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Sam Carr

April 17, 1926 – September 21, 2009

Sam Carr plays drums on Earwig CD 4901, The Jelly Roll Kings’ Rockin’ The Juke Joint Down; CD 4914, Midnight Prowler; and CD 4916, Daddy, When Is Mama Comin Home?

Sam Carr’s Early Life

Sam Carr was born Samuel Lee McCollum outside of Marvell, Arkansas. He was given up by his mother around age 2 to the Carr family, who adopted and raised him on a farm in Dundee, Mississippi.

Although Sam Carr would later become known as one of the best drummers to play in a blues band, his first instruments were the harmonica and “Jew’s harp”.

Sam Carr’s Early Career

Although Carr’s relationship with his father was estranged during his childhood, the two later had a chance to rekindle their relationship over their love of music. Carr’s father was the influential blues guitarist and vocalist Robert Lee McCollum, who recorded under the names Robert Lee McCoy and Robert Nighthawk.

Around age 16, Carr moved to Helena to work with his father. His first job was to collect money at the door during his father’s club performances. Eventually, Carr worked as both a chauffeur and bass player in his father’s band.

After attempts at sharecropping in the mid 1940’s, Carr and wife Doris moved to St Louis. There, Carr took up playing bass with the harmonica player Tree Top Slim. In time, Carr created his own band known as Little Sam Carr and the Blue Kings. It was during these years that Carr finally started playing the drums on a more regular basis.

While in St. Louis, Carr started working with Frank Frost, a harmonica player, singer and guitarist. Together, they backed numerous artists into the early 1960’s. The pair moved back to Mississippi during this time and soon met up with Big Jack Johnson. For a few years, this trio performed with Carr’s wife, Doris, singling in front of the band.

Jelly Roll Kings

In 1962, Sam Carr, Frank Frost and Big Jack Johnson recorded an album Hey Boss Man under the name Frank Frost and the Night Hawks. One of the recorded songs from this album was titled “Jelly Roll King”. This name, Jelly Roll King, eventually inspired a new band name that the group used to perform and record under. However, the group also performed and recorded a few singles under Frost’s name in 1966.

While the trio performed together throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, they didn’t actually record again until the mid-70’s. During this timeframe, each of the men worked other jobs, outside of the music industry. Sam Carr, specifically, was known to drive a tractor.

Jelly Roll Kings & Earwig Music Company

Michael Frank met the Jelly Roll Kings for the first time in 1975 at the Black Fox Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. In 1979, the group released their album Rockin’ the Juke Joint Down as the first release on Frank’s new Earwig Music Company label.

Following this release, the group played together intermittently, reunited on special occasions into the 1980’s and 90’s. The trio played and performed together during this time on the following:

  • Frank Frost’s Midnight Prowler (1990, Earwig Music Company)
  • Big Jack Johnson’s Daddy When Is Mama Comin’ Home (1990, Earwig Music Company)
  • Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads,  a British documentary film, released in 1991, and made by music critic and author Robert Palmer and documentary film maker Robert Mugge, in collaboration with David A. Stewart and his brother John J. Stewart.
  • A PBS film documentary River of Song (1996)
  • Jelly Roll Kings Yonder Wall (1996, Fat Possum)
  • Jelly Roll Kings self-titled album Jelly Roll Kings, featuring only Carr and Frost (1998, HMG)

Sam Carr’s Other Music Contributions

In addition to playing with Frank Frost and Big Jack Johnson, Sam Carr also played drums for numerous other albums for other artists, including:

  • T-Model Ford
  • Asie Payton
  • Robert “Bilbo” Walker
  • Paul “Wine” Jones
  • Lonnie Shields
  • Buddy Guy

Eventually, in the 2000’s, Sam Carr recorded with the group the Delta Jukes with guitarist and vocalist, Dave Riley. The group released albums through various labels, including:

  • Working for the Blues (2002, Black Magic)
  • Down in the Delta (2004, Bluesland)
  • Let the Good Times Roll (2007, Blue Label)

Appreciating Sam Carr

Sam Carr’s determination is the reason that he, Frank Frost, and Jack Johnson stayed together over the years. Carr managed the band, bought and kept up all the instruments, and made sure everyone showed up for the gigs. Carr was a fine, hard driving drummer and bandleader, who deserves much of the credit for the record Rockin’ the Juke Joint Down becoming a reality.

Like Frank Frost, Carr was a man of many moods, professional in every way as a musician, and generous of his time and knowledge. He was also an excellent fisherman, as were his Jelly Roll Kings bandmates.

Sam Carr received recognition for his drumming with numerous nominations for Handy Awards (Blues Music Awards). In addition, Carr also received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts from the state of Mississippi in 2007 and multiple awards from Living Blues magazine.

For more information on Sam Carr, please check out his profile on the Mississippi Folklife & Artist Directory.