RIP: Joe Sample, Bob Crewe

Posted September 16, 2014 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Talented keyboardist Joe Sample and celebrated songwriter Bob Crewe dies in early September 2014

The music world mourns the loss of two great and incredible giants.

Joe Sample, 75, passed away on September 12 from complications of lung cancer.

An electric piano virtuoso, Sample played on virtually everybody’s album: Steely Dan, Anita Baker, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, George Benson, Tina Turner, Andrae’ Crouch, Marvin Gaye. That’s him you hear on the Hues Corporation’s No. 1 hit “Rock the Boat.” That’s him all over Steely Dan’s timeless Aja, playing the clavinet on “Black Cow” and working his fingers on “Aja.” That’s him on Brenda Russell’s version of “Get Here,” before it was a hit for Oleta Adams. Some of those legendary recordings include Donald Byrd’s Black Byrd, Steely Dan’s Gaucho, Tina Turner’s Private Dancer and the Grammy-winning Unforgettable album for Natalie Cole.

Besides being a selfless talent on many recording sessions, Sample established himself as a power player in the contemporary jazz arena, powering groups like The Jazz Crusaders and the Joe Sample Trio. In 1979, The Jazz Crusaders pulled off their commercial breakthrough with the Top 40 hit single “Street Life,” which featured a disco backbeat and the vocals of Randy Crawford. The song, co-written by Sample, climbed to number 36 pop, 17 R&B and danced its way to number 75 on the disco charts.

In the later part of his life, Sample remained faithful to touring. Meanwhile, his works showed up on a number of projects including the Baz Luhrmann film Moulin Rouge! and in a host of hip-hop songs via sampling (Tupac’s “Dear Mama”, De la Soul’s “WRMS’s Dedication to the Bitty” and Arrested Development’s “Africa’s Inside Me”).

Born in Houston, Texas, Sample was working on QUADROON, a musical being produced in his hometown and the Joe Sample Youth Organization. He was  scheduled to perform at Ronnie Scott’s in London from August 7-9, but the dates were cancelled according to Sample’s Facebook page. On September 13, the page was updated with the following message: “At 9:50pm (Houston,TX time), September 12, 2014, Joe Sample passed. His wife Yolanda and his son Nicklas would like to thank all of you, his fans and friends, for your prayers and support during this trying time. Please know that Joe was aware and very appreciative of all of your prayers, comments, letters/cards and well wishes.”


Bob Crewe, 83, died on September 11 in a nursing home.

Crewe, celebrated in the Tony Award-winning hit Broadway play Jersey Boys, made a name for himself being one of the most respected songwriters and record producers of the rock n’ roll era. “Silhouettes,” co-written with musical partner Frank Slay, Jr., was the beginning of Crewe’s chart-topping triumphs. It was a hit in 1957 for The Rays, and became a hit for groups like The Diamonds and Herman’s Hermits. He went on to power many of the hit records for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Ronnie” and “Rag Doll.” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” also recorded by Valli, remains one of his greatest and highly recognized hits. By the ’70’s, Crewe began collaborating with other writers. “Lady Marmalade,” co-wirtten by Crewe and Kenny Nolan, was a number one pop and R&B hit for LaBelle and experienced the same depth of success when it was covered by Mya, P!nk, Christina Aguilera and Lil’ Kim in 2001. By the late ’70’s, Crewe’s creative content started to slow up as disco kicked into high gear, but managed to produced a few dancefloor winners with Valli’s “Swearin’ to God” and Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes’ “Get Dancin'” and “I Wanna Dance Wit’ Choo (Doo Dat Dance).”

The Newark, New Jersey native also made a name for himself as a successful visual artist and sculptor.

Crewe’s brother, Dan Crewe, said Monday in an email that the producer, songwriter and “Jersey Boys” lyricist died Sept. 11 in Scarborough, Maine. The cause of death was unavailable.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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