Sunday, March 1, 2009

Music Biz Mondays: Meet Sam Payne

Sam Payne, the One and Only

There are times as a musician when I have had transcendent experiences.  Whether I am on stage or serving as an audience member, these experiences have rendered me completely and utterly enlightened as if some sort of laser of celestial knowledge had beamed down from the heavens and etched pure inspiration upon my mind.

One such moment took place in a boring and sterile 
conference room of the Tahitian Noni Headquarters in Provo, UT.  There was a local concert there that night.  I don't remember why I went but I knew that it had been very important for me to be there when I left.  Some fine artists had performed, but when Sam Payne took the stage no sooner did he begin to play some type of hand percussion doohickey, than I began the transcendental process.  Then he began to sing a most mesmerizing "Autumn Leaves" with a display of scatting skills that would have made even Louis Armstrong green with envy.  I was transfixed.  I knew in that moment that whatever Sam had, whatever gave him that power to hold an audience in the palm of his hand - I had to have it.  I determined I would stay until the after-show crowd died down to introduce myself and pick Sam's brain for how he did it.  To my great disappointment, Sam had no formula, no rhyme or reason to what had just happened in there.  He was extremely casual and rather humble about his talents, explaining that he loves to tell a good story and to just let go and have a fun time on stage.  I walked away unsatisfied that night.  Inspired mind you, but with a feeling of unrest in my soul.  

Three years later after getting to know Sam a bit better . . .

It is Saturday, February 27th.  I am carpooling home from a planning meeting for an upcoming tour.  This is no ordinary tour as I will be journeying to Bulgaria with Sam Payne and Peter Breinholt to visit various orphanages to sing for kids (life-changing stuff).  Sam is as easy-going and as happy-go-lucky as they come.  We talk about his life; his upbringing with parents Marvin Payne (actor and folk singer) and mother Niki Payne (a violinist from San Francisco).  No wonder Sam is such an exceptional storyteller!  We speak of his wife Kristie (who was also his high school sweetheart) and their four boys.  

Their youngest, Sam (aka "Sambo") is three years old.  They had filed papers to adopt several years back, expecting to wait 18 months to three years for a child.  Two months later they got word that a young mother with a seven week-old baby boy had selected the Paynes  to be the parents of her son and they would need to pick him up the next day.  The Paynes never expected that the boy's Grandmother and birth mother would move into their neighborhood one day.  He talks about this situation with deep gratitude, feeling that these women were meant to remain a part of Sambo's life.

Little Sambo

The Payne Family

When I asked Sam about the most singular experience in his career as a singer-songwriter, he didn't mention the time he played at the Kennedy Center or when he shared the stage with Toto.  He told of the time he had a concert with his jazz quintet in Springdale, UT.  His sax player, Denis Zwang called in as the date was approaching to explain that his father had passed away and that the funeral would take place on the day of the concert.  "Please don't worry about the concert," Sam urged.  Denis responded by saying that he would actually really like to come and play this one.  That night, Denis remained rather quiet and reserved as expected on such an occasion.  During Gershwin's "Our Love is Here to Stay," he performed a brilliant and moving sax solo.  Sam came in to take over as usual at the tail end of the solo when Denis elbowed Sam away and with eyes glued shut and tears streaming down his face, Denis continued his solo in a different realm where Sam claims, "Denis was with Pops." 

"The most singular experiences have been the small ones.  The coolest ones are never where you think they're going to be," Sam tells me.  Yes.  Even in boring, sterile corporate conference rooms at the Noni, I think to myself.

Such great stories!  But of course, a great story has always been Sam's passion.  As we drove home from our meeting, I realized that the energy Sam had transmitted from the stage that night at the Noni three years earlier came from his ability to be one hundred percent comfortable and confident with himself just the way he is.  There was no extra effort expended that night on trying to prove himself to anyone or to put his talent on display.  (Trust me, that sort of effort always backfires).  Sam is Sam whether on stage or in the carpool lane.  



Self confident.


To read more about Sam, his music and performances, visit  

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