Joe Sample was born February 1, 1939, in Houston, Texas, the fourth of five siblings, raised in Houston’s Fifth Ward. He started playing piano at the age of five. In 1953, he formed the Swingsters, with childhood friends, Wayne Henderson, Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper.  Knowing there was a bigger stage somewhere, in 1958, they moved to Los Angeles.  In 1961, as the Jazz Crusaders, they recorded their first album for the Pacific Jazz label.  They soon established themselves as purveyors of a funkier ”Gulf Coast” style of Jazz.  In the late 60s they teamed with record producer, Stewart Levine, added electric piano and bass to their sound, shortened their name to “Crusaders,” and quickly became seminal players in that explosive era of new music in the late 60s and 70s.

Meanwhile Joe was establishing himself as the “go to guy” in the Los Angeles studio scene.  He played on nearly every hit song or album during that era: Joni Mitchell, The Jackson 5, The Beach Boys, B.B King, The Supremes, George Benson, Al Jarreau, and nearly every TV theme song of that period produced by Quincy Jones, just to name a few.

Joe’s touch on the keyboard, whether an acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes or Wurlitzer, was singular.  Any four bars and you knew it was Joe Sample. 

His composition work had become the bedrock of the Crusaders and in 1979 he wrote the hit song “Street Life,” with lyricist Will Jennings.  He invited young singer Randy Crawford to sing, and the song became an instant classic, launching Ms. Crawford’s own illustrious international career, and making the Crusaders international headliners.  Joe would go on to write/co-write numerous additional hit songs, including “One Day I’ll Fly Away,” “In All My Wildest Dreams,” (sampled by Tupac in the hit “Dear Mama”), “Unity,” “Spellbound,” & “Soul Shadows.”

In 1969 Joe recorded his first record as bandleader, Fancy Dance, but his first true solo record was Rainbow Seeker in 1978.  Joe went on to further establish his prominence as a solo recording artist, composer and one of the most unique piano players of all time. His catalogue of songs has been one of the most “sampled” in the current era of R&B, Pop, Hip-Hop and Rap.

In 2007, he recorded and released the first of three critically acclaimed, and Grammy nominated trio albums, featuring Randy Crawford as vocalist.  His final recording, Children of The Sun, an amazing suite written for big band, was released in the fall of 2014.  He had recently stepped into the world of musical theater.  Working with writers, Jonatha Brooke and Marc Mantell, his play Quadroon had its premier reading at the Ensemble Theater in Houston, TX, July 8th, 2014.

Joe Sample will be remembered as an icon of his craft. A one-of-a-kind composer.  A singularly unique pianist. A master storyteller.  A great friend.