Sean Kelly has been a part of the Colorado music scene for more than 25 years, starting in Boulder before making a home in Denver.
As the front man for the Samples, Kelly’s unique vocal style, helped catapult the band and grow its fan base outside of Colorado with a reggae-inflected pop sound. The Samples, a name derived from when the band members supplemented their nutritional needs by eating free food samples at local supermarkets, have a new CD out titled America.
What was the first song that got the band noticed?
Well, it was a combination of songs from our first album. Songs like “Waited Up” and “Nature.” Ironically, that album could be released today and it would be completely relevant.
How would you describe the sound of the Samples?
That’s difficult. The new album, America, includes blues, reggae, country and other styles. It’s not so much about a sound, it’s more of a concept. I was watching a Saturday Night Live documentary on TV the other day and it made me think that the Samples is kind of like SNL. There have been good and bad years and changing casts.
I’ve been the person guiding it, but the sound reflects a whole package of time and people. The new sound is a little different. Every tune is strong on its own. Each song it true to the genre that it covers. It’s touches on different genres including blues, rock and reggae. It’s been getting good reviews from the people who are buying it.
Where are you from originally and how did you get to Colorado?
I was born in Connecticut, but I grew up in Vermont. I moved to Colorado in 1987. At that time I had been dealing with brutal winters in Vermont. You don’t get the sun there and out here it was so mild in comparison. That did it for me.
What brought you to Denver?
It was circumstantial. I was living in San Diego and my relationship had come to an end. I didn’t know where to go. My manager lives here and he said why don’t you move near me. So I’ve been living in Highlands Ranch, but I recently got engaged and we are planning on moving a little closer to Denver proper.
What has been one of your favorite gigs in the Denver area?
There is no end to them, but I played a gig on the Fourth of July a few years ago at Invesco Field (now Sports Authority Field at Mile High). Because of the fire danger that year, lots of local communities had to cancel their usual fireworks display, so the city put on a big display at the stadium.
I got a last-minute invite and It was just myself on an acoustic guitar in a chair. It was a lot of fun. There was a girl who sang the national anthem and then I opened up the event by playing a few songs, including “Wild River,” a song about Colorado. A lot of those people had probably never seen me before, but it was a blast.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Denver?
I go to Lodo’s Bar and Grill a lot. It’s near where I live. I could recite the menu to you. I’m hoping to learn more about the Denver restaurant scene when we move closer to town.
What’s your favorite small club to play in Denver?
What’s your favorite venue overall in the Denver area?
Red Rocks! The history of it is incredible. Check out the museum there. The place hasn’t changed that much from before it was a performance venue and it comes with this amazing geological history. There’s a feeling that you can’t get anywhere. They have been very good about working around the natural setting.
My memories of all the shows I’ve seen there are amazing. I remember sneaking into the venue in someone’s trunk to see the Grateful Dead in the 80s. I heard them play “Terrapin Station” from on top of the hill behind the venue.
Who are some of your favorite local artists?
I don’t know as many as I should, but I like Highway 50, which is a band that my friend James Hambleton is in. The band also happens to be led by my buddy Al Laughlin, who was the original keyboardist for the Samples. James Hambleton, and his brother Charles (an original member of the Samples) were the reason I moved to Boulder. I also like the band Shel from Fort Collins. They contributed a little on our new album. I think they’re going to be big.
What do you think about the legalization of marijuana here in Colorado?
I think it’s fantastic. I’ve seen the bad end of alcohol for too long now. To think that alcohol has been legal for so long and pot hasn’t been is crazy. I’m not an anti-alcohol person or anything. I still like to have a drink now and then, but to me pot is a better option. It nurtures creativity.