Let's talk about storytelling: Sam Payne is a master at it. With a guitar in hand, Payne tells stories of life, of people, of history and heritage.
It's not exactly how he started out. "I was going to be a big pop act; that was my first band. Then I added jazz." But what he has come to realize, he says, is "that what I am is an American folk singer. I connect to that part of the community." And as a folk singer, "I feel a responsibility to the community I belong to, to provide a picture frame for our cultural family. I have found that I can be a voice for the Western pioneer experience."
Let's talk about connections: Not only has Payne discovered "how family, faith and ancestors connect us to each other" and reinforces those connections through his music, he is also honoring the connections in his own life. "My dad, Marvin, was a folk singer who made a living walking door to door with a guitar on his back with albums to sell. He was the stereotypical 'artist as the servant of the kingdom.' Being a folk musician cost my dad a lot. But he had deep spiritual ideas that he was doing what he came here to do. To say there were times when we lived in abject poverty is too strong but not too strong."
Let's talk about passion: Because Payne grew up watching how hard his dad worked to make a living, and because his dad knew how hard it would be, "he didn't encourage us to follow musical pursuits. I actually trained as a schoolteacher, and worked at that for 11 years."
It wasn't until "music kept knocking on the door and couldn't be ignored that I turned to it." Payne still writes books for elementary-school kids, has done some science and social studies texts as well as some historical fiction. But he's also let music into his life because he had to; the passion was there.
Storytelling, connections and passion all come together in Payne's latest CD, "Father to Son."
It features both the stories and the songs that have been popular in his live shows, he says. "It's the album that people have been coming up after the shows and asking for." The CD contains 24 tracks, "and when people first see it they think, 'Wow, that's a lot of music.' But 11 tracks are stories; 13 tracks are songs."
He's found that "my live show depends on the stories behind the songs," so he hopes the CD conveys the spirit and feel of the live show. "It was a great pleasure to make," he says.
As he has said, Payne came rather late to music. "I was living in St. George, when my youngest brother came through. He's an innovative jazz guitarist, and he handed me a guitar. 'Everyone else in the family knows how to play,' he said. 'We're tired of you not playing.' I had done some singing with groups before that, but I decided I'd better learn the guitar."
And once he did that, "I reconciled myself to the fact that I'm a folk singer. That's a dirty word to pop musicians," he jokes. But he was so drawn to "the stories of this place. They are what make us what we are. I have an opportunity to tell those stories. To be able to tell them effectively is the gift, and it is a gift," he says.
And now, yes, "one job is to put food on the table. But I've also learned that if the audience walked away, I would still have to make the music. I would still have to write, learn and perform songs."
And while he is grateful that audiences have stayed with him, he also hopes that he has given something to them.
His mother used to say that "folk singers are the medicine men of the community. They can heal, they can inspire more than just entertain. There's something spiritually enriching in what a folk singer does."
He doesn't write to teach exactly, he says, but songwriting is the way he "works out my life. It's the way I come to know God, family, community and our responsibilities as human beings. All that gets worked out in my mind through songs."
Plus, he says, he can't "discount the sheer fun of it. It's such a great pleasure to play with such great musicians as I do."
And he is conscious of his heritage. "My dad was billed as the 'Mormon Troubadour.' He was born of the pool of musicians that gave us the likes of the Kingston Trio and Bob Dylan."
His dad was a groundbreaker in many ways. "Back in those days, there was no LDS music industry. It overstates it to say he created the industry, but he and his contemporaries certainly had a hand in it."
Payne is one of five siblings "who all do this, in spite of our parents' best intentions. We will never stop being influenced by where we came from."
That is true for everyone, he says, and is exactly the message he hopes everyone can find in "Father to Son."• For a list of Sam Payne's upcoming performances and information on the CD, visit www.sampayne.com.
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