Sam Frazier, Jr. – Regional Stardom and the Struggle to Survive
inThe Artistson December 16, 2018
Sam Frazier, Jr. is a powerful vocalist, with a lilting drawl that whines, growls and whistles through a smile neatly tucked under his pristine ten gallon hat. He’s a careful study that can blow a delicate melody with his harmonica and a sensitive songwriter that evokes country music’s cherished conventions; that timeless recipe of profound revelation so familiar and plainspoken a listener could finish many of Sam’s lines along with him on the first listen. The song most closely associated with his name is the autobiographical “Cabbage Man.” In it, he conveys the emotional landscape of a man trying to make his way in an unforgiving world, one that has no interest in him because of where he came from and the color of his skin.
Raised in a mining camp outside of Birmingham, AL, and without a penny to his name, Sam pursued his music career while working various day jobs throughout his life. His recordings at the famed Sound of Birmingham music studio released on regional labels and his regular appearances on the Country Boy Eddie TV show brought him regional fame that gave him his pick of regular gigs in the music halls in and around Birmingham, AL. Sam is a master of blues, soul, and even carried the rare torch of being an African-American country singer, and boasts of having the first integrated crowds in Birmingham back in the 1970s.
But, regional fame is not an indicator of financial success or even security. At best, it was job security in an industry that hasn’t seen a wage increase since the first half of the 20th century. Like many musicians who ply their trade Thursday to Sunday each week, piecing together a living as a freelancer and hoping for a break, retirement was something far from his mind. Unfortunately for Sam, his body began to fail him, and work became simultaneously more difficult to get and more difficult to deliver. After years of moderate success and the ability to do what he loved, Sam found himself without a plan and without a safety net.
Music Maker has been able to step in and help Sam with ongoing financial support as well as emergency grants. These grants are meant to address outstanding needs that arise from the types of complications we all face. Music Maker was able to help fix his car, save his family’s mining shack from foreclosure and help him move into safe and secure senior housing where he has been for the past three years. In addition to helping Sam with these basic needs, Music Maker has purchased stage clothes and harmonicas for him and booked him on several performances. In 2017, Music Maker got Big Legal Mess Records to issue a remastered release of his famed 1970s recordings from Sound of Birmingham studios.
With our support, he was ready for that release with live performance videos, an artist page on our website and PR which landed him reviews in popular blues magazines worldwide, resulting in performance inquiries from as far as Argentina. Music Maker has produced two additional releases for Sam to sell at his shows, one of which was co-produced by Grammy Award winning musician and founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons, who performed on many of the songs.
Back home in Birmingham, Music Maker supporter and volunteer Roger Stephenson has helped reintroduce Sam to the Birmingham music scene, put together a backing band for Sam’s shows, and often takes him as far as Tallahassee to play for his adoring fans. Sam’s music remains the central work of his life, and through your support, he is able live in safety and comfort with the resources he needs to continue sharing his music with the world. Without your help, musicians like Sam Frazier, Jr. are forgotten or remain hidden.