American Routes Shortcuts: Mark Samuels of Basin Street Records

Jul 24, 2020

Mark Samuels of Basin Street Records

Mark Samuels, the founder of Basin Street Records, has survived great personal tragedy. He lost his wife in a car accident in 2000 and then his home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Mark was in the energy business when the idea to start a label emerged. His brother asked him to put together a jazz performance for a conference. One of the players Samuels reached out to was trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, beginning with a 1997 live recording of Kermit at New Orleans’ Tipitina’s club.



Mark Samuels: The beginnings of this label were a result of Kermit’s manager Tom Thompson asking me to borrow $5,000 to make a live record. The conversation turned toward, “Well I don’t want to just give you $5,000 to make a record, why don’t we start a label?” So nights and weekends we spent six weeks putting up flyers on cars, and we did all we could to pack Tipitina’s in November 1997.  

MS: The label idea actually began to mold after the release of Kermit’s first record in February 1998, and I ran into Irvin Mayfield, a trumpet player, in March 1998. I had read these great stories about this band that he had put together with Bill Summers and Jason Marsalis, and that band was Los Hombres Calientes. We started recording right after their House of Blues date on March 13th. We laid down all the rhythm section tracks in the first week, Bill did all the rest of the magic, bringing in people like Cyril Neville and Phillip Manuel and making a record that ended up winning the Billboard Latin Music Award for Latin Jazz Album of the Year. 

Nick Spitzer: What sets Basin Street Records apart from major labels or other independent labels? 

MS: What sets us apart is that nobody else has Kermit Ruffins. Nobody else has Los Hombres Calientes. Nobody else has Lena Prima. Nobody else is putting out the music of a man like Davell Crawford. 

NS: Let’s talk about Davell a little bit. How do you put Davell Crawford on a record? He’s an amazing spirited, spiritual, mercurial, brilliant personality. 

MS: Davell could do so many different things, and My Gift to You is the name of his first record that he did, and we have, I think it’s 45 or 50 musicians on that record. Everybody from Dr. John, Big Freedia, Donald Harrison, Nicholas Payton, Steve Riley. It’s a record that everybody should have. There’s something on it for everybody. 

MS: I’ve been with our artists on a number of international dates, and it’s appreciated everywhere. Just being from New Orleans, it’s one of those few cities, from anywhere in the world, where you say you’re from New Orleans, and people are like, “Oh cool, wow that’s awesome!” The nice thing about being in New Orleans is we do have, I think it was thirteen million visitors last year, so when you are an established artist like Kermit, you have an audience that it’s almost like you’re traveling every weekend because a good fifty percent of his crowd at a place like the Blue Nile is from out of town. So he can tour without touring. 

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