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He’s Got a Rock ‘n’ Roll Heart

Solon’s Kevin Samek inducted into Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame

SOLON­– Amped and energetic, uninhibited and intense, young rock musicians often have dreams of making it from their parents’ garages all the way to the big time.
Most don’t make it out of the garage.
Fate played a different tune for Kevin Samek of Solon.
In the 1970s, Kevin joined the rock band Windfall Jac, lending his vocal stylings to the band covering artists like Led Zepplin, ZZ Top and Eric Clapton.
On Sept. 6, Windfall Jac’s members, including Kevin, were inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association (IRRMA) Hall of Fame. The induction was commemorated at a ceremony at the Sami Bedell Center for Performing Arts in Spirit Lake.
“I couldn’t believe what a big deal the IRRMA event actually was,” Kevin said. Windfall Jac’s award was presented by Connie Valens, sister of the late Richie Valens. “All the inductees were there. There was an autograph signing session that took an hour and a half. They treated us like VIPs.”
Music was a part of Kevin’s life as he was raised in small-town Fayette.
“We always had music around. I grew up listening to Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and the old country guys like Merle Haggard and Eddy Arnold,” Kevin said.
His father was in the United States Navy Academy Drum & Bugle Corps, played the piano and ukulele, and even performed at Soldier Field in Chicago. While Kevin learned to play percussion and the harmonica, his strongest instrument was his voice.
“I used to be first tenor back in the day. Now I’m a baritone,” he joked. “I was in chorus in school and had the lead roles in the musicals from my freshman year on.”
In 1975, his friend and bass player Dave Albert founded Windfall Jac in Fayette. Initially, the band was just three pieces: drum, bass and lead guitar. When the original drummer left in 1977, Windfall Jac brought on a new drummer and added Kevin as lead vocalist. At that time, Kevin was already singing in a Cedar Rapids-based group, one of whose members became a 2007 Hall of Fame inductee: the late Ron Bressler of Al’s Untouchables.
“I auditioned with Windfall Jac and they gave me the job right then,” Kevin said. He was part of the band from 1977 until 1979. After Kevin and drummer Rex Mulvaney departed, Windfall Jac played in its third iteration for another five years. In its nine years of existence, band members included Dave Albert, Kent Moore, Mark Stahr, the late Tom Stahr, Marc Albert, Kevin Samek, Rex Mulvaney and the late Jesse Bryan.
According to the IRRMA website, “Windfall Jac went to Catamount Studios in Cedar Falls and recorded their first six-song release, Windfall Jac. This included two original songs: ‘Looking For You’ and ‘Found Girl.’ Although not on the release, they also started performing Kent’s new song ‘Backstage Blues’ at live appearances. Drummer Mark Stahr returned to the band in 1981. This final line-up continued until the band called it quits in 1984.”
That is about when Kevin’s professional musical career also sang its swan song. Still, the group remained an Iowa favorite.
“We would have Windfall Jac reunions, and they were always crowded,” Kevin said. “We’d draw several hundred people. It was unbelievable, the following we had for a little old garage band from Iowa.”
While Windfall Jac catered to audiences who wanted to rock out to the Top 40 hits of the day, the band’s set lists also included lesser-known titles and artists, as well as a ‘50s set of updated versions of classic rock and roll tunes from Elvis, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry.
“We played some off-the-wall stuff,” Kevin said. “We’d take an Aerosmith album and instead of playing the hits, we’d play stuff you never heard on the radio. We weren’t really flashy or showy; we wore jeans and a T-shirt.” Those, and long hair, comprised the uniform of the day for ‘70s rock bands, but Kevin also traveled to the beat of a different drum at times.
“When everybody was liking the Beatles, I went the Rolling Stones way. I got into those early rock and roll bands like Cream and Poco,” he said.
In the same way Kevin’s early influences shaped his musical career, so has his own musical taste influenced his adult sons, Colin and Chase, who both play a variety of instruments.
Colin described the timbre of the Samek household as he was growing up.
“There was always music playing, and what struck me was the sheer volume of it,” Colin said. “Hearing rock and roll played loud….nothing else really hits that feeling. In our house, music was never a bad thing­­– even supposedly ‘dangerous’ music. Music was never taboo. It was always encouraged.”
Chase agreed.
“Around the time I was four or five, we got a home entertainment system in our living room, and every morning, I would wake up and Dad would be playing something, whether the Rolling Stones or Leon Russell, or any classic rock band you could think of. It was the same thing in the car. He always had us listening to music. It was always something different, and nonetheless, always good.”
That early exposure influenced Chase as he grew older, he said. Today, he dabbles in guitar, plays all instruments in the saxophone family, and sings as well.
“I picked up the guitar when I was seven, started playing in the school band when I was 10, and my first year in college I was a music major. In that entire time, I was exploring new music. I attribute it to constantly being around music.”
Colin, who also plays guitar and a number of brass instruments, recalled attending his first rock concert when he was in middle school.
“It was a Kiss concert. A buddy and I dressed up like members of Kiss, and my dad drove us up to Cedar Rapids at five in the morning to win tickets. It was pretty cool.”
Colin now lives in Savannah, Ga., and builds guitars with Benedetto, one of the world’s premier makers of jazz archtop guitars. He gave his father the first guitar he ever built in school, a six-string acoustic with a traditional design based on blueprints from a 1930s-era Gibson.
As a college student, Colin played guitar in a punk rock band, but the band eventually drifted apart. Still, he carried a particular passion for guitars in his heart.
“The bands that my dad liked always had strong guitar players,” said Colin. “I am fascinated by the instrument but never became particularly good at playing it, so building guitars was a way to stay involved with the instrument I love.”
Kevin is now teaching himself to play the guitar Colin gave to him.
He recently retired from a sales career, leaving his position as Divisional Sales Manager with Texas-based company ChemSearch. When he wasn’t traveling the United States to hire, train and manage new salespeople, he also served on the Solon City Council from 2000 to 2008. Now he and his wife, Sue, have more time to enjoy music together.
“To this day, I like to put the records on and jam out for awhile. I still listen to vinyl. I think vinyl is the best,” Kevin said.
Though his sons have introduced him to contemporary artists he likes, when he tunes in to Sirius Satellite Radio, his station of choice is Classic Vinyl. Kevin has seen the Grateful Dead about 18 times, he said, and new artists don’t come close to creating the kind of riffs he cut his teeth on.
“There are not a lot of original sounds anymore. But music makes me happy. It makes me smile, it makes me daydream,” Kevin said. “Of course, I still like to listen to it loud.”
Chase had the chance to attend the September induction ceremony with his parents, and said he saw a less conventional side of his father.
“Dad has always been a fairly reserved man. He doesn’t show much outward emotion. But that weekend, seeing him with his old band mates… it brought them back. I saw the 25-year-old Kevin Samek instead of ‘my dad.’ He definitely was very appreciative of the award, and had a good time getting to know the other musicians who were inducted. It was nice watching him reminisce,” Chase said.
For musicians like Kevin, rock and roll will never die, and organizations like IRRMA will never let it forget. Its mission is to honor the contributions of the people, places and songs that influenced the rock and roll industry in Iowa.
Kevin said he was a bit shocked when he first learned Windfall Jac was inducted.
“Then I started feeling a little proud,” said Kevin. “It is a great honor and I’m glad to be a part of it. It’s a time in my life I won’t forget. And I would do it all over again.”
Rock on.