Sam Lay

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Sam Lay
Birth nameSamuel Julian Lay
Born(1935-03-20)March 20, 1935
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
DiedJanuary 29, 2022(2022-01-29) (aged 86)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
GenresChicago blues, jazz, rock
Instrument(s)Drums, vocals
Years active1957–2022

Samuel Julian Lay (March 20, 1935 – January 29, 2022) was an American drummer and vocalist who performed from the late 1950s as a blues and R&B musician alongside Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Paul Butterfield, and many others. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

Life and career[edit]

Samuel Julian Lay was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on March 20, 1935.[1][2][3] He began his career in 1957, as the drummer for the Original Thunderbirds. He soon after became the drummer for the harmonica player Little Walter.[4]

In 1960, he became the regular drummer for Muddy Waters, and remained in Waters's band until 1966.[4] In that time he also began recording and performing with prominent blues musicians, including Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Eddie Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, Bo Diddley, Magic Sam, Jimmy Rogers, and Earl Hooker.[5] The recordings Lay made during this time, along with Waters's album Fathers and Sons, recorded in 1969, are considered to be among the definitive works of Waters and Wolf.[citation needed]

In 1966, Lay joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and recorded and toured extensively with them.[5] Bob Dylan used Lay as his drummer when he introduced electric rock at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Lay also recorded on Dylan's track "Highway 61 Revisited",[4] and may have provided the siren whistle Dylan famously uses on the track.[6]

Lay's drumming can be heard on over 40 recordings for Chess Records, with many notable blues performers.[4] He toured the major blues festivals in the US and Europe with the Chess Records All-Stars.

In the late 1980s Lay was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, in Memphis. He has also been inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame, in Los Angeles, and the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, in Cleveland. He was nominated eight times for the coveted W. C. Handy Award for Best Instrumentalist, including a nomination in 2005.

Lay made two albums with his own band, released by Appaloosa Records and Evidence Records, and two recordings for Alligator Records with the Siegel-Schwall Band.[4] His own album, Sam Lay in Bluesland, released in 1969 by Blue Thumb Records, was produced by Nick Gravenites.[7]

He was nominated in 2000 for a Grammy Award for his performances on the CD Howlin' Wolf Tribute. He was honored by the Recording Academy in January 2002 with a Legends and Heroes Award for his significant musical contributions. He was prominently featured in the PBS television documentary History of the Blues, broadcast in seven episodes, produced by the Academy Award–winning director Martin Scorsese. Lay shot many home movies of fellow blues performers in small Chicago venues in the late 1950s and 1960s,[8] parts of which were included in History of the Blues and the WTTW television production Record Row, by the filmmaker Michael MacAlpin.

In 2009, Lay worked alongside Johnnie Marshall.[2] In 2014, filmmaker John Anderson made the feature film Sam Lay in Bluesland,[9] a documentary detailing Lay's life.

Lay was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, in 2015.[10]

Lay died at a nursing facility in Chicago on January 29, 2022, at the age of 86.[1][11]

Selected discography[edit]

As a band leader

  • Sam Lay in Bluesland (Blue Thumb Records, 1969 [BTS 14])

With Paul Butterfield

With Carey Bell

With Bob Dylan

With Lightnin' Hopkins

With Howlin' Wolf

With Magic Sam

With Muddy Waters

With the Siegel–Schwall Band


  1. ^ a b Sandomir, Richard (2022-02-05). "Sam Lay, Drummer Who Backed Blues Greats and Bob Dylan, Dies at 86". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-02-05.
  2. ^ a b Bob L. Eagle; Eric S. LeBlanc (May 2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. ABC-CLIO. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-313-34424-4.
  3. ^ Gray, Michael (2006). The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 401–402. ISBN 0-8264-6933-7. OCLC 67346197.
  4. ^ a b c d e Erlewine, Michael. Sam Lay biography at AllMusic
  5. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (1995). The Guinness Who's Who of Blues (Second ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 230. ISBN 0-85112-673-1.
  6. ^ Glover, Tony (1998). The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert (booklet). Bob Dylan. Columbia Records.
  7. ^ "Sam Lay – Sam Lay In Bluesland (1969, Vinyl)". Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  8. ^ Sam Lay Blues Collection Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine at Historic Films
  9. ^ "Sam Lay In Bluesland". Retrieved 2017-03-16.
  10. ^ "The Paul Butterfield Blues Band Biography | The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum". 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2016-05-23.
  11. ^ O'Donnell, Maureen (January 31, 2022). "Legendary Drummer Sam Lay Dead at 86", Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 31, 2022

External links[edit]