FANS OF good songwriting will no doubt already be familiar with the extraordinary work of troubadour Sam Baker, who comes to Flowerfield as guest of the Real Music Club on Monday, September 5.
Sam is a Texan singer-songwriter whose 2004 debut Mercy brought him an ardent and extensive following in North America and Europe. He’s a man with an amazing back story - two decades ago, he survived a bomb blast perpetrated by Peru’s Shining Path rebels.
“It was 1986,” says Sam, “and I was in Peru with some friends. We went to Lima and from there to Cuzco to catch the train to Machu Picchu. We were going there for the Inti Rami, which is a pretty big celebration there.
“The bomb was on our train car. Me and my friends who were there — they were foresters, living in Columbia — the bomb went off and killed them and the German family I was sitting with, a mother, a father, and a boy. It killed them in a particularly terrible fashion.’
The exploding shrapnel cut the femoral artery in Sam’s leg, but he stayed alive in spite of subdural bleeding, cranial bleeding, gangrene, and renal failure. When he was brought back to the States, Baker started round after round of surgery.
“I think that whole experience made my writing much more empathetic toward people,’ he says. ‘You see quite a bit after weeks when you can’t move, near death. It makes you reflective.”
Sam’s song “Broken Fingers” was written partly in memory of the German boy who died in the explosion: “His parents spoke only German, but he knew Spanish and pretty good English, so we talked. The way my hand is now reminds me of that; the shrapnel blew off the top of my left hand.”
Baker grew up in Itasca, Texas, a small, rural town of about 1,200, on the prairie between Waco and Fort Worth.
As a kid, Sam heard his father’s records of Brownie MccGhee and Sonny Terry, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Johnny Cash, while his mother listened to Broadway albums and played piano and organ in the Presbyterian church. “There’d be Handel’s Messiah, ‘My Fair Lady,’ and Brownie McGhee,” he recalls; “pretty broad tastes.’
After college, Sam worked a day job as a bank examiner, but his restless spirit found him working as a carpenter and a white-water boatman, and just traveling the world—until those travels led him to Peru and the train explosion.