“I find something new in what I am playing”
#2VI: Tell me more about your musical beginnings.
SA: I began playing the guitar, because that is the instrument my father played. He was a music reader and my mother’s family were intuitive musicians who played by ear. I think I inherited both qualities. I listened to T-Bone Walker, Little Richard, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Ivory Joe Hunter, Charlie Parker, Fats Domino, Chet Atkins, Paul Desmond, The Moonglows… and on and on, such great musicians. I always loved all music.
VI: San Francisco became musical center of USA in mid 60’s and you were part of that scene. Prior to forming Big Brother And The Holding Company, did you play in some other bands in the area?
SA: I played saxophone in a small band in Marin County which is just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. In this band I played with John Cipollina, who later helped form The Quicksilver Messenger Service. We did some silly songs and had a lot of fun. I also played jazz on the guitar and joined up with people to play in clubs, but this was sporadic and unorganized.
VI: In Irwin Stambler’s “Encyclopedia Of Pop, Rock & Soul”, it is stated that you met with future Big Brother members Peter Albin and James Gurley at a Victorian mansion where Chet Helms also was. How did you get together, did you share the same ideas about music and who gave the name Big brother And The Holding Company?
SA: I heard Peter Albin playing one day in a beautiful Victorian house in San Francisco. I climbed the stairs to his room, introduced myself, and said:”Let’s form a band”. This was before Chet Helms or James Gurley were there. When Chet came to hear us play in the basement, he brought James Gurley to be in our band, and he brought a list of names. One was Big Brother and the other was The Holding Company. We put them together.
VI: Did you play any of your songs then or were you just jamming or something?
SA: I always wrote songs, even when I was a small child. So, when Big Brother started, I had a lot of songs for the band. We also played covers, songs done by other bands.
VI: I understand that at the time San Francisco had hundreds of great bands, tough competition indeed. How did you manage to get to the top with names like Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe And The Fish? Was that quality of the band, good material, manager, circumstances or combination of all these elements the reason for your success?
SA: There weren’t many bands at first. Not many at all. We thought there were maybe four or five bands when we started: The Charlatans, Jeferson Airplane, The Great Society, The Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe. That was about it. We were one of these bands before we had Janis Joplin. We played without her for about a year, we were known in San Francisco… as known as these other bands. I think”circumstances” would be the right answer to the question you’re asking.”Circumstances” and “manager”. For success you need talent, timing, hard work and good people to help you. Many people had a lot of talent, but not many have all four of these things. Hard work and timing (circumstances) may be the most important things.
#3VI: When did you meet Janis Joplin, how did she become a member of the band, who “discovered” her, some of you or somebody suggested to check her out? Was she also in San Francisco at the time or she came from somewhere?
SA: Chet was “the big brother” in Big Brother. He was probably the main reason for our early success. He named the band ( I was there and I helped with that). He brough James Gurley to the band. He brough Janis Joplin to the band. He had known Janis at The University of Texas where they both went to school. He knew we needed a singer, so he sent a friend to get her and bring her to San Francisco.
VI: With janis in the band, was there any change in musical policy of Big Brother? Who was in charge of material for playing?
SA: When Janis came to the band, our music became more “normal”, conventional and regular. We did not have a band leader. I was the one who knew most about the music and I did the arranging of the songs. When it came down to business, Peter Albin, the bass player made most of the decisions.
VI: Which time period do you personally consider as most satisfying for you as a musician?
SA: I like them all. I like the energy of the 60’s. I enjoyed going back to school in the 70’s and learning harmony and counterpoint and writing classical music pieces, especially string quartets. I played jazz in the 80’s on saxophone, and I really liked that. Then in the 90’s I wrote a lot of songs and played as The Sam Andrew Band with a lot of very talented people. I have enjoyed all of my time as a musician.
VI: You’ve played numerous concerts, big festivals, do you have some special recollections, fond memories?
SA: It was fun playing in Albert Hall, London. One night I got drunk in Stockholm with Mayor. That was good. Janis gave me her Gibson Hummingbird guitar and I think of her when I play it which is all the time.
VI: You’ve also played and shared the stage with many rock and blues legends, could you name some special names for you? Any musicians that you wanted to play with, but for some reasons you did not?
SA: I was good to be close to Jimi Hendrix and watch him play. He was a very quiet man and he gave a lot of thought to his music. B.B.King was very special to me. He was alsways our guitar hero, so it was a privilege to play on the same stage with him.
I wish I would have met John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. They had such an influence on me.
VI: What are your memories of Janis? Were you close frineds, what was she like as a person?
SA: Janis was very intelligent and funny person. We wrote a lot of songs together and we had a lot of jokes and laughs. She was very quickwitted and you could count on her to say something very striking, funny and true almost all the time. She enjoyed life, but she had a certain cynical view of it too.
VI: Do you have any regrets about those days, something that you wanted to do, but didn’t?
SA: My main regret is that I left Big brother to join The Kozmic Blues Band. I don’t think Janis and I should have left the band when we did. It was a big mistake. She could have left later, if she wanted, and I think she would have been happier. Also, I wish I would have written more songs, and maybe more in different styles.
VI: What is the current line-up of Big Brother?
SA: Peter Albin – bass, Sam Andrew – vocals, guitar, Dave Getz – drums,Tom Finch – guitar, Lisa Mills – vocals.