The amazing music of Boston’s Sam Black Church: A documentary of hardcore/metal band with local roots

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Sam Black Church 2 SamBlackChurch_main

The amazing music of Boston’s Sam Black Church:

A documentary of hardcore/metal band with local roots

By Peggy Mackenzie

Sam Black Church, also known as SBC, was a Boston hardcore band that played from 1988 to 2000. The group met when four young men moved to Boston to attend college and subsequently formed a band. It was named after the Greenbrier County community of Sam Black Church. Band members and brothers Jesse and Ben Crandall lived in Clintonville, as did J.R. Roach, son of Skip and Judy Deegans of Lewisburg. The fourth member, Richard Lewis, hailed from Washington, DC.

From modest beginnings playing empty rooms, to filling large clubs, SBC played a frenetic blend of hardcore, metal, and thrash that enabled them to share bills with bands as diverse as Bad Brains, Clutch, Motorhead, Cro-Mags, and Helmet. In their heyday, SBC were second to none for energy and intensity.

“No one could touch ‘em,” said Allee Setten with Sony Records, formerly Geflen Records. “I mean it was like, ‘Holy s**t! What is this’?”

Sam Black Church rocked the youth from Maine to California on several nation-wide tours and became one of the largest heavy bands in the northeast for a period in the mid-90s.

“It was a band that everyone would stop and stare because they couldn’t believe what was happening on stage. Just total chaos, utter chaos,” said Mike D’Antonio of Kill switch Engage.

Sam Black Church disbanded in 2000, reuniting only once for a 20th anniversary show in 2007 at The Roxy in Boston.

A documentary film set to premiere on Friday, Apr. 15, at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Mass, to a sold-out audience will finally see the light of day and tell the story of this unknown group of kids who created a sound, a style, and a live presence never experienced before. The film, “Leave Behind A Groove In The Earth: The Sam Black Church Story,” traces the band’s rise through the Boston-underground in the ‘90s, and how it bridged the gap between ‘80s hardcore punk and the various styles of metal that populated the 2000s to now.

Filmed and edited over 10 years by Boston rocker/performer/photographer Duncan Wilder Johnson, the documentary features archival live footage and interviews with the band, as well as Bad Brains’ Dr. Know, Page Hamilton of Helmet, Lamb Of God’s D. Randall Bythe, Neil Fallon of Church, and a host of New England voices, including Jesse Leach and Mike D’Antonio of Killswitch Engage, Trevor Phipps and Ken Susi of Unearth, Shadows Fall’s Brian Fair, Jonah Jenkins of Only Living Witness and others.

Johnson tells their compelling story from no one knowing who they were, to growing to huge popularity in New England, to making an impact after they stopped playing on what are now considered top-tier metal bands.

After completing three releases with indie record label TAANG!, SBC were poised to make the leap to Geffen Records, but they hit a snag some describe as miscommunication, and others describe as malice. A legal battle ensued over unreleasable recordings. Sam Black Church left for Wonderdrug records, where they remained until the band broke up in 2000.

After having been known as one of the most popular hardcore bands in the Northeast United States, the former band members, now in their mid-40s, have found there is life after hardcord metal intensity. Frontman Jesse Crandall is now a school teacher and his guitarist brother Ben, is a medical researcher at UVA. The former drums player, J.R. Roach is a copywriter with Hill Holiday in Boston and bass guitarist Richard Lewis is now a social worker.