Through their fusion of Steely Dan-influenced pop and schooled jamming, Uncle Sammy continues the work of early jam bands like God Street Wine. While most of their material is strictly instrumental, there is a distinct melodic sensibility to it that comes along with the possibility of experimentation.
The band was formed in 1997 by four students of Boston’s prestigious Berklee School of Music, including guitarist Max Delaney, drummer Tom Arey, keyboardist Walter “Beau” Sasser, and bassist and principal songwriter Brian O’Connell. Part of the fourth generation of jam bands, Uncle Sammy picks up on the jazz-rock refined by the late God Street Wine and brings it to the next level of improvisation, melding elements of funk, jazz, and Afro-Cuban. Like the Disco Biscuits, Lake Trout, Sound Tribe Sector 9, and others, the band also delves into electronic explorations from time to time.
Since bandmembers were all full-time students, playing out and touring was second priority to school. As they played, though, they quickly worked up a fan base through the usual method of mailing lists and tape trading. In 1999, the band released their first disc, a live album recorded at Broadway Joe’s in Buffalo, NY (the same bar where — relatively — veteran jam band moe. got their start in their college days). Highlighting almost an hour of the band’s four-plus hour performance, the album showed the band’s affinity for long, tightly-wound improvisations.
The band has collaborated with many of their jam band counterparts. In early 2000, Delaney participated in the Maui Project, a side project of Marc Brownstein, bassist for the Disco Biscuits. Members of Sammy have also appeared with Foxtrot Zulu, Jiggle, DJ Logic, John Denver, and others.
On May 23, 2000, the band recorded their next release, another live disc — Naturally Preserved — at another legendary northeast venue, Manhattan’s Wetlands Preserve. Following the recording, the band undertook their first national tour, co-headlining with Addison Groove Project (with whom the band jammed at almost every show). The disc was released in the fall of 2000 on the Phoenix Presents label.
On New Year’s Eve, 2000, the band returned to Wetlands for a multi-set extravaganza. They performed in the venue’s basement lounge, constructing a permanent stage just for the event (previously, bands had played on the floor of the room). Overhauling the room with clocks and lights, the band performed a “time”-themed set that lasted until dawn.
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