It’s surprisingly difficult to find information about Sam Masterton. There’s a few live videos online, a Myspace page and a short profile on the website for the Siegel Entertainment talent agency.
One of the few descriptions I found of the Calgary-based slide guitar player called him a soul-searching roughneck who put a twist on country gospel. That was enough to have me intrigued.
Masterton is coming to Revelstoke this week for two shows. On Friday, he’s at the Last Drop playing with The Sons of Bitumen, a band he’s put together for the occasion. On Saturday, he’s the featured performer at the Revelstoke Coffee House along with Sara Jane Scouten.
Masterton grew up playing gospel and contemporary Christian music in church. When he was 16 he heard a Ben Harper album that changed his music direction. He took up slide guitar and started writing his own music. He even builds slide guitars for himself and others.
“It’s the closest thing I can find to a human voice,” he said. “It’s unique in the sense you’re not using any frets … You can really emulate a vocal line through the instrument.
“I love that quality about – that you can make it sing in its own unique way.”
When I asked Masterton to describe his sound, he struggled to pin it down. Terms like blues, rock and folk came out. He invoked artists like Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, JJ Cale, the Moody Blues and Kelly Joe Phelps.
“I’m not Bob Seeger, sitting up there with my nylon string acoustic and singing songs about the trees,” he said. “It’s acoustic music with an edge. It’s got a raw working-man, blue collar edge.”
In the 15 years since he’s played both solo and as a musician in numerous bands, most notably Run GMC (now Washboard Union), has accompanied the likes of Tim Buckley, and opened for a number of well-known performers.
“I was just a hired gun for years-and-years. I’ve probably played on 40 albums,” he told me, saying he would often open for the bands he toured with – playing a solo set before settling in as a sideman.
Masterton played professionally for years before giving up that life and settling down a little bit. He called me while on break from a construction job. He said he had discussions about signing with Universal, and got offered six figures to record an album, but in the end decided to remain independent.
“It’s not for me,” he said about signing with a major label. “It’s a lot more work to do it by yourself but you have more control of what you put out there.”
Masterton is coming to Revelstoke with a few friends. On Friday, Jeff Birch will open the show at the Last Drop with a solo electric show that Masterton described as “Led Zeppelin meets Phish. Epic ballads and heavy guitar. I wouldn’t say high energy, but I would say intense stuff.”
When Masterton hits the stage he’ll be joined by the Sons of Bitumen – a band he’s put together that includes Denis Severino and Jacob Verburg from Revelstoke’s Stuck on Honey, and Sarah Jane Scouten. Together they’ll play some classic country, some bluegrass, some roots music, with a mix of covers and originals.
“There will be three-part harmonies and wild instrumentals,” he said. “I’m really fortunate to be playing with really skilled players.”
On Saturday at the Coffee House, Masterton will be joined by Scouten, a singer-songwriter with a beautiful voice and a suitcase full of stringed instruments. “She’s incredible. How would I describe her?” said Masterton. “Loretta Lynn meets the Be Good Tanyas all in one person.”
Sam Masterton plays with the Sons of Bitumen at the Last Drop on Friday, Mar. 22, at 9 p.m.; and with Sarah Jane Scouten at the Revelstoke Coffee House on Saturday, Mar. 23, at 7:30 p.m.