Sam Salomone – 2001 INDUCTEE

Although he claims his father was tone-deaf, Sam Salomone’s parents obviously had a sense of musicality about them. His name, alone, is quite lyrical. Yet the Chicago-born, Tama-raised Salomone recalls that his father played the family piano rather poorly. Infected with Blues fever in the mid-1950s, Salomone was able to pick up WLAC radio out of Nashville, which featured R&B recording artists such as Ray Charles, Little Richard and Howlin’ Wolf. But it was Jerry Lee Lewis who gave him the fire to want to learn to play piano.

“My dad tried to play piano by ear, but I always knew when he was doing something wrong and what he was doing wrong, and he’d get mad when I’d try to correct him,” Salomone says laughing.

Despite his penchant for rolling Boogie-Woogie, as Salomone was maturing, the only bandmates he could find in Tama favored Country-Western sounds. “I tried to turn them on to Rock ‘n’ Roll, but I couldn’t do it,” he says. So he moved to the closest city he could find – Des Moines, where the 60-year-old pianist/organist still makes his home today.

“I hooked up with a pretty well-known guitarist at the time by the name of Don Archer,” Salomone says. With Archer’s help, he learned more about music than he ever knew existed. “Archer knew Jazz and he was a big help to me.”

With more firepower added to his musical repertoire, Salomone rewarded himself by buying his first Hammond B3 organ in 1965.

He continued to stick with Archer, developing his style in both Blues and Jazz, and often hooked up with other area talent. “We worked a lot with vocalist Ella Ruth Piggee,” he recalls of his Center Street days when he briefly changed his name to Sam Anthony, simply for memorability. “We’d play a few Jazz tunes, then she’d get up and join us and we’d do Gladys Knight or Marvin Gaye or some James Brown tunes.

His local experiences led to some incredible opportunities. “In 1963, I toured with Del Shannon (“Runaway”) and later with The Duprees (“You Belong to Me”),” he says. The latter part of the 1960s found Salomone in Kansas City, where he hooked up with guitarist Calvin Keys. “He was doing Jazz, but I wasn’t doing that well with reading and he kept riding me. ‘You better learn how to read,’ he’d tell me.” So he headed back to school. A couple of years studying theory and harmony at Grand View College and all of a sudden, Salomone, once relegated to his Blues progressions, became the Jazz pianist of choice.

After a few hungry years spent in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, Salomone returned to his favored city. “I got tired of being hungry,” he says, “and I could always come back to Des Moines and find work.” And work he did. From 1988 to 1997, he played and recorded with the Des Moines Big Band. He also returned to his own Blues roots when BillyLee Janey and The Blue Band sought him out. Additionally, in 1997, along with alto saxophonist Richie Cole, he wrote and produced his album, It’s Never Too Late.

Concerning his induction to the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame, he says: “I was really surprised. A lot of people think of me as the Jazz guy, so it was a nice surprise to be noticed for the Blues.” Salomone also holds another Hall of Fame honor. In October of 2001, he became one of the first inductees in the Iowa Jazz Hall of Fame.

– Sarah Hankel

As published in the Des Moines CityView · 1/16/2002 – reprinted with permission

Photo by Jen Tayor –