Sami Jo Cole: Lady With the Powerhouse Voice
|Last Update: 2007|
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One of the most promising recording artists in the mid-1970s was a gorgeous and sexy country/pop singer from Batesville, Arkansas, with the decidedly down home name of Sami Jo. The possessor of a dark, raspy voice, brimming with fire and power, Sami had a top 20 hit in 1974 with the killer ballad Tell Me A Lie and was poised at the very brink of superstardom, when it somehow all fell apart.
A lovely and unpretentious woman of great natural warmth, Sami had all the necessary attributes to make it big in the music business—she was disciplined and hard working; she had a phenomenal voice…and she was beautiful. And with such renowned industry figures as record producers Rick Hall and Jimmy Bowen, artist manager Stan Moress, and publishing mogul Bill Lowery among those who helped guide her career, Sami’s success as a recording artist should have been assured. And yet, for some reason, it didn’t happen.
Like so many others before and after her who crossed the pop music landscape, Sami’s story is a textbook example of a singer with tremendous talent who should have made it to the top of the heap, but due to career mismanagement, poor timing and a series of unfortunate record industry politics, was only able to climb midway up the ladder before landing in undeserved obscurity.
Sami was born Jane Annette Jobe on May 9, 1947, the only daughter of Wes, a Batesville construction worker, and Inez, a housewife. The Jobes also had a son, Bill, who was older than their daughter by ten years Contrary to what has always been written about her in the past, Jane’s nickname of “Sami Jo” was not given to her as a child but wouldcome several years later when she was out on her own and living in Dallas.
“My upbringing was very strict, to say the least”, “Sami said in 2006.” My father was a typical, small town guy, protecting his daughter from the neighborhood boys and making everyone in the county fear him! As a teenager, I had to be in by ten o’clock every night and if I wasn’t, Dad was out on the street, looking for me. When I think about it, though, I’m glad that I had rules and a strict upbringing because I believe it helped me be strong and make the right decisions when I was out on my own.” As a youngster, Sami idolized her big brother. “Bill went to the University of Arkansas on a football scholarship and he was the handsome, campus king. He was definitely my hero.
“My family belonged to the Nazarene Church and we were pretty serious about it, too. I grew up going to Sunday school every Sunday morning, then on to Sunday service, and back to church on Sunday night and Wednesday night, and certainly every night during a revival.”
Sami started singing in church at the tender age of three. “My local radio ‘career’ started when my Aunt Janie decided I should try out for the Saturday morning show that was sponsored by our church. So Aunt Janie took me to the station and I was to sing Jesus Loves Me. Well, I got about halfway through the song and I started to cry…right there, on the radio! My Aunt decided that in order for me to get over my stage fright, she had to take me back there the following week, to try again. I sang Zacheus Was A Wee Little Man and I managed to get through the entire song. That was the start of it all. You could say I was a local ‘star’ by the time I hit the first grade! (laughs)
“Later, when I was in my teens, I was involved in a lot of beauty contests, mainly because of my sister-in-law, Linda Sue. She was the local beauty queen and she took me under her wing and taught me more than I could ever say. My father was definitely not in favor of this in the beginning, but when I started winning some of the contests, he was more than proud!”
Sami attended Batesville High School where she was a member of the drill team, acted in several school plays and sang in the choir. A popular student, she was voted queen of the sophomore class and was later elected homecoming queen in her senior year.
“From my early childhood on, I was always singing in school and in talent shows outside of school, “said Sami. “When I was a freshman in high school I was asked to sing at the junior/senior banquet. My ‘big’ song was the 1950s pop tune, Three Coins in the Fountain, but pop music was only one of my earliest influences. I always loved rhythm and blues, country, rock, gospel and soul music, too, and as a result, all these styles showed up in my music. As a teenager, I especially loved to listen to Brenda Lee, Cher and Gladys Knight. Later, when I got into the music business and started recording, some of my fondest and most exciting memories are when I got to meet all three of those fabulous ladies.”
Upon her high school graduation, Sami attended Arkansas College in her hometown of Batesville, where she majored in music. It was during this time that she joined an all-female singing group called The Arkansas College Lassies, which consisted of seven other classmates. “Performing with The Lassies was a wonderful experience,” recalled Sami. “The songs we did in our shows were picked from such classic shows as Sound of Music and My Fair Lady. I stayed with the group for nearly two years, when I left college and moved to Dallas. As far as I know, I am the only one who went on to pursue a career in music.
