick Holmstrom, who mentioned Steve Samuels — in high regard.

Sacto. native here. I once (1979?) bought an MXR Phase 90 from the Four Skins. I think it was a Wah Sound? Anyway, many moons….

Hey Bob, In my humble opinion Rick Holmstrom is one of most badass creative, soulful guitar players. And I’ve been fortunate to play live and in the studio with what most would agree are the world’s best. Rick and I only know each other briefly and I happened to walk in Cafe Boogaloo with my horn and harps over a decade ago and I was mesmerized and blown away. He was gracious enough to let me jam not knowing me from Adam. I’m happy for anything good comes his way and The Staple Singers seems like a match made in heaven. Z

Steve was a year ahead of me in high school, and starting in the summer after he’d graduated, and through my senior year, he’d come by and we’d be in my converted-garage bedroom, playing and singing to Dylan, Van Ronk, Odetta, Von Schmidt. Steve was just getting into what would become his life’s path…as a guitarist.

An interesting path, since he was born without a left forearm. He had a small nub just below the elbow, with which he picked the strings. He’d play until that nub was raw & bloody, then be back the next night to do it again. Then, I went off to VN. I found Steve when I came home three years later; it was him who first played BB King’s “The thrill is gone” for me. He was mostly into that vein back then. Within a year after I’d returned, I was heading to Canada, and didn’t ever again see him. Somewhat recently, I tried to find him, only to learn he’d passed; to my great sadness.

However, I was thrilled to know my friend had fulfilled his dream, and had actually become a renowned artist.

He was one of kind. He changed and directed my life. Even though he probably had regrets after learning of my later success thanks to him!!! LOL!!! jz

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