One of Las Vegas’ original punk-rock heroes has fallen. Todd Sampson, who fronted seminal local outfits M.I.A., Self Abuse and Samsons Army over more than three decades on the scene, died early Sunday morning at age 46 after being helped offstage toward the end of an M.I.A. show at the Black Door. The cause is unknown.
“He just started going down during the show,” said musician and close friend Rob Ruckus. “Backstage afterwards, he was totally burning up, kinda going out of it. We tried putting ice on his head, cooling him down with water ... we loaded him into the truck and got his breathing slowed down; he actually walked into his house on his own. But he started heating up again, and then he started hyperventilating, so we raced him to the hospital as fast as we could, but he stopped breathing on the way. When we got to the hospital there was no heartbeat.”
Sampson’s musical journey began in 1980, when the 16-year-old Clark High student joined fledgling local punk band The Swell. The group called itself M.I.A. for an outdoor New Year’s Eve performance atop a flatbed truck—and the new name stuck. The band, however, did not, at least not in Las Vegas. M.I.A. soon relocated to Newport Beach, California, with bassist Mike Conley now on lead vocals. “I was 16, so my parents wouldn’t let me go with them,” Sampson told the Weekly in 2008.
Sampson responded by forming Self Abuse in 1981; the new band debuted live that December. According to the band’s MySpace page, “songs at the time consisted of covers by The Adolescents, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Wasted Youth, TSOL and The Chiefs. Originals included ‘I’m Not the One,’ ‘A Classroom Horror’ and the 45-second masterpiece, ‘Locked Up for 90 Days.’” Self Abuse played on and off, eventually reuniting for shows in 2001 and again in 2009.
Sampson launched his next band, Samsons Army, in 1984; it soldiered on into the early 1990s before re-forming for occasional shows in the 2000s. According to its Facebook bio, Samsons Army was the very first band to play the Double Down Saloon.
Following the 2008 death of longtime M.I.A. singer Conley, Sampson rejoined that band’s lineup. On June 11, the group played its first show in Las Vegas since 1985—with Sampson’s on the mic.
“He was one of the most warm-hearted and talented musicians I’ve ever had the privilege of playing with,” Ruckus said. “The guy was all real, no bullshit. He gave every show everything he had. Look at it, it killed him. He went out doing what he loved.”
Sampson is survived by his son, Daz, and his girlfriend. Messages of shock and sadness have been piling up on his Facebook page throughout the day. “A Vegas legend. Rest in peace,” reads one. Another: “Thank you for touching so many lives with your love, life and music.”