Samm Bennett

Some musicians create a genre all their own. Tokyo-based musician Samm Bennett is one such individual. Uniqueness is the start of all style. And Samm is all style.

What instruments do you play?

I play lots of different percussion: talking drum, udu, various hand drums, shakers, bells, tubes, blocks, whistles and such. I also play the standard drum kit, and an assemblage of my own that I call the “walking drum”, which is basically a kind of small bass drum and small snare drum attached to each other: I hold it with a strap, and can move around while playing it. Great for parades! The idea was inspired by the Mississippi hill country fife and drum ensembles, where you get a bass drummer and one or two snare drummers, really old school style.

But I wanted to be able to get that sound as a solo player. So the walking drum was born. Additionally, I often put pickup mics on hand drums, and run that signal through distortion and pitch shifters and so forth, which can result in some pretty unusual sounds. So sometimes you’ll see me credited as playing “electric talking drum” or “electric cymbal”.

Apart from percussion, I play the stick dulcimer, also called the strumstick. It’s a three-stringed instrument that sounds like a cross between a banjo and a shamisen. I use it quite a bit in solo performances, to accompany my songs. I also play some one-string instruments, generally referred to as the “diddley bow”. Then there’s the jaw harps and mouth bows, which I use quite a bit. And finally, I like to tinker with electronics: sometimes I use drum machines, synthesizers, and all manner of cheap electronic gadgets. I’m known to play squeezy toys on occasion, as well. You can’t beat a squeezy toy. But you can squeeze ‘em.

How much are you self taught?

I’m about 90% self taught. I took a handful of lessons years back in NYC with drummers like Milford Graves, Barry Altschul and Andrew Cyrille. And I learned some drumming styles of the Benin people during my extended stay in Benin City, Nigeria back in 1980/81. Otherwise, I’m self taught. I’ve always just tried to find my way. I’m still trying.

Your songs derive from so many traditions: Can you speak about your influences?

I’ve been greatly influenced by various traditional musics from around the world, especially African music and its various offshoots around the globe.

Also the blues, especially acoustic, pre-war blues from the Mississippi delta and surrounding southern states. Old time music of Appalachia is a big influence. And I’ve of course been influenced by many, many great songwriters, including Hank Williams, Randy Newman, Willie Dixon, Tom Waits, Richard Thompson, Leonard Cohen, and of course, The Big D, you know, His Bobness, Mr. Zimmerman.

Your songs seem to neither derive from, nor seem to be a reaction against, Japanese musical traditions. Can you talk about your music’s relationship with Japan?

I actually rather like some Japanese traditional music: I’m crazy about the sound of the shamisen, for example, and I’m quite fond of some of the Okinawan traditional music, music from Yaeyama, fisherman’s songs from the Japan Sea areas, some of the matsuri music, and so forth. And the ancient court music called Gagaku has been something I’ve been utterly entranced by since I first heard a recording of it back in high school! But in my own music, it’s true that there’s little to no direct influence from Japan. If there’s any at all, I suppose it would be that in much of my solo music there is a stripped-down, bare simplicity that one might compare to certain Japanese traditional music. On the other hand, that’s just as much (and probably more) influenced by the Appalachian high lonesome style of, say, Roscoe Holcomb or Dock Boggs, which is as American as it gets.

Who are some of the talented musicians you’ve played with? Can you speak a little about those experiences?

Well, Tokyo especially, and Japan in general, is so full of amazingly talented musicians, it’s hard to know where to start… when I first came to Japan for some concerts, back in 1986, I was fortunate to be paired with saxophonist Umezu Kazutoki, for a show at CAY, a venue which is still in operation, by the way, after 25 years! Anyway, I worked with Umezu off and on for many years, and through my tours with him I met many musicians. In recent times, some of the younger musicians I’ve been working with have really impressed me not just with their instrumental proficiency but, more importantly, with their sense of music. My band mates in the Smoke Benders, for example, Daysuke Takaoka on tuba and Numa Naoya on drums, are just incredibly funky: their groove is deep and solid, and their playing is intuitive and flexible.

You also work together with poets. Can you speak about that?

I haven’t really done a whole lot of that, but as someone who is very, very interested in words and how they get put together, I suppose it’s inevitable that I would work with some poets from time to time. I’ve also taken part in some poetry events not as an accompanist for poets, but as a poet myself.
Because I have this basic philosophy that songwriting (which is right up there for me with playing as an activity that I devote great time and attention to) is essentially poetry. There was a time in the past when the distinction between poetry and song was not so clear as it is perceived to be today. I want people to focus on my lyrics every bit as much as they’d focus on the words of a poem. There’s no difference for me.

What styles or traditions would you like to explore going forward?

I’ll mostly keep working with what would essentially be called “Americana” of some form or another. That’s the deepest and most natural vein for me to mine, I believe. In my own songwriting, blues-related or old time-related styles seem the most comfortable, and the most appropriate. With the Smoke Benders, there’s an emphasis on New Orleans and funk feels, which are certainly areas I’ll continue to explore with that band. My duo with Ghanaian drummer Nii Tete (called Big System) is something that I intend to move forward with, bringing my own drumming styles and songs into the framework of Nii’s kpanlogo rhythm universe. Various other projects recently underway look promising, like my percussion band the Metaphors (with Marcos Fernandes and Hiroshi Shimizu). And I’d like to move more into working with musicians here who play traditional instruments, especially shamisen, which I dearly love. I’m also looking to do some straight up country music. I want to sing in a Hank Williams/Merle Haggard/Porter Wagoner cover band!

Can you provide us some information on your CDs as well as where interested people can obtain them?

My most recent CD is a studio project called “Roomful of Ghosts”. Information on that, and on other releases and all my various musical endeavors may be found under one convenient roof: my website. Please visit!



トーキングドラム、ウドゥ、ハンドドラム、シェイカー、ベル、チューブ、ブロック、ホイッスル、などの各種パーカッションです。普通のドラムセットをプレイすることもあります。僕が作った「ウォーキング・ドラム」というものがあって、これは小径のバスドラとスネアを合体させたようなものです。ストラップで肩から下げ、歩きながらプレイすることが出来ますから屋外でのパフォーマンスで大活躍します。バスドラ奏者とスネアドラム奏者から成るMississippi hill country fife and drum ensemblesという、非常に古いスタイルのバンドからヒントを得て作りました。彼らに近いサウンドを僕一人で演奏できたらと考え、「ウォーキング・ドラム」というアイデアが生まれました。それと、ハンドドラムにマイクを付けて音を拾い、ディストーションやピッチ・シフターなどのエフェクターを掛けるととても面白いサウンドになります。そのような演奏スタイルから、僕は「エレクトリック・トーキング・ドラム奏者」とか「エレクトリック・シンバル奏者」とクレジットされることもあります。









日本、特に東京には素晴らしい才能を持ったミュージシャンがたくさんいます。1986年に仕事で初めて日本に来た時、南青山にある「CAY」でのイベントでサックス奏者の梅津和時と共演したのですが、彼とはそれ以来何度か一緒に仕事をしていますし、彼とのツアーを通じてたくさんのミュージシャンとも知り合いました。それらの中には、特に若手のミュージシャンで優秀な人たちがいます。彼らはただテクニック的に優れているというだけではなく、素晴らしい音楽センスを持っていて、本当に驚かされます。例えば Smoke Bendersのメンバーである高岡大祐(チューバ)や沼直也(ドラム)はびっくりするくらいファンキーな演奏をします。彼らの生み出すグルーヴは深く重厚なもので、プレイは直感的で自由自在です。




「アメリカーナ」と呼ばれているようなものを追求していきたいと考えています。僕にとって最も深く、最も自然なテーマだからです。曲を書く時は自然にブルース調やルーツミュージック風になることが多いですし、そういった楽曲で一番僕らしさが出ると思います。一方Smoke Bendersではニューオーリンズを感じさせるものやファンキーなものをやっていますが、そういった分野も引き続き追求していきたい。ガーナ出身のドラマー、ニ・テテ(別名ビッグ・システム)とのデュオでは、僕独自のドラムスタイルと曲を彼のパンロゴ(ガーナの打楽器)の世界に融合させていく試みを続けています。その他にも、マルコス・フェルナンデスや清水博志とのパーカッションバンドであるMetaphorsなど、色々なプロジェクトが進行中です。三味線奏者との共演も今後増やしていきたい。正統派のカントリーミュージックも今後やっていきたいですね。ハンク・ウィリアムス、マール・ハガード、ポーター・ワゴナーなんかをやるバンドで歌えたら最高の気分でしょう。


最新作は「Roomful of Ghosts」というアルバムで、その他、過去に出したアルバムや僕に関する諸々の情報についてはウェブサイトで是非チェックしてみてください。どうぞよろしく!

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