Versatile musician lends talents to wide variety of performing opportunities
Chances are, you’ve never heard of Son House.
The name might ring a bill for some music aficionados, and scholars will recognize the 1930s-era bluesman primarily through a couple of his protégés, the enormously influential Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.
Musician Samantha Sears was born a half-century after House’s heyday and admittedly was an admirer – as most girls her age were – of the Backstreet Boys and other teen idols of the time.
But catch a set of hers, and her powerful voice just might launch into Son’s gospel-tinged exaltation “Grinnin’ In Your Face.”
And then she might shift gears to, say, Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California.”
“I like to think I do Robert Plant justice. I’m no Jimmy Page,” she said about the band’s guitarist, “but I sing a mean Robert Plant.”
Sears has become a veritable commuter from her Clarion home to participate in the Pittsburgh music scene, including what has become a fairly regular gig at the Market District in Bethel Park. You can check her out there from noon to 4 p.m. Feb. 18 and 19, and again from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 24.
She had played at other Market District locations previously and received a call in November to give it another whirl.
“They said, ‘Hey, we remember you. We’re having these events, and we’d love for you to play,’” she related.
Playing music is the focus of Sears’ life, and the Punxsutawney native does just that whenever and wherever she can, from festivals and performance venues all over Western Pennsylvania to more esoteric locales.
“I’ve played at the airport before,” she said, recalling her participation in a Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council program at Pittsburgh International Airport. “That was one of my coolest gigs.”
She also shares her talents through “Music Smiles,” offered through the Sonny Pugar Memorial – the charity was established in honor of the late Pittsburgh drummer – to bring performers to area hospitals and other caring places.
“I played at the Children’s Institute last week,” Sears said in early February, “which was kind of cool. Kids are the best audience. They just are enthralled. It’s rewarding; that’s for sure.”
Continuing with a therapeutic theme, twice a week she performs interactively with “differently abled” individuals.
“They play a lot of auxiliary percussion type of instruments,” she explained. “They have guitars, and anyone who wants to play can. I can go in there in a bad mood and come out feeling on top of the world.”
Pretty much a born entertainer – “My mom said I was singing commercials before I could even talk” – Sears performed in various choirs and choruses throughout her school years before eventually joining a band in Clarion with her guitar-playing boyfriend.
“After that band broke up, I didn’t want to have to rely on other people to play music. So that’s when I picked up guitar. I picked up the ukulele about a year later, because Eddie Vedder came out with ‘Ukulele Songs,’” she said about the Pearl Jam frontman’s 2011 solo album. “And it kind of just went from there.”
Sears also composes music, interspersing her originals with familiar covers, with the mix of each depending on the audience. A prime example of the former is a song called “Something’s Comin’,” which she wrote “when the political climate was heating up” in 2012 and holds all of its relevance today.
“I just love singing,” she said. I love performing. Now that I’ve been doing it, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”