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Remembering Todd Sampson, a respected punk pioneer

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Todd Sampson (right) performing with M.I.A.
Photo: Joe Photo

In the spring of 1982, a curious crew invaded the halls of Bonanza High School. Billed as Anthony & The Crickets, the band wore cowboy hats as it kicked off its lunchtime set with the twangy "I Like Coors! (Don't Ask Me Why)." From there? "We tossed off those hats and started blazing through our thrashy songs," remembers Matty Dudenake, guitarist for hardcore outfit Self Abuse, the Crickets' true identity. "The hippies and jocks stood around looking so pissed off. And when we were done, [singer] Todd [Sampson] turned around and mooned the whole crowd." How's that for a lunchtime surprise?

Early Sunday morning, the Las Vegas punk community lost one of its original heroes when Sampson, 46, died after being helped offstage toward the end of an M.I.A. show at the Black Door. At press time, the cause was unknown. "Backstage afterwards, he was totally burning up, kinda going out of it," said musician and friend Rob Ruckus, who witnessed Sampson's final moments. "When we got to the hospital, there was no heartbeat."

Sampson fronted three seminal Vegas bands during the 1980s: The Swell, which morphed into well-known Orange County outfit M.I.A. ("I was 16, so my parents wouldn't let me go with them," Sampson told the Weekly in 2008), Self Abuse and Samsons Army. Amid the city's casino culture and lounge-dominated scene, his groups helped usher in a grass-roots, DIY era in local music that continues to this day. "Todd was totally enamored with Johnny Rotten and the Pistols. He was determined to be a great frontman," says fellow Clark High alum Dudenake. "When Self Abuse opened for Social Distortion at Vegas World in December 1982, there was a line around the block before the show. Punks came in from California. People left in ambulances. It felt like the coming out of punk rock in Vegas — and it was the best show we ever played."

Sampson rejoined M.I.A. following the 2008 death of singer Mike Conley; this summer, the band played Las Vegas for the first time in 25 years. "I'm a hyper dude, and I can be hard to deal with sometimes," M.I.A. drummer Chris Moon says. "But Todd always showed me love. He always made playing music fun. That's what I'll miss. The band was one thing, but I'll miss the person."

Sampson is survived by his teenage son Daz, his girlfriend and her daughter. Funeral arrangements were still pending at press time.

Update: A musical celebration of Sampson's life will take place Saturday, July 31 at Wasted Space, beginning at 9 p.m.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is Las Vegas Weekly's Managing Editor, having previously served as Arts & Entertainment Editor, Music Editor and a ...

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