One of the most influential fixtures of Chicago Blues until his untimely and unexpected death, Magic Sam began his musical career shortly after moving from Mississippi to Chicago in the late 1950s. Born in Grenada, Mississippi, Sam Maghett moved to Chicago in the shadow of Muddy Waters and the many other blues men that escaped the south to call Chicago home. His definitive version of the blues involved heavy tremolo and horns, as well as wild vocals.
Playing the Chicago clubs with his band as Good Rockin’ Sam, he caught the attention of Eli Toscano, owner of Cobra Records. Sam was signed to Cobra in 1957 as “Magic Sam”, a suggestion by his long time bass player. Sam first came out with All Your Love and Easy Baby. Even though neither impacted the charts, they made a splash in the blues community, where, along with Buddy Guy and Otis Rush, Sam was forging a new and progressive path in blues music. His contribution came to be known as the “West Side” sound, referring to both Cobra Records’ location and the music that was coming out of that area of Chicago.
Unfortunately, Cobra Records closed and, after being drafted into the army, quickly deserting it, being captured, imprisoned and released, Sam went back to music only to struggle to find his sound again. It wasn’t until 1963 that Sam finally found the magic style that would soon make him famous.
His single, “Feelin’ Good (We’re Gonna Boogie)” hit the charts and he began a successful international touring career. In 1967, he was signed to Delmark Records, a move which would become landmark for both the label and the artist. He recorded West Side Soul in 1967. The album would come to be known as arguably the best blues album in history. In 1969, Sam had a breakout performance at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival and was poised for a bright career before tragedy struck.
On December 1st, 1969, at the age of only 32, Sam suddenly and unexpectedly died of a heart attack.
Though he only made music for just over ten years, his music made a huge impact on the world of music. Later The Blues Brothers would dedicate their famous version of “Sweet Home Chicago” to Sam, and their version makes liberal use of his West Side Soul version. Willie Dixon sang his praises and his “West Side” sound changed the face of music coming out of Chicago. Magic Sam might be gone, but his music still continues to impact the blues.