Sam Heda on 'John Boy and Billy' Wednesday

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Son of Pageland's Ragan Miller Heda is a guitar prodigy

By Bill Moss

Sam Heda showed his talent for guitar at an early age.


His dad gave him a child-sized guitar when he was 3 or 4, and the youngster made up a song. At age 15, he’s already written enough rock songs to complete his first album. His audition videos are so good they immediately impress experts who have seen plenty of young talent.

He became the youngest musician ever admitted to the N.C. School of the Arts, and was again the youngest admitted to the renowned Berklee School of Music summer camp in Boston, which he attended on a Fender Guitar scholarship. This week he was in a Charlotte radio studio recording a song and interview that will air on the syndicated “John Boy and Billy” show Wednesday (99.7 FM) between 9 and 10 a.m.

Sam is the son of Howard Heda and Ragan Miller Heda, a former Miss Pageland who is the daughter of Doris Miller and Jack Miller, who died in 2001. Sam and his younger brother Jack frequently visit their grandmother and other relations in the extended family in Pageland.

He attends Central Academy, a magnet school for high achievers in Union County, where his uncle Rodney Miller is headmaster.

The biggest scare of his young career came when he broke his arm in three places at football practice.

“They put me at safety against the varsity, just for one practice, to try to toughen me up I guess,” he said, “and one of the varsity lineman kind of had a dog pile. I went to make the tackle and when I made the tackle I got sort of on the bottom and everyone just kind of got on top and broke my arm.”

Everyone was worried about his playing but it turned out after he got the cast off, he was fine, a little better even.

His father, a US Airways pilot and a former rock band guitarist himself, also serves as Sam’s manager and PR agent.


Here is more of our interview with Sam.


How did you get started playing guitar?

My dad gave me a guitar for my third birthday, third or fourth, he gave me a guitar and taught me my first couple of chords. I took those chords, kind of put them together as a little song. It wasn’t much of a song, it was kind of in my mind a song. I was just messing around, kind of like, “hey watch this, hey watch this.”


Did you start playing regularly then?

I kept picking it up and I kept playing, when I got about 6 or 7 I hit it straight on and I started practicing  an hour a day.

That’s a young age to do that. How did you practice?

My dad started out (teaching) for a while, and then I got to the point where I needed a teacher, so I had lessons, and I just ended up getting lessons, and then it got to the point where we had to keep hiring different teachers, and then I got to the point where I was teaching lessons.


When did you start giving lessons?

I started when I was in fifth grade, giving lessons to like first graders. I haven’t done it since I broke my arm.


That must have been scary.

I couldn’t play the guitar for about six weeks but when I got back on it, it seemed like I was better.


Why was that?

I don’t know. I hadn’t played in six weeks and I was a little bit rusty at first, and right when I got on to it about the first few days, I was better.


Being away from it, did that give you a hunger for it?

Yeah, the desire.


How much do you practice now?

About two hours a day.


What do you do?

I run over my songs, I go over the scales, I try to write new riffs, everything, spend a good while tuning my guitar.


What styles do you play?

I play anything really, from classic to contemporary rock, the main genre’s rock. What I listen to is completely different, from hardcore music to country, anything.


How did you make a record?

Me and my dad and my band have been recording since I was in about fourth grade. We finally got all the songs put together on one CD. It’s called Elements.


What instruments?

Bass, drums, guitar, keyboard, tambourine. There’s no vocals, so I’ve gotta make up for it with it with guitar solos.


What are your plans?

When people ask me what do you want to do with this I tell them professional musician. But in reality professional musician means go to college for music and dedicate all your time to music theory, not just playing music, and I don’t want to do that. When I go to my camps I learn about music theory and it’s not a fun subject. It’s really hard and it takes a lot of dedication. Mainly what I want to be a rock star but if you go and tell people you wanna be a rock star, they’re going to go, yeah, keep dreaming kid.