By Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — “When we come to Oklahoma you can expect a high energy show,” Big Sam Williams said. “Our original tunes have a lot of energy and it will be a lot of fun.”
He’s the groove master and lead trombonist of New Orleans’ mega band Big Sam’s Funky Nation. They’re scheduled to play the prime mid-evening slot at the 2013 Norman Music Festival Main Stage 8 p.m. April 27. All performances at the festival are free.
“We’ve been working on some new songs and will play some covers you’re familiar with,” he said. “But even if you’ve never heard of us I guarantee you’ll have a good time.”
Big Sam’s Funky Nation generates the kind of powerful funkadelic brass band sounds designed to get people on their feet dancing. The beat is fast, rhythm insistent and horn riffs soar over a krunk conflagration that inevitably starts when they start getting down. “Funky Nation gonna rock your soul/ we ain’t talking about no rock ‘n’ roll,” Sam sings in 2010 composition, “See Me Dance (King of the Party).”
Williams is a New Orleans native and credits his artistic inspiration from that storied musical town. It’s a place where you’ll be serenaded with live jazz sitting down to breakfast in the French Quarter. School age kids play beat up trumpets on the street for tips and ancient grizzled guitarists strum guitars on nearly every corner.
“My band has evolved from a jazz band into the sound we have now,” he said. “I’ve had influence from George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars.”
Williams’ earliest musical memory is of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band record that his mom gave him. He credits that one disc for opening his ears to music and making him want to play it, too.
“The name of that album was ‘Ears to the Wall’ (1996) and it was their funk record,” Williams said. “It has a drum kit, keys, electric guitar and electric bass and I just ate it up. I decided I was going to play with this band or start my own just like it.”
Amazingly, only four years later Big Sam on trombone was part of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s regular line-up. He recalls playing with the Band at The Deli in Norman circa 2001.
“I want to say one of our guys got arrested that night,” he said with a big booming laugh. “And if you were there you might remember a young guy with a trombone on stage dancing all over the place — that was me.”
Williams absorbed a lot from those venerable cats in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. He played with them four years before founding Big Sam’s Funky Nation.
“I learned from them how to run this business, carry yourself and put on a show,” he said. “It’s all about putting on a high energy show and still being able to slow it down occasionally while maintaining intensity.”
Creating his own original music has been part of the enjoyment for Williams. Being from New Orleans it would be easy to mimic successful groups from there such as The Meters and the Neville Brothers. But Williams has always had his sights set higher.
“I respect and love those guys but my band sounds nothing like them and I don’t want it to,” he said. “They’ve already made their legacy and I have to make mine.”
He’s working on album number six now that’s titled “Evolution.” It’s due for release later this year.
Williams digs the artistic freedom that being a band leader provides although it has its challenges and demands.
“Just being a trombonist while leading the band is difficult,” he said. “A lot of people have never seen a trombonist fronting a band, it can be crazy.”
Williams cited Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews) of New Orleans’ Sixth Ward All-Star Brass Band Revue as one of his few peers in this regard.
“Everything else about leading a band is pretty much simple for me,” he said. “You have to make sure everyone’s on the same page and not in a negative environment. Myself, I run a tight ship and everyone has to be on time so you don’t let the rest of the cats down.”
Don’t be late for Big Sam’s Funky Nation free, Norman Music Festival show, they promise to be an all-time Norman Music Festival highlight.
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