The Samples

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The Samples
The Samples in concert, September 25, 1993
Background information
Origin Boulder, Colorado, United States
Genres Alternative rock, jam rock, reggae, folk
Years active 1987–present
Labels Arista, What Are?, MCA, Apache
Members Sean Kelly
Will James
Ben Loshin
Trevor Huster
Randy Hetherington
Past members Andy Sheldon
Jeep MacNichol
Al Laughlin
Charles Hambleton
Kenny James
Jared Johnson
Sam Young
Alex Matson
Rob Somers
Len Mooney
Tom Askin
Brian "Snowman" Powers
Dan Blondin
Chat Churbuck
Karl Dietel
Billy Mutchler
Rich Ross
Dave Preston-Amidei
John Schaller

The Samples is a band formed in Boulder, Colorado in early 1987. The band's name came from the members' early sustenance of food samples from the local King Soopers grocery store.[1] The music has been described as "reggae influenced rock/pop" and a cross between The Police and the Grateful Dead.[2] The founding members were Sean Kelly (Guitar/Vocals), Charles Hambleton (Guitar), Andy Sheldon (Bass/Vocals), Jeep MacNichol (Drums/Vocals), and Al Laughlin (Keyboards/Vocals).


Singer/songwriter Sean Kelly and guitarist Charles Hambleton met in 1985 in Burlington, Vermont at an open mic called The Sheik, leading to the formation of the band Secret City in 1986.[3] After playing together in Burlington for a year, the pair moved to Boulder, CO and met up with Andy Sheldon, a friend and member of a prior band with Kelly. Jeep MacNichol joined the band as drummer after responding to an ad posted at the University of Colorado. After playing around the area, Al Laughlin saw the group perform at a frat party and asked if the group needed a keyboardist, an offer the band accepted.[4] The band played their first show on April 19, 1987 at Tulagi's, a Boulder venue.

The Samples embarked on their first national tour in the summer of 1988 and gradually gained fame. The band played mostly to college audiences and allowed their music to be spread through bootlegging. Their debut self-titled album The Samples was independently recorded with producer Walt Beery and was released on their own label in early 1989. The album combined reggae, pop-rock, and bluegrass with a tight and polished sound that was often compared to The Police. Following the release, they signed with Arista Records and re-released the same album in May. However, the relationship with Arista was short-lived as irreconcilable differences quickly came up from the label's desire to change their sound. The band terminated their contract with Arista and continued to tour unsigned. In 1991, Hambleton left the band. He later appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean and was associate producer of the film The Cove.[5]

The Samples continued to tour and released their own self-published EP, Underwater People, composed of both studio-recorded and live tracks. The band soon joined the newly formed independent label, W.A.R.? - What Are Records? and released No Room in 1992. The album was produced by Jim Scott and showed the band's continuing growth as songwriters and musicians. Many of the songs on No Room became among their most well-known, including "When it's Raining", "Did Ya Ever Look So Nice", and "Taking Us Home". The album's sound blended pop sensibility with a mix of folk, reggae, jazz, and rock that would become their signature. Sean Kelly, as the main songwriter, wrote songs about nature and the environment giving the band an "eco-friendly" reputation. Sheldon's thumping bass, MacNichol's Stewart Copeland-inspired beats and Laughlin's off-beat reggae chords supported Kelly's inspired songwriting and Sting-like vocals. They became a success throughout the early 1990s, selling over one million copies of their catalogue based on a genuine grass roots campaign. Their live shows helped them on the college circuit selling out venues in college towns across the country.

In 1993, The Samples released The Last Drag, produced by Marc DeSisto. At the time of its release, the band considered it to be a reinvention of itself. This album marked a shift in their sound to a more guitar-driven, pop-oriented approach. Though elements of reggae and world music still appeared in many tracks, songs such as "Streets in the Rain" and "Everytime" featured more streamlined productions and opened the band to wider audiences. It also included singing and songwriting contributions from MacNichol and Laughlin for the first time on a studio album. Around this time, the band headlined some of the H.O.R.D.E. tour shows in 1993 and 1996 and they shared the bill with big names such as The Allman Brothers Band, Blues Traveler, and Phish. On their own tours, many up and coming bands opened up for them including Dave Matthews Band, Hootie & the Blowfish, and Lisa Loeb. The success included television performances on The Tonight Show and House of Blues. The band followed in the direction of The Last Drag on 1994's Autopilot, produced by Walt Beery who also became their manager around this time. The name was chosen after the band noticed that they were on "Autopilot" through most of the sessions; non-stop touring had seasoned them as musicians and made for an easy live tracking experience. In addition to capturing the band's collective sound, Autopilot was sometimes referred to as a "solo project within the band" - many songs heavily focus on each member's distinct approach to songwriting.

