Sam Spades has an ace up the sleeve

Sam Spades on the case // Ron Worobec
Sam Spades on the case // Ron Worobec

“I‘ve got a thing for cards,” Sam Heine says, pulling up the sleeve of his shirt to show an ace-of-spades tattoo on his wrist. “I like the idea of chance and randomness, but still you can set up the game.”

Heine plays guitar and sings in Sam Spades, a three-piece Edmonton rockabilly band set to release its first record, Wolf. The EP is six songs of slinky echo guitars, Hammond organ and muscular stand-up bass. You’ve got your hurtin’-drinkin’ songs about living hard and the bottle, sure, but Heine also sings about existentialism and nuclear catastrophe witnessed by ’50s-era teenagers out at the point to neck.

The band embraces that film-noir cool: think Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, curling smoke in black-and-white, and everyone is wearing a sharp suit.

“I listened to the Reverend Horton Heat when I was 14 years old,” Heine says, relaxing in a Jasper Avenue café. “I’d been stuck in the punk-rock mentality: you’re only allowed one type of music in high school, you’re not allowed to like everything. Then I started listening to Stray Cats, Brian Setzer, Charlie Feathers, Link Wray … it basically grabbed my heart and said, ‘This is what you like, Sam.'”

A true child of Highway 16—born in Pincher Creek, Heine was raised in Edson and lived in both Hinton and Jasper—he was literally born into his first band, the Heine Family Singers.

“Check us out in Edson. We’re a pretty big deal,” he laughs.

More recently, Heine was in Sam Hate & the Jackals, a Jasper-based band that dissolved after its bass player was scooped by world-famous Montréal psychobilly group the Brains. There were no hard feelings for the Brains’ headhunting, though. In fact, the group invited Heine and his newly formed band Sam Spades to open for it—even though the band was so green it had yet to play a gig.

“So our first show is at the Pawnshop for the Brains with a couple hundred people watching us,” Heine says. “That was after only three rehearsals with no reputation or anything, and we really gelled that night.”

Sam Spades is rounded out by John Richards on bass and Greg Hann on skins—both are attending MacEwan University’s music program. Richards, an old friend of Heine’s, recorded an album with Edmonton surf-punk band Los Cremators. Hann, an East-Coast transplant, is a drummer that has worked with some of Eastern Canada’s best talent.

Heine had a boatload of help from local talent in the making of Wolf: Jon Christopherson from Edmonton psychobilly band Raygun Cowboys—and Heine’s landlord—put his surfy guitar solos on two songs; Heine’s sister Jessica lent backup vocals and local producer and musician Doug Organ played, fittingly, the Hammond organ.

Heine says he feels both supported by and inspired by Edmonton—and the city has returned that love with acceptance of Sam Spades wherever the band plays.

“We can fit into a country gig, we can do a blues gig, fit into a rock ‘n’ roll gig—we played a hardcore metal show and we fit in,” he laughs. “There’s this line in [his song] ‘Last Call,’ ‘In this world, a man should take his chances to be heard.’ That’s what we’re trying to do: be heard. Hopefully people listen.”

Sat, Jan 31 (8 pm)
With the Frolics, Bryan Coffey and the Best Friends, Aku Aku
Pawnshop, $10

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