The sultry, silky funk from one-man-band Thumper Samuels at United4Love Entertainment sure brings the blood pressure way down. Versed in tenor sax, drum, guitar and upright bass – and learning string instruments like violin and cello – this Omaha-based musician wears his heart on his sleeve. He founded an organization that brings awareness to domestic abuse issues and donates a large portion of concert proceeds to this cause.
How did you get the name Thumper?
It was initially given to me from my mom who told me that before I was born I kicked and moved whenever I heard music. As Bambi is one of her favorite Disney movies, she gave me the nickname Thumper long before I developed the interest in music because she thought the rabbit was cute, and the way he thumped his foot tickled her to death.
I was embarrassed by it and hated it for a long time. I didn’t start to use the name until well into my music journey during 10th grade. I had already been playing several instruments and played tenor saxophone in the school band. I learned that the current bass player was a senior and there was no one to take his place for the next year. So I took over the position. As soon as my classmates discovered I played bass, they decided I needed a nickname that everyone would remember. And I became Thumper from then on. More people know me by Thumper than my real name.
What string instruments do you play?
Bass (electric and upright) and guitar (electric and acoustic), and I’m still learning violin, cello and a few others.
What’s in your drum kit?
I have a seven-piece Mapex Studio Pro chrome silver drum kit I record with. It has one 22” kick drum with a double pedal, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16” toms and a standard snare. I have lots of different-sized cymbals, crashes, rides, splashes and more.
What age did you know you would be a musician?
I started playing at the age of 4, because I was fascinated with the sounds different things made. I really didn’t decide on music until the age of 9. I would listen to the radio and see how the music and the lyrics affected people. But it really didn’t seal the deal until later that year. I started watching music concerts on TV and was amazed by how the band would interact with the crowd, singing the songs, clapping their hands and dancing in the aisles.
Did you set out to be a “One Man Band” or do you play with ensembles too?
When I first started playing after high school, I started my own band called “Special Touch.” We were a dance band playing cover tunes in local and regional bars. I played in a few other bands after that. But it wasn’t until I started recording my own music that I became a “one man band.”
I built my first recording studio in 1991, and at that time I wasn’t as proficient on some of my instruments so I asked other musicians to lay down certain tracks for me and then told them how I wanted the part to go. After trials and tribulations of the musicians wanting to play their way, I decided to just do it myself. And if there was something I couldn’t play, I would learn to play it and wouldn’t stop practicing ’til I got it like I wanted it.
Don’t get me wrong !!! I love playing with other musicians. It’s just when it comes to recording I do it myself. It’s easier.
When and why did you start JADA (Jazz Against Domestic Abuse)?
I founded and created JADA just this year (2017). Domestic abuse is one of the largest non-disease-related causes of injury and death. It’s mental, physical, sexual, verbal and more. It can not only be between domestic partners and married couples; it can be parental (children abusing elderly parents), parents abusing children (physical, sexual, starvation, mental), foster child abuse, priest, teacher and coaching abuse, sexual harassment and trafficking and in many other forms, even in Hollywood; not just in the United States, but worldwide. We are trying to reach anyplace that is suffering from this powerful epidemic.
I believe that domestic abuse situations do not get the attention they deserve. In my opinion, this disease is just as important as AIDS, cancer and the prescription drug crisis, but I think it’s actually easier to cure through education, love, support and unity.
The point of JADA is to help educate and build the confidence of victims, their friends and families to find the confidence, resources and education to stand up to and escape these situations.
Are you touring to bring this cause more attention?
As JADA was just created a few months ago and the concert details (fundraising, tour schedules, artists, etc.) are still being put together, we will not start touring until spring of 2018 (if things go as planned).
How does this organization work?
JADA is a domestic abuse awareness organization that, through jazz, promotes awareness, education, and assistance for domestic abuse victims, their friends and families as well as anyone else who may know someone in a domestic abuse situation.
The concept is simply this: jazz artists on the JADA tour play concerts around the country (and the world if possible) to raise awareness about domestic abuse. During the breaks and intermissions, former victims, administrators, and others from domestic abuse education facilities, police departments and hospitals can tell their stories and provide information to current victims who may be afraid to speak up and ask for help getting out. It’s also a message to the government to create stronger laws for those who violate restraining orders or any other court documents regarding domestic abuse.
JADA was created because I believe jazz is the most relaxing form of music. The concerts will help relax everyone and take them away from the stress of these situations and increase the bonding and networking efforts between former and current victims of domestic abuse as well as educators and municipal agencies. A majority portion of the proceeds from these concerts will go towards educational facilities and information as well as homeless and abuse shelters and hospitals in that city. JADA is also the anonymous name that any victim can give to officials so they don’t have to give their name in critical situations.
