Talking Samples with Will James and Sean Kelly


(Will James, right, and Sean Kelly of the Samples. Photo by Heather James)

I’m not going back
The same way I came
But, I’ll see you tomorrow
On another brand new day . . .

So begins the song “Everytime” by the Samples. And with every new year since the band began in Boulder in the late ’80s, the Samples have miraculously kept going. Thanks mainly to the indefatigable and prolific Sean Kelly, the group still brings its infectious sound to stages all across the land. Since the ’80s the music has evolved to include the unique contributions of the band’s latest members. Kelly and company don’t cover the same old ground, yet their roots are always there. Guitarist and vocalist Will James, who joined the group in 2012, has carefully learned and curated its sizable and well appreciated repertoire. James proudly represents a new era of the continuum while paying homage to the sound that first captured him as a college student in Missouri.

TipJar:What’s your role in the Samples these days? You sing and play guitar right?

Will James: Yes, I play acoustic guitar, electric guitar and even a little mandolin. I also sing backing vocals. I have been listening to what [original Samples bassist] Andy Sheldon sang for 20 years, and I love to bring a part of his sound. That high harmony was crucial to The Samples’ sound.

How did you first get involved with the band?

I started listening to The Samples in 1995 when they played at my college homecoming at Drury University in Springfield, MO. A few months later I heard the bootleg of that show and I have been hooked ever since. I went to a lot of their shows, got to know the band and crew and I ended up jumping on the bus with them in 2004 as crew. A few years later, I did some acoustic shows with Sean [Kelly] and soon after that, there was an opening in the band and I got the call. I feel a little like Mark Wahlberg in the movie Rockstar. It really is a ‘dream come true’ kind of situation.

Could you describe your approach to playing guitar and how it might be different (or the same) as past Samples guitarists?

That’s a great question. So much of my playing style comes from Sean [Kelly]. I would listen to bootlegs and have my own bands and cover The Samples’ songs. When I got asked to join the band, I was very conscious of not sounding too much like Sean in my guitar playing. But I went to probably 100 shows and listened to hundreds more so I have little bits and pieces from Charles Hambleton (original Samples guitarist) to Rob Somers and Tom Askin. I get to pull from some amazing players. Mostly though, I try to be authentic to these songs. I feel like I have a duty to honor the original feel of the song, and still bring my strengths and styles to the table. Sean is so open to people not having to sound like any particular album or time period that it creates a great space to work in. 

What kind of music do you like to listen in your free time? Who are your influences?

Umm, well, The Samples . . . I still listen to lots of old bootlegs to keep it all fresh. Other than that, I have been listening to Ryan Adams, Steve Winwood, always a lot of Neil Young, and I’ve recently been on a Pink Floyd kick. 

Do you have a favorite Samples album or song? And what do you like about it?

Man, that changes all the time. My pendulum is swinging to old stuff right now. The Blue Album (aka The Samples) is in heavy rotation right now. Also a great bootleg from Red Rocks from September of 1993. My wife was at that show in her first semester in college where Dave Matthews opened for The Samples. The version of “Feel Us Shaking” in that show was a fuckin’ masterpiece. 

What can people expect to hear this weekend at the Oriental? 

I feel that Sean always tries to offer a good mix of new material and old favorites. The band is always into bringing stuff from the huge catalog into the current set lists. I can’t make any promises on the specifics, but I know that I wouldn’t be disappointed as a fan seeing this show. I’ve been looking forward to this show for months now. The Oriental is such a cool venue and is one or the last independent venues in the area that will have bands like The Samples, The Nadas and The Trampolines as a three-show bill. It’s great to work with venues that believe in bands like us.

Is there anything special we should know about you?

I love playing in this band as well as doing various acoustic shows and I recently did a great show with some of my original music with Al Laughlin, the original keyboard player for The Samples, James Hambleton, who is Charles Hambleton’s brother, Randy Hetherington who plays everything from bass to drums to filling in for me on acoustic in the current lineup of the Samples and Jamey Crow Bartley [son of musical legend Jock Bartley] as well, who is a killer drummer. I love getting the opportunity to play with musicians who are so talented, no matter what the project. I feel like I somehow edged my way into Colorado music history.

Enter Sean Kelly:

How are you feeling about the Samples at the moment Sean? 

Sean Kelly: We sound better than ever. We’ve been playing together with the same core band for almost four years now and we’ve gotten to a place where we’re very tight. It makes it so much fun and so fresh.

How did the Samples come to link up with the Nadas and the Trampolines? Anything you can tell us about those bands?

We played an acoustic show last year with The Nadas at The Oriental and it seemed like a great fit. They actually have covered “Buffalo Herds and Windmills” on YouTube and it was really cool to see their take on a song I wrote 20 years ago. I know our paths have crossed in the past with The Trampolines as well.

What might we expect to hear from the Samples at the Oriental? Any special surprises?

I recently recorded a live acoustic show with Will and we brought some old tunes into that setlist that may just make it into our show at The Oriental. We’re really looking forward to playing this show. It’s a great lineup and a great hometown venue.


Catch the Samples this Saturday night, April 23, at the Oriental Theater.

Author: Hutchmun

Share This Post On

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.