Larry Donn's Rockabilly Days - Sammy Creason

Rockabilly Days

Rockabilly Days
Sammy Creason

A phone call from Joe Lee gave me the shocking and saddening news that Sam had died in Nashville. I immediately called his sister, Susie, who told me he had suffered an aneurism (a swelling of a blood vessel) in his brain while at work. He was immediately taken to a hospital where he died within a few hours. If you are a regular reader of "Rockabilly Days", you may recall some of the many times I've mentioned him in this space. His brother, Gary played with my band in '58, and was the drummer on a session at Sun in August of that year. Gary also played on my ill-fated session for Billy Lee Riley and Roland James' Rita label in the early 50's.

Benny and Scotty Kuykendall and I had always thought that we were the first band Sammy played with, but a recent conversation with Gary cast considerable doubt on our position. Gary was playing with Ray Coble and the JazzKatz in '58, and suffered a flat tire on the way to a venue one night. Being almost late and only a short distance from the place, he and Buddy Adams, the bass player (later with Bobby Brown 7 Curios for many years) left the car and ran the remaining distance. While running, he stepped half on the edge of the pavement and half on the verge, which was a few inches lower, twisting his foot and breaking some small bones. It was very painful, but he played the full night, and didn't know he had fractures until a visit to the doctor the next day. The following night, and for several weeks thereafter, Sam took Gary's place with The JazzKatz. I know this because I was there the night Gary broke his foot. Ray Coble was a friend of mine, and I occasionally went along for the ride. I distinctly recall Ray being concerned about a drummer for the following night, and Gary reassuring him, that Sam could do the job, although he had never played with a professional band before.

However, we do have the honor of being the first to force him to do a drum solo. We were playing the C&R Club near Trumann, Arkansas, probably in late '58, and I asked Sam to do a solo. He had only been playing a short time, and insisted that he couldn't do a solo. We played one of those pieces where everybody gets to do a short solo ("Mama Don't Allow No Music Playin' In Here' or some such), and when it was time for the drums, Sam was grinning at me and continuously shaking his head from side to side to indicate that he was not going to do it. I yelled for him to "take it", and being somewhat of a trouper even at that young age, he gave it a shot with a rhythmic "Caravan"-type beat on the floor tom. Long drum solos were all the rage then, so we left the stage despite his yelling "no, no, no" and "I can't do this". His drums were at one end of the narrow, curved stage, and I walked around to that end and began coaching him by offering suggestions based on what I had seen his brother Gary do. After a couple of minutes he had it by the tail, and I walked up to the bar to listen. He played on for about ten minutes, then yelled for us to come up and finish the song. We didn't, and he soon finished it himself with a magnificent series of single-stroke rolls and cymbal crashes, then gave a yell, threw his drumsticks across the stage and collapsed over the drums. A few years ago while investigating some old tapes, I ran across a drum solo he did in late 59' or early '60 at a rehearsal. The "Rockin' Love" cut on my Collector CD was recorded the same night.

Sam played with Sonny Burgess and myself for a few months in early '61, but being in the high school band, he was required to play at all school functions, which occasionally interfered with our schedule, so we hired another drummer. After finished school, he moved to Memphis and worked for Ray Brown's booking agency for a while. Somewhere along the line, we both worked with a band called The Spyders. After I left the group, they became The Tarantulas and had a chart record with an instrumental called surprisingly "Tarantula". After illness kept Bill Black form appearing with The Bill Black Combo (a brain tumor eventually killed him in October 1965), The Tarantulas became The Bill Black Combo and, with the addition of Reggie Young and a couple more musicians, toured with The Beatles on their first trip to America in 1964. After that, Sam played awhile with Tony Joe White (Polk Salad Annie', which should actually be "Poke Sallit Annie"), and once appeared on the "Tonight" show with Johnny Carson, American television's popular late-night talk show. He was nominated at least twice in the drummer category of "Playboy" magazine's Jazz and Pop Poll in the late 60s or early 70's.

