“It’s rare to see such a large project, and it’s nice to see a lot of people all care about each other at the same time,” says Sammy Rae, frontwoman of Sammy Rae & the Friends, describing her band. She goes on to say, “I think it’s really special to see a group of eight people onstage, and of different nationalities, several different races, several different gender identities…” During a recent phone chat with Sammy Rae, she explains that Sammy Rae & the Friends are, above all else, a family. The musicians (which include a rhythm section, horn section, keyboards, and two backup singers) have notably varied backgrounds, from jazz, gospel, R&B, hard rock, folk, funk, and soul. But, more so than that, Sammy emphasizes that each member has an equally significant role and influence in the band: “I didn’t want to be a solo artist… I wanted a project of people who are all equal in star quality. I learned that from The Beatles and The E Street Band.”
Sammy Rae & the Friends are currently on the Let’s Throw a Party Tour, in support of their most recent EP, with two upcoming Philadelphia appearances, first a sold out stop on October 3rd at World Café Live, followed by a March 5th date next year at the significantly bigger Theatre of Living Arts. Sammy tells me that “Let’s Throw a Party,” is more than just the title of their latest EP, but a mantra for the band’s live shows. “We work really hard to put on a show that’s really compelling visually, and really create an environment where everyone feels welcome to be safe and be themselves… A lot of us come from musical theatre, so we try to be really theatrical with our costumes and lighting setups.” However, she tells me that just as much as her background in theatre, the live shows are also informed by the classic notion of albums.
“I consume music on an album basis. We wanna hit you with a wall of music, hit the gas, and keep going for 90 minutes… I guess vinyl records are my biggest live influence. We want a fully-realized show from top to bottom.”
Discussing her favorite music, it’s clear that Sammy Rae tends to be a fan of the classics: “Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, large rock bands.” And when I ask her of her favorite albums, “top to bottom,” she tells me, “Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, Ram by Paul McCartney, Rumours, Some Girls, a lot of Billy Joel, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, a lot of Doobie Brothers, especially Minute by Minute.” But she also admits to having a special place in her heart for live recordings: “I listen to a lot of live records, which were so life-giving during the pandemic, just to listen to a record and catch a live audience at the end of each song.”
Sadly, on the day of our chat (August 24th) the music world experienced a great loss, with the passing of legendary Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, the news of which I unintentionally broke to Sammy. “Oh my god, the Stones were like a cornerstone to my childhood and my background,” she says upon hearing the news. However, with less than a moment’s notice, she does recount a story of how Charlie and The Stones continue to play a part in her life almost nightly: “’Miss You’ by The Rolling Stones is four minutes and 45 seconds long, so if I’m going anywhere or getting onstage, sometimes I’ll listen to it and I have to be done with getting ready by the time it’s over, or I’m taking too long. Like, I have to be on my eyes before the sax solo.”
While Sammy Rae & the Friends have been selling out shows throughout the Northeast for a few years now, when I ask her about the highlights of the band, she tells me that a lot of it actually has to do with the pandemic and just the fact that they were able to come back: “We saw a lot of our friends’ bands not really survive the pandemic… The last time we played New York was (le) poisson rouge, which is 750-capacity, and it sold out five days before the show. But then our first hometown show back we sold out Brooklyn Steel in two weeks, and that’s more than twice the size… The biggest thing is the fans stuck with us throughout the pandemic and our audience has only grown bigger.”