Meet your local musicians: bassist Willie Samuelson
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – At the base of every great song is a great bassist, who keeps a steady beat and gets things done. For nearly 40 decades, bassist Willie Samuelson has provided that foundation for all types of music in Steamboat Springs – from blues and bluegrass to jazz, country and Christian rock.
Explore Steamboat chatted with Samuelson to learn more about its history and 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 standing bass at school back in Indiana. In eighth grade, my mom bought me my first electric bass for my birthday, and I started to see who else was playing in my school. I performed in 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 mine. ‘steel.” In ’78 or ’79 I met a musician by the name of Greg Richards and he said, “Let’s go live in Colorado – there are all these ski resorts where we can play music.” January 1982 was my first visit to Steamboat, with a band called Full House Band, which had a horn section and a singer. We played a lot at the Shortbread Saloon – that’s where Straightline is now.
ES: During all your time on the Steamboat music scene, how did you see it change?
WS: I think there are a lot more musicians now. This is one thing that drew me to Steamboat, but I think there are even more now. In the late 80s I went to Nashville and played music there, but I kept thinking about coming back here, and when I did I noticed a lot musicians had moved (to Steamboat). In the 90s, clubs seemed to need to hire bands from out of town because no one wanted to come and see local bands. It changed – I don’t remember when, but I know from talking to different people that they like to see local bands and what the local bands were doing, rather than bands from out of town. I’ve played with a lot of different musicians in this city, and they’re all great.
ES: Of all the shows you’ve played, which one is your favorite and why?
WS: I play every other weekend at the Steamboat Christian Center, and it’s a lot of fun. We usually only 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 the Grand Ole Opry, and it 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 at the crowd and thinking, “This isn’t real.”
ES: What do you spend your time doing outside of music?
WS: I love to ski and spend time with my wife – I remarried in July 2016 and she really supports my music. We travel a bit – we’ve been to Nicaragua, Greece, New York. We spend time with the grandchildren. When I remarried I immediately became a grandfather – it’s really fun. I really appreciate my family. My son also plays bass. He performed with Sk8 Church and Young Life. He helps people with that. It’s good.
ES: Where can fans find you playing in Steamboat Springs?
WS: I do a regular thing on Friday nights at the Three Peaks Grill and every other weekend at the Steamboat Christian Center. I play with a band called Worried Men – we play probably three or four times a year. I play with another band called Constant Change; we mainly organize private parties but we occasionally show up at Schmiggity. I also played with Me and Ed’s Music Machine.
ES: When you’re in the middle of the show, what’s it like?
WS: I feel like everything is fine when I play music. I do not think about the problems that torment me.
ES: Of all that you have learned in your years of music, what is the most useful and important lesson for young aspiring musicians?
WS: What I’ve heard many times in Nashville is this: No matter how good you think you are, there is 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 helped my music a lot. If it’s a slow song, think of a big circle; if it’s a quick song, your circle is small. He taught me some very good things.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.