Eventually, he and some of the musicians he knew formed a group called The Dixie Flyers, and moved to Miami to work as a studio band for Atlantic Records. The band included Mike Utley, Charlie Freeman, Tommy McClure and possibly another one or two that I don't remember. They recorded with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, and Sam also worked with a wide variety of artists that included B. J. Thomas, Brook Benton, Jimmy Buffet, Sam The Sham, Dr. John, Sam & Dave, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, Charlie Rich, Dottie West, Junior Parker and Ted Nugent. Sometime in the early '70s the band hooked up with Rita Coolidge and she married Kris Kristofferson. After the divorce, Sam remained with Kris for many years. He appeared in several movies, one of which was a truck-driver story called "Convoy", He was one of the 'friends of Jesus in the chartreuse micro-bus' as described in C W McCall's song which inspired the movie. One of my many cousins was also in the picture. His name was Bill Foster (real name Bill Coontz) and he played an old driver whose CB 'handle' was "The Iguana". He died about six months after finished "Convoy", ending a long career as a movie stunt man and actor.

Sam had been living in Boston for several years, working for Wells Fargo company and playing with Kris Kristofferson. A few years ago, as Kristofferson was performing less and making more movies, he began to think about moving to Nashville to do sessions. Instead, he took a job in Memphis, managing the Wells Fargo office there, and joined Jerry Lee Lewis' band. I didn't know he had moved to Nashville after that, but I assume he was still planning to work in the recording studios there.

Sam was a classic 'never meet a stranger' type. He was friendly to everybody he met, and always had a big smile ready to flash at the slightest provocation. In a way, he was partly responsible for "Honey Bun" getting recorded in early '59. We were to play, along with Benny and Scotty, at The Clover Club, near Swifton, Arkansas. Some sort of unexpected school activity required Sam's presence, and we couldn't find another drummer, so we decided to do the Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two act, and hope the patrons bought it. Unfortunately, there were no patrons. We talked to the bartender for an hours or so, and decided to go home. On the way, we stopped at Bob King's B&I Club to see why the parking lot was full, and discovered Sonny Burgess was playing there, fresh back from a tour with Johnny Cash. We were invited to play a few while the band was on break, then introduced to Arlen Vaden, which led to the session and release of "Honey Bun" on Vaden Records. If Sam had been there, we probably would have played a couple of hours at The Clover Club, just because we like to play, even though the house was empty, and it is very likely that we would not have stopped at Bob's on the way home.

I have an 8mm movie somewhere of Sammy, Jimmy Coleman, Larry Joe Patton and myself arriving at Jim's house from a night at The Silver Moon Club in Newport, Arkansas. There is a memorable scene with Jim and Sammy acting as if they've had a few too many, although neither of them drank alcohol. Perhaps I'll dig it out one day and have another look at it.

About a year ago, Sammy mentioned that 'one of these days' he would come to visit his family for a while, and we could get together and jam. Well, I guess we'll have to wait a little longer for the jam, because I don't plan on making the permanent trip to Hawaii anytime soon. Then again, neither did Sam. We have no way of knowing which heartbeat will be our last, and we are, literally, just one thump away from exiting this world permanently.

While preparing this story, I visited with Sammy's sister, Susie, and his mother Mrs. L.W. Franklin, who still lives in the same house where I used to pick up Sammy and Gary in the '50s. She is a most kind and gracious lady for whom I have always had the highest respect. It's easy to understand why Sammy was such a friendly guy when you know his mother. Of course, credit also goes to his stepfather who was jolly fellow and always had a friendly word for me. Sam's father died in 1944, and Mr. Franklin in 1979.

Elvis' Hawaiian band just keeps getting bigger and better. They've got a great drummer now, and I've heard they're rehearsing every Wednesday night at Pete's Pub for a really, really big show when the rest of us get there. That's one I don't want to miss... LD

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