Even when he was a self-described high school slacker, lost amid the swaying masses at some jam band festival, Sam Rumph knew that where he really needed to be was right here.
Right here is a makeshift outdoor stage tucked into a cramped space where the Pier Village parking lot meets the front porch of Brogen’s pub on St. Simons Island.
Right here the black-bearded young man stands in shorts, T-shirt and a ball cap, imbuing Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” with a slide guitar solo that smacks of Macon, which is perhaps fitting. Standing beside Sam is fellow guitarist Casey Moss, his salt-and-pepper beard speaking to the generations of musical influence that separate and connect the two. Off to one side stands Cole Glasscock, happy in his own world of thumping riffs — like all good rock-and-roll bass players. Perched behind a drum set in the back corner with a ponytail hanging down a tie-dyed shirt is Swen Knight, the 47-year-old silent partner who forged this whole thing.
Together they are Lothar Family, which is pretty much what happens when jam band mentality meets the staples that have fostered classic rock from the FM era to the age of Spotify. With a repertoire that spans everything from Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See” to Phish’s “Everything’s All Right,” the Lothar Family sound is striking a pleasing chord with the local nightlife crowd.
The band’s rendition of the Pink Floyd standard is immediately recognizable on this fine June night along the coast, where gentle sea breezes stir the palpably-muggy night air outside at Brogen’s. But for those in this eclectic crowd who are paying attention, Lothar Family’s take on “Breathe” makes no pretense of sticking to a musical script. It is evident when Sam takes that slide on his left ring finger for a walk around the guitar’s fret boards, just after Casey croons the song’s second verse.
Macon born and bred, Sam’s Dad’s Allman Brothers album, “Decade of Hits, 1969-79,” is about as good a place as any to start tracking his musical influence. That and, of course, some Grateful Dead.
“I never thought about it,” Sam says. “But, yeah, I guess the Allman Brothers. My dad had that album. And I remember listening to Skeletons in the Closet a lot. A lot of Dead.”
Sam picked up the guitar in adolescence, after his parents balked at the notion of him shaking the rafters of their home with a drum set.
“I’m sure I got just as loud with the guitar,” Sam says. “I played a lot of … I don’t know, what’s it called?”
“Yeah, ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ ‘Smoke on the Water.’ But, I mean, I really never played a lot of songs early on. It was more about improvisation.”
Sam’s formal training ended early on, when his “awesome guitar teacher” moved away. Influenced heavily by the jam sounds of Phish, Sam even stood in with a band that picked up a couple of gigs his senior year.
But distractions abounded back then, bad habits chief among them. Yet, through it all, Sam sensed that he should be more than just a face in the crowd of the music scene.
“Even when I wasn’t playing much, and when I was in my, you know, my using phase, I remember being at shows and feeling like I should be up there,” Sam says. “Like I should be up there creating instead of out here experiencing.”
Sam holds the bad habits at bay today, gaining clarity of focus in the balance. And for a dude whose outside interests range from fly fishing to soul food, Sam’s music has taken center stage.
And those efforts earned results. His smooth slide work, jam-influenced picking and laidback vocals clicked with Swen, who first heard Sam play a couple of years ago at Open Mic Night at Palm Coast in the island’s Pier Village.
Then came Casey, whose strong bluegrass background shines in crisp, fluid guitar solos with Lothar Family. Cole’s solid bass playing rounds out this recent incarnation of the band.
“This is great,” Swen says. “I’ll try to keep this lineup as long as I can.”
Casey’s seasoned musicianship and Sam’s fresh enthusiasm fit nicely at the forefront of Lothar Family’s act. The two interchangeably blend rhythm and lead work, fluent in the unspoken language expressed only in music. And neither is shy about stepping up to the mic.
“Sam and Cole don’t just play music; they love music,” Swen says. “And it shows. And Sam’s slide play just keeps getting better; I’m really encouraging that.”
OK, so a stage where the parking lot ends and a pub’s front porch begins is not exactly the big time. But that is not the point for Sam and the family.
“It’s all about the energy and the experience,” Sam says. “It’s about something new happening — something that has never happened before, and it’s happening now. In that moment. That’s what music is to me.”
And it is all right here.