Sampou, who lives in the South Shore outside Boston, began playing in the streets in what she terms as “relatively late in life.” At twenty five, when all her friends were getting married, buying houses and planning for kids, Sampou started hitting the pavement to Harvard Square, the tunnels of the MBTA, as well as anywhere she could open her case for coins and applause. It was there she found her voice and polished her guitar playing and wrote the first of her prolific collection of songs.
After cutting her teeth in the streets, Les began playing area clubs, doing the 9 pm - 1 am shifts for little or no cash that can be summed up as “paying her dues.” After a couple years of the club scene, Sampou found the coffeehouse folk scene. She describes this period by saying, “Being in front of a listening audience scared me to death. My hands would shake and my voice would seize up. But I loved it and was hooked.”
She worked her stage fright and didn’t stop writing. Her first album “Sweet Perfume” caught the attention of legendary DJ Dick Pleasants and it soon was on the doorstep of Rounder Records, where she was immediately signed. Rounder released “Fall From Grace” and it hit the top of the charts of Gavin Americana Radio in 1997. Radio industry news FMBQ reviewed her album saying, "New England singer-songwriter Sampou has a distinctive folk and blues style that has made her a favorite at folk festivals from Philadelphia to Kerrville. An American storyteller, Sampou is joined by guitarist Duke Levine and harmonica wiz Jerry Portnoy on ‘Fall from Grace’. Produced by Mason Daring, ‘Holy Land,’ ‘The Things I Should've Said,’ ‘Home Again,’ and ‘Alibis’ are great places to begin your introduction to this exemplary artist."
Sampou’s third disc, the eponymously-titled album of 1999, was a departure from her folk and blues sound and her penchant for rock began to color her voice and her writing. Despite being shelved by Rounder Records as too much of a side step from her earlier releases, the CD was well received in the music industry. John Black, writing in Digital City said about the disc, “Les Sampou’ is a remarkable CD full of the kind of songs you play over and over again. Listening to songs like ‘I Want You’ -- and believe me I've listened to it enough to wear a groove in my CD -- you can only wonder why Sampou isn't in regular rotation on radio stations across the country. Sampou's mature voice and intelligent heartfelt lyrics make the current flavors of the month on the radio sound like the lightweights they are."
Sampou and Rounder parted ways and Les released her first all acoustic country blues album, ‘Borrowed & Blue’” on her own label. Always side-stepping categorization, this time Sampou put out a collection of the guitar-based blues tunes that were a staple in Les’s live shows. Jay Miller, Music Critic for The Patriot Ledger reviewed the album, writing, "Sampou's guitar work is breathtaking--her six-string mentor Paul Rishell must be proud. Most notably her vocal work is thrilling, adding layers of emotional depth to this eclectic mix of four Sampou originals, old classics by the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Blind Willie McTell and some surprises, like Bob Dylan's Meet Me in the Morning. An understated triumph."
But, it wasn’t until now with her 2010 self-released ‘Lonesomeville,’ that Sampou feels like she “did it right this time.” Pairing up with recording engineer Chris Rival, Sampou and her all star band of Boston’s cream of the crop session players recorded Lonesomeville live in two days. Ducky Carlisle, mix engineer, added his acclaimed rock edge to the Americana set of blues and soul-tinged country tunes. Lyrically, Lonesomeville sums up what Sampou writes about best—love gone wrong, hard goodbyes, and honky tonk heartbreak. Roberta B. Swartz of The Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange writes, “There is plenty of loving--hard loving and soft loving--in all kinds of places and spaces—on a train, in bed, on the road, and on the sly. ‘Lonesomeville’ takes us through lonely hotel rooms, honky tonk highways and the bedrooms of hard-living lovers. The lucky listener gladly goes along, following Sampou on this journey, getting lost in the sexy sway of her voice.”
But Lonesomeville is best listened to, not read about. As freelance music writer Ken Capobianco wrote in The Cape Cod Times after travelling the LA coast with Lonesomeville in his CD player, “If you see that lonesome highway, one of the quickest ways to stem the melancholy is to pop this in the CD player, turn it up and forget to look back.”
Les Sampou has performed at Montreal Jazz Festival, Toronto Blues Festival, Kerrville Folk Festival (where she won the New Folk Songwriting Award), Philadelphia Folk Festival, Winnipeg, and Falcon Ridge to name a few. Sampou has conducted workshops at Berklee School of Music and appeared on the top syndicated radio programs such as Acoustic Cafe, World Cafe, and NPR. Sampou has released five albums, three on her own label and two on Rounder Records, Her second album, "Fall from Grace", topped the Gavin Americana Charts nationwide. Her most recent release “Lonesomeville” (2010) charted number 2 on the US/European Americana F.A.R. Charts and led to her performance at the 2011 SXSW Conference in Austin, TX.
Cape Cod Melody Tent - MA
The Music Circus - Cohasset, MA
SXSW - Austin, TX
Tin Angel - Philadelphia, Pa.
World Cafe - Philadelphia, Pa.
Bottom Line - New York City, N.Y.
Bluebird Café - Nashville
Sanders Theatre - Boston, Ma.
Club Passim - Cambridge, Ma.
The Hatch Shell, Boston, MA
Eddie's Attic - Atlanta, Ga.
Freight & Salvage - Berkley, CA
The Globe Theater - MD
Masters Musicians Festival - KY
Old Town School of Music - Chicago
The Turning Point - NY
The Ark - MI
Café Lena - Saratoga Springs, NY
Avalon Theatre - MD
Patriot Place/Showcase Live, Foxboro, MA
Notable talent with Les Sampou as support act:
Darius Rucker (Hootie)
Lee Ann Rimes
"Sampou never wavers from a steady tone of genuineness...sharply observant songs." DOWNBEAT
"Powerfully expressive, her new album, "Lonesomeville,'' is a personal Top Ten favorite of the year." STEVE MORSE , Writer BOSTON GLOBE/ ROLLING STONE
“'Lonesomeville' evokes a Tom Waits-like world." SING OUT