What’s the jazz scene like in Omaha?
It’s not very big at all. There are a lot of great player here, but not much support. Omaha is more of a rock and football city, as the home of the Cornhuskers college football team, and nothing else gets much attention. I hate to say that about my own city, but I’m just being honest. We do have one or two small Jazzfests each year. I don’t get much support at all (especially since I am a one-man band). Most of the shows that I do, I book myself.
Talk about the CD “Thumpology 101”- what was the recording process like?
“Thumpology 101” is my 9th CD. I try to reach new listeners and fans with new messages that come from my experiences, and to create titles and melodies that reflect those experiences. Thumpology 101 is kind of an introduction to me and my sound. Tracks have titles like “Let Me Show You How It’s Done” and “Take Out Your Pens and Pencils and Take Notes.” There are also a lot of dedications on this CD; there’s one for JADA as well. It’s my way of giving back to those who helped me get where I am. Each title has a self-explanatory message.
Your favorite track on it and why?
Each song has a special meaning, either for a special person or event. But, if I had to choose a favorite it would probably be the one that I did not write (but rewrote), the cover version of “In This Love 2gether” from the late, great Al Jarreau.
We are going through so many painful things and I want to reach out to as many of those suffering (in any way, shape, or form) as I can to tell them I love them and I am there for them and in it with them. Even though my version is instrumental, most people know the original version and can reflect on it. It’s an older song that I brought back to life. This song has also won me an award.
Favorite local venue?
I’ve played a lot of different places in Omaha, but my favorite would be a city park called Heartland of America Park. It’s one of three parks that I have free concerts in during the spring, summer and fall of each year (weather pending). There is a big lake right behind the stage with a gondola that takes you around the lake and a big fountain that shoots water about 300 feet in the air and changes colors at night. I also give a free concert on the Fourth of July and the City of Omaha has a fireworks display after my show.
This may sound funny but my favorite festival is one that I have not played (yet!), although I have played lots of festivals all over and loved them all. It’s the Catalina Island JazzTraxx festival hosted by Mr. Art Good. I have been wanting to play there since the first time I attended as a fan in 2007.
“A Pound of the O-Zone Sound” is a great tag line! Talk about that.
It’s a catch phrase that I created when I made my logo and record label Thumpin’ Hard Records. It’s also the name of my signature sound that I have developed by mixing different genres of music and adding my own secret formula to the meal so I can serve it up on a hot plate of funk, jazz, rock, gospel, blues, classical, old school, new school, and spiced just right for you to remember and share for the rest of your life. Funny thing is…once you chew it up and swallow it, you can’t digest it. Once it’s in there…it’s in there! It’s one of the chants that I say during my show. “Give me a pound of that O-zone sound”and “Say it loud, let me hear ya!”
What themes inspire you when you compose?
All my songs are inspired by experiences that life has bestowed upon us. My goal is to tell someone who is going through something (positive or negative) that I know where they are coming from and what they’re going through. Hopefully, I can help them better their situation, even if it’s good to start with. I love to write music that people can make babies to.
How do your titles and sexy covers reconcile with domestic abuse issues you are raising awareness of?
On a serious note, that is probably the best question yet. We all know, but some won’t admit – sex sells! No doubt about it. It’s an attention-getter. You see sexy women and men on TV, billboards, commercials and social media. The biggest difference between my CD covers, song titles, lyrics and my connection to and creation of JADA is broken down to one word, respect. My song titles are designed to get the mind going. To push the envelope but not cross the line. Everybody thinks about sex, being sexy and looking good.
JADA comes in after the line is crossed. Abuse usually occurs after the relationship is already established.
Current projects now as a producer?
Not right now, but my main focus is to get JADA launched, hopefully on a worldwide scale, starting in 2018. I will continue to record new music.
As my tour schedule grows I will take JADA with me, inviting new artists to join me.
What are your plans to grow the performance side of your career?
I want to continue to make contact with any festivals that will let me play. My music and I have reached all over the world, with JADA’s message.
Now we just have to get the fundraising going and the donations coming in and then we can start planning the tour. Unfortunately, domestic abuse will never go away, so we plan to keep going as long as it does. We won’t stop until it has been eliminated. I would most like to play for and have an interview with someone like Ellen, Oprah, Steve Harvey, Jimmy Kimmel, or anyone who has a talk show with a large audience.
I would like to offer you the biggest thank you for allowing me to share this time with you and allow your friends and fans to get to know myself and JADA. I really appreciate this opportunity. If you would like to listen to my music, my official website is www.thumpinhard.com. I can also be found on YouTube at Thumper & Generation One, or on Facebook at Thumper Samuels, or Thumper & Generation One.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
(c) Debbie Burke 2017