I’m sad to report the death on Monday of veteran Clarksdale area drummer Sam Carr, best known for his work in the Jelly Roll Kings together with Big Jack Johnson and Frank Frost. He had been ill for a long time, and died of congestive heart failure. A biography I wrote of Carr is at the website of the Mississippi Arts Commission.
Drummers and bassists generally don’t get the acclaim received by vocalists and lead guitarists, but in his final decades Sam and his wonderful skills were widely celebrated. In 2007 he was awarded a Mississippi Governor’s Award for the Arts, he was featured on the cover of Living Blues Magazine, he received multiple Living Blues awards and was a multiple nominee for W.C. Handy Awards (now Blues Music Awards), and for the last several years the Hopson Plantation in Clarksdale honored him with “Sam Carr Day” on the Sunday after the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival.
He was also honored on a Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Lula, not far from his longtime home in Dundee, and was in attendance at the unveiling of a marker in honor of his father, blues legend Robert Nighthawk, in Friars Point.
Sam was one of the few drummers who continually captured my attention during performances, and he was by no means flashy, though he did sometimes demonstrate his skills by playing on the wall behind him. In the last couple years Sam generally lacked the energy to play for an entire evening, but he was always impressive when he did come on to the stage. He was scheduled to perform next month at the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival in Helena, where he had played the blues since he was a child. He’ll be greatly missed.