Big Sam’s Funky Nation brings musical gumbo to Vulcan’s AfterTunes concert series

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

For The Birmingham Times

Big Sam says his brand of music stirs the souls of listeners with a combination of Hip Hop, P Funk and R&B. (Provided photos)
Big Sam says his brand of music stirs the souls of listeners with a combination of Hip Hop, P Funk and R&B. (Provided photo)

When you’re called Big Sam, you don’t want to get too small.

“I used to be 350 (pounds),” recalled New Orleans native Sam Williams. “I had gotten down to 217, but I didn’t like that weight. I saw pictures and I looked like a crackhead or something. I said let me put some more meat on my bones so I bulked up a little bit.”

But 6-foot-2, 240-pound frame is not the only reason the 35-year-old is known as Big Sam. The other is the big sound he produces on his trombone.

That sound will be on display Sunday, Oct. 9 as Big Sam’s Funky Nation performs during the 12th season of the Vulcan AfterTunes concert series at Vulcan Park and Museum.

Williams calls his brand of music Noladelic Funk, a spinoff of George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic. It is a musical gumbo that stirs the souls of listeners with a combination of Hip Hop, P Funk and R&B.

The result is a show that will bring those in attendance to their feet.

“They can expect to have a good time, a lot of energy, not a dull moment,” Williams said. “Get ready to dance, work up a sweat. Bring your dancing shoes ’cause we’re fixing to get down.”

Big Sam says he and his horn 'kind of found each' when he was in middle school. (Provided photo)
Big Sam says he and his horn ‘kind of found each’ when he was in middle school. (Provided photo)

Williams said he’s been Big Sam all his life, the result of being a large fellow as he grew up.

“It was a childhood nickname and it just stuck with me throughout my career,” he said. “Once I started playing music, everybody knew me as Big Sam. It kind of just stuck with me. Also, I have a pretty big sound with my horn. It kind of goes along with that too.”

Williams says he and his horn “kind of found each” when he was in middle school. He was trying to find an instrument to play in his school band and told the instructor he’d play whatever he needed him to play.

“He said trombone and I asked him, ‘What’s that?’” Williams recalled. “When he introduced me to it, I fell in love with it instantly. The rest is history.”

By the time he reached high school, Williams had formed a band with schoolmates. By 15, he was performing in local clubs.

“New Orleans is a different kind of scene,” he said. “If you’re a kid and you play music, you’re allowed into the clubs. Of course they make sure you’re not drinking. But if you’re a musician, you perform and they let you hone your craft. You don’t go to the bar; you go to the stage and that’s it.”

The teen would join the Dirty Dozen Brass Band before eventually forming his own band, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, which combines the various genres that have influenced his style.

“Growing up, all I listened to was a lot of Hip Hop, and gospel from being in church,” Williams recalled. “Once I started playing music, I got into jazz and funk. Then I got into rock. I was like, I like all these genres. I want to make my own musical gumbo with my own special ingredients.”

Among his accolades, Williams powered-up the horn section on the critically acclaimed, Grammy nominated “River in Reverse.” He is prominently featured in “Hot as a Pistol, Keen as a Blade” the concert tour DVD.

While touring with Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, in the fall of 2006 and summer of 2007, he earned consistent reviews as a musical force and star soloist. He has played with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Dave Matthews, Ozomatli, and Widespread Panic.

Williams has also shared the stage with U2 and Green Day for the emotional and energetic re-opening of the New Orleans Superdome in 2006 after it was used as a shelter of resort during Hurricane Katrina.

Gates open at 1 p.m. Tragic City comes on stage at 2:30 p.m., followed by Big Sam’s Funky Nation at 4. Tickets are on sale at visitvulcan.com or at the gate.