Sam Phillips

January 28, 1962
Sam PhillipsVocals1980 -
  • Sam was born Leslie Ann Phillips in 1962 but, after years of disillusionment working in the Christian music industry, she adopted her childhood nickname for her new mainstream career. It was a bold choice considering the "other" Sam Phillips was a legendary figure who started Sun Records and discovered Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. In deference to her accidental namesake, she would not take a producer credit on any of her albums until after the producer's death in 2003.
  • Sam left the Christian music industry - namely Myrrh Records - when she realized the atmosphere didn't line up with her own views of Christianity. She didn't want to be creatively stifled by the label's narrow views or pigeonholed into being "the Christian Cyndi Lauper." She explained to Magnet Magazine: "I thought it had become a pretty terrible landscape of phoniness and bad politics and just pinheaded thinking. I felt it didn’t have much to do with God or real spirituality or love or the things I was interested in." She continued talking about her experience in an interview with Songfacts: "When I got a contract with the Christian recording company, you had to do many variations on one theme, so it was very limiting as a writer. As I grew up, and as my spirituality grew up, a lot of that was just no longer relevant, and I found people got very unhappy in that world when you didn't tell them what they wanted to hear."

    The Turning (1987) was her last album as Leslie Phillips.
  • Sam met music producer T Bone Burnett while she was still working as Leslie Phillips. The pair began a long-running business partnership that started with T Bone producing The Turning album, and a marriage that lasted from 1989-2004. The same year of their divorce, T Bone produced one more album for Sam, a painful eulogy of the death of their marriage called A Boot and a Shoe.
  • Although she's written songs inspired by strong women, such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe ("Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us") and groundbreaking evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson ("Old Tin Pan"), Sam tells Songfacts she is typically inspired by men: "Women have not been my primary inspiration; I've always been inspired by male artists for some reason. My grandmother was a very strong woman. She worked in the defense plants in the '40s, was a single mom, and such a loving, wonderful human being. But that would be more of a subtle influence than something I took on. I didn't actually write about her."
  • Sam found a new challenge as a composer for TV music on popular shows like the Gilmore Girls and Bunheads. She spoke with Songfacts about the difference between writing for her albums and writing for TV: "[Composing is] faster because I'm not dealing with lyrics. My songs are slower because lyrics take more time for me. But it's not easier all the time because I think music for picture is one of the most wonderful things one can do. When it works, it's very powerful, but it's not that easy to get the music to speak with the pictures. It's constantly challenging and there are always different kinds of music that is needed, so I really like it. It keeps me on my toes and I feel like it's helped me as a songwriter."
  • Even though her preferences may seem old-fashioned to the tech-obsessed generation - she loves the warm sound of vinyl and the feel of a real book in her hands - Sam doesn't let those preferences dictate her work. In fact, she's always ready to meet the demands of the changing industry. In 2009, she began her own music subscription service called The Long Play to release a series of digital-only EPs. She also re-recorded some of her earlier songs like "Lying" and "I Need Love" for the project.
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