[ samuelsaintthomas.com ]

Surrounded by steel mills and gospel music, Samuel Saint Thomas formed an artistic disposition early. “Without TV or other worldly devices, musical instruments were the only things we owned of any value,” he says. Everyone in the family had one.  His late father had pianos. Four of them.  His mother played tambourine and grew up singing and dancing to jigs in Irish pubs.  His sister sang harmonies, played trumpet and country and western 45s.  When Samuel was 10, his father said, “You'll never make a piano player,” and marched him into the store for an upright bass.  “I couldn't reach the low notes without standing on a stack of hymnals,” Samuel says.  A Silvertone electric was his second instrument. He stole time at his brother’s Premier drum kit too.

The family drove their admonitions and music around the country to sawdust revivals, camp meetings, crusades in a red Ford Econoline van.  His parents were hellfire preachers, bent on saving alcoholics, whores, and gays from damnation. “My father told his story to anyone who would listen,” he says, “how he gave up playing the devil’s music and the lights of Broadway for Jesus.”  His father was a jazz cat in the forties, a protégé of the late Otto Cezana.  Swing was giving way to bop as he played in and led The Kings of Rhythm behind chicken wire from the caverns of New York to the coal dust dance halls of Scranton, PA.

At the demand of his parents, Samuel entered Pentecostal seminary at seventeen, dropping out a year later to work as a concert promoter in Philadelphia with national Christian rock acts Petra, Phil Keaggy, Barry McGuire, John Michael Talbot and others.  Five years later, he withdrew to a remote hermitage in the Appalachians to study, chop wood, and contemplate.  There he stumbled on the ideas of Asceticism and St. Francis and began to write. “I'd heard of the changes monk and musician John Michael Talbot was experiencing,” he says, “so I wrote. He invited me to Indianapolis.” What was to be a curious Greyhound ride ended up a much longer journey.

Samuel was soon contributing to the foundation of a Catholic monastic community ultimately based in Eureka Springs, AK, living a quiet life of writing, studies, and plain chant.  As national interest in the community and Talbot grew, he traveled to jungle villages in Honduras, sacred sites of Europe, and cities across the U.S. with Talbot, teaching and raising awareness and relief for the developing world, eventually meeting the Dali Lama and Pope John Paul II.

However, “What it seemed to be at first,” he says, “was not as it really was.” Dining with cardinals, bishops, and other luminaries was compelling. However, “It took several years to see through the scrim. I had taken religious vows and was raising lots money for children with worm-bloated stomachs living in paper shacks, yet was traveling with the comfort, cuisine, and transportation of a rock star.  I was living a theatrical poverty as well as becoming more and more sexually and intellectually claustrophobic.  I had to stay in character, as if I were performing the life of a devout poor it.  I had become delusional.”

This uncanny mix of luxury and denial led to an existential discovery. “It was sort of a fleshly coming out," he says. "I didn't know it then, but I was shedding several years of faith notions back to my childhood, the kind of absurd thinking that Kierkegaard speaks of, the kind that led me to act as poor and sensually dead.”  In reality he found he was quite alive.  He resigned from the religious order in 1990, ditching the brown habit, prayer book and all.  But to de-convert was severe.  “My monastic friends considered me a reprobate, destined for damnation.”  He ended alone and truly poor.

On leaving religious life, he bought a pair of Levis.  He drove to the Martin factory and bought a blemished black flat-top with all the money he had to his name.  A little extra glue couldn't hurt.  He started writing songs, recording on a Tascam 4-track in his bedroom and looked for new friends. Leaving the familiarity, solitude, and security of monastic life, juxtaposed with launching a career as a singer-songwriter in a sensuous world was both onerous and exhilarating. "An adventure with all the sting and thrill of a first time," he says, “a virgin to a carnal mind.”

Although a demanding transformation, Samuel got to meet and hang with some great folks, recording, engineering, and being a nuisance until they'd let him on stage.  After three years of writing songs and dragging his guitar around, he began recording in a windowless one car garage in NJ with Tim Carbone.  The result ended as the sound track of mir in my sky: mystic journey for peace to Yugoslavia (1994), a documentary of a war-ravaged country.  Samuel had produced, directed, edited, and marketed the documentary single-handedly.

By 1996 Samuel had shared projects, stages, and studios with nationally known artists, classical conductor Enrique Arturo Diemecke, Minnesota Choral, drummer George Roscelli (Bob Dylan), Alejandro Escovedo, alt-country guitarist Neil Casal (Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams), singer Kathleen Webber (David Bromberg), the late blues guitarist Cesar Diaz (Bob Dylan), engineer Drew Coleman (Justin Timberlake, Timbaland), violinist Timothy Carbone (Railroad Earth, Phil Lesh) and many others.  It was then that he recorded the rare hick-pop saweeet CD with fifteen year old Krista Long, the late Cesar Diaz (Bob Dylan), Timothy Carbone, members of Solution A.D. and others.

Late in '96, from his long list of new friends, he assembled a stellar cast of players for a new solo project, Unfortunate Adventures of a Naked Mystic. Neil Casal, Cesar Diaz, Timothy Carbone, and others contributed.  Each track was to be a chapter in his painful and pleasurable evolution from mystic to “sinful” man. A colorful array of classic sounds, world rhythms, and surprises, the disc produced a flurry of regional airplay and touring of such venues as The Back Fence, Greenwich Village, Irving Plaza, NY, Woodstock, NY, and festivals such as SXSW in Austin, TX, and Waterloo in NJ.  Still, more than ten years later, unfortunate adventures… continues to garner compliments from industry types despite never having made it’s way to a larger audience.  Unfortunately, label funding was pulled just as agents, publicists, and radio stations were catching on.

Since then, Samuel Saint Thomas’ renewed scholarly interests have earned him a BA in both Philosophy and English.  He took his graduate work at Fairleigh Dickinson University, NJ, and in the UK at Wroxton College, where he earned an MFA in creative writing.  He now publishes an occasional essay eat plato, a philosophic humor blog and is preparing his Pentecostal preacher’s kid memoirs, FRYING SPAM: AND OTHER THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE RAPTURE for publication and teaches at a suburban university near NYC. “Singing, and now writing, which is my compulsion these days, could both very well be in my DNA,” he says, “but I happened onto philosophy quite fortuitously.  After turning in my first essay in aesthetics, the chair called me in. The next week I dropped my psychology major.  Coming to philosophy has helped me place my history and form an understanding that shapes my creative projects.  Being free of the silly ideas of saints and angels, an agnostic way of thinking is liberating.  There are fewer possibilities for screwing up."

And then, just when he thought he was done with music, music came calling once again. Ten years after releasing "unfortunate adventures...", he ran into Jeff Barg. They both ended up at the same table at a Tim Carbone birthday party. “We have to start a band,” Barg said. Samuel reminded him he'd burnt out as a singer-songwriter. Jeff was pretty forceful though, plus a band was perhaps more challenging than going solo. Both were really inspired as well by what was going on with Railroad Earth.  So they put together a list of non-negotiables and went into development. The next thing you know Tim Carbone came calling, “Hey, I want to produce your record." Samuel was off and running. Again.


|| Design & Content © 2014 Samuel Saint Thomas | s.l. bauer photography ©2008 | All Rights Reserved ||