Jeep Macnichol, who used to keep time for the Samples, recently sent former Backbeat editor Michael Roberts a letter taking issue with a column Roberts had written in September 1997 about the drummer's split from the band -- a letter saying that Sean Kelly, the act's frontman, was "full of shit" about the reasons for Macnichol's departure from one of Mootown's most sacred cows, back when the act was in what many still consider to be its prime.
A fast history lesson: Long before there were any Stringy dairy projects and Leftover Phish in the People's Republic, the Samples were kid-tested and road-approved. The band owned the college circuit and helped pave the road that countless other acts have followed to success. But while the Samples' long list of credentials is commendable, I've always thought that the act was grossly overrated and its music terminally mundane. Aside from Macnichol's exceptional drumming and Kelly's striking vocal resemblance to Sting (and, I'd argue, that guy from the Outfield), the Samples just didn't strike a chord with me.
However, regardless of what I thought about the music -- then or now -- the Samples have survived three music editors at this fishwrap alone, fer chrissakes. So Macnichol's version of the story seemed like one that deserved to be told. It took a trip to the archives to locate the offending quote that had rocked Macnichol's boat, but I found it.
"One of Jeep's biggest reasons for leaving was because MCA didn't want to go with the song 'Did You Ever Look So Nice' as the second single from Outpost," Kelly had told Roberts. "He also got married around that time, but the whole argument about the single was the catalyst for the downward spiral. It was very harmful, and he just decided that he didn't want to do it anymore."
Well, you know what they say: Perception is reality. And Macnichol remembers things very differently.
"I just thought it was ironic that he cited one of the reasons for me leaving as a dispute over a single that was going to be released on our last album that was on MCA, called Outpost," he says, "and that I disagreed with the fact that it was going to be chosen as the single. It's ironic, because what actually happened was the first single that was chosen for that album was a song called 'Big Bird.' And that was actually a song that I wrote. And Sean threw a fit and screamed at the record company, screamed at our manager and made a huge stink until his song -- a song that he had written -- ended up getting chosen to be the single. He didn't want 'Big Bird' to be the first single, because he didn't think that it reflected the band. And a similar dispute happened on the album before, with a song called 'Water Rush.' It was a W.A.R.? Records release, and Sean wouldn't let them use that song, either, because it wasn't one of his songs."
That incident, however aggravating to Macnichol, was not the reason for his exodus from the band, he says. As it turns out, it's closer to the explanation that the act's manager at the time, Ted Guggenheim, offered Roberts seven years ago: creative differences.
Ah, the old standby. Given that -- and with the exception of ex-keyboardist Al Laughlin's oft-chronicled (at least in these pages) legal and drug travails -- the Behind the Music episode featuring the Samples should be painfully banal.
Macnichol maintains that playing in the Samples, at least in the latter years, was simply more of a struggle than it was worth. "I left at a point where, creatively, I thought the band was going down the tubes," he says. "But art is all personal tastes. And from my perspective, I just didn't think we were doing much that was interesting, and it just felt like it was time for me to leave. To me, it wasn't interesting. I'd find myself sitting behind the drums, playing these shows, and my mind was elsewhere," he recalls. "Like I was pretending I was playing drums for Pantera or something."
Vinnie Paul and Macnichol trading stools -- who wouldn't pay to see that? For my money, especially given my take on the Samples, that would probably be more compelling than seeing Kelly's latest reconfigured version of the band. And by the way, isn't Macnichol at least a little steamed that Kelly is still touring under the Samples moniker?
"To a certain extent, I can understand why Sean is touring around with the name," he allows. "You know, touring around as Sean Kelly from the Samples, like a solo-type thing, he's just not going to draw tickets. But with the name the Samples, even if it is one original guy, he'll be able to tour around for the rest of his life playing those songs. Now, whether it does integrity to the music or not is really not my place to say anymore. I was there when the band started. I'm really proud of the five albums I was a part of. And from this point on, he's trying to make a living, and he's gotta do what he's gotta do, and it's no skin off my back whatsoever."