Meet your local musicians: bass player Willie Samuelson
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — At the foundation of every great song is a great bass player, maintaining steady rhythm and keeping things moving along. For nearly 40 decades, bassist Willie Samuelson has been providing this foundation to every kind of music in Steamboat Springs — from blues and bluegrass to jazz, country and Christian rock.
Explore Steamboat chatted with Samuelson to learn more about his story and his music.
Explore Steamboat: When did you first get interested in music?
Willie Samuelson: My interest really started with seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. In seventh grade, I signed up to play the stand-up bass in school, back in Indiana. In eighth grade, my mother bought me my first electric bass for my birthday, and I started seeing who else was playing around in my school. I played through high school, in bands and musicals. After high school, I worked in a steel mill, and eventually, my two cousins in Springfield, Illinois, were looking for a bass player, and I thought, “This is my chance to get out of the steel mine.” In ’78 or ’79, I met a musician named Greg Richards, and he said, “Let’s move to Colorado — there are all these ski resorts we can play music at.” January of 1982 was the first time I came to Steamboat, with a band called the Full House Band, which had a horn section and a lady singer. We played a lot at the Shortbread Saloon —that’s where Straightline is now.
ES: In all your time in the Steamboat music scene, how have you seen it change?
WS: I think there’s a lot more musicians now. That was one thing that attracted me to Steamboat, but I think there’s even more, now. In the late ’80s, I went to Nashville and played music there, but I just kept thinking about moving back here, and when I did, I noticed a lot of musicians had moved (to Steamboat). In the ’90s, clubs seemed to need to hire bands from out of town because nobody wanted to come see local bands. That changed — I can’t remember when, but I know from talking with different people that they like seeing the local bands and what the local bands were doing, instead of groups from out of town. I’ve played with a lot of different musicians in this town, and they’re all great.
ES: Of all the shows you’ve ever played, which one is your favorite and why?
WS: I play every other weekend at the Steamboat Christian Center, and that’s a lot of fun. We usually just do a few songs, but the energy level is awesome. It’s really rewarding, and it’s hard to explain the feeling you get.
I got to play at the Grand Ole Opry, and that was pretty amazing — like, “I never thought I’d be here, standing on this stage.” And I did a show in Canada at an outdoor festival with 60,000 people; I remember looking out into the crowd and thinking, “This isn’t real.”
ES: What do you spend time doing outside of music?
WS: I like to ski and spend time with my wife — I got remarried in July 2016, and she’s really supportive of my music. We do a little traveling — we’ve been to Nicaragua, Greece, New York. We spend time with grandkids. When I got remarried, I became a grandfather right away — it’s really fun. I really appreciate my family. My son plays bass, too. He’s played with Sk8 Church and Young Life. He’s helping people with it. It’s great.
ES: Where can fans find you playing around Steamboat Springs?
WS: I do a steady Friday night thing at Three Peaks Grill and every other weekend at the Steamboat Christian Center. I play with a band called Worried Men — we probably play three or four times a year. I play with another band called Constant Change; we mostly do private parties but occasionally show up at Schmiggity’s. I’ve played with Me and Ed’s Music Machine, as well.
ES: When you’re in the middle of the show, what does that feel like?
WS: It kind of feels like everything is right when I’m playing music. I don’t think about any problems that are plaguing me.
ES: Out of everything you’ve learned in your years making music, what’s the most useful, important lesson for young, aspiring musicians?
WS: What I heard in Nashville a lot is this: No matter how good you think you are, there’s always someone better, and that’s the real truth. Years ago in the ’70s, I played with Bobby McFerrin in Springfield, and he always said to think of time as a circle, and that’s helped my music a lot. If it’s a slow song, think of a big circle; if it’s a fast song, your circle is small. He taught me some really good things.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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