Samantha Roark was running out of time. Only seventeen years old, she was hooked on speed, frighteningly underweight and desperate. She gathered her strength and went to the cemetery where her beloved grandmother had recently been buried. Crouched there beside the headstone, she prayed. Please God, I need some help.
Four hours later Sam was arrested.
That was two years ago. In September, 2010, she wowed festival audiences in Clay County, Kentucky with the launching of her debut CD, Check Out Girl, produced by country music veteran artist/producer Joe Sun. The work has been praised by insiders including Cowboy Jack Clement (Charley Pride, Johnny Cash), who pointed to the innate “calming” quality of her vocal style, and WKLB’s legendary Cornbread Barker, who said: “I’ve been in this business 30 years, and this is as good as it gets.”
“That arrest was the miracle I’d prayed for,” Sam reflects. “I went into a program called Drug Court, got clean, and healthy. Thanks to the court’s program, I am alive today. I don’t think I would have lasted another month on the path I’d been on. As it was, I got a second chance, and an opportunity to get back to the music I love.”
Sam was born to a musical family in Clay County, Kentucky. She started singing at age three, and playing the piano at four. “Everybody played instruments,” she says. “My uncles played guitars, my grandpa, “Jamup” Miller, played. My grandma, Georgia Juanita Miller was a songwriter with songs that had been published in Nashville. But I wasn’t much of a singer until I was twelve, and my voice matured. Up until then the family thought I was going to be the only Miller in history who couldn’t sing a note!”
In fact, Sam’s voice sounded like an adult by the time she hit her teens, and she quickly became known for it throughout the area. Sam excelled during her first two years of high school. She was a high achiever in both music and sports – singing in the choir, playing in the band, running track and playing varsity basketball. But it was through her sports competitions that she connected to the drug world, and went on the downhill spiral that finally came to a halt in a Manchester, Kentucky graveyard. It was a hard road back, but with support from her uncle Robert Reid and the great grandmother who raised her, Sam made it.
She displayed the same heart and determination in recording her debut CD with Sun. Using top Nashville pickers and recording songs by hit-making writers including Gail Davies, Ron Davies, Rich Fagen, Shawn Kamp and John Scott Sherrill, Sun and Roark have constructed an album blending contemporary radio ready American music with deep traditional roots. The tracks are clean, crisp and open, leaving space for Sam’s compelling voice to showcase a remarkable song repertoire. This is a collection of keepers. Says Sam: “We didn’t want something that just had a couple of memorable songs, with the rest forgettable. We looked for the best, and I think we got them.”
Producer Joe Sun agrees. “We went to the best writers, and got their best songs – the gems – the songs that had been out there demanding to be sung. That goes for Sam’s performance, too. It is a talent that demands to be heard, and Check Out Girl is a CD that is different from anything you’re going to hear in today’s market. Once you listen you are never going to forget Sam Roark.
( Printed AS Written By Patsi Bale Cox)