Flat Foot Sam’s No Joke

The Educated Fools Find a Home to Rock, Roll and Swing in Frederick

By David Morreale | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 08.01.13 – Feature, Music, People & Places

There’s an old musician’s joke that goes like this: A piano player and a harmonica player both fall off a cliff, which one hits the ground first? The piano player, because the harmonica guy had to stop halfway down and ask, “What key are we in?”

What makes this joke funny—but perhaps only to musicians—is that, as an instrument, the harmonica has no bad notes as long as the player chooses the right harmonica for the key the band is in, which is why most amateur “harp players” sound so, well, amateurish. In performances, the piano player is already falling and doesn’t have time to yell out the key.

Flatfoot Sam would not be amused. Because Sam pins ears back all day long with his harmonica. He learned to play at the knee of one of the finest blues harp players in the world, Junior Wells, who is “a real gentleman, but he cursed a lot. He was a great friend of mine and we played together many times, deep into the night.”

Though Sam has been in the D.C. area since 1984, he didn’t start playing gigs in the region with his band, The Educated Fools, until 1997. Since then, he’s kept the band busy touring up and down the East Coast, playing blues festivals, nightclubs, theaters and other blues-worthy venues. Proving that you can take the boy from the South, but can in no way remove the South from the boy, Sam laughs a laugh that sounds, for all the world, like a scratchy 78-rpm record and tells a little of his story.

“My Uncle Fred took me to clubs when I was a boy and all those clubs had jukeboxes. I’d listen to guys like Jimmy Rodgers and Sonny Boy Williamson, Professor Longhair, Freddie King … phenomenal players, you know? I’d listen to the Rolling Stones, but the guys that interested me were the guys the Stones got their stuff from!”

“Man, we’re energetic, up tempo, full of drive and fun. We’re one of the best shows you’ll ever see, man, and I have to attribute that to the skills of the guys in the band. ”

As an adult, Sam took a job managing Tornado Alley, one of the D.C. area’s most prestigious venues for blues, swing and jazz. He was still just “Sam” back then, until his band, The Educated Fools, played a gig there and a reviewer from The Washington Post heard the band perform an old song written by bluesman Oscar Wells, aka “TeeVee Slim.” The song was called Flatfoot Sam and the reporter mistook that for the name of the front man of the group.

“The name just kinda stuck. I’d perform our set onstage at Tornado Alley and then take a break and get behind the bar and serve the people drinks. Folks would say, ‘Hey, you’re the Flatfoot Sam guy!’”

The Educated Fools line-up reads like a “Who’s Who” of Wanted Musicians from the area. Harmonica player Carrie Bell played with Chicago blues legend Muddy Waters for 15 years and brought Steve “Baby Jake” Jacobs into the band on guitar. Tam Sullivan, who plays the keys, comes from the school of the Prestones, and Steve Reiter played bass with The Meteors. The newest Educated Fool, Dave Elliot, played drums with D.C. stars Danny Gatton, Tom Principato and Bill Kirtchen.

Flatfoot Sam and The Educated Fools swing into Frederick on Thursday, Aug. 8, at 5 p.m. to play [email protected] at the Carroll Creak Linear Park ampitheater. The band will mostly play their own original tunes, penned in large part by one of the region’s most dynamic frontmen, Flatfoot Sam himself. “I love playing in Frederick,” he says. “We have a great following, the folks love what we have to offer, and we always have fun.”

Sam has lived in Frederick since 1993. He immediately fell in love with the city. “Frederick is one of the most eclectic towns I’ve ever seen. I also consider myself something of a ‘foodie’ and the food downtown is hip and wonderful. I’ve been all over the world, man, and the food here is as amazing as anywhere I’ve been!”

“I love playing in Frederick. We have a great following, the folks love what we have to offer, and we always have fun.”

In response to a question asking Sam to name five adjectives to describe the sound of The Educated Fools, he doesn’t even try to keep to the limit. Five words just aren’t enough.

“Man, we’re energetic, up tempo, full of drive and fun. We’re one of the best shows you’ll ever see, man, and I have to attribute that to the skills of the guys in the band. They’re phenomenal musicians and great people.”

Onstage, Flatfoot Sam prowls, growls, shouts and belts out original swing, boogie, blues and jump tunes. He pulls no punches. He’s there to entertain you, so you’d best be entertained, son. His vocals are like bacon on the shiny, hot rail of a train track in August and the band is definitely cooking with charcoal.

During the course of a set, The Educated Fools will show you the depth and breadth of “cool” to a downtown scene that can’t seem to get enough of it. These musicians play hard; then they play harder. Band members switch solos—each solo being just a tip of the hat to the next soloist, an invitation to take over.

Sam’s original songs are hepcat-approved, sounding a lot like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Brian Setzer, with a soul-food-sized dash of Chicago and New Orleans blues thrown into the oven created by The Educated Fools every time they decide to heat things up.

The front man himself is the consummate leader; Sam’s presence is commanding and he never has to stop halfway down to ask what key the band is in. He knows, Bubba, because he wrote the tune.

Flatfoot Sam and his Educated Fools will be catching lightning in a gumbo-pot at [email protected] just as they do at every show, every time. And Sam himself will be TCB all the way, because Taking Care of Business is exactly what a professional does, and Flatfoot Sam, after 30 years touring and performing and writing songs for folks all over the country is the ultimate professional. He can walk his walk all day long or, in the words of the bluesman, “until the sun comes up.”

So, pin your own ears back, and save Flatfoot Sam the trouble.