Suitcase Sam has played an active roll in the Toronto music scene for nearly a decade, bringing his roots, country, and blues vibes all over the city and beyond.
Getting his start with the Hellbound Fiddle Band, over the years, Sam has curated a rich musical foundation upon which to tell his compelling stories. He’s studied everything from the traditions of American fiddle and Cowboy poetry to Swiss yodeling and the Hokum blues; became a connoisseur of ragtime string, the Lomax collection, Memphis jug; and has drawn inspiration from the Mississippi Sheiks, the Ascension Choir, Sonny Boy Terry and Brownie McGhee.
The U.S.-born singer and songwriter recently released his EP Get It To Go, a repack of his first record that was originally released in 2010. Comprising seven songs, the EP also includes bonus tracks from the award-winning soundtrack for The Sweetest Hippopotamus, a film that was adapted by Sam’s song of the same name. Get It To Go comes ahead of his debut full-length album that is set to drop this fall.
Suitcase Sam broke down the EP track by track just for Musical Notes Global readers. Check out his thoughts below.
“Diddie Wa Diddie”
The Get It To Go EP was a well rehearsed, spur of the moment type of situation. We cut the original four songs of the EP in three hours of studio time. The product of those three hours is what you hear on record.
Diddie Wa Diddie, the first track on the EP, is a Blind Blake tune from 1929. When I was younger, I was inspired by rag time and other forms of traditional roots and folk music and I was determined to learn this style of playing for myself. Diddie Wa Diddie was the first tune I was able to wrap my head, and fingers, around. So when it came time to make my first record, I saw Diddie as a fitting place to kick things off. My version of the standard isn’t a carbon copy of Blake’s by any stretch. I see it more as an amalgamation of various blues and ragtime guitarists. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to borrowing a lick or two from Mississippi John Hurt and Big Bill Broonzy, in addition to Blind Blake, when recording this one.
“Never Been to Big Pine”
The first of three additional tracks written specifically for The Sweetest Hippopotamus short film. Director Marc Roussel had made a request for musical accompaniment for the introduction of Big Pine and The Sweetest Hippopotamus speakeasy. My idea was to invoke the music of a silent era picture show and I felt these chords would do the trick. It’s a song written by me for piano but I don’t play piano too good. Robin Hatch deserves credit for giving my chord changes depth and for bringing this song to life.
“The Sweetest Hippopotamus”
This isn’t the first song I ever wrote but it’s the first song I wrote in this ragtime/vaudeville style. It’s the spark that lit a fire under my ass. It gave me the encouragement to continue to pursue this avenue in the face of skeptics and nay-sayers, many of whom genuinely thought I was having a nervous breakdown. And maybe I was, but you can’t argue with results. Not long after, The Sweetest Hippopotamus went on to inspire the short film by the same name. So it just goes to show, you can’t always know where a road will go.
“Big Jack’s in Big Trouble Now”
Although it was left on the cutting room floor, it was the second of the three additional tracks written for The Sweetest Hippopotamus film. By this point I knew we were going to have to come up with additional music for the film and so Robin and I split off, task at hand. I came up with Never Been to Big Pine and Robin wrote Big Jack’s in Big Trouble Now, which, at the time, were simply titled Hippo 01 and Hippo 02, respectively. I was surprised when I realized Big Jack was missing from the final edit. To me It sounds like Minnie the Moocher took a stroll down to St. James Infirmary. It’s eerie.
“The Gas Pedal Rag”
When I hear this song it brings a smile to my face. I can hear that I’m on the right track with it but, looking back on it now, I also hear someone struggling to find his voice and figure out what he is trying to say. But the kernel of what I wanted to become is in this song. It’s not a bulls-eye but it’s a worthy attempt and that’s why it brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. The title of the song came from Robin. We were listening to the playback in the studio and she jokingly suggested “The Gas Pedal Rag” as a comment on our runaway tempo and inability to keep time throughout the song. We both laughed. The title stuck.
Paper Doll was a hit song for the Mills Brothers in 1943. My dad always liked the song and I suppose I cut this version for him. We recorded it at the end of our three hour studio session on a “time permitting” basis. It was somewhat of an afterthought because I never really felt fully at home performing this one and it wasn’t long before it was dropped from my set altogether. But sometimes you gotta step outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself by trying something new.
“Can I Get a Bone?”
This is the last of the three additional tracks recorded for The Sweetest Hippopotamus film. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas for this one when I went into the studio. I just let the tape roll and my mind wander as the microphone picked up the various voices inside of my head…and Ed Asner. He’s there too, on this one.
Listen to Get It To Go now on Spotify.