On Thursday, the music stopped for a short while in Southwest Oklahoma with word of the death of a Lawton legend.
But the last thing Phil Sampson would want is silence to be his song. That’s the legacy this man left on so many in the local music world.
To paraphrase Sampson’s best-known song, “he loved them every one.”
On Thursday, Dianne Riddles shared the news of her long-time friend and favored musician’s death the night before at the age of 80. The former proprietor of The Wild Moon Saloon, she remembers him performing with several other local legends to make an indelible mark.
“He changed the Lawton music scene in the ‘70s from country and western to original music by local musicians,” she said. “That deserves a big memorial.”
After growing up in the Chickasha area, Sampson settled in Lawton with his wife Susan after college. In the 1960s, he became a fixture of the Gallerie coffeehouse, founded by Rudy Perez and Terry Canady in the basement of the old Savoy Hotel Building. He also performed with local bands as well as the folk coffeehouse circuit from Lawton to Weatherford and other college towns.
Sampson went to California in 1971 with a collection of songs to visit his old friend, Rudy Ramos. It was then that Ramos went from actor to singer with his album, “Hard Knocks and Bad Times” that featured six Sampson-penned songs. He returned to Lawton the next year.
With his return, Sampson began playing in Medicine Park at the Prancing Pony. From that, the Medicine Park All Boy Derelict Band and many of Sampson’s most beloved songs followed. Samspon was on vocals and rhythm guitar; Mark Paden on vocals and lead guitar; Bill Russell on vocals, auto harp, and guitar; Steve Grunder on vocals and bass; Mike McCarty on vocals and drums; and Lewis “Rug” Eckert on blues harp, vocals. With some substitutions, the band played through most of the 1970s, appearing occasionally as Boswell and the Bush Pilots.
Paden moved to Nashville, Tenn., and in 1981, he helped Sampson get his biggest break by recording his song, “I Loved Them Every One.” The song became a multimillion seller for country star T.G. Shepard.
In a 1981 interview with The Constitution, Sampson said it was “the biggest break I ever had, no doubt about it.”
“I’ve got their attention now; they’ll listen to anything I send,” he said. “That’s a deal that you wait for all your life. You can go in on your terms, or even have them come to you.”
Sampson stayed in Nashville for a while as a staff songwriter before returning home to Oklahoma and his family. A staple for many years at Frontier Music Co. where he worked on guitars of just about every musician in town, he also taught burgeoning artists. He continued writing and performing and in the mid-1990s, Roland White of the Nashville Bluegrass Band included his song, “I Ain’t Goin’ Down” on their Grammy Award winning album, “Waitin’ For the Hard Times To Go.”
Eventually, Sampson opened Phil Sampson’s Guitars, Etc. From there, he hosted a bevy of musicians over the years and organized the annual Pic & Pig Fest that raised money for charity. Sampson closed the shop in July 2016.
Sampson’s sense of humor left a legacy of joy. In his 1981 interview, he spoke of one of Boswell and the Bush Pilots’ most popular songs, one that was based close to home called “You Can’t Pick Your Nose in Wyatt Acres.”
“If I wrote the Fifth Symphony, nobody would remember it,” he said, “but they remember this one.”
“Everywhere we go we have to play that,” he said.