Sam's great-grandfather, Isham Bailey Hardy (1824-1905) was a successful magician, puppeteer and ventriloquist who had his own dog and pony show. Although he died a decade before Sam's birth, many of the songs in Sam's repertoire came to him from his great-grandfather, Isham, through Sam's mother, Nell Duffie Hinton (1889-1978). She was a gifted musician who played both ragtime and classical piano, and taught piano and elocution.
Sam began performing in public at an early age, playing the button accordion, harmonica and pennywhistle. He spent much of his early boyhood with his mother's parents in Beaumont, Texas. When he was eight or nine years old he took his harmonica and entered an amateur contest at the Strand Theater in Tulsa, Oklahoma and won two dollars.
Very early in childhood Sam displayed a natural predisposition towards natural history. His interest in animals (especially snakes) has continued throughout his life. "I was going to be an African Explorer, and bring home animals and things," Sam recalls, "I was kind of a hard kid to raise. Mama tried to divert me, sometimes. I wanted to catch snakes and she thought it would be nicer to raise gladiolas. I've always said my early life was divided into three periods: when Mom would let me take little snakes home, when Mom would let me take big snakes, and finally, when she gave sort of tacit permission to bring poisonous snakes home, that didn't happen until we were in Crockett. She