Ogden-based folk prodigy and 14-year-old Sammy Brue hitting it big

Monday , February 22, 2016 - 6:59 AM

MITCH SHAW, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — By all indications, Sammy Brue’s musical career is on a major upward trajectory.

Brue, 14, of Ogden, is an up-and-coming folk/Americana singer-songwriter who last year released his fist EP, “I Don’t Want You To Leave.” On his website, the recording is described as one that “touch(es) on heartbreak, jealousy, God and suicide.”

Since the release, Brue has been featured in magazines like Rolling Stone and American Songwriter and has played well-known, long-established music festivals like the Newport Folk Festival and Summerfest. He’s sponsored by The Loar Guitars and is said to be close to a deal with high-profile record label.

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He’s also been highlighted by one of his musical idols, appearing on the album cover art for Justin Townes Earle’s 2014 album “Single Mothers.” Later this year, he’ll open for JTE’s father, Steve Earle, at the Music on the Mesa Festival in Taos, New Mexico.

But the mounting recognition and subsequent fame doesn’t really interest Brue. And while the following phrase has become an oft-repeated cliche, that doesn’t make it any less true, because for Brue — it’s all about the music.

“Music, writing — that’s pretty much all I want to do,” the young musician said. “I’m in the mood for music 24-7.”

Story continues below video.

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This weekend, he will play two concerts with East Nashville-based singer-songwriter Joe Fletcher, another one of the young troubadour’s idols and someone that’s served as a mentor to Brue. The pair will play a show Feb. 21 at Brue’s house, 1459 Ritter Drive, Riverdale, followed by a Feb. 22 performance at the Heavy Metal Shop, 63 S. Exchange Place, Salt Lake City.

Both shows run from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit Brue’s website at sammybrue.com.

Fletcher is in the midst of a seven-week tour of the U.S. He’ll play with Brue during a five-day break in his scheduled tour as he passes through Utah on his way to Denver.

Brue and Fletcher have been friends for a few years now, a relationship that began when Fletcher happened across Brue online, first noticing that he played the same brand of guitar. 

“It was just on the internet, on Instagram,” Fletcher said. “I saw him and I was intrigued by the pictures and I thought, ’Who is this kid playing the same guitar I do?’”

Fletcher said he was struck by the authenticity and emotional maturity of Brue’s songs. Before becoming a full-time musician, Fletcher was a school teacher in the New England area and what he saw from Brue was far from typical.

“I was pretty tuned in with the youth, after having taught kids for a while,” Fletcher said. “So I knew how unusual it was to have an 11-year-old singing songs about the ghost of Woody Guthrie.”

The song Fletcher references is called “The Woody Guthrie Song.” Brue wrote it when he was 10, just a few months after he began learning basic chords on the guitar.

Fletcher said Brue has continued to grow as an artist with each subsequent song, with each work showcasing an emotional depth well beyond the teenager’s years.

“All this pressure on me, it’s too much,” Brue sings on a song from the Leave EP called, ’I Never Said I Didn’t Love You, I Said I’m Sorry.’ “I’m sorry this is so depressing, but that’s just my luck.” 

“He’s an amazing sponge for music,” Fletcher said. “When you listen, you realize he’s tuned into something that’s really special. His music comes from the heart.”

Brue’s father, Mike Thornbrue, says his son began showing that heart early in his childhood. 

“Sam is pure emotion,” Thornbrue said. “That’s just who he is. From a very young age, you could see he wasn’t your average kid.”

Brue, who normally writes on guitar but plays several other instruments as well, said he likes to envision himself walking in the shoes of others.

“I have a lot of imagination, and I have throughout my whole life,” he said. “I never experienced something like heartbreak, or something like being a drug addict where my life is horrible, but I try to put myself in the place of people who have experienced heartbreak or done that kind stuff.”

While Brue has some pretty high profile friends and influences, he admits his dad had a major impact on his musical tastes. Thornbrue used to play his son burned CDs featuring the likes of Bob Dylan, The Band and the aforementioned Guthrie.

“We never listened to the hip music of the day,” Brue recalls. “That’s not how I grew up.”

But Brue’s influences can’t be boxed into one particular genre. He quickly rambles off a list of seemingly divergent artists — Kurt Cobain, Etta James, Robert Johnson, Tyler the Creator and N.W.A. — as influences.

“I just love music of all kinds,” Brue said. “When I was younger, I was listening to the popular, mainstream kind of rap and my dad was like, ’If you’re going to listen to rap, listen to the real stuff’ and he introduced me to N.W.A.

“I was 10 or 11 or something like that, and I heard ’Straight Outta Compton’ and was like, ’My gosh, there’s so many swear words on this,’” he said. “(But) after I was listening to them for a while, I kind of realized, it’s the same thing as folk — they’re telling a story. And that’s really what I’m trying to do.”

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net or at 801-625-4233. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook.

 

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