In 1996, The Samples signed with MCA Records and released Outpost, their fifth studio album. It featured a heavier sound and included re-recordings of "Did You Ever Look So Nice" and "Birth of Words". Although it was their most expensive album to record, costing over $300,000, the band has frequently expressed their disappointment with the result. This was due to inconsistent guidance from label personnel and high creative tensions within the band. Because of a buyout, MCA was experiencing financial difficulties and significant corporate reshuffling, and as a result, many small or recently signed bands were dropped from the label that year. The Samples' contract with MCA was subsequently terminated. Laughlin was not present throughout much of the Outpost recording sessions and tour due to his recovery from a heroin addiction, and he departed the band for good in 1997. Disagreement over direction during the Outpost sessions and the desire to start a solo career led to MacNichol also leaving shortly thereafter. MacNichol would later release three grunge-influenced albums under the name "Jeep", as well as his current reggae/dub project "Mr. Anonymous".

The Samples promptly reformed with new members Kenny James, Alex Matson, and Rob Somers, and rejoined What Are Records? to release Transmissions from the Sea of Tranquility in 1997, a live album with some tracks recorded on tour and others recorded at an empty venue. The new lineup led to the band developing a mellower sound echoing Kelly's folk-rock influences from the 1970s. Studio albums The Tan Mule and Here and Somewhere Else followed in 1998 with new drummer Sam Young. The band began to release albums independently, beginning with 2001's "Return to Earth". In 2003, Andy Sheldon left the band. Since then, there have been numerous member changes with the exception of Sean Kelly as frontman and only remaining original member. Financial troubles plagued the band following the turnover of several members, but they returned in 2004 with the mostly fan-funded "Black and White", and in 2005 with "Rehearsing for Life".

The Samples original lineup at Mile High Music Festival 2010 with (left to right) Sean Kelly, Jeep MacNichol, John Popper, and Charles Hambleton

In 2008, an announcement appeared on The Samples's website indicating that the band was unlikely to continue. However, Kelly resumed playing shows under The Samples name with new members in 2009. The original five-piece lineup reunited for a one-time show at Mile High Music Festival in 2010. The newest lineup played the Denver Day of Rock in 2011 and have continued to tour with many more dates planned for the future.

A biopic documentary about the band titled The Best Band You've Never Heard was produced in 2012 by Besame films.[6] It is currently only available on YouTube.[7]

The song "Could It Be Another Change" from the band's debut album was used in the 2012 film The Perks of Being a Wallflower.[8]

In June 2013, The Samples returned to the studio to begin working on a new album.[9] Their eleventh studio album, America, was released New Year's Day, 2014. The album features contributions from Richie Furay and SHEL.[10]



Studio albums[edit]

  • The Samples (May 1989)
  • No Room (April 22, 1992)
  • The Last Drag (September 24, 1993)
  • Autopilot (September 13, 1994)
  • Outpost (July 16, 1996)
  • The Tan Mule (1998)
  • Here and Somewhere Else (July 28, 1998)
  • Return to Earth (April 10, 2001)
  • Black & White (March 9, 2004)
  • Rehearsing for Life (November 29, 2005)
  • America (January 1, 2014)

Live albums[edit]

  • Live At Deerfield Academy [Official LIVE Bootleg] (1993)
  • Transmissions from the Sea of Tranquility [LIVE] (September 23, 1997)
  • Seventeen [LIVE] (October 7, 2003)
  • Instant Live: The Paradise – Boston, MA, 4/20/03 [LIVE] (October 14, 2003)
  • Live in Colorado [LIVE] (May 4, 2004)


  • Underwater People (November 30, 1991)
  • Still Water EP (1993)
  • Sparta (November 7, 2000)
  • Landing on the Sidewalk (November 7, 2000)
  • Anthology in Motion, Vol. 1 (August 13, 2002)
  • Very Best of the Samples 1989–1994 (November 16, 2004)
  • Too Many Years assorted artists to benefit Clear Path International (August 2005)
  • B Sides and Outtakes (February 22, 2011)
  • Lullaby Pond (February 22, 2011)
  • The Perks of Being A Wallflower Original Soundtrack (September 18, 2012)


  1. ^ [1][dead link]
  2. ^ Thomas, Stephen. "The Samples". Allmusic. Retrieved 2012-06-30. 
  3. ^ "Musical Family Tree! van The Samples op Myspace". Retrieved 2012-06-30. 
  4. ^ "The Samples Biography". 2007-05-27. Retrieved 2012-06-30. 
  5. ^ "The OPS Team". The Cove Movie. Retrieved 2012-06-30. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "'Perks Of Being A Wallflower' Soundtrack Tracklist Revealed (EXCLUSIVE)". 2012-08-17. Retrieved 2012-10-25. 
  9. ^
  10. ^

External links[edit]