Sam half sings, half speaks in a gently sand-blasted drawl, and it took until 2006 for people to start taking notice. In 1986, a friend asked Sam, then 32, if he wanted to join him on a trip to the mountains of Peru.
Part of Sama€™s ability to focus on the drama within the lives of ordinary people is his small-town upbringing. During that time, Sam played guitar (right-handed, then) in bars for fun and to meet people, particularly pretty girls.
Still in a panic mode, he felt driven, in a nebulous way, needing to recover what he had lost. He suffered phobias, always seeking to keep objects between himself and large store windows, fearing shards of glass that might be hurled by an explosion. Looking back, he realizes that he was suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. In 1998, his sister, musician Chris Baker-Davies, made a record, Southern Wind, and included some of Sama€™s early songs. As one reviewer put it so aptly: a€?Therea€™s a conspiracy between Sam Baker and his studio production team to break your heart.
If those of us living in the New York metropolitan area are lucky, more venue operators here will put this brilliant songwriter to work and wea€™ll see a lot more of him. Sam Bakera€™s awareness and appreciation of the beauty and detail in lifea€™s moments extend to his photography skills.
Clad in a black turtleneck, Sam Baker peers out from the cover of his debut album Mercy, released in 2004. Somewhere in the almost three decades since his near-destruction, in order to move forward, he managed to find some forgiveness for the Shining Path.
Sam, an outdoor-loving, whitewater river guide, said a€?Sure.a€? After hiking ice-capped peaks for six days, they wanted to see Machu Picchu, so they went to Cuzco and got on the tourist train to get there.
In the wake of the explosion, he couldna€™t walk, and the back of his left hand had a channel-like hollow blown out of it.
Hearing his songs played by others made him want to push further, to really learn the craft of songwriting. Wilkins told Sam he knew how he should sound and arranged for Sam to visit Nashville, his recording base.


I saw him perform the song a€?Mennonitea€? from that album in 2013 at a house concert at Kathryn_space in Manhattana€™s East Village. In a€?Ditch,a€? wea€™re treated to a peek inside the mind of a man who lays pipe and is grateful for the work. He felt driven (and still does) to make sense of why his life was spared and why the boy he was talking with died in the blast. Sitting in a small compartment, two abreast, a German couple opposite him and their teenaged son next to him, Sam took no notice of the red rucksack on the shelf above the head of the boya€™s mother seated diagonally across from him.
A pilot rest stop was scheduled on the way, but a young girla€™s mortal injuries caused the flight to proceed directly to San Antonio so her family could see her and she could have her last rites. He also wrote a few love songs, but, as with many a budding songwriter, these were mundane, a€?I love you, you love me, you dona€™t love mea€? affairs. He told one interviewer: a€?The big things in my life have encouraged me to look at the small things. It was real loud a€” there were trucks going by, people were eating and they were dropping plates and stuff. Wilkins and co-producer Tim Lorsch recorded Sama€™s voice, guitar and harmonica on a dozen originals, then layered background instruments and vocals to create Sama€™s brilliant 2004 debut, Mercy.
However, the most affecting of these, from Pretty World, may be a€?Broken Fingers,a€? which he performed live on Harrisa€™s show, a song in memory of that German boy: Forget his face? His cracked, raspy vocal rides the scalpel-sharp quicksilver combination of pedal steel and fiddle.
Larger, more viewable versions of these photographs (and many more, plus his paintings) can be found on the blog page of his website. I felt every room I walked in, every car I rode in, every plane I flew in, was going to blow up. The biggest push came from Morlixa€™s leverage with influential British disc jockey Bob Harris, who played it on his national radio show.
Suddenly, a bomb planted in the rucksack by Shining Path guerrillas went off with the train still in the station, sending shrapnel outward, killing the German family and four others immediately. There was time to travel in those days, so when his friend suggested that fateful trip, Sam eagerly agreed. When his survival was assured, they finally did tendon implants and Sam began rehabilitation.


I would write long pieces, word after word after word.a€? His writing kept improving, but it just wasna€™t good enough.
Sam was still alive, but the explosion severed the main artery and vein in his left thigh and he almost bled to death. It would take 17 reconstructive surgeries and a long time for the gestation to finish and fully emerge, but it did, from a life totally redirected. His left hand was still a mess and there was a cut tendon and a knuckle blown off the right. An operation in a local hospital saved his life, but he developed gangrene and was dying from the damage to his brain and kidneys.
When Sam toured Britain in support of Pretty World, he did a live slot on Harrisa€™ radio show, and told Harris how grateful he was for sending his career to a brand new level. While I was doing that, melodies would come and they would be like a cardinal, a very bright red bird that flies against the window, saying, a€?Pay attention to me. He said: a€?I dona€™t know that you know how instrumental you are in my being here, not just in London, but wherever I am as a writer or a player. He laughed and said, a€?That hand just went up all by itself, didna€™t it?a€? Sama€™s warmth and humor made it a special night. It would be left-handed picking this time, since those fingers would never again finger frets. By the late a€™80s he had gotten a guitar, strung it upside down and learned to fret with his right hand. Sam added, a€?Not only that, ita€™s killing your favorite children.a€? Knowing what to take out is important. I was shocked.a€? Harris acknowledged how eager he was to hear someone Morlix had rhapsodized over, and subsequently, how much he loved Sama€™s work. The power of a€?noa€? when I leave stuff out makes the power of a€?yesa€? much more compelling.




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