“During my first year with them, we went to The Far East on a USO tour, to sing for the troops. I had never been on a plane before,so needless to say, I was excited, scared and speechless! We flew out to Love Field in Dallas and then on to Japan. My first time away from home was for two whole months. I could hardly believe it!”
Sami moved to Dallas in the mid-1960s, with full intentions of becoming an airline stewardess. “But they told me at nineteen, I was too young. By this time,I had gotten a place to live with some other girls at The Four Seasons Apartments and had begun singing at a nightclub there called The Fifth Season. Back then, both the apartments and the nightclub were considered the place to be in Dallas. It was during this time that I got the nickname ‘Sam’ from one of my roommates, which later became ‘Sami Jo’. It really caught on, so I wound up using the name professionally.”
One evening Sami was at The Fifth Season with her roommates when one of the girls asked the band to call Sami up to the stage to sing. “The band was just starting out,” Sami recalled. “Ifact, they didn’t even have a name yet. Anyway, I went up and sang a song with them and the guys really liked my voice, so fromthen on, every time I was at the club they would invite me up tosing with them. Eventualy, they asked me if I would learn some of their songs and sit in with them on the weekends. After a few weeks, we started building up a following at the club and I was told that a lot of the people were coming in just to see me!”
One of those people was a professional manager named Tony Caterine, who at the time owned most of the major nightclubs in Dallas, as well as a successful management company that handled many of the city’s top entertainers. “It was kind of funny because when Tony approached me,” said Sami, “I told him that I wasn’t interested, and walked off. Now that I look back, I can see that he couldn’t believe it since everyone was trying to get him to represent them and I said ‘I wasn’t interested’! (laughs) I guess that intrigued him because one night he came in and said, ‘I’m buying the club, will you talk to me now?’ Well, eventually I did, and it was the best thing I ever did.”
A man bursting with confidence and bravado, Tony Caterine went on to become Sami’s manager—as well as her best friend, the father of her son, and she says, “a lifelong soul mate”. Although they are no longer together as a couple, Sami continues to sing his praises today. “Tony was my first love, my longest love and probably the love of my life. We were never married but we are still close and remain best friends. Tony is one of those dynamic and charismatic individuals that can master anything he chooses to do. His nightclubs at the time were the most successful in the entire history of Dallas. The Losers Club, in particular, booked some of the greatest entertainers in the business. Anyone who was a star in the music industry appeared there, from The Temptations, Fats Domino, Gladys Knight, Little Richard, Rick Nelson and Brenda Lee, to so many others they would be hard to name. I had the privilege of working with most of those people and it was an unbelievable learning experience for me.”
In addition to her regular gig at The Losers Club, Tony Caterine placed Sami in bigger venues like The Executive Inn’s Carousel Club in Dallas, Lubbock’s South Park Inn, The Amarillo Hilton and the popular Dallas nightspots, Barney Oldfield’s and The Royal Coach Inn. As time went on, Tony got Sami and her band, Candy Mountain, even better gigs in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. “I must say something about my band (Kenny Brasher, Steve Slayton, Cass Moore, Richard Theisen and Scott Neilson). They were the best guys I ever worked with. They could sing, be funny, play, and were the most talented group of musicians I could have ever wished for. We were together for many years and I love them all to this day.
“When we played Vegas, Louis Prima became a big fan of mine and hewould often ask me up on stage with him when he performed at The Sands. Now, let me tell you that was a thrill!”
“My first time at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe was when I first met, and worked with Flip Wilson. I was singing in the lounge and evidently Flip wasn’t happy with his opening act in the main room. After the first night, it was pretty much decided by Harrah’s that a change had to be made. Flip and his people came into the lounge to see me sing and afterward they offered me the opening spot in the main room which meant I would be doing his show, as well as mine! It was going to be very hectic but of course I agreed to do it.
“Flip Wilson was absolutely wonderful to me. During his performances, he talked about my show a lot and gave me many compliments, which as a new performer was really terrific for my ego! I will always be grateful to him for that. You know, I’ve heard all the stories that other people have told about their infamous ‘casting couch’ experiences in the business, but I never had that. I found all the stars that I worked with to be supportive and kind…and that includes Flip Wilson.”
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