Blues drummer Sam Lay dies; played with Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters

Sam Lay plays the drums.
Blues drummer Sam Lay records in Salina, Kan., in 2000.
(Cliff Schiappa / Associated Press)
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Sam Lay, a Chicago blues drummer and vocalist who played with Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, has died at his home in Chicago.

Lay died Saturday of natural causes at 86, Alligator Records announced Monday.

Lay, known for wearing a cape and carrying a walking stick, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 as part of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

“Words can’t describe it if you like blues like I do,” Lay told the South Bend Tribune that year, referring to the band. “I enjoyed the moment of it, and everybody that was in that band, I enjoyed. I learned a lot from everybody in there, and they claim they learned a lot from me.”


Alligator Records said Lay was known for his “trademark, hard-to-copy ‘double-shuffle’” drumming, based on double-time hand-clapping in his childhood church.

Lay, a native of Birmingham, Ala., played professionally in Cleveland in the mid-1950s before moving to Chicago, the record label said.

Sam Lay, right, performs with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Sam Lay, right, performs with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band during their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 18, 2015.
(Mark Duncan / Associated Press)

In 1969, he played drums on “Fathers & Sons,” Waters’ best-selling record on Chess Records. Four years earlier, he had recorded with Dylan on “Highway 61 Revisited,” which marked Dylan’s shift from acoustic to electric.

Lay also backed up Dylan on drums in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival, which caused a stir among folk music fans when he arrived on stage with an electric guitar and a full rock band.

Lay also recorded and performed with Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Wells, Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker. In addition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Lay was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in Los Angeles and the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis.