Magic Sam (Samuel Maghett) was at the forefront of the new electric blues movement in Chicago that is often called the West Side style, because many of the artists often performed or recorded on the West Side, although some lived on the South Side. A vibrant and dynamic performer and an exceptional singer and guitarist, Sam was poised to take his career to a new national level when his life was cut short by a heart attack at the age of 32. Born on Feb, 14, 1937, in a rural community east of Grenada, Mississippi, that now lies submerged beneath Grenada Lake, Sam, unlike most of his blues contemporaries, was raised in a community where fiddle music, hoedowns and square dances held sway over the blues among the African American population. Samuel Maghett carried these musical influences with him to Chicago in 1950. Blues guitarist Syl Johnson, who later became a nationally known soul singer, recalled that Sam was playing “a hillbilly style” at the time, and Johnson began teaching him blues and boogies. Also influenced by the boogie of John Lee Hooker, Sam developed a house-rocking blues style unparalleled in its rhythmic drive; it may well have had roots in the dance tempos of the reels and breakdowns he learned in Grenada, and he even recorded a “Square Dance Rock” in Chicago. Sam was better known, however, for the heartfelt vocals and stinging guitar work of his 1957-58 blues recordings produced by Willie Dixon for the Cobra label on the West Side such as “All Your Love” and “Easy Baby.” After performing under several stage names, he had settled on “Magic” Sam-to rhyme with his surname. The youthful energy and spirit of Sam, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, and Freddie King modernized Chicago blues into an explosive, electrifying new medium in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Sam remained a popular nightclub act during the 1960s and his star was on the rise after recording two acclaimed albums for Delmark Records and turning in legendary festival performances in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and in Europe, but he died of a heart attack on December 1, 1969. His music has continued to influence generations of blues, R&B, and rock musicians.

— Jim O’Neal