Enjoying the applause

4th February 2005 at 00:00

Robert Ogden school, South Yorkshire

Sam Reid first heard bluegrass music during a family visit to a hillbilly shooting gallery at Sherwood Forest in Nottingham. The song that stayed with him was called "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", performed by country and western banjo-player Earl Scruggs, and it started Sam, who has Asperger syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder, on a three-year quest to make the music himself.

Now 17, Sam is a student in the post-16 department of the National Autistic Society's Robert Ogden school in South Yorkshire. Before joining Robert Ogden last year, his disabilities had kept him out of school. Now he spends much of his day on a mainstream performing arts course at Rotherham College, learning stage lighting and puppetry, as well as working on performance skills in drama and music. He plays banjo, guitar and harmonica.

Sam says Earl Scruggs is still his musical inspiration. "Nobody plays the banjo better. He is the best... It's hard to explain what I feel when I listen to it. There's something about bluegrass and its high, lonesome sound. It's often sentimental and reminds me of home."

Sam is potentially the highest-achieving student Robert Ogden has had, despite his patchy schooling, according to 16-plus department head Mark Eames.

Sam knows exactly where he wants to go. "Once I can play a lot better and have been taught about finances and technical things I want to form a band and play concerts," he says. "Then I want to be signed up by a countrybluegrass record label and record albums.

"Towards the latter part of my life I would like to achieve legendary status, be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and pass my great skills as a bluegrass musician onto my sons, if I have